Casual fans of paragliding may think the sports resides primarily in the cable-car served peaks of the Alps – but flight fanatics know that the South American country of Colombia offers some of the most reliable flying in the world – especially in the middle of Europe's winter.
That’s why Tom de Dorlodot and Horacio Llorens joined local pilot Alex Villa to do a hike-and-fly of the Cauca River valley, starting a few hundred kilometres south of Medellín.
Video: Flying across Colombia
“Colombia has a great reputation for weather and conditions,” says Tom. “It’s the best flying in in February and January. You’re in the air almost every day! During the Adriatic Circle, we’d been walking a lot. I wanted to get back under my wing.”
The idea was to fly from a town called Santa Fe, down to a town called Calí – a 400km straight-line shot. But once on site, they made a bold decision: do it backwards.
Crossing Colombia – By the numbers
“The line is pretty cool, because we’re always following the Cauca River,” says Tom. “We got in touch with Alex Villa, a Red Bull X-Alps athlete, and he wanted to join us. So we did it Red Bull X-Alps style – no getting in the car, no riding – just hiking and flying.”
It was also the first vol-biv trip for Horacio Llorens, who although a highly-skilled pilot, is known more for his acro skills than cross-country skills.
And what about the risks in a country known for its, well, risks? “Colombia is very safe if you know where to go,” says Tom. “But it’s dangerous if you mess around. The drug lords don’t like professional photographers; they don’t want to be featured in magazines!”
The first couple of days were tough – a strong headwind and weak flying conditions impeded forward progress and kept them on their feet.
But conditions turned during day three, and the boys were flying high, and, for three days, didn’t walk a single kilometre. “That’s the beauty of vol-biv,” says Tom. “Top-land, and have the freedom to fly where you want the next day. You feel refreshed, and ready to fly on a good level!”
With good conditions, Tom says he, Horacio and Alex could have made it in just five days, but opted to take six, finishing with a high, technical flight that took them nearly all the way back to Medellin, potentially setting a local altitude record (3,700m) on the way.
The surprise of the trip? Running into fellow Red Bull X-Alps athlete Dawn Westrum in the air. Says Tom: “The day we flew 125km, she caught up with us. She made a very difficult crossing, and had a few low saves – she’s really a great pilot with incredible flying skills.”
Stay tuned for more action as Tom de Dorlodot pairs back up with Paul Guschlbauer to finish off the Adriatic Circle in May.