Finding my way to Colombia

It’s great having good friends especially when they help you in need, so thank you Ingi. Leaving Bucharest on New Year’s night can be complicated when you live 20km away from the airport. Taxis are hard to find and the prices are booming. But we got there on time thanks to our friend and we managed to get our baggage paid and checked-in in just a few minutes.

Getting to Roldanillo

It was a very long trip to get to Colombia and I got there very tired, even if the airways company managed to make our journey easier and decent. The first stop-over was Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, a well-organized giant with lots of places for rest (it is important when in transit, to have a place to spread your legs). From there, we flew over the ocean with a very big plane, Boeing 777, with about 400 passengers onboard, arriving on time in Panama City airport, where we had to spend about 5 hours before our next departure. That airport, the one I heard so much about especially over the duty-free shops, was not that impressive and I actually couldn’t find any decent place to rest.

the Aguapanela take-off

Welcome to our new temporary home

Our hosts in Roldanillo are very nice and friendly people, a traditional family (with 2 small kids, a dog and 2 puppies), who retrieved us from the Pereira Matecana Airport, where we landed from Panama City.

The trip by plane lasting 24h with 2 stop-overs wasn’t very comfortable and the first night I spent in Roldanillo, our destination, was delightful for sleeping in an actual bed.

The first day in Roldanillo was tiring, as we couldn’t sleep more than 6 hours because of the jet-lag, we packed our paragliders and headed to the city center for having our breakfast, get some local currency from the ATM and buy local SIM cards. Near the central park we got a cab to the main take-off, Aguapanela, which costs about 30.000- 35.000 pesos and lasts 25 minutes. People are very friendly in Roldanillo, as I was about to find out.

The first flying adventure in Roldanillo

Being very tired, I couldn’t manage to fly too much and the air felt bumpy.

The first day there wasn’t the usual weather because it hadn’t rained for a few weeks and it felt very dry and hot. So, heading to a place to land, I decided that a grassy field will do, near the city so that it wouldn’t be that bumpy in a small landing field closer to the city center. But guess what: I actually landed in a pineapple orchard, probably not so well maintained as it was full of tall grass around.

It was a real adventure to get off that field because my paraglider landed over that grass which was taller than me. I managed to get off from the grass and move 2 meters in about 20 minutes and got to a ditch where I could actually pack my glider because the grass wasn’t that tall over there.

After a while, I got to a road close to the city and I put my home address to Google maps trying to not get lost. The trouble here in Roldanillo is that Google Maps has no accuracy and I managed to get lost because of the numbering of the streets and houses (first, they note the street’s name, then the alley’s name and then the meters away from the house to the street..I mean: how weird is that?!).

Luckily for me, as I said, people here are friendly and when I asked a guy for directions, he actually offered to get me there, walking with me, telling me about his beautiful country and asking the people living in the area about the right address. It seems that Google maps got me a little too far from where I was supposed to get, but after 1h30min of walking in 360 C ( which next days took only 20 min), I got to the place we stay.

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How things work around here

In Colombia there are some stuff you got to get used to: you and the equipment have to be prepared for the rain, no matter what the forecast says because the weather is not that predictable, you will most probably take cold showers every day and you have to get used to fried food.

The weather

I’m getting used to my new gear with very small steps and I think the weather doesn’t help me either. First few days we got here, the weather was very dry and the temperature very high +350C. So it was pretty bumpy and the thermals were rare. Next days the humidity increased and the air felt much better, more thermals and I decided to take my chance and go on a small XC flying around Roldanillo. But the humidity was rising so much that it started raining every day for many hours, especially at the take-off, which is at 1800m ASL, and over the mountains, that I had actually flown once in the last 3 days.

The food

After a cold shower and half an hour of sleep, we got to the city center to get something to eat. Apparently, many restaurants were closed at that hour on 2nd of January, 16.30-17.00, but we got to a nice place near the central park where I had a wrapped chicken and best lemonade I had ever tasted, with coconut juice and lime. It was really delicious and I will try this again the next days.

In this area, there are many fruits, exotic for me, like mango, papaya, bananas, maracuja or avocado and others I haven’t even heard of and they serve fresh squeezed juices and smoothies on the street. This is my dream place!

I have tried the local papaya, bought from the supermarket for about 1000 pesos, and it is great! All the other papayas I have tried before in Romania were green and with a totally different taste because of that. I also bought one big green banana to try to see how it is, but it sucks because apparently the best way to eat them is fried as patacon, a tradition in Latin America.

A nice and fast breakfast you can try on the street, prepared by local people in front of their homes, called arepa con queso, a corn bread with cheese, very tasty and light, made on grill (especially if you have already tried all kind of the fried empanadas- pastry filled of meat, cheese and vegetables)

People and places

The best thing being in Roldanillo is that in this period, you are never alone. There are here pilots from all over the world and you get to know them especially when parawaiting :). The first day when I didn’t fly (because of me getting too late to the take-off and the rain coming) we discovered a super cool new place near Aguapanela, called Montana Posada, with multiple functions: restaurant, accommodation or leisure like horse-riding. A very beautiful place, with very welcoming staff and great views, where you can actually see the take-off from the bar. So the perfect place for parawaiting, where I ate something called patacon con pollo, a delicious chicken stew served on patacon base layer.

There are also places where you can run from the rain, closer to the take-off. There you can try Aguapanela con Queso, a local drink made of sugarcane and consumed with local cheese.

I have met people from France, USA, Canada, Germany and New Zealand, all very kind and funny and I hope I will see them again (the ones that already left Roldanillo). With the others I meet every day at the take-off, on the bus going up or when I go out in the afternoon/evening.

The mobility in and around Roldanillo

People in this area travel a lot by motorbike or scooter, a few by car and many by bus. The bus travel timetable is pretty good, the fees are very cheap and the connections between villages or cities are very good, so it’s a very easy way for retrieval from XC flights. You can also travel by taxi or jeeps to get to the take-off, but it is more expensive than taking the local bus.

If you want to try going wild, you can rent a motorbike, around 40.000 pesos per day, and get to feel the flow of this cool place. For sure I will try to rent a bicycle as I really want to do some workout.

When in need, people here find solutions to get you where you want. So, one day, after parawaiting at that cool restaurant near the take-off, we wanted to take the bus to Roldanillo, but the bus was full. So a man from the staff there offered to get us to Rolda by car. We were five pilots with five equipements and the driver in a Chevrolet Aveo, usual type. It was very funny how we managed to stuff ourselves in that car and to get to the village in no time :).

On the 12th of January it will start here in Roldanillo the Colombian national championship and probably it will be full of pilots everywhere. So I will probably have lots of new stories to write about.

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