Monday, June 05, 2006

Paragliding in Korea

Ben, right before he flew into a tree on the side of the mountain.

Last Tuesday night, the night before the Election Day holiday, I took a bus to Dangjin in hopes of going on a paragliding trip the next day with Ben if the weather cooperated. The weather seemed perfect when we woke up at 6:30 am; we arrived at Pyeongtaek bus station by 8:45 am and a member of the paragliding group was waiting in his car to pick us up. We pulled in to Danyang, the base camp for our final destination of Sobaeksan National Park, around 11:30 am.

Most of the people on the trip were members of the paragliding group and had previously jumped before. I had never been and was hoping to do a tandem jump with "Teacher". After watching everyone practice and then one by one jump off (including the one other person I could fully communicate with) I got my chance. Teacher called me over to the edge and started outfitting me for the jump. I nearly could have fit two of my heads into the helmet.

I was patiently awaiting some rudimentary instruction of some sort to be translated through a combination of elementary English, hand signals, and basic Korean that I could understand. A good breeze comes and Teacher catches it with the parachute, bringing the huge tandem contraption into the air. "Front-a, front-a!", he yells, as I'm trying to figure out if I should run or stay still.

Before I had time to mentally prepare, we were off, but it was no smooth sailing yet. Teacher was a bit frantic, yelling at me to do something with my hands but I had no idea where to put them. I tried a couple different places, which were confirmed as wrong by the incomprehensible shouts of Teacher. Finally my hands were right but now he was yelling for me to sit down, "Anja, anja!". I thought I was sitting down but apparently I wasn't far enough back in the bucket seat attached to my pack.

At last, I could relax and enjoy the view. My adrenaline was pumping, mostly because I thought I was going to be the cause of a tandem crash into the beautiful but unforgivable trees and rocks below. Thankfully I wasn't so I could catch my breath and enjoy the ride down. It was very similar to skydiving after you open the chute: turning in circles, catching the wind, feeling weightless.

We were in the air around 7 minutes when we started to get close to the river below. We did one more big 360 over it and started heading towards the rock covered edge. Fast. I thought we would do one more loop before landing but now the small boulders were fast approaching and I had no control. I could only await my fate and hope for the best.

I was in front and hit first. The parachute went in front of us and pulled us on our stomachs, Teacher on top of me, dragging us in the rocks for a couple seconds. We came to a stop and I spit out the chalky dirt that had flown into my mouth. I came out with a couple scratches and a ripped shirt but no serious injuries.

"Good jump. Bad land," Teacher said. I agree, it was an amazing jump! I'm glad I had the opportunity to do it once before I left the country. Some advice for anyone considering paragliding in Korea: If you're a thrill seeker and want to really send the adrenaline pumping through your body, do a tandem jump with someone who doesn't speak your language with absolutely no prior instruction.
Everyone came back up for one more jump. I read and took a nap in the sun. When I woke up I thought everyone had jumped and for a minute I thought I would have to go around asking if anyone knew where a waygook, "Teacher", and some girl who went by "Ugly Dog" were. Learning Korean names is not a strong point of mine.

Me with Teacher, not knowing what the hell I'm doing...

Ben's successful first jump of the day.