Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Paragliding in Ukraine

My friend Pasha found a Ukrainian paragliding school on Ukraine's Groupon page. I don't know if I was more surprised to find out about the paragliding or simply that Ukraine has Groupon! :p You may remember our hero Pasha from the Easter picnic. After discovering this paragliding opportunity he quickly put his superior picnic-planning skills to work and gathered up all the usual suspects for a Saturday afternoon outing.

Getting to the out-of-town site required several transfers. We met in the city center, rode a packed marshrutka down Sumskaya street and way beyond Gorky Park, got off, found our way to another bus station, and roped two taxis into driving us further out of town. No one really knew where the meeting spot was- not the taxi driver, not his GPS display, and certainly not any of us! Our small caravan turned off the main road at a restaurant called авто гриль and began driving down a dusty country road. The drivers dodged massive potholes as they drove us past a quiet cemetery and fields of dead sunflowers. Finally, between Pasha's cell phone negotiations and one of the drivers managing to flag down a passing car, we arrived.
the road that brought us here

This was the first time I've been in this area. A cityscape of square buildings and tall towers spread itself along distant ridges but immediately around us was only peaceful countryside. Cows lowed occasionally on a nearby hill, sheep grazed above a dry cornfield, and gusts of wind brought the rustle of parachutes to our ears.

We grabbed our bags of food and quickly set up camp in a small hollow. As with almost any culture, the men immediately begin fire/meat-related tasks while the women set out the rest of the food. There was then time to relax among friends and explore the hills while the шашлик grilled itself to perfection.

Despite earlier sunshine, dismal grey clouds gathered. I thought that surely we'd be in for rain but our luck held and the weather stayed dry.

And the eating and toasting commenced!

The paragliding wasn't scheduled to start until early evening, so there was plenty of time for picnicing. Our blankets spread at the top of a hill, we watched others flying kites and jumping around in the distance while we ate. In fact, there was so much time that Pasha's beloved deck of mafia cards were called into action. As you might remember, I am not a huge fan of mafia, which is currently an uber-popular card game here in Ukraine, but I'll grudgingly admit that it wasn't that bad : )

Then, at last, the moment that had been awaited by all! Our small company set off in a flurry of anticipation.

In Russian this activity is called парапланеризм.

We were all newbies to the sport. Pasha was the first one to step up, throw on the gear, and sail off down the hill, followed by a brave succession of others. But not me, not this time. I didn't really understand the set up before coming and had imagined myself leaping off a craggy cliff to certain doom. The actual situation in front of me looked more or less user-friendly and the wicked cliff? Turned out to a gentle slope. The most difficult part would probably be the language barrier: as the wind lifts you away into the air, the instructor runs after you hollering directions. Maybe I'll give it a shot next time. For now, as you can guess, I stayed grounded as the group historian.

Afterwards I spoke with the instructor, Dmytriy Yasnolobov. He's young and handsome and speaks English quite well! Here's the info he provided: for paragliding
Also, for snowkiting in the winter
Call him up at 099 499 4335!

Last but not least, nature provided this gorgeous closing ceremony.

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