My first full day in San Gil I started things right with Jas and Reagan. In the morning we caught a cab to the Juan Cury waterfall about a 20 minute ride from San Gil.
The Juan Cury waterfall’s multiple tiers total over 200 meters high.
We were there to repel down the waterfall but before we could go down it, we had to climb up to it.
This involved about 45 minutes of steep hiking.
On the hike we passed a Brahman. These aren’t your typical bovine from the Midwest. The distinguishing characteristics of Brahman that I saw in South America are boils (that look like tumors or camel humps to me) on their backs.
When we finally reached the base of the waterfall it was time to strap up and go.
Reagan looks nervous here for a reason. None of us had ever repelled before and while it would have been nice to start out with some practice on, say, a dry, gently-sloped, 10-meter practice wall, our first time “over the edge” would be on a wet, inverted-slope, 80-meter-section of the Juan Cury waterfall. Only in unregulated countries can this sort of thing can happen.
Fortunately, thorough instruction can usually help make up for lack of actual experience. Unfortunately, all we got was two minutes of rapid impossible-to-understand Spanish. My Spanish chops have returned to me after thirteen weeks down in South America but they were not where they needed to be when I was supposed to be receiving these vital instructions that would allow me to safely repel down the waterfall. But there I was, looking over the edge of the waterfall feeling totally out of place.
And before we knew it we were over the edge – first Reagan, then Jas, then me.
The scariest part was definitely stepping over that bar backwards with nothing but cliff and roaring waterfall behind me. I definitely did not want to slip.
But once I started down all the fear vanished and repelling started to feel natural.
I may have even started to feel confident, if not cocky with it. STEVE HOLT!
With spotters at the bottom holding our ropes secure all we had to do was slowly but surely advance down the waterfall.
The farther I leaned back the easier it was to slide down. To slide down I would simply release my back right hand, causing the rope to slide forward and thus me to slide down.
I took plenty of breaks to lean back and enjoy the view – up.
The hardest part about the whole exercise was probably avoiding the big gobs of waterfall splashing directly into my face.
After the second inverted ledge I really started to have some fun with it.
The photographer at the top of the falls had some impressive zoom – I was almost halfway down when he shot this.
When Reagan reached the bottom he was able to take some shots of Jas and I coming down.
The last ledge was the most fun to get over because instead of slowing advancing down, you really had to give yourself a kick off the wall while simultaneously releasing the grip on your back hand in order to swing out, away, and down at least five meters before making contact with the wall again.
For the last 30 meters of the wall I continued the kick-off-the-wall technique but probably didn’t look nearly as sweet as the SWAT teams do in the movies.
In the end we all made it down safely and were glad to have taken the risk – turns out two minutes of Spanish was just enough instruction.
It was kind of cool to look back up at the waterfall we had just come down.
The next day we continued our radical bent with a trip up the hill near San Gil for some parapente (paragliding).
It was not a particularly windy day but on this hill in particular, its always windy.
This is a cliff that meets a spot where air gusts are almost always rising, ideal paragliding conditions.
Both Jas and Reagan had an opportunity to go before I did, just like the waterfall. For these types of things I would much rather be the first one to get it over with, rather than being forced to wait in anticipation.
At least while waiting I got to amuse myself watching my friends in the air. For example Daniel, a Kiwi we had met that day, demonstrated that landing is not always at the discretion of the tandem guide – the wind needs to cooperate too.
The next time around the wind cooperated and Daniel was able to touch down relatively smoothly.
Finally it was my turn to take to the air and within minutes I was in the air with my guide.
Counter to what I would have thought, out of all the “extreme” sports I did in San Gil this was actually the most tame and felt the safest.
The most dangerous part was probably how close we got to the other paragliders – cords can tangle.
But never did I ever feel in any real danger – mostly I just enjoyed the view.
And the corkscrew-downward-spirals. Those were fun too.
When my time was up we had to swoop back towards the base camp and get ready for the landing.
It was fun swooping in down on my friends waiting below.
My guide brought me in for a very smooth landing.
Until I abruptly landed on my butt.
But this is pretty much standard procedure so I couldn’t complain and he was nice enough to oblige me for a photo.
As you can see at the end of it, I regretted having paid for such a trivial thrill…
In conclusion, Steve Holt.