Our Thailand paragliding tour has come to an end and I have been totally delinquent in posting about our adventures. So, here's a recap of my more memorable landing zones (LZs, for all you non-flying folks). More posts on other topics to come.
EPIC LZ 1: Pineapple Plantation, pre-harvest
My first cross country (XC) flight from Paradise Bay took me north, over two small mountain ranges where I bombed out on the middle of a pineapple plantation. I landed on a narrow dirt road in between fields of pineapple plants. In case you've never seen a pineapple outside of the market, the plant they grow on looks sorta like an aloe plant with spiky leaves that surround a single pineapple growing atop a stock. They stand about 2 feet tall and are planted in rows with just enough space to place a single foot between plants.
So, although I touched down on the dirt lane, my glider settled across four rows of poky pineapple plants. Oh, did I mention it was a slightly downwind landing? Well, it was. And my glider overflew me. Which was particularly sucky because it landed upside down on the pineapples and all my lines got caught up in the spiky leaves.
Once I had extricated myself from my harness and I unclipped my wing, I got to working gently teasing my glider off one row of pineapples, balling it up as I went. Then, on to the next row of pineapples. As you can imagine, standing between two rows of knee-high prickly pineapple plants in shorts as you fish your prized glider out of a Thai plantation is not nearly as fun as flying it.
Four rows later I got free, packed up my kit and then tried to phone my friends for retrieve -- only to find that I had no cell service and could not make a call nor reach them on the radio. Crapity crap. That left only one option: walk to the main road and hope for better cell reception there.
With my glider on my back and fresh cuts on my legs, I headed towards the farm house to ask for directions to the road. There I found a friendly Thai man, who started talking quickly as soon as he saw me. unsure whether he was upset or just overly excited, I tried to give 100 baht as an apology for landing in his plants. He waved my money away, talking to me more slowly in Thai, which was still hopeless as my only Thai phrases are hello, thank you and not spicy. I got smart, grabbed my phone and hit the Google translate app. But what to you know, you need cell coverage for that app to work.
After drawing pictures and pantomiming, the man pointed the way to the nearby golf course, which I figured was a good start. I set off in the direction he pointed, walking down the dirt roads within the plantation, turning left at every intersection as he'd indicated, believing it would lead me easily to the road. By this point, I had connected with Matty via the radio and knew he was on his way to fetch me. The only problem was I couldn't figure out how to get out of the plantation.
I wandered aimlessly in the baking hot sun, carrying my heavy glider until finally the farm man picked me up in his truck and took me out to the main road. Within minutes I was reunited with Matty and on my way back to town. A good first experience landing out in Thailand.
EPIC LZ 2: Rocky vs. Taro
My next XC flight was from a foot-launch site called Phu Am. On this day, I was wearing pants AND long sleeves and was prepared for just about anything. I had even downloaded a new app to my phone called Learn Thai that speaks aloud a bunch of ready-made phrases in Thai using either a girl's or boy's voice, with the corresponding appropriate word choices for each gender.
As I got low over the valley, I started looking for a good LZ. I finally settled on a brown dirt field that from the sky appeared to be relatively flat and crop-free. However, when I got down lower I realized that it was rocky with huge clods of dirt -- a place I'd be lucky to escape without a twisted ankle. To the right of this crummy field was a taro field filled with delicate looking plants. I decided to split the difference and was delighted to find myself landing again on a narrow roadway, this one carpeted in soft dead grass, running between the two not-so-great landing options.
As I packed up my glider, I was annoyed yet again to find that my cell phone lacked service. Deciding it was time to head for the nearest road, I set off again towards the farmers' house and what appeared to be the way out of this plantation. Next thing I knew I was surround by an entire family who was delighted that I had landed at their house and who peppered me with questions I could not understand.
Thankful for my handy new app, I first explained that I couldn't speak Thai and then I asked if I could use their phone. The mother set off and quickly returned with her teenage daughter on a motorbike with two cell phones. (I'm guessing they were on different cell providers?) I dialed Graham's number and the girl held it up to her ear, trying to talk to Graham in Thai. When that didn't work, she handed the phone to me. Luckily Graham hadn't hung up and I was able to report my location.
Then the girl motioned for me to grab my glider bag and join her on the motorbike for a ride out to what I only hoped was the main road. I was in luck! She took me to the main road (notably in the opposite direction from where I thought it was) and deposited me at a roadside outdoor cafe where another nice teenage girl gave me cold water and a tasty bowl of noodle soup.
When the boys rolled up and it was time to leave, I tried to pay for my lunch, but the girls would have nothing of the sort. Another good landing and retrieve thanks to the kindness of others.
EPIC LZ 3: A Trophy for my tummy
On this day, I flew my longest distance in Thailand of the tour: 25km, beating all the other pilots for the day and winning myself a freshly chopped pineapple to prove it! (More on that later)
My landing field this time was a cross between the two previously described ones: part dirt clods, part pineapple field (post-harvest). After a delightfully smooth landing, I was even more pleased to see that my cell phone had reception! I texted Matty to see about a retrieve and sent along the GPS coordinates from my wrist vario. As I packed up my glider, I got a call from Josh asking for more details on my whereabouts. After a few more calls and two more sets of GPS coordinates texted to Matty, they finally figured out that Google Maps wasn't working right on Matty's phone, but that Josh's phone seemed to have a more believable dot on my current location.
Meanwhile, the local farmer had come over to talk with me. With Google Translate up and running, I explained that my friends were on their way and asked for the name of the nearest long road. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to get the all to translate the guy's response. So it was back to pantomiming. He agreed to take me to what I hoped was the big road, loading my glider in the side car attached to his motorcycle and indicating that I was to sit off to the side on a little metal shelf.
Pleased to be getting a ride rather than walking in the heat, I was unnerved when he stopped the bike in the shade of a tree and set off across the field. Luckily he returned a few minutes later with a freshly cut pineapple -- my prize for having the longest flight of the day, I decided. Shortly thereafter, the boys found us, still on the dirt road, but a little closer to the highway than before.
So, there you have it -- three great adventures from landing out in Thailand. Complete with friendly faces, free food, and plenty of pantomiming.