Some cities appeal to some people. Some cities appeal to other people. Rio de Janeiro appeals to everyone. How could anyone not love its breathtaking beauty? From the natural wonder of Rio’s harbor to the mountain top paradise of Sugarloaf, Rio has got it all. It has world-class partying all-year-round, especially during Carnival, and two of the most famous beaches in the world to match, Ipanema and Copacabana. And as if God himself was looking over the city, the Christ the Redeemer statue looms over Rio, embracing its beautiful people.
Rio de Janeiro has some of the best restaurants in the entire world. The churrascurias serve you endless amounts of meat until you cry for mercy. And when they finally do show some mercy, the price will be so low; you’ll forget about your stomachache and yearn to move there. The vibrance of the city is unmatched by any other city in South America. The character of the people shine through the suns hot rays on the packed city beaches. There is so much to do in Rio that you would need months to do everything. However, I only had a week there and I certainly tried to do it all.
By the time I had seen all the sights, surfed the great beaches and shopped till I dropped, I needed to go and do what I had heard about long before I had arrived in Brazil. I was going to go hang gliding in the most picturesque city in the world.
I asked at my hotel, what was the best company to go hang gliding with. They said the Just Fly Company was the one that they recommended. Since they had recommended the restaurant that I had my greatest meal ever in the night before, I decided to listen and go with their recommendation. They made the phone call and shortly thereafter a guy named Paulo showed up in a van to whisk me away to Tijuca National Park where the jump ramp was located.
Paulo was a really nice guy and spoke perfect English. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t really know anything about hang gliding. He assured me that everything was going to be OK and that he had done thousands of jumps before. He also mentioned that he had jumped tandem with members of Guns N Roses and Nirvana. I thought that that was pretty cool and figured if Slash and Axl could jump with this guy, so could I.
When we arrived at the registration shack to sign my life away I found it strange that nobody else was going. The only other guy there was this Chinese-American guy and he was a novice photographer and was only coming to photograph me jumping. This was flattering and all, but it kind of made me nervous. But nonetheless, I signed my life away and proceeded back into the van to be carried up several thousand feet to the jump ramp.
During the slow ride up the steep mountain I started chatting with the Chinese-American guy and he had told me about his recent trip to Africa on his around the world trip. That simple ten minute conversation fueled my fire for a future trip to Southern Africa. Then he said that he hoped to get some excellent pictures of me taking off. I said that I just hoped I didn’t die.
As we arrived at the “Pedra Bonita”(Pretty Rock) jump site, I looked out over the ledge and saw nothing but trees and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance thousands of feet down. As Paulo started gearing me up he started telling me what he wanted me to do. His explanation took five seconds. He said, “When I say 1, 2, 3, Go! You run and then jump off the mountain.”
This seemed pretty logical to me. I mean, just run and jump off the mountain. Sure, no problem, I love jumping off mountains having no idea what’s going on. But in typical stupid fashion, I just shrugged my shoulders and figured he wasn’t going to kill himself, he must know what he’s doing. So I justified it to myself that way and started to strap onto the hang glider with Paulo.
It was quite windy that day and Paulo said that we would be able to stay up for a half hour or so if the wind holds the way it was. I was half happy because I would definitely be getting my $80 worth and I was half frightened because that was an awful long time to be floating around thousands of feet up in the air. But when in Rio…
All of a sudden I found myself on the ramp ready to hurl myself off of it into the mountainous abyss below. The Chinese-American guy said good luck, I looked at him briefly in search of some condolences or something, when I was suddenly interrupted by the start of the countdown.
As Paulo screamed go, I was jerked by him running toward the ledge and I had to book to keep up with him. As I took my final step off the ramp, I got that all too familiar voice in my head saying, “Why are you doing this dummy?”
To this day I still haven’t figured out a good reason to answer the voice with, but maybe that is the answer. The fact that I don’t know why, it’s just something that I am drawn to. Not everybody likes to live life on the edge and feel the rush of putting your life in danger, especially in someone else’s hands. For me, I love the rush. I get adrenaline pumping through my veins just thinking and typing about it. Whether it’s hang gliding, bungy jumping, skydiving or whatever scares the heck out of you. – it’s simply that fear that draws you to the brink to conquer it. It’s as if not doing it would be a failure – and I just couldn’t have that, it’s far too boring. Plus, I did my research and bought some cheap life and health insurance, just in case!
It’s as if you have all these thoughts right after jumping off the ramp in a Brazilian second. And after the initial screaming, and realizing that you are still in the air and not going to crash and die; it’s just me, Paulo and the passing birds. I was soaring through the air like a bird, fast sometimes, slow at times but always with a clear view of the most beautiful city in the world. I was looking down to my left and seeing Corcovado, Ipanema Beach and Sugarloaf all in one glance. Now that was cool!
After about a half hour, we started descending toward Sao Conrado, a beach in the southern part of Rio. I was very sad to be landing but I figured if I had to land somewhere it might as well be on a beautiful beach in Rio de Janeiro. As we came in for landing, Paulo unstrapped my legs so I could land on the sand and run with the momentum of the hang glider, but of course this ended up with me flat on my butt in the sand. I didn’t care; I was so happy and had just experienced something that most people will never do. I gave Paulo a big hug and started praising him for the great ride. He just smiled and listened to my rants because he knew everything I was saying already.
As we headed back to my hotel, he handed me a tee shirt that said Just Fly and in Portuguese, Voo Duplo (Tandem Flight). I wear that tee shirt proudly to this day and have a beautiful picture of the flight in my living room (Unfortunately I did this in 2002-the first time I went to Brazil, before I had a digital camera and don’t have them scanned yet but there is a picture of it on my bio at the top of the main page).
My first trip to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro was full of highlights and it’s hard to pick one thing that really stands out because it is such a great international city, but judging by this story I think you can figure out what it was. I would recommend Rio de Janeiro to anyone who asks because anyone will love it. It doesn’t matter if you go hang gliding or sit on your butt on the beach and soak up rays; it is a place that isn’t to be missed. But, if you do happen to go hang gliding, tell Paulo thanks for me.