Friday, March 14, 2008

Flying Costa Rica - Mostly True Tales of Our Winter Trip

By Joanne Blanchard:

A February flying trip to the “Pura Vida” of Costa Rica – was what our group of 11 found to be the Great Winter Escape. Besides warm, beautiful landscape, we discovered a warm, relaxed and welcoming culture. We soared daily in humid, sweet sunshine and summed up the experience with sunset ocean swims, scuba diving, fishing, and botanical gardens.
The group: Rick and Jeannie Hubbard, Greg and Laurie Newhall, Joe Parr and Sharon Strobel, Doug and Janet Paeth, Mike Freeman, Tom Allen, Joanne Blanchard. The journey: Seattle to LAX and then another 5 ½ hours to San Jose, Costa Rica. Followed was a two-hour drive south, to our home base of Jaco on the Pacific side. There, we rented vehicles (get full insurance coverage!) and two beautiful homes in a gated, guarded community.Our own Rick Hubbard did a fantastic, thorough job of making all arrangements.

Local paragliding instructors acted as our site guides the first two days. These guys, Rodney and Daniel, really made the trip exceptional for us. They led us to four flying sites, gave orientations, provided launch assist, and introduced us to others who manage sites with private launches of restricted access.costa-beach

From driveway to launch in Jaco was a l0 minute trip, barely enough time to apply the sunscreen. At about 900’, one could climb out and take off in several directions. LZs were abundant. Greg Newhall set the site distance record here by reaching the beach. And not to be out done, Tom Allen pushed on a bit further to a lovely beach resort, for its congratulatory margaritas.

We’d been warned about landing areas at other sites and saw firsthand there certainly are 12-15’ crocodiles in them riverscosts-croc. Compelled to learn more about poisonous snakes, spiders and frogs, we visited a culture center. It was not necessary to learn about coral snakes by wrapping them around your neck, but most in the group did.

Mike had already flown X/C out of Parrita, then removed his helmet to find he’d taken a tandem passenger. A tarantula the size of a tostada was gripping the foam inside. He probably deserves a rating for that.

Soon after, Mike developed an urge to build a web and eat ants but counteracted it by spending a late night in a local club where, for not too much local currency, a man can feel like a real caballero.

This tropical area of the country is lush with greenery, abundant in kiskadees, macaws, buzzard companions, and laughing falcons. Hundreds of magnificent frigate birds passed launch at Caldera, the ridge soaring site we enjoyed above its coast. Storm activity that so often loomed close by never moved in.

Landing on the beach below was celebrated with $3 tropical drinks and plenty of fresh seafood at the outdoor seating.
After a day of soaring, a sunset rinse in the balmy sea was in order. costa-jaco The orange dirt (high iron content), remains permanently on our clothing and gear. The stories, brags, many laughs, and fabulous food highlighted the evenings.
Beaches are not safe at night and we were even warned after leaving the water one evening that a crocodile was “grazing” out there. But hey, we’d already survived the Brahma bull LZ where Tom couldn’t resist leading a meeting, and several of us had been dragged six or eight times across launch in high winds. I personally did not mind being hucked off launch by the small army of American and Costa Rican amigos. Mucho gusto.

We all got by with minimal Spanish speaking skills. We learned immediately that our guides were not kidding about “trust no one”. Sharon literally lost her shorts, with house keys and Rx glasses, the very first evening on the beach. However, we appreciated the “Pura Vida”.

The flying sites were suitable for everyone from a P-2 to a P-4. Our advanced pilots were happy to assist the whole group in launching and having as many flights as wanted each day, usually one to three. The locals fly mostly weekends so we often had the air to ourselves. costa-tom It was interesting to note that only two of 60 local pilots are women, and of the 60 total we saw only a handful in our 12-day visit covering four flying sites.

Joe, having met his hero the Costa Rican sloth, was ready to call it a trip. We filed out of town, Joe stopping to hand the house guard a beer, and will look forward to sharing detailed trip information with interested pilots. Talk to Rick – seems he never sleeps