Monday, October 31, 2011

Paragliding in Puli

This weekend, to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday, we went on a camping and paragliding trip to Puli, a town (pop. 86,000) about an hour’s bus ride into the mountains from Taichung City. Boje and I met at my branch on Saturday afternoon after I’d finished teaching for the day, then took a cab to the Nantou Bus Company counter at Taichung City Station (台中干城站). It was the same bus company that took us to Sun Moon Lake, and it was only NT$125 per person (one way) out to Puli. We were dropped off at Nantou Bus’ Puli terminal and took a taxi up a winding mountain road to the campground where we’d be flying from the next day.

The campground was so lovely and located in a large clearing on the mountainside. There was a huge patio with a sort of outdoor kitchen/snack shack where our group of 10 was served an all-you-can-eat BBQ feast under the stars. We had chicken steak (ji pai), chicken wings, chicken butts (or the “Parson’s nose”, as Boje calls it), chicken skin, steamed vegetables with ginger, and a tofu/fish ball soup. Boje and I also had some skewered BBQ chicken hearts. The verdict: chewy, and tasting slightly of blood.

Some of the people we were with were camping in tents there for the night, but we paid an extra NT$200 per person to share a cute cabin with three other people about 20 minutes away. We all celebrated our friend’s birthday well into the night, and a little while after midnight the five of us staying in the cabin decided to call a cab. Turns out no local drivers drivers wanted to come up dark switchbacks in the middle of the night, so the lady running the kitchen drove three of us down the mountain while my friend and another girl followed behind us on a scooter. I reached the bottom with Boje and the birthday boy, but the girls had experienced some scooter engine trouble and were delayed getting down. Once the five of us had all met up at a beautiful park at the bottom of the road, we made our way to a 7/11 (Taiwan’s 24-hour cab stand) and called a taxi. The driver seemed to know where to go (based on gesturing, our yammering in English and his banter in Chinese, and lots of pointing at a map of the area) so we headed out. The taxi driver missed a turn and so we were flagged down by the girls. A Taiwanese man at a nearby gas station was consulted for a second opinion, and after much shouting (not in anger, but in the tired, confused way of people trying to overcome a severe language barrier) we were back on the road. There were several more false starts, but we finally made it to our destination at around 2 in the morning. In typical Taiwanese fashion, rather than be a jerk and charge us extra for the hassle, the cab driver halved our previously agreed fare AND gave us his card so we could call him in the morning, because I’m reasonably sure he thought no other taxi driver in Puli would know how to find us again. We collapsed into our tiny cabin and all passed out promptly to the sound of chirping crickets, croaking frogs, and snoring boyfriends.

In the morning we (slowly) got up and headed back up to the campsite to meet up with the rest of our party who’d stayed in tents. Around 11, an awesome South African paragliding pilot named Yuri as well as some Taiwanese pilots he knew showed up and we started flying!

Boje was the second in our group to go and I was so terrified/impressed the whole time he was up there. He entrusted me with the “big lens” so I was able to get some photos. Every time the pilot brought him down near us, the whole group on the ground could see Boje’s huge grin. I had a momentary panic attack at one point, though, when the pilot was trying to land the chute and we heard him yell “Shit!” as the parachute continued down the mountain. He'd just missed the landing, which seemed like a pretty normal situation all day as the winds picked up. All was well, and they landed gently on the following circle. My own trip was less successful. It wasn’t scary at all - you feel completely safe up there. The guy who organized the trip for us aptly described the experience as “like sitting in a big glove in the sky”. My only problem was the crippling motion sickness. I made one circle and was feeling okay, but about halfway around the next lap I exclaimed “Bu hao! Bu hao!” (No good!) and insisted with the few Chinese words I could muster that we needed to land. Once I was safely on the ground I still felt queasy for about an hour.

After everyone had flown, about half of us headed back to Taichung on the Nantou bus, and the other half took scooters. Those of us on the bus took a cab to an amazing restaurant in town called Uzo Bar and Grill. Wow. I hadn’t had a chicken gyro wrap like that in a long time. None of us had eaten since breakfast, and we all devoured our wraps, burgers, pizza, desserts, and cold drinks. It was the perfect ending to an awesome weekend. Boje absolutely loved paragliding, and is already thinking about when we’ll be able to go again. Sounds nice, dear - enjoy your flight. I’ll be the speck on the ground kneeling over a bucket.

For prospective paragliders:

If you'd like to try paragliding in Puli, contact Steve or Yuri from Step Out in Taiwan. They're on Facebook and offer a bunch of different scooter tours and packages on their website. They did all the bookings and arranged everything with the cooks at the campground as well as told us exactly where to go, so we had an awesome overnight stay and very safe paragliding experience for under NT$4000 per person (including meals and bus fares).

The cabin where we stayed the night
Waiting for take-off
Just after take-off
Puli in the background
Yuri having some fun
From below
Brett & Yuri
Failed landing attempt
Amanda waiting her turn
"What have I got myself into!?!?"
"I can do this... just don't barf!"
Amanda about to be hurled off the side of a mountain
Amanda after take-off
Amanda paragliding
Amanda paragliding
Back on the ground and thankful to be alive!
The launch area
Paragliding in Puli
Brett & Amanda

No comments:

Post a Comment