Iquique, Chile [Paragliding]

At first, Iquique seems bland. The landscape only has two colors: Blue and beige. The city stands between the ocean and the Atacama desert. It only rains every other year.

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But after a moment, I realized that it’s actually quite beautiful. The ridge continues as a far as the eye can see and towers above the city. The dunes look like they were carved by an artisan. The beaches are lined with breaking waves.

We didn’t come to Iquique for the scenery, though. We traveled there to paraglide.

The flying is not what I expected. I was anticipating to soar the ridge, which usually means maintain altitude instead of gaining it. This wasn’t the case in Iquique. Along the ridge, there were thermals. Imagine a geyser, where the water in the middle is shooting up and falling down on the outside. A thermal is like a geyser of air. Instead of sticking close to the ridge, thermals allow you to quickly gain altitude.

The paragliding in Iquique, just like the scenery, is different from the first impression.

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I wasn’t just caught off guard by the scenery and the flying.

The first surprising experience in Iquique happened before I got off of the plane. I was sitting between two older women, neither of whom spoke English.

I have been studying Spanish for the past several months and was looking forward to testing my skills in Chile. That all went out the window when they started speaking to me. The older woman on my left was struggling with her seatbelt and both were aggressively urging me to help. Turns out her seatbelt was just flipped over, but it took the flight attendant miming the problem to me before I could understand what they were saying.

My Spanish wasn’t as good as I expected it to be, especially when I was in a real situation talking to strangers.

I realized that learning the vocabulary and grammar is just half of the work. Practicing Spanish with native speakers and talking to them is the best way to learn. Sometimes it may be embarrassing, but it’s necessary to become proficient.

The first day of flying was great, one of my best ever. But Chile continued to throw us curve balls on the second day.

At the edge of the launch, there were three white crosses. Their purpose was either for protection or as a memorial. They served as a good reminder of the risk involved.

When we arrived at the launch on the second day, the crosses were beginning to fade away. The white paint blended in with the cloud that was enveloping the ridge. This was a rare event, even the locals were surprised.

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It only got thicker as we waited, and soon the entire city below disappeared. One of the pilots launched into the cloud, and after several seconds, he was gone.

Thankfully, he was able to fly straight out of the cloud and made it down safely, but the rest of us decided to pack up and drive down.

The next day was better, almost completely different. The sun was out and the flying was good. We landed in a different spot for each of our flights. The beach was first, then the smaller landing zone that sits fifty feet above the breaking waves. Our final landing was in the dunes.

One of the best experiences of Iquique was on my last flight heading out to the landing zone. The air was smooth and calm, allowing me to relax. The ocean stretched out in front of me, seeming to go on forever. The sounds of the city below seemed distant and muted.

Wherever I am, something is always on my mind. I’m either thinking about work and the next deadline, or looking forward to time with friends and family. I’m always thinking about the future. But in this moment, flying above Iquique, I was able to forget all that and only enjoy the moment. It sticks out to me as one of the most relaxing experiences of my life.

Nothing in Iquique is really as it seems. The landscape isn’t boring, it’s beautiful. The paragliding isn’t just flying along a ridge, but climbing in thermals and attempting mini cross country flights. I never expected to get the chance to disconnect and relax, especially not five hundred feet above the city. It was worth it to break past the first impression.

 

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