XtremeBigAir Xpedition - ECUADOR Paragliding December 1995. By Kinsley ThomasWong

ECUADOR December 1995: It was around 7 p.m. on Friday Dec 1st, 1995 when we arrived in Quito, Ecuador's capital. Even though Quito is right on the Equator, the weather that night was quite pleasant, not too hot or humid. Our friendly English speaking local Ecuador ParaGliding pilots and guides, Juan and Felipe Vallejo, picked us, 14 ParaGliding pilots and 4 non-pilots from California, Oregon, Alaska, and Canada, up at the airport. We left the airport in our rented fairly new Isuzu Troopers and Mitsubishi Monteros.

That night we walked around Quito's downtown, a few blocks down the street from our hostel. Chiva buses, small door less buses jam packed with people, were everywhere cruising down the street. Modern hip hop music was blaring out of the Chiva buses entertaining their patrons who were dancing wildly on the buses' platforms. Across the street there was a big crowd surrounding an Incas band playing Ecuador's folklore music. It was quite a festive atmosphere. As we got out of our restaurant, around the corner a transvestite greeted us with his/her? bared bosom. .

After a big dinner, a few cervezas (beers), and a walk around downtown, we were anxious to get back to our hostel for a good rest in preparation for our first flying day in Ecuador.

December 2nd - Saturday @ Pachincha. Around 11 a.m., after a quick stop over at the landing zone and a long hour of bumpy car ride we found ourselves at the top of Pachincha mountain, 7500ft agl and 12000ft msl. I took a deep breath to enjoy the cool air and Quito's spectacular view: a hazy valley surrounded by green volcano mountains with white frosted tops. The air is quite thin and cold at this high altitude. Already the clouds were begining to become overdeveloped. Everybody hurried laying out their gliders and took off quickly. I waited for a good thermal cycle then reverse inflated my Nova Xenon 26 and took off on a nice big grassy gently sloping hillside. A few minutes later, I ended up at cloudbase - about 500 ft over launch and right over those radio antennas surrounding the launch area. Getting some small turbulence nearby the edges of cloudbase and especially flying around those high antennas was not my idea of fun flying, I stepped on my speed bar and headed to the landing zone (LZ), a long smooth glide. After circling around for 15 minutes on top of a big brown field near the LZ only to find a few small thermals popped up now and then, I landed to find out the rest of the group were getting suntan and drinking Cervezas. My friend, Kevin Lee, handed me a big cold Pilsener (Ecuador's beer) and pointed to the launch overcast with big towering clouds, our flying for the day was over. I chilled almost half of that Pilsener bottle to quench my thirst then packed up my glider leisurely while the rest of the Ecuador pilots landed. Suddenly there was a loud pop: one of the local Ecuador pilot was flying on his friend's glider and missed the lz. His glider had caught on the power lines. Luckily, he was not injured. His glider got a few small burned holes.

December 3rd, Sunday @ Radio Faro - Pomasqui, North of Quito. What an awesome site and it was one of the best flying days of the whole trip! A nice ridge/bowl about 3000 ft agl at 11000 ft msl. In the far distance, straight from launch I could see San Antonio town where a high tower marked the official imaginary equator line. The air and the scenery improved dramatically the further we were away from Quito. Green onion fields and coffee plants decorated most of the hill sides surrounding Radio Faro. It was about 10 a.m. when we arrived at the launch site. Sunny gorgeous blue skies with a high ceiling of cumulus clouds and a few light thermals excited everyone. Radio Faro is known by local pilots as a flying site which usually blows out quickly and early due to over development. However, that day the conditions there just could not get any better. Karen Yates was the first one to launch in a nice thermal cycle. She glided straight out from the launch and immediately hooked in a nice ~600fpm thermal. A few minutes later she was sky high. There was no inversion layer so the only thing going to stop us from going up higher was the cloud base. One by one, everybody forward launched in nice light thermal cycles. David Bingham took off in his ProDesign Profeel and his right wing tip was tucked in about 15%. It took him a while to clear and fly away safely from the launch.

By this time, as I was patiently waiting for everyone to launch, everywhere I looked, colorful paragliders beautified the blue sky of Radio Faro. David Bingman, Larry Friend and Rainer Korn were busy coring the thermals to the cloudbase at the far right of the ridge. Already, few pilots had sunken out and I could see a nice contrast of their laid out colorful gliders against the big green grassy field next to the small church in the far distance, a good 5 to 6 miles away. "Bye, See you all at the LZ!", I shouted out from the air to Anna, Lori, Annette, Jan, Chelsea, and Mary Jo: our beloved drivers. I immediately flew to where David and Rainer were. After a few turns right above a big brown plowed field, I hooked in nice big fat 500fpm gentle thermal gaining about 1000 ft over the launch. After about 20 minutes flying in and out the thermals and cloudbase, I noticed that everyone had landed at the LZ except David Bingham. Working the cloudbase at 13000 ft msl, I saw the whole Quito valley in the far distance and watched cautiously as a few 747 jet airliners take off from the runway since I was directly inline with their takeoff fly path. I was quite happy and relaxed after seeing the airplanes climbed a few thousand feet up then turned right. Cumulous clouds started to build up everywhere. Such a great day for cross country flying! My unmodified ham radio was useless at that moment since the whole group had decided to move up to the modified frequency band, what a bummer! Jumping from one cloudbase to another, I explored the whole valley of Pomasqui- about 10 miles radius - and returned to near the launch. A fine mist on the face of my vario became frosted after I had been flying in the clouds for a while. I was glad that I had my winter gloves on. Watching the big towering cumulous clouds filling up the sky quickly and my loud screaming vario showing a 800 fpm steady climb, I stepped on the speed bar and glided out to the LZ. Looking at the LZ while spiraling down, I saw no signs of wind and all the pilots were resting on their well packed gliders. Most of the pilots had their shirts off and were dozing in the warm Ecuador sunshine. David and I landed at the same time around noon. We highfived and our faces were gleaming with big smiles.

We left Pomasqui and drove to Otavala, an Incas town with a big local market near our flying site: Yahuarcocha. With the rented sport utility vehicles, we took the high rocky mountain road instead of the well built freeway. Friendly indigenous Incas waved at us as we drove past. Soft gentle cumulous cloud blended in so well with the high ridge of the Andes as we traveled south listening to the Ecuador folklore music tape that we had purchased from the local band in Quito the previous night. Stopping at San Jose De Mina, a weatherized beaten man with a huge handmade metal funnel and a five gallon bucket of gas filled our cars' gas tank. The wing spreading chickens and barking dogs ran off the road as we started our engines to head out while the Incas and their donkeys peered at us. A few hours later we were drinking Pilsener and eating roasted chicken with rice in Otavala. Next door, an Ecuadorian woman was sitting high in a wooden stool in front of a big blackened wok which filled with boiling dark yellow frying oil and Chuchucaras - a favorite local food which are frying mashed potato balls and salty pork meat. After lunch/dinner?, we shopped the local Otavala market for Christmas gifts. One for dad, another one for my brother, yeah this one for my girlfriend, soon I was in a shopping frenzy. Everything was inexpensive. A beautiful genuine wool handmade sweater only costs around US$8 if you are a good bargainer.

Our hostel for the night was a nice secluded place. Our room quickly became a pre-dinner party center with John Yates passing out a big Scotch bottle while Karen Yates cheerfully shared her


December 4th, Monday @ Yahuarcocha (Blood Lake). Another beautiful flying site! We were racing each other on the racing driveway around the lake to the LZ, 7000 ft msl. Another 30 minutes driving, we were at launch, 9300 ft msl = 2850 meters. It was around 11:40 a.m when John Yates and I launched in John's new Big Size ProDesign Companion tandem glider. There were dark cloud

Dinning to the delicious dinner served by the hostesses, we listened to the mellifluous music of the hired local band. Soon after a few round of the mysterious mixed drink shot, everybody was out on the floor dancing to the music while the band played on.

December 5th, 1996 - Tuesday. We flew at Yahuarcocha again after our unsuccesful attempt to fly at Cotacachi. It was worth it to check out Cotacachi. The view is breathtaking from the top of Cotacachi. I launched at 9300ft and within a few minutes later I was at cloudbase with max altitude gained for the day was at 11000ft. It was a bit rowdy at cloudbases.

December 6th, 1996 - Wednesday. We went back to Quito and flew at Pichincha. At 10:45 a.m, I launched in real light condition. Flying for the day was nothing significant.

December 7th, 1996 - Thursday at Bano - South of Quito. I launch at 9800ft and work the thermal to max altitude of 10639ft then sunked out. The thermals had shutted off. Everyone has sunked out. I was desperately working the house thermal near launch. Finally it popped and I took a real high angle core of 360 on this thermal. One revolution up, my right wing tip tucked in. I got a 80% collapsed. Weight shifted, I managed to pop out the tip but the Xenon went right into a horseshoe collapse. I then spinned right into a soft plowed hill. (I learned my mistake of not WingOver - 360 near the hill at thermal site, hopefully you will learn this from my mistake too. Check out Accident Report for more detail information). A quick ride to the local hospital for XRAY, and I was soon walking out the hospital. Luckily, I did not induce any major injuries. The next day I took a day off from flying and visited the local hot springs with my friend, Kevin Lee. Our lunch that day was quite exotic: roasted Guinea Pigs. Ofcourse, I did not know what it was until later on that day. We then flew to Crucita on December 8th.

December 9th - December 13 Crucita - Beach Flying. Life just cannot get any better. We flew this incredible beach site everyday and land right infront of the hotel. After drop off our gliders we dipped right into the cool swimming pool and relaxed by the pool on one of those swinging hammocks.

Everyday the prevailing ocean wind would come on at around 9 a.m and did not shut down until 4 or 5 p.m. This ridge is about 4 to 5 mile long. The beach is quite nice but there were not any waves for me to surf, so I ended up surfing the sky with my glider all day long.

What a wonderful trip I had. I would love to come back and fly Ecuador again soon. Everyone was very friendly and nice. I met many great new friends on this trip. Thank You everyone.