Sunday, October 25, 2015

Iquique Instructional Days 2015

Okay, I'm a  pretty bad travel blogger because I snarfed up this blog url (er, copied from Sharky) before I left for the trip and never found the time to write while in Chile.  I'm now on the plane returning to lovely Hawaii nei, and attempting to jot it all down before I forget.  Mahalos to Sharky for recommending this trip to us.  It was everything he said it might be: a great place for awesome thermalling and kiting rounded out with great instruction and local foods.

View down coast from Alto Hospicio thermal flying area

Wake, eat, fly, eat, sleep, wake, kite, fly, kite, eat, sleep, repeat for 10 days.  Not a bad vacation for a paraglider pilot; a bit grueling for some of us out-of-shape older working stiffs, but gratifyng nonetheless.

Our base camp at Palo Buque,
with a view of "Big Hill" (with green on it this year)
and  a little view down coast
This region of Chile is awesome for paragliding, with tall steep hills near the coast, large expanses of sandy playgrounds and LZs, and virtually no rain or pesky weather systems-- usually.  The trip has previously been held in November -- late spring in Chile -- for the best thermal conditions.  This year they scheduled it a little earlier, and we were rewarded with mellower thermals, but the tradeoff was a few days where clouds hung around the morning launch long enough to compel us to give up on it or rather light winds in the afternoon kiting playground (both good opportunities for ground school!).  Another benefit of the early trip or perhaps El Nino was the unexpected appearance of some lovely green ground cover on the "big hill" of the Palo Buque site, quite out of
View of part of Playa Brava from our hotel room
character with the rest of the regional terrain (excepting the patches of grass and small palms in town that were actively watered everyday from large water trucks). Another nice feature is a dual lane highway drive up the hill to launch, with another highway under construction. Several more launches down the coast can be reached by 4-wheel drive.  There are also large expanses of undeveloped sand dunes

Todd, Luis, and Marcos, our tour leaders, each contributed to various aspects of the training: groundschool covering safety, flying concepts, physics of angle of attack and what happens and how to respond when AoA goes awry;  each also wowed and inspired us with their able flying; Todd  readily demonstrating the kiting skills we should aspire to, Luis finding thermals and turning to heights with ease and guiding the successful pupils to XC goals, and Marcos a little of both.

Coming in to land at Huayquique Beach, plenty of space!
Many folks on this "educational" segment of the Iquique trip were relatively new or low airtime pilots.  The next two segments are going to progressively focus a bit more on thermal and XC flying.  Johnimo is staying on for the 2nd segment.

The first evening we arrived we had nice evening light ridge lift mellow thermal conditions.  It was a nice treat after the 34 hours of airline travel and layovers to have a brain-dead-simple extended sledder in the late afternoon light.

Approaching our hotel at Playa Brava from Alto Hospicio
The next two days provided beautiful sunny mornings for perfect thermalling conditions. Being a bit rusty, I couldn't hold the big ones the first morning and took the safe trip to Huayquique Beach.  The second morning, Todd and Luis coached me around through a couple of thermals and with that better start I was able to repeat with a few more thermals and eventually go high enough to head to Playa Brava near the hotel.  I soon learned an extra bonus at Playa Brava is the green grassy areas actively maintained by the city of Iquique which make for a much cleaner folding area than anything near Huayquique -- in addition to not having to pile into a retrieve van for the ride back to the hotel for lunch.

Kiting up the hill at Palo Buque
The first two afternoons at Palo Buque were somewhat fickle with light winds one day then super strong winds the next, but day #3 was a charmer with perfect winds for all kinds of play, kiting on the level, kiting up the hill, and soaring either hill.  Mark from Maui made multiple XC trips to "Mystic Dunes."   His wife Theresa, and Annie, also from Maui, rounded out a nice Hawaii contingent on this trip.  Others from around the globe included John from Vermont, Bill from Alaska, and Ping Ping from Singapore.
Geronimo launching Palo Buque little hill

*some* of the dunes behind Black Mountain

One morning we took a trip to Black Mountain -- a taller steep ocean-facing mountain site reached by a fun four-wheel drive mining road over and around large sand dunes like something out of a movie.  The launch was eerily above the inversion layer, and warmer than the air down below.  We waited for the inversion to lift and cycles to start coming up. Finally, we were able to launch, float down through the bumpy inversion, down to lunch in the quaint fishing village below.  The thermals on this day were not quite what we'd hoped for, but the views and fresh seafood made up for it.  
Of course, we went to many great restaurants throughout the trip that ran the gamut from the fishing huts in the small village of Los Verdes to artsy pizza to a fusion Peruvian-Sushi place.  Many pisco sours and complimentary shots added to the festivities.

Both John and I learned many new things on this trip.  Even as I watch my GoPro videos now, I'm coaching myself -- "Turn darn it!  Keep that radius smoother! tighter!"  Easy to say now as while watching the video I can't feel what then seemed like the thermals slipping away from me in different directions.    It was a good last hurrah for my dear old wing.


  1. Great read Sandy. Thanks for writing it up and sharing. Iqueque is on my flying trip bucket list for sure. Cheers & Aloha!

  2. Luis, Todd and Marcos were the three mentors and/or instructors for the three phases of the tour for 2015. June was able to take vacation for the first tour, the ten days of instruction. I was able to stay an extra week where we still did instruction and ground schools, but were able to go to further thermal sites. They for sure ratcheted up the challenges during the second tour. I understand that the last tour, in progress now, is only for those exceptionally experienced pilots.

    My observations were:

    * A 17 day PG tour in Chile is exhausting. That said, I would do it all again in a heart beat!

    * Luis, Todd and Marcos did an incredible job of risk management, training, and coaching. They were "ON" every day. Yet they knew when to back off due to exhaustion of some of their "Older" participants. This gave us a small window to recover and then come back into the next round ready to roll.

    * EVERY DAY flying has a wonderful impact on your skills. Doing it with highly qualified and engaged instructors, especially during the first tour was exceptionally effective in the "learn try fix try master" process. I can not say enough about the quality of this super team. First Rate.

    * The food in Chile was fantastic. As stated by a previous participant, you may not get what you thought you ordered, but what ever it was, it was GOOD.

    About half of our group at some point in the trip did get the runs. I attribute it to local ice and water. I was fine the whole trip and believe the following helped me to remain so:

    A. Avoid all ice and drinking any tap water. I certainly used it for brushing of teeth and cleaning, just kept my consumption of it at a minimum. At restaurants, recommend you drink local bottled beverages (local Kunzman beer is GREAT, bottled water, etc.)

    B. Bring you own camel-back and drink all of it every day. You will be dehydrated. Many of us purchased (at the next door Jumbo super market) the 5 Liter Nestles bottled water. It's cheap insurance and I think was important advice.

    C. Consume a yogurt at breakfast and a second Activia sometime every day. The pro-biotics in the yogurt group of us were much less impacted the whole trip.

  3. (Geronimo Comments Continued)

    The United/LAN flights between Honolulu and Iquique required about 32 hours. For those of us that don't sleep on airplanes, I would recommend a day lay over somewhere along the way. Doing it sleepless was brutal.

    That said, the United Club provides a couple of "Club Passes" with their United Miles credit card. Worth having and using as the showers are fantastic in Houston.

    Much of the first tour is spent working skills on and over sand of Palo Buque. Having mid-high hiking boots was very helpful. The first few days I also wore a pair of gaiters and that substantially reduced the accumulations in the boots. After a few days, I started to get the hang of things and the gaiters were not necessary. If you have or can borrow a set, they were worth packing.

    The hotel used (Terrado Club) is quite nice. Breakfast buffet is excellent and the rooms are spacious. There is a laundry, Jumbo Supermarket, Cambio, ATM's, and many good places to eat all within 5 to 10 minutes easy walk.

    Located about 100 meters from the hotel is the very desired landing area at Playa Brava. Any chance you get, land there as there is nice grass to fold up your glider.

    If you decide to go on this tour, contact me and I'll send you my adjusted packing list and a pile of other info.

    Be aware that this trip is not your typical set on the beach and relax trip. Days are very long and the effort is intensive and exhausting. It is 90% about your skills development, having fun in flight, and pushing the limits of your skills. Frankly it was perfect for June and I.

    I want to thank Sharkey, Jorge, Ken H., and Bill Heaner for their extremely positive encouragement for us to do this trip. All your comments and suggestions were spot on.

    As I said above, I would do it again in a heart beat. If you are seriously interested in next year's trip, check it out. If you want a pile of info, including a revised packing list, let me know.


    Geronimo John