On our last day in Bali, we took a chance and booked a paragliding trip.
We were picked up in the afternoon by a young kid with a cigarette still dangling from his lips. In his beat-up SUV we pummeled through downtown Denpassar traffic and veered off onto smaller country roads near the southeastern tip of the island. As we drove, the trees began to shrink in height, the houses and commercial buildings began to slowly disappear, replaced by grassy rolling hills. Grazing cows and horses speckled the fields and spindles of cactus-esque flora stretched from the dusty earth. This was an unexpected shift in terrain from the rice paddies of Ubud.
A patchy road, snaking into rough territory of brick red dirt, led to our final destination. The fields spread open as we crested a bare hillside where the sky completely swallowed the horizon. And right at the seam, the vast ocean spread out to blanket the rest of the landscape.
A small cluster of SUVs were parked at the base of the hill near a simple covered shelter. A half dozen people, some vendors, some fliers, were perched on the shelter’s clumsy wooden benches, hiding from the heat of the day. We walked to the crest of the dusty, barren mound to peer over the ledge. On the beach below, at the base of the sharp cliff, was a carpet of barely submerged evergreen fields stretching out a hundred feet into the ocean. Seaweed farms, someone explained. It looked soft, but from this height, surely a fatal landing.
Unceremoniously, we were greeted by a thin Balinese man with well-worn, leathery skin and a wide grin. His name was Kutut. Our guide in the air.
We spent a few minutes in the sweltering heat watching other travelers and experienced paragliders flop their massive canopy packs on the bare earth, survey the hillside and the ocean beyond (their flying space). Then they’d unravel their pack to reveal massive colorful flying canopy. Carefully, they’d untangle the white strings connecting the shoulder straps to the chute. With a brisk ruffle, the chute would flap into the air, like pulling a sheet in the wind.
Just like that. One minute, feet meet earth. The next minute, feet dangle hundreds of feet above the crashing waves below.
The wind, our guide explained, rushes off the ocean and gets pushed up the cliffside with such force, anyone with the right chute could just walk off the cliffside and be lifted into the air. The draft is powerful enough to sustain a flier, sailing back and forth along the edge of the cliff for hours.
The take off was smooth, if hurried. Once Kutut was ready to sail, chute aloft and harnesses untangled, you have to work quickly. The wind only gives you a few moments to slide into the leg harnesses, smash the helmet on, double check the latches once, then walk off the edge of the cliff.
Yup. Walk off the edge of the cliff.
There’s almost no time to be afraid. Because as soon as you reach the edge of the slope, your feet touch dirt one last time before you’re lifted eagerly into the draft with barely even a bump.
And the view?
Well, I can barely begin to describe… The first word to my mind was ‘forever,’ though I can hardly even comprehend what that even means. I thought, the great explorers must’ve felt this way from aboard their ships as they sailed between lands. Powerful, yet tiny. The cloud-pocked sky seemed to tuck neatly into the ocean right at the horizon. And the ocean stretched out like a taught bed sheet. I wanted to reach out and touch the water. We soared hundreds of feet above the waves and yet it felt like I could just stick out a finger and the sea would feel like a single piece of silk on the bed of the earth.