El Valle de Cauca - The Cauca Valley - one of Colombia’s richest departments is characterised by the Cauca river separating the two mountain chains on either side. This river is almost 1000km long until it joins into Colombia’s largest river, the Rio Magdalena (that we already told you about). The Cauca Valley is Colombia’s port to the Pacific with its capital Cali and biggest port town Buenaventura. Only about 10-15 years ago, this region was still dominated by narco-trafficking. And still, south of Cali, regions tend to be slightly less safe. But between Apia and Cali, which was our planned route, everything should (and was!) totally safe - and more! Someone we met was telling us:”When I was young, I had a large friend and relative group, probably around 60 people. But then the era of the drug lords began and people started fighting each other. It was like a war. Today, everything is safe. Drugs still exist, but nobody is fighting. But from the 60 friends, there are about 8 left...” I don’t know if he was exaggerating, but certainly not too much. And most importantly: today, one really does not have to worry! Sometimes, I was landing in rather remote places and all I met were incredibly friendly people who invited me for drinks and food. So yes, the planned trajectory was Apia-Ansermanueva-Roldanillo-Piedechinche (with possible stops in La Union or Buga). And form there (Piedechinche): to the airport in Cali, Palmira, and back to Europe. We had about one week for this trajectory which actually can be possible even in one day (if you feel like flying 10+ hours and around 250km) or in 3 days going directly from one place to the next. But once more we stayed in a couple of places to do public observations and activities and also to enjoy the flying together in those last days. But let’s find out about the ‘real life’:
Kira after 3 days of hike & fly in the Cauca valley:
I’d like to rename hike&fly here into fly or die. If you have to land (preferably in a field of curious cows) you have to find your way back to the main road, fighting unbearable el niño heat. Unbearable with a capital U. Yes, if you ever wanted to see someone hike in bikini my landings are the place to be. In short, we try to avoid landing. Which also means we are in a constant fight about the 20-square meter Arriba wing. Its much more difficult to stay in the air with the very light and very small Masala wing. Even though we hardly carry any luggage apart tooth brush and sun screen we are still too fat for an xxs wing (maybe because my icecream consume has at least tripled since we arrived in Roldanillo). So we take turns and exchange wings every day - even though I think that Marja should leave it to me as she likes heat so much. Other than that the last couple of days have been constant learning for me - learning to not stress so much about cables for example. There’s two main power lines spanning the valley, every finca has its own bunch of cables coming in above ground and of course street lamps in the middle of no where have to be connected as well. Let alone the omnipresent fences. But heat also means clear skies and incredible views. Sometimes its hard to believe how far you can see from high above in your glider and how beautiful this valley is flanked by two mountain ranges, the Cauca river far below you and the one main road that connects the occasionnal towns. So peaceful from above but actually buzzing with life. Well, I m happy we didn’t bring the horses ;);)
Marja after 3 days of hike & fly in the Cauca valley:
I really don’t understand the problem of the heat here - it is finally warm again after freezing Sopo!:) Plus, this climate allows us to fly some nice crossings, although I admit that carrying a telescope around in your harness does not improve your comfiness index. But it improves the happiness index around at night. BUT, it is for sure too heavy to fly with the 16sqm XXS Massala. Don’t get me wrong - I love that wing, especially to carry it up;) But yes, as Kira doesn’t want to carry around the telescope, I’m at least getting somewhat priority on the Arriba, youppie! Otherwise I got lucky and Leo let me try out his BoomerangX, but he obviously wants it for the larger XC flights. Bummer. But the Arriba - and even the Massala!! - do fly great (at least if you have enough patience to get up high enough first and then follow the highway of clouds in this valley). Once you are in the air, it is simply magical! I have already been putting up pictures on facebook from the flights as they express this magic much better than any words.... active mountains on either side of the valley allow you to stay up for hours, at least until the Pacific wind kicks in from the one side - so make sure to cross the valley before!;) Another beautiful part: on the hikes up and landing spots I met horses (and lots of cows:))! I already started missing ours, but soon was invited to go for a ride where I landed. Also super nice families in their fincas invited for drinks and food although I was totally out of money. “There are things you cannot buy with money” - their answer and we kept chatting, laughing and just enjoying the beautiful moment. And it’s so true “there are things you cannot buy with money”. Observing the moon and night sky with just a few people from the take-off where we were camping - of course with our LightbridgeMini telescope from Meade instruments which came with me on the hike-and-fly - was wonderful, priceless. The sleeping Cauca Valley below us, the lights of the towns glimmering just as if they continued the starry sky from above.... Colombia never stops impressing me.
Below some more pictures, also including both our equipment - really crazy that there are telescopes actually small enough to take on a hike and fly adventure! Thank you Meade instruments for the Lightbridge Mini, it's fantastic! And Thank you Skywalk for the Range Air harness which somehow fitted it - plus all Marja's stuff, and for all the rest of course! Also showing you some landing where the cow herd started following me until the horses arrived:) And a photo with one of the daughters I met at a finca (her mum really wanted a picture of us, so I took one, too :)) and finally the sticker that indicates our landing sites throughout the valley :)