Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Wizard of Oz

Jorge suggested we take it easy on the first day. “Just stay local and get a feel for the place. Don’t go too big too soon.” We stayed true to that recommendation. But day #2 was no longer the first, and we hoped for a worthy XC. We were getting pretty good at launching between the rock piles, sand piles and stakes at the construction site… I mean launch site.

Still, I would easily trade some of our Hawaii launches for La Cumbre, even in this state. Paul launched first with the project engineer, foreman and three local policia observing. The police looked like they might have just been on patrol and stayed to satisfy their curiosity. Some time after Paul launched, Thom got airborne, and then me. With that, the police continued down the hill and the foreman must have left too, as nothing looked different on the project the next day.

We were trying for 4,000 feet or more before setting off across the flats. Our turns in lift were meandering paths. The lift was certainly abundant above launch, but it was disorganized. Our paths were the result of following the birds of prey that were turning every which way, but favoring general areas of lift. Eventually, we managed to get near our 4,000-foot goal. Paul was off first. On the radio, he announced, “This thermal’s gone and so am I”. With a short delay, Thom followed. They were heading toward the southern end of Colima – en route to the hotel and near where Paul and I landed the day before. While they set off, I was busy milking the lift four or five hundred feet higher. When I topped out and was about to set off to follow, I saw four or five of our markers (birds) head out themselves, but in a more southerly direction away from where Thom and Paul went. I followed. There’s no sense in following single file across the flats.

This route was upwind and I was confident I could fall back to the others and join them, even with a weak thermal. And I was curious about where the locals were going. It worked well in the end. My path was roughly in line with a pimple on the landscape ahead. And just beyond that was a field where a farmer was plowing dirt that turned as black as coal. It was exactly what I remember seeing in paragliding textbooks on the subject of “thermal triggers”. I pressed, knowing I would have less than a thousand feet over these two features and had fields picked out to land in had they not panned out. As I approached, I began to climb. After “four potatoes”, I began to turn, but my turns were well short of where I expected the lift to begin, so I floated out each successive turn toward the triggers. The climb intensified, and then more. It was a wide swath of lift and I wasn’t quite sure how wide it was, but I was happy with what I had, so I just kept my turns even. As I rose, I saw what was perhaps the same birds I followed earlier a few hundred yards off to my south. I flew across to where they were. The thermal backed off, but still continued as I approached. As I reached the birds, the vertical velocity went back to what I had before. The six of us turned up another 1000 feet, this time in organized circular paths. Then, as though my new friends decided I didn’t belong, they left me. I searched the sky to find other birds. I thought there were some more to my north. Something was up there. As I approached, I saw it wasn’t birds at all, but palm fronds and leaves and plastic bags. Some of it was really quite sizable. It was a swirling, turning, and rising mass of debris. It came at me like asteroids in a Star Wars movie. And it was everywhere. I stopped turning and just flew where I wanted to go. Why not? The lift was everywhere! And I could SEE it! I imagined seeing Toto and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz go by. It was a crazy experience!

Topping out over 5000 feet, I was on my way to somewhere. I set my course for the closed Colima airfield where Thom and Paul were. I never saw them. It’s a short walk back to the hotel from there. At one point, based on what I heard on the radio, I thought they were landing. I thought I was on my own. I had Comala in my GPS, a smaller town outside of the NW corner of Colima. I had its soccer field set as a goal, so I went that way. I didn’t expect to get there, but it was somewhere worth trying for. It was one of the best XC flights Paul had had on his previous trips - so he said. Three decent thermals presented themselves along the way. I could see a bullring under the last of these columns of lift. Our taxi driver to launch that morning mentioned that a bullfighter from Spain was making an appearance here in Colima. It looked like this could have been the place. The thermals connected nicely and Comala was in the bag. The soccer field in my GPS perhaps wasn’t the best choice for an LZ. It was tight, thermic and had trees, light poles and a fence surrounding it. I had to s-turn my way in, but managed it. The grass was beautifully manicured and climbing the fence wasn’t too difficult.

As I packed my wing with a curious, silent young boy staring at me through the fence, Paul radioed to see if I was still flying. He was approaching the same field and planned to land here too. Hurray! I wasn’t alone after all. I recommended somewhere else, and he chose a larger, less refined farmer’s field to the east. After packing, we set off separately for Comala Centro. It was a town he knew and there was a good place there for bebidas y comida gratis (drinks with free food).

Later at the debriefing, I found out about the drama behind me. Thom and Motorhead did NOT land at the airfield by the hotel. They climbed out of there and followed behind me, though they didn't know where I was. Thom was above Paul at the airfield, but that didn't last long. Thom was turning down and setting up to land while Paul hooked a thermal and topped out above 4000 feet. Eventually, Thom realized this and worked his way back up to join. Paul headed to the bullring to the west and Thom was in tow. At the bullring, Paul was getting low and said, "I'm setting up to land". Thom was coming in a little lower and did just that. Shortly after Thom landed, Paul, with his landing gear down on final approach, got some beeps and made a turn. Over forty turns later, he secured Thom's loneliness and went on glide at over 4000 feet. Not long after that, he called me on the radio and we caught up by the soccer field.

Shortly after Paul & I sat down and ordered our cervezas at our sidewalk cafe, the free appetizers began to flow. Then, as though he planned the arrival at that moment, Thom climbed out of a taxi a few feet away from our table. It was a "James Bond" moment. Before we could finish the libations, Paul put on his pack and told us to meet him two blocks away at a specialized coffee roaster. He knew what he was doing. Thom and I followed later, and met his friend Conchita, who is a well-known coffee co-op roaster. She gave us a tour of her roasting operation and prepared us some extra-fine espresso. Then, after we bought bags of beans to bring home, she invited us along to a Toyota appointment just a few hundred yards away from our hotel. We graciously accepted and were home at last. It wasn't the greatest distance, but it was the sweetest of XCs.

Colima flights on Leonardo


  1. I love the 3d Leonardo flying. Is there a launch on the higher peaks? Might get you guys above the inversion layer?
    Mules, maybe?

    1. I found a good web site that shows other launch sites. Check the links at the bottom of the blog.

  2. That's the most detailed account of a single flight I think I've ever read! Glad to hear you guys are having fun over there. We figured out you guys threw an XC hex on us over here. Flying almost every day but can't go anywhere. Come back and lift the curse! Por favor! Por favor with cherries on top!

  3. We fully expect good flying conditions on Oahu the day we return, whenever that may be. Right now we hope that will be on the 20th. Don't pray for good weather. Pray for favorable flight loads!