July 2013 was the first time I set foot in Europe. Come August, Jonas and I embarked on a road trip to certain parts of the Schengen countries. One of the many places that we’ve visited was Annecy, a small town located in the south-eastern part of France and well… this place was amazing!
Jonas picked it as one of our ‘stops’ since he fondly remembers the childhood memories that he had when his family went on camping trips here. Aside from wanting to see it again, he also wanted me to see it! And I’m glad that he thought of it because aside from the wonderful sights and the magical view of the Lake Annecy (especially at night time!) we also had our first-ever experience of paragliding here!
This quaint ‘commune’ of Annecy is under the Haute-Savoie ‘deparment’ in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France.
The More You Know: So basically, there are 27 regions in France and Rhône-Alpes is one of it, located more to the south. Under this are 8 departments, including Haute-Savoie bordering both Switzerland and Italy. It has 4 ‘prefectures’ or communes in it, one of which is Annecy, mainly referred to as its capital. From this you can derive that France has 3 levels of government: regions, departments, and communes.
After settling in to our camping spot at Camping Au Coeur Du Lac, we were greeted by the friendly owners who made sure that everything was in accord. (Thank goodness that Jonas knows how to speak French! It’s rare to see English-speaking people in these parts! And it’s also quite common for people to opt for camping sites especially since they’re affordable; this was around 18€ only).
While they were talking, the topic led them to recommend “parapente” or paragliding for us.
Jonas quipped, “Oh yeah, I remember a lot of people doing that when we were here! Do you want to try it?”
When he asked me that, I felt a sudden rush of excitement so I instantly said YES! And then right after blurting it out, my eyes landed on the promotional photos for it and huge goosebumps started to spread all over my body as I realized what I was really getting into! …b-but… HECK, to hell with it! I really want to try it out!
So the next day, we headed out to the meeting place. (By the way, we were told to wear thick clothes and sneakers since it could get really chilly up high.) Minutes into the drive, I can’t help but get all too giddy when we started to see more and more paragliders in the sky! Once we arrived in the area, we saw the different providers too in their own stalls.
The company which we booked with (set up by a friend of the camp owners) was F.B.I. which meant: “Fly Best Instructeur”
After registering, we had to wait for a while since our assigned instructors are apparently still in the air. So while waiting, we joined the throng of people who were simply sitting on the grass, watching the paragliders up high and the paragliders who are already landing… it was really lovely!!! Some were even doing such scary-looking tricks before going down and I cheered them on like mad.
…I stopped doing it after a while though when the looming reality of my hands-on experience was drawing near.
NOTE: These providers do ‘tandem paragliding’ for those who are not professionals. From the packages that F.B.I. provides, we picked the ‘Discovery Flight’ which was worth 90€: it will be 20 minutes long and it will include an 850m drop in the end along with a few tricks up in the air. *yikes*
(For their other packages, you can just contact them in their website).
After a while, we were called and that’s when I met my instructor a.k.a. the person that I will trust my life with for 20 minutes. His name was “Yaya” and I found it a bit funny because in the Tagalog language, it meant ‘maid’ — but he was nowhere near this noun.
He was very tanned and a bit taller than me, and the way he moves (like repacking his gear after landing) was so fast that I was assured that him and the other guys in F.B.I. are true-blue professionals! No such accidents ever happened with them either so I should be safe! (Right?)
When we talked, I managed to learn further that Yaya has been doing this for 6 years. So I was definitely assured even more …but that doesn’t mean that my nervousness went away!
Anyway, from this point on we were to go on a van ride up to a certain part of Col de la Forclaz — a 1,500 meter (5,000 feet) high mountain—where our jump-off will be located.
While we were driving up, Jonas and I joked about what we were getting into especially when the view outside started to get higher and higher! At one point, I even felt like backing out… BUT I didn’t want to be a pussy… HAHA and I didn’t wanna waste money and an exciting opportunity; so again, like I said above: to hell with it!
May I point out though that the driver can be a bit reckless… but he was driving like he was so bored from doing it all the time. The only assurance that I got that we were going to be fine with the guy’s driving skills was when I saw all the other F.B.I. paragliders lounging and taking a nap in their seats while we make our way up this high mountain.
Oh well :P
Several minutes after, we finally arrived!
On a cliff! Holy sh*t.
Yaya gave me a quick briefing as to what I should do before jumping while he worked on strapping me to his paragliding gear. In between trying to comprehend him (I’m kidding, he only had one instruction LOL) I was mustering the strength to absorb the fact that the cliff before me was veeery steep!
I looked around for Jonas and when I caught his eye, he had this foolish grin on his face and I knew that we were both thinking the same thing. “This is it!”
Lost in my thoughts, I was drawn back to reality when I heard Yaya’s voice. But this time, it sounded far, “Aileen, come here!”
My jaw dropped.
He was standing on the middle part of the slope! He’s right there on the cliff with our other gear!
“Aileen, come on now.”
Is he serious? One misstep from me and I’ll go rolling down this mountain!
But it seemed like he wasn’t joking, nor did he see the fear in my eyes because he just kept saying, “Come here, come here!” Clearly I had no choice but to obey while praying so bad that my clumsiness won’t kick in…
Look behind us! That’s the scary slope that I was asked to stand on! This picture doesn’t give it much justice though, it was veeery steep!
And oh, look at my scaredy-cat smile. (You can see Jonas behind us too).
When I finally reached Yaya, I badly resisted the urge to cling on to him for dear life.
“Remember what I said? Don’t sit yet, just stand and run along with me as we jump off this mountain, okay?”
Oh, what a lovely suicidal-but-simple-sounding invitation.
Once Yaya was done strapping the two of us together, I didn’t have the time to look at where Jonas was because my mind was trying to focus on this ordeal!
“Ready?” I nodded and then we started to run to the edge.
I felt the blast of cold air on my face, my feet loosing touch on the ground and bam! …I was flying!!!
Yaya later on motioned that it was fine to sit already and right when I did, I had the chance to better marvel at the display before me: overlooking the blue lake, the green mountains and the colorful horizon… wow.
I FELT HIGH. It was just so surreal and magical!
I even started to remember one of the lines in ‘The Intouchables’ movie wherein Philippe talked about why he liked paragliding:
“I always liked extreme sports, speed, going faster, higher… I had it all with paragliding. I got high, I could see everything. And breathe. I was raised with the conviction that I was good enough to pee on the whole world.”
Funny, but it perfectly described how this ‘adventure’ made me feel. Though in another sense, aside from a sense of ‘mightiness’ from gazing down at this vast landscape, I also felt how small our presence could also be compared to the vastness of this world… #cryptic
Yaya took his time taking me to different spots around Lake Annecy. Occasionally, he would also ask if I was feeling nauseous, and to fill the ‘silence’ he would even ask about my background and from where in Asia have I grown up in.
Funny thing: since I was obviously Asian, I think Yaya felt obliged to make peace signs whenever he takes pictures of us in his GoPro camera. LOL. I badly wanted to tell him that though I’m Asian, it’s not like I embody peace signs or something :)) But he was having so much fun, urging me to put a peace sign up for him so I didn’t feel like correcting him at all -Thee said photos will never be posted by the way-
Anyway, Yaya respected the ‘silence’ too, so he would often let me ‘gawk’ at the landscape around me.
I can perfectly say that the take-off was the only scary part of this activity and gliding around up in the air was rather a luxury and an enjoyment that I will forever remember :)
By the way, at times, Yaya let me ‘steer’ by pulling on the handles when we have to turn to the right or to the left.
VERY NICE… he also trusts me with his life!
Jonas was also having fun with his own instructor, mind you!
Before we were about to do a drop to the landing ground, Yaya told me that he was going to perform a few tricks. By then I was all so cool with the whole paragliding thing that in my mind I was all: “Nah, nothing can scare me now! Bring it on!”
Boy, did I speak too soon.
The tricks Yaya did could really pick up some speed from the wind and when we went on horizontal 360 turns, I almost cried from fear. Like seriously, I was seconds away from screaming my mom’s name.
Certainly, it was a sure-fire way for me to experience yet another surge of adrenaline!
“Are you still okay?”
“Y-yes!” I replied, putting on a tight smile.
Eventually, we had to touch down. Yaya told me that I should just make running motions with my feet and to continue doing it even when it already touched the ground. I followed his instructions well and we did a smooth landing ;)
You see, I tripped and fell on my knees the moment I touched the ground. LOL. Very lady-like. But at least my clumsiness kicked in at this point of our paragliding experience rather than when I was standing on that cliff! Whew! -positive thinking FTW-
OVERALL: A must-try. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And I could definitely recommend F.B.I. as your tandem paragliding provider. As for the helpful tips to remember, like I mentioned above:
- Wear shoes and thick clothes. Obviously: don’t wear flip-flops because that could fall from up high and it could hit someone, if not pollute the environment. LOL :)) And there’s a high chance that the paragliding providers won’t have available shoes of your size to lend to you.
- If you easily get light-headed or nauseous, have problems with your heart, etc. then it’s best that you skip this activity… unfortunately :(
- Don’t worry about bringing a camera, the F.B.I. team have GoPro cameras which each of their instructors have. At the end of the session, they give you all these photos (and video clips too!) in a CD which is part of the package as you fly with them. But if you really want to bring a camera of your own, best to bring one that has a strap.
I managed to make a (lousy compilation) video of Jonas which is a bit stretched (sorry) because I was having a hard time managing my PowerDirector software back then. I’ll make a new one but I’m lazy so… haha! I hope this will do.
My video clips you say? If you want to hear screaming (since Yaya only managed to take video clips when we were doing the terrifying tricks) then I will, but surely I want to spare you from that torture and I want to spare myself from the embarassment lol.
Have you been to Annecy? How was it for you? Did you also try paragliding? Please feel free to tell me about it in the comments section below! :)
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I am Aileen Adalid. At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to travel the world. Today, I am a digital nomad (entrepreneur & travel writer) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.
My mission? To show you how it is absolutely possible to create a life of travel, and I will help you achieve that through my detailed travel guides, resources, and tips!
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