One, two, three...heaven. Or at least as close to it as possible.
Backing up... “Hi Craig, welcome,” Manu says shaking my hand warmly. “The winds a bit northerly at the moment,” he says nodding towards the vaguely flapping windsock. We're at Signal Hill and below us the beautiful city of Cape Town stretches out towards the sea and the infamous Robben Island in the distance. “We need it to be more head on,” Manu the owner Cape Town Tandem Paragliding says. He then goes on to explain how we must take off into the wind. “It's not like a helicopter that creates its own wind, we need the wind to be provided.” I look at the windsock still flapping forlornly and wonder if we will fly. I'm hoping we will, but I'm all for there being enough wind to keep us up.
“It looks like the wind is fine now,” we're told about 20 minutes later. Soon I'm being strapped into my gear. It sort of feels like I'm wearing a giant diaper. “Maybe it's for those who get a little afraid on the flight,” I muse sagely as I stare down at our destination far below. “Just make sure you keep running,” Manu says, “just don’t stop or sit otherwise I’ll end up on top of you.” And so it is that after just three steps I’m suddenly like one of those cartoon characters and running in the air. The ground drops away and it’s almost miraculous as we are suddenly flying.
“We need to turn into the wind,” Manu says as we bank to the right along the side of Signal Hill. It's stunning, because rather than immediately heading off over the city, we fly along the side of the hill with the hillside brush flying past just a few meters below our feet. “It really does feel like I’m flying,” I say as the fresh Cape Town wind whips at my jacket. It’s an amazing feeling literally skimming above the plants below you, yet somehow you’re flying.
After a minute or so…time in this heavenly place takes on a different meaning, so it could have been an hour, we bank left and the hill drops away. Moments later we’re flying above the busy Sea Point suburb below us. The packed streets, crane-active buildings, and daily life seem like a distant planet as we float softly on the gentle breeze. It’s quiet. It’s tranquil. It’s amazing.
“Do you want to experience some tricks?” Manu asks as we near the Sea Point promenade. “Yeah sure!” I exclaim enthusiastically, “bring it on.” I’m loving this and the more the tranquility mingles with the thrill the better. “You don’t get motion sickness do you?” Manu enquires. Well, even if I do, I want to taste the action. “No,” I reply, “let’s do it. Even if I get sick I want to experience the fun.” And so as we glide out like a seagull with wide-spread wings over the sea, the action begins.
All of a sudden Manu banks to the left and we are thrown into a spiral. Then moments later we are tossed around and spinning in the reverse direction. Or at least I think that’s what happened. All I really know is that I’m yelping with excitement as the adrenalin pumps and the stomach gets that awesome tingling feeling. Wow!
Finally as the sparkling ocean screams past us just meters below, we bank once more to the left and are suddenly calmly floating down towards the grass field on the promenade. And then like a butterfly landing on your skin, we gently float and touch down on the grass. One, two, three…earth. Wow. What an incredible experience.
“That was incredible,” I say as Manu packs up the gear. “Absolutely incredible. How many flights do you do?” I ask.
“About one thousand a year. But then there are between three and six in the team depending on the time of year,” he continues. I can see why they’re so busy. From start to finish the experience is not only incredible, but it's professional and you feel totally safe. Minutes after we land their shuttle is there to pick us up and take us back to the top.
“Ninety!” I exclaim. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” Manu replies, “The oldest person I’ve taken on a flight is 90 and the youngest is 3.”
That is incredible. It truly is a sport that anyone can do. An opportunity for anyone to experience flight in a way that a few years ago we would never have dreamed possible. An opportunity to step, at least for a moment, into heaven…or at least heavenwards, where the wonder is better experienced than ever explained...because most won’t believe until they’ve been.
The sun is warm now as it rises towards its pinnacle high above. With the warmth comes energy and more opportunities to eat. I move slowly through the grass away from the view of prying eyes. However if I'm to get to the succulent food I will need to cross the gravel road. It's not something I relish doing because it exposes me. I pause as I emerge from the grass on the edge of the road. I cannot sense any danger. I begin making my way across it...on and on and on I go...it should not be long now. All of a sudden a dark shadow looms over me. I immediately retreat into my shell as I'm lifted high into the air.
"It's just two steps and you lift high into the air," Lucille from FlyTime paragliding says as we sign our lives away…quite literally. As a family the dream of paragliding was just that - more a dream than a reality. It just seemed too expensive, and I suppose a little intimidating too. Yet here we are, standing on top of a hill looking down on the beautiful town of Sedgefield below. Above us a rainbow of colours fills the air as a myriad of floating paragliders look like colorful butterflies rising into the blue sky above.
Soon Joshua has his harness on and is being attached to Jorg, the pilot for the tandem flight, as they stand near the edge of the steeply sloping hill. I watch as our youngest child takes a few steps towards the edge…something we normally discourage our children from doing, and seconds later they are off the edge…as I am projecting “rise, rise, rise” thoughts to counter gravity’s “fall, fall, fall” law… and they begin to rise into the sky. Soon Sarah and Hannah follow. "It's getting closer to my turn," I think, as I attempt to keep track of which floating color spots are my kids. It’s a natural parental instinct that keeps you watching out for your kids, although it’s getting hard to remember which colourful speck is which.
As Josh and Hannah land, with huge smiles on their faces, Nicky launches into the air to join the aerial dance of colour. My vigil is not over as now I have to watch my wife, although her shouts of excitement reaching me from high above, do help my tracking.
"Ok," Deon says, "just keep walking until I say stop." "OK," I reply as I look at the ants walking on the road below…Oh, they're not ants, they're cars! Wow this is high! Quickly, but nonchalantly, I enquire as the edge looms nearer, "So how long have you been doing this?" I'm hoping for, "about four hundred years and I'm the current intergalatical champ and actually I'm a reincarnated eagle which means I can’t fall from the sky" or something like that. However it's too late for conversation we are running towards the edge and destiny. “I wonder if our life policies are up to…” The ground vanishes!
It's like magic! Three steps and the ground drops away and we gently rise into the air. I'm flying! I'm actually flying! This is where words become pointless. I suppose that is why eagles don't blog, they just can't put into words the feeling. This is truly specilirating - I need a new word to augment our language's limitations to capture the feeling. The first thing that strikes me is the quiet. There is no noisy engine keeping you afloat, it's as if you are magically floating high above the trees and sea far below.
We magically bank to the right as we continue to rise joining he colourful carnival of flight as the dance of the paragliders swirls around the invisible thermals. I breathe deeply of the cool air drinking up the surreal beauty and inexplicable sensations with even fibre of my being. I'm flying. I'm truly flying. All those dreams where I've awoken disappointed to discover it was only a dream. And now I'm experiencing flight.
It seems too soon and we are spiralling back towards the same spot that we took off from. It seems incredible to me that we can rise and fly in the air for as long as we wish and return to the same spot once again. Like stepping down a staircase..one, two, three, four and we are standing still back on the the ground once again. However my heart and mind are still flying, and I fear, judging from the family’s enthusiastic conversation, this is just the beginning. We've soared with eagles...and our horizons have been set free.
“Make sure you pack the beer in the cooler box,” Nicky says as we pack a picnic lunch. We’re experts at picnics now, as finding a beautiful place to eat lunch is a near daily occurrence. The good news is that doing this in Sedgefield is particularly easy. A short walk from our timeshare unit on the beautiful Sedgefield Island, as it is called, and we are on the waters edge. We follow the gravel road along the edge of a tranquil estuary framed by a tree-filled hill rising to touch the perfect blue sky on the other side. “Hey look here,” Joshua says, as he bends down to pick up something. He holds up a small tortoise that had been slowly making its way across the road. It immediately retreats into its shell as we look at Sedgefield’s symbol - the tortoise which represent’s the town’s “slow town” motto.
“The water is warm, come let’s swim to the other side,” Nicky shouts from where she is a few meters out in the river. Our senses have been satiated from the high’s of the flight, to the taste of our picnic. And now once more we are flying, this time in the warm water of the estuary, as I float on my back and look up at the vaulted blue sky…I’m lifted high into the air.