Beep beep – a text appeared on my phone.
‘Want to go paragliding?’
‘Where?’ I text back.
‘Puncak? Wanna go? I’ll drive.’
Albeit unnecessarily long and profusely congested, I love the drive to Puncak from Jakarta. Lucky for me, Jack was driving, so I had all the time in the world (well, around two or so hours) to absorb the surrounding views that line the way to the city of mountain peaks.
As soon as you hit the fringes of smoky Jakarta, flashes of traditional Indonesia spring up on either side of the road. Rows upon rows of frayed, wooden carts selling hanging bunches of green and ripened bananas – others display smugly rotund watermelons to tempt the weary passers-by. Further on into the journey, the roadside is gilded with small, ornate lantern shops. Like miniature Aladdin’s caves, the ceilings and walls of the huts hang jumbled with multitudes of emerald, ruby and golden and lamp fixtures, consuming every inch of space available. Each time I pass them, I make a mental note that before I leave Indonesia, I must purchase one of these gem coloured lamps for my next home (wherever that may be).
Puncak, compared to Jakarta, is a haven of green, rolling hills with sprawling tea plantations that inundate the place. After a few hours of traversing the city with a mix of Marley and Kula Shaker swirling through the car stereo, we finally reached our destination. Well, the bottom of our destination. Literally meaning ‘peak’, Puncak lives up to its name – and these hilly peaks were now fully surrounding us; green, towering and rustic, like big friendly giants.
Jack’s car, Black Mutant, mustered all of its strength and power to trudge the uphill drive, but once high enough, the roads became flatter and less strangled by traffic. The roads now swerved and curved around the hilltops, and below stretched an expanse of millions upon millions of tea leaves, with the odd grey truck, now the size of an ant, chugging along in the distance.
Black Mutant climbed just a little bit higher and it wasn’t long before we had arrived at the Paragliding site. My heart began to beat just that little bit faster, and a nervous but excited smile spread across my face. Aaaah I’m going paragliding!
‘Is it safe?’ I asked Jack. ‘How long will I be up there for? Will we get to go together?’
‘Ah no, it’s just you today. I’ve been before.’
‘What?!’ I said, more nervous than excited now. ‘I’m going alone? You can’t tell me that now!’
‘You’ll be fine, it’s safe,’ he smiled.
I growled. ‘Grrrrrrr.’
Nevertheless, I was still determined to try paragliding and thought that if I didn’t do it after the long drive here, I would seriously regret it later.
We walked up to the grounds of the paragliding site, where people waited in a small hut and the instructors prepared the large ballooning chutes on the grass next to it. I wrote my name down on the list and signed all the necessary precautionary paperwork. A petite figure of a man with silver hair and wearing a bright green jacket was effortlessly pulling aside masses of billowing parachute material away from the anxious looking participants. Jack pointed, ‘That’s David.’ He waved over to the man and beckoned him over.
The little man walked over to us in the hut and stretched out his hand. Jack shook his hand, as did I. He had a bright, white smile with laughter wrinkled eyes, and tanned weathered skin. In near perfect English he told me he had been the man who had organised Jack’s first paragliding venture, and today he was to be my paragliding partner.
I watched curiously as people before me prepared for their flight. They would get securely strapped into the chute, and had to carry a heavy looking backpack. The instructor would then strap themselves in behind, and all that was left to do was very steadily pitter-patter over to the edge of the cliff, speed up and jump off. They would descend just briefly for a heart-stopping second before the air would magically fill the parachute. It would fill out, and within another split second, the air would lift them, swooshing them high up into the sky.
After some minutes of nervous twitching, jumpy knees and restless hands, my turn was up. Ohh flippin heck. With the muscles in my heart skipping a little more now, I stood up and walked over to the lift off area. The savvy paragliding instructors plonked a helmet on top of my head, made sure it was secure, and then strapped the heavy pack onto my back. Jack made sure he documented the intricate procedure, as well as making sure of capturing the look of semi-supressed fear and terror that was visible on my face. ‘Damn you, Jack!’
David strapped himself in behind me and the bright orange parachute was cleanly lain out behind us. Whilst having to bend our legs and lean back onto our backpacks, we simultaneously walked forward a few steps. The parachute picked up, billowed out and caught some air.
David tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Ok, go faster now, run!’
‘What?! No!’ I tip toed a little faster, but my knees were becoming increasingly stubborn the closer we got to the edge. David moved faster behind me, picking up the pace. The edge of the cliff was creeping nearer and nearer to the tips of my feet, and the realisation of how high we were was becoming more and more evident with each passing second. Before I knew it, my toes were teetering at the cliff edge. I clutched on tight to my straps and felt the ground leave my feet.
All of a sudden, the chute swelled with air and SWOOOOSH we were lifted tens of feet up into the air. Needless to say, I let out the girliest, high pitched scream that unfortunately not only could dogs hear, but also all of the spectators below too.
I heard Jack laughing in stitches below. So much for my front as a fearless adventure seeker.
Once up in the sky, I continued to let out the odd mouse squeak every now and again, but in a very surreal way, it was very calming. Floating high above all the world below me, I was closer now to the clouds than the earth. This is probably gonna be the closest I ever get to flying, I thought. Bobbing up and down in the cool breeze, we hung high above a narrow stream that trickled through the carpet of tea plantations below. Beyond them, the ant sized trucks were now pin pricks of grey and red, slowly crawling along the long tracks of grey road that cut through the green landscape. I carefully took out my camera from a side pocket to snap a few pictures. Must not drop, must not drop!
‘What do you think, miss?’ David asked me.
‘It’s beautiful up here.’ I said. ‘How long have you been doing this?’
‘Thirty years. I’ve paraglided here, in Australia, Singapore and Yorkshire.’
‘Yes, York, miss. Near Leeds in England. Do you know it, miss?’
‘I went to university in Leeds!’
‘I lived in Leeds for five years,’ he said. ‘They have funny accents there.’
Floating 1,300 metres in the sky of a random city in Indonesia, with a man I had met just ten minutes ago – who was now helping me paraglide – and I had just learnt he had lived in the same city I went to university in. He even knew the name of the university’s clock tower. The saying of ‘it’s a small world’ had never been truer in those few moments.
For about fifteen minutes we hung and swooped through the sky like (bright orange) hawks without a mission. As we absorbed the spectacularly green view and chatted about the northern charms of Yorkshire, the minutes cheekily slipped by. It was soon time to come down back to earth.
Wait, how are we getting down now?
I hadn’t thought about this part yet.
I could feel us descend just a few inches, and I noticed a small, square field not too far away. I pointed to it, ‘We’re going there?’
‘Yes miss. Put your legs out straight and keep them high. Try.’
Slightly confused, I did as he said. I leant back and stuck my legs out horizontal and straight before me. ‘Like this?’
‘Yes, miss. Don’t put your feet down.’
How are we getting down? I flicked through a few images of a few James Bond style films in my mind. Each time I conjured up an image of the heroic protagonist, who had just recently been thrown/heroically jumped from a small plane wearing a parachute, heroically floating down to an empty patch of countryside, and heroically landing on his feet. So I guess we’re not landing on our feet then, I naively thought.
The descent picked up speed fast, and the tiny ant-sized trees were now rapidly becoming bigger and bigger. The trickling stream was now a full-on gushing river, and the trucks in the distance were now heavy, noisy tanks. I could see an ‘x’ marked on the small square field. And it was getting closer and closer…. and closer. Wait, are we going to miss it?! Figures of people below us were waving their arms and shouting, ‘Down! Down! Down!’
We glided over the x. Oh my god ohmygodohmygodohmygod we’re going to crash into the next field! Now around ten metres away from the x, and only feet away from the ground, it became apparent to me, that yes, I was indeed not going to be heroically landing on my feet, but instead rather ungracefully landing on my bum.
‘Legs up, miss!’I raised my legs in front of me. We sped towards the ground and sure enough, THUD! My behind hit the ground, bounced off and hit it again. Like jubilant football players, we skidded through the grass for a metre or two and then came to an abrupt halt. We were on earth again.
Three young men came running towards us and unbuckled us both. My heart beating fast, I sat on the grass for a moment and looked back at the towering mountain behind me. There were other people in the sky now, so high up they were only distinguishable by their orange parachutes. Had I really just been floating around over a thousand metres in the sky?
One of the young men came to take my helmet, ‘You ok, miss?’
I snapped out of my daze. ‘Yes, thank you, terima kasih.’ I glanced back at the mountain. Hold on, Jack’s up there. How do I get back up there now?!
The young man seemed to read my expression, ‘You must climb up now, miss. You good climber?’
My eyes widened. ‘What?!’
He let out a cheeky laughed and held his skinny stomach. ‘No no miss, car over there. We take you back up.’
My heart still pumping from the adrenaline, I laid back down on the grass and watched the sky. ‘Ok, just wait a minute.’
My eyes followed the orange parachutes dangling in the sky.
The young man once again read my mind; ‘You want to go again, miss?’
I laughed and thought, just a few seconds ago, I was flying. Flying.
I lifted up my head and looked back at him, ‘Of course I do!’
Go Go Go!
Where: Puncak, approx. 100km outside of Jakarta
How: By car – expect it to take around 2/3+ hours
Why: Nature, National Parks, Tea Plantations, Paragliding
Money: Paragliding costs 300,000 RP. (approx. £15)
Tips: The weather’s not too cold in Puncak, but if paragliding, make sure to wear trainers and not a skirt. Unless you are qualified, you must paraglide with an instructor. It’s pretty safe to take up a small camera with you as well as they have a small pocket for cameras inside the equipment.http://www.flypuncak.com/wp/