PAYSANDU, Uruguay – Paragliders are giving adventurous people interested in seeing the Uruguay River, located in the western part of this South American nation, a new vantage point for viewing the waterway.
“(Paragliding) is ideal for seeing the world in the third dimension and, for us, the third dimension is a dimension we don’t get to know much, we come into contact with it when we fly,” Alfa Parapente instructor Manuel Fernandez told EFE.
Fernandez specializes in teaching people how to fly powered paragliders in the area around the international airport in Paysandu, a city in western Uruguay.
“Unlike other places, such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile, which have higher altitude places, Uruguay is a relatively flat place,” Fernandez said, adding that powered paragliders have helped increase the popularity of the sport by introducing it to areas that lack hills and mountains.
Paramotoring, as the sport is also known, has helped many adventurous people make the dream of flying come true.
“I believe it’s the dream of lots of people. I started when I was 20 and had done skydiving for a few years here with the club in Paysandu and, later, I learned about paragliding and I dedicated myself fully to flying and teaching,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said that while he flies alone or with companions year round, the fall was his favorite season for being in the air because the ultralights offered majestic views of open fields, the leaves changing color on trees and the banks of the magnificent river that separates Argentina and Uruguay.
“For me, it’s the most beautiful season, when the weather is most stable, you don’t have as much heat or cold, there is less wind than in the spring,” the flying instructor said.
The ultralight pilot said paragliding was an ideal experience for all kinds of people because unlike skydiving, you can relax and enjoy looking at the scenery.
“It’s like riding a motorcycle, but (you are) flying,” Fernandez said, adding that motion sickness was not a problem once people got used to flying powered ultralights.
Alfa Parapente’s students range in age from 15 to 50, Fernandez said, noting that women “are less afraid to fly” than men.
“With us men, it’s like we have to be in control ... while gals relax a little more and enjoy themselves,” the flight instructor said.
Fernandez offers both flights with an instructor – a 15-minute flight aboard a two-person powered paraglider at a cost of 1,500 pesos ($43.73) – and classes for those who want to take to the skies solo.
Learning how to fly solo requires 15 to 20 days of training at a cost of $700.
The only downside to powered paragliding, according to Fernandez, is that people become addicted to the experience.
“I was captivated by the possibility of flying easily, cheaply and on my own. We can fly anywhere, we don’t need a runway, facilities or a hangar, we just need to take our equipment in any vehicle,” Fernandez said.