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Bob Hurlbett

July 2006
Columbia, 3rd Trip

Because I couldn't escape the office, I left SB three days later than intended on the new Avianca flight direct to Bogotá from LAX.  With a round trip fair of only about $650, the flight was 7 hours and 15 minutes door-to-door, plus a quick 1-hour leg into Bucaramanga and a warm reception from Richi and Annie Mantilla.

This trip was primarily a pre-construction meeting with our Colombian architect, Juan Carlos Rueda.  Our California designer, Emilio Casanueva (of Chilean descent and fluent in both English and Spanish), joined me for 3 days of meetings.  Richi and Annie's plans are essentially complete--ours are undergoing some revisions and should be final within 2-3 weeks.  Both houses should break ground in 60 days and construction will require 7-8 months.  We hope to begin welcoming friends to this little part of paradise by spring of 2007.

I managed to do some flying and attend a raucous World Cup party during the trip.  The celebration took place in the clubhouse at Ruitoque Country Club (pronounced “Roo-Tokey”) with local pilots and their families, some of whom are Italian expats and long-time local residents.  Hosted by Stephano Canucci, the Italian gem exporter who introduced paragliding to Colombia over 15 years ago, Stephano is now the principal Colombian importer for wings and all manner of equipment, including kite surfing gear.  His lovely wife, Carolina, is the senior manager for Phizer-Colombia.  They live in a beautiful home in view of one of the area's most consistent flying sites.

You've heard Andy Palmer and I describe this site before.  “Ruitoque” is located on a long ridge extending laterally 6-8 miles overlooking the city of Bucaramanga.  It's flyable almost every day as a thermic site in the morning and a dynamic ridge site in the afternoon.  The winds begin building by 3:00 p.m., often reaching 20+ miles per hour, as air is drawn southward across Ruitoque to the Mesa de los Santos (the location of our property) and into the huge expanse of Chicamocha Canyon.  Ridge lift combined with continuing thermal development often continues until dark.

On weekends, launch sometimes assumes a carnival atmosphere, attracting dozens of local residents and tourists who arrive by bus and car for commercial tandem rides and/or just to watch the many local pilots who fly there.  During the week, Richi, Annie, their students and/or tour guests often have the site to themselves.

We flew Ruitoque early during the trip, plus a new site I hadn’t flown before, called La Purnia, located on the West side of the Mesa along the edge of the Rio Suarez, a tributary of the Rio Chicamocha.  Located at 5,200’ elevation, this site is just a few miles from our property.  On a good day it should be possible to fly to Chicamocha and areas further south near the colonial towns of San Gil and Barichara.  LZs are widely scattered in the valley below launch or OTB into the interior of the Mesa toward Ruitoque and Bucaramanga.

On Tuesday morning, July 11, at 9:30 or so, a small group of us launched from our property on the Chicamocha rim.  Annie, local pilot Willi and I were solo, Richi with tandem passanger and Nepalese student, DePak, who begins his senior year this fall in Biomedical engineering at Duke University.  We circled 30 minutes or so over the rim of the canyon at elevations up to 6900' (1000'+ AGL), then crossed the Rio Chicamocha to the ridge leading to the Panachi visitor view point (a central feature of the Parque Nacional de Chicamocha, or “Panachi,” on the South rim) and found thermals in all the usual places, high above the highway to Bogota.

The Park includes a mass of new construction along the ridge crest including a new headquarters building, visitors center, the view point, a high speed tram system and a new paraglider launch just recently completed under Richi's supervision.  (ESPN recently filmed a feature on the Park and its emphasis on paragliding, including launches by Richi and 25 to 30 local pilots).  The tram will carry passengers from the canyon rim to the river below (a distance of about 4000+') and back up the other side to a point 2-3 miles west of our lots.  We expect it, and our houses, to be completed at about the same time.  The party is already being planned!

For anyone not familiar with the Mantilla tours (which also include white water rafting, trecking and mountain biking), see www.eparaglide.com. Pics of this, my third trip to Colombia, can be found at http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=9QbMnLlu0Yec