To start things off with a bang: Paragliding.
Some 10 days ago, I embarked on my first solo vacation that I can remember taking. I’ve traveled quite a bit solo before, but always with some kind of purpose, i.e. visiting a friend or making my way to a specific destination. Traveling alone without a specific purpose, I learned, is a refreshing and rejuvenating endeavor which leads to unexpected new experiences. After spending a number of nights reading, sleeping, and relaxing in a bungalo in serene Kabak valley (an out of the way paradise tucked between two hills at the beginning of the Lycian Way in southwestern Turkey where the Aegean and Mediterranean seas meet), I slowly found myself restless.
Over an evening game of taboo with a group of Turks I met hiking to a nearby waterfall, I managed to agree to join them on a trip back into “civilization” to Ölüdeniz (aptly named “dead sea” for its wavelessly still bay – although this tacky tourist trap is overrun with Brits and rather shockingly unpleasant compared to the bliss of Kabak) to join them in doing yamaç paraşütü. Being somewhere between unfamiliar and downright willfully ignorant about the menu of parachute enhanced activities available to eager youngsters such as myself, as well as lazy about learning the meaning of yamaç, I rather wrongly assumed that what I had agreed to do with them was parasailing. In my mind, I’d be heading off on a boat along the coast, getting hooked up to a parachute and pulled behind a boat for a spell while you enjoying the coastline views. This is not what happened. After having spent the previous week driving through Kapadokya in a rental car – I was accustomed to hearing the word ‘araç,’ meaning ‘vehicle’ – so subconsciously I guess I just assumed that “yamaç” meant something related to moving or vehicle or boat etc. and basked in linguistic ignorance. Yamaç, it seems, is also unrelated to the word ‘amaç,’ which means something like goal or objective.
Without any further discussion about sailing, boats, or water, I began to hear words like atlamak (jump), dağ (mountain) and 2000 metre. I began to realize my ignorance. It turns out, as I learned a few hours before my jump, yamaç means cliff, and I was signed up for “cliff parachute.” I pondered the implications of this literal translation into English: cliff parachute. Had I somehow signed up to do base jumping? (base jumping, as I understand it, is like sky diving but without the plane – you jump off something quite high and free fall for a period before opening your parachute frighteningly close before landing). Despite the rather swift change in my understanding of the activity at hand, I didn’t waiver. Whatever yamaç paraşütü is, I will do it, I told myself, and it’s going to be awesome. I was right.
Paragliding is one of those words I had heard before, but I didn’t really know its meaning. Of course, spending 5 minutes on the beach in Oludeniz gives you a pretty clear picture of what paragliding is – the paragliders fly in dozens over Oludeniz and land along the beach at a steady rate. I paid my money purchased a beer to drink on my flight, hopped into a converted jeep with my friends and our gliding pilots, and headed up Babadağ – Oludeniz’s 2000m peak. On the ride up I asked the pilot sitting next to me how many times he had done yamaç paraşütü. With a mostly straight face, he answered that today was his first day but not to worry because he was a quick learner.
In paragliding, like skydiving, you’re tethered to a professional who does all the work and snaps pictures while you enjoy the ride. At the peak I met Murat, my instructor. His instructions were clear: when I say run, you run. Don’t stop, sit, or jump; just run. Simple enough. So after I got my helmet on, and Murat prepared the parachutes, Murat said “run” and I ran. We only made it about 10 steps. Paragliding is not base jumping. You begin with the parachute mostly open. So in 10 steps, picture a child running with a kite, the chute is up and open and off you fly into the air. I’m frequently terrified of heights, but I only felt awe and freedom as we flew above the beach and islands. The beer I drank shortly after take off might have also calmed my nerves. That’s when Murat adeptly snapped this photo.
Jumping off a 2000m peak wasn’t something on my itinerary or to-do list for the weekend. I hadn’t ever really considered such an activity, to be honest (especially since I didn’t precisely know what paragliding was in the first place). That just goes to show how much I have to learn. Yamaç paraşütü is awesome. I liked it so much I began inquiring about how to be an instructor myself (you seem to need some 30 hours of training before they even let you jump from 100m).
I won’t pretend like I didn’t do it at least in part to impress a cute girl.
Is this the beginning of a new ‘extreme sports’ Eric? Probably not. But don’t be surprised if upcoming blog posts contain words like ‘skydiving,’ ‘motorcycle,’ of ‘bungee.’