Thursday, December 28, 2006
I've become quite a scrooge over the past months and this year more than any other I really just wanted to pretend there was no such thing as Christmas. But, for someone that shops as much as I do, that is of course, impossible. With absolutely no way to ignore it, the only option was to go sit in a smoky room with a bunch of nearly drunk people and throw money straight into the trash can. So, we went to Vegas!
I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people wanted to smoke, drink and gamble for Christmas. We were not alone ;-) The hotels, the strip and of course, the casinos were jammed.
When the money ran out, we drove home via the Hoover Dam. Pretty cool site actually. I've never been overly interested in dams, but this one is spectacular. Aside from the engineering marvel of it all, the designers had some taste and the structures have a nice Art Deco style to them. Dad claims that the urinals in the men's room are even Art Deco.
There were 96 deaths attributed to construction of the dam. Oddly enough, the first was a surveyor that drowned in the river and the last was his son, exactly 13 years later to the day.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
This is another gorgeous beach soaring site a few hours south of Canoa. We stopped along the way to Raul's beach house, but unfortunately the wind was about 75 degrees cross so it didn't make for ideal launching conditions :-( It sure had a nice set up area though. It's hard to see, but there is this barbed wire everywhere to prevent PGs from laying out their gliders and launching (it was a private site for hang gliders only...he he he).
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
It was a sad day leaving Canoa. So many new friends and flying experiences. Leaving is my least favorite thing. The competition went off beautifully with three perfect task days. Dustin smoked everyone winning all three days. Mike Glennon and Raul were close on his tail in 2nd and 3rd. I was very pleased with my Litesport finishing in 5th overall. They gave me a gigantic trophy for being the top placing female (out of 2). I was just happy to beat a few Talons and T2s ;-)
Halfway between Canoa and Guyaquil is Raul's beach house in San Jose were we had a short stopover on the way home. We had hoped to fly there too, but conditions prevented it this time. Of course we were treated like royalty there, just like everywhere we've been in Ecuador. I am forever endebted to Raul and Mike for being the most generous hosts I could dream of. We also had a sweetheart crew consistng of student pilots (Michael and Eduardo) who made sure our equipment made it there and back without any problems! These guys are the best!!!
Mike has invited Dustin, Jack and me to Cali, Colombia for a flying tour in January! I can't wait. I'm in love with South America where the pilots are the kindest most generous people I've met anywhere.
Well, all this babbling and still no clearing :-( Only 100 meters down the hill and we would be below the clouds and in the clear to launch....but no launches down lower.....boo hoo.
Friday, November 03, 2006
There is a ferry boat along the coast here that cuts across a waterway and saves about 2 or 3 hours on the drive from Guayaquil to Canoa. We arrived and found a line of enough cars that it meant we would be catching the ferry on its third trip. No one was happy about waiting 2 hours, so Raul found three cars near the front of the line that were willing to trade their places in line for ours (for a fee). Seemed like a great idea at the time, but it didn´t exactly work out the way we planned. Some of those further back in the line didn´t like the idea so much and complained to the port authorities. After fighting endlessly with them, the police, the mayor and possibly even the president of Ecuador, they simply decided not to let us on the ferry at all. Oops! $80 down the drain :-/ Well eventually Raul and Mike worked some magic on them and we were driving onto the ferry, in the very position we would have been in had we just waited in line. All we could do was laugh.
Yesterday was the first day of the ridge race here at Canoe Beach. What an amazing site!!! There are about 40 or so competitors, most in the sport class. Just 11 in the open class. The ridge we race on goes on forever. I don´t know exactly how far you could go in either direction, but yesterday´s task was 46km and that was twice to the south and back. Conditions were perfect for flying although the launch is a bit on the rough side. We had a single start at half past four after having to dodge the clouds at a 600 meter base. Here is a shot just before heading down to the edge of the start circle. The beach is gorgeous, very wide and landable most anywhere along the course.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
My father likes to tell that when I was a kid he would say "Jamie do you want to go?" and I would say sure and not even ask where we were going until we were in the car on the way. So, I guess nothing has changed ;-). Dustin called me a week ago and said hey, come to Ecuador with us! Without thinking twice, I had a ticket to Guayaquil. I didn't learn much about where we were going or what we were doing until we were on the plane crossing over Cuba.
We've been here now for three days, staying in Guayaquil for a few days of local flying. Raul Gurerra is the key player in the Guayaquil hang gliding scene. There aren't many pilots in the area, but Raul is the main (maybe only) instructor and he is doing quite a lot to try to grow the sport. They have a small group of pilots (probably 8 or 10) and an Airborne trike that they use to tow out of small airstrip on th edge of the city of about 3 million people. Also, just 2 weeks ago, they were able to secure a foot launch site very near the airstrip and bulldozed and nice little patch to land on below. The launch is low (about 200 meters) so you really just get one shot at it. But it is a fairly consistent site and if you can get up a little you can bench up to the higher hills behind and have a great view of the city. We flew there two days in very very light conditions which I totally love because it is perfect for me and my Litesport. Many of the flights were no more than 15 or 20 minutes of scratching. But yesterday, after bombing out 3 times in a row Dusty managed to kick all of our asses and get up and back on the high hills. Finally he was happy!
Now we are on the road driving to Canoa Beach for the ridge racing competition. Everyone tells me it is a beautiful beach site with a 30something kilometer ridge you can cruise up and down all day. They've held this comp for several years now - Kevin won last year, Betinho the year before and Raul the year before that. Dustin is determined to win it this year ;-). It isn't a huge comp (yet) but they are hoping to draw more a more pilots every year. This year we are 4 from the US, there are a few from Peru, a few from Colombia and of course the Ecuadorians.
I couldn't be having a better time - my favorite south/central Americans are here, Raul and Mike Glennon who I met many years ago at Wallaby Ranch and have loved seeing every year at the Florida and Texas meets. They are incredible hosts and when I told them I felt like a princess here they said "No way! You're the queen!". Its fun to be a girl in hang gliding ;-))
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Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Saturday, September 16, 2006
The world of our bubble came crashing down this week. With less than two weeks notice, Otto and Rudee announced that they had sold Thai Lotus restaurant, our local hangout in Clermont. If you think this is just a favorite restaurant of the Questies, you're mistaken. It really is (was) part of Quest, part of our bubble. Most every local at Quest has waited tables at Otto's place over the years, myself included. Locals couldn't go to Otto's for dinner without being expected to wait on ourselves and often serve a few plates for the tables around us ;-) Any pilot visiting Quest was introduced to Otto's at one point or another and he was lovingly referred to as the Thai Nazi for his quirky rules. There was just no place like it.
Otto and Rudee came to the US from Thailand many years ago when Otto attended university here. They stayed and owned several different restaurants including a Blimpee's Subs in Manhattan and another authentic Thai restaurant there. About eight years ago they moved from New York down to central Florida for a somewhat slower lifestyle. Of course, anyone who knows them knows it has been anything but slow for them. Their lives were at Thai Lotus where they spent often 10 or more hours a day, six days a week making friends with everyone in the community. They haven't taken a single vacation for the past eight years. They are the hardest working people I know.
We all love them like they are part of our family as they certainly are part of the Quest family and we will miss Rudee's amazing Pad Thai and Otto's funny rules for what in essence was his home where he had guests for dinner every night. Steve made up a set of signs for the new restaurant (no plans for a new restaurant, by the way :-(...yet) that he presented to Otto Wednesday night where we all gathered for a last dinner with Rudee and Otto. Here were some of the signs:
"No Reservations Required. Come on in and Seat Yourself"
"In a Hurry? No Problem, Just Ask for the Express Service"
"Never Had Thai Food Before? Don't Worry, its Just Like Chinese"
"Casual Attire Welcome! Especially Flipflops and Tank Tops"
I've never seen Otto laugh so hard.
Here are a few pictures from our last supper.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
It always feels so good to be home again (even though there is a very high likelihood that in two weeks I'll be itching to leave ;-). We were threatened by Ernesto a few days ago, but that has now been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm to a tropical depression. So, with any luck, we'll hardly even notice it. Despite the constant hurricane threat this time of year, I love it here when things are so quiet and mellow. The flying is really smooth and relaxing, the Thai food is plentiful, the grass is green and the sunsets are spectacular! Here are two shots of my "front yard" last night.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
It was good to see the town of Big Spring come out and welcome all of us. They had bleachers set up next to the runway and on the weekends, the bleachers were packed with spectators - amazing considering it was close to 100 degrees every day. They also had signs up all over town welcoming the hang gliders. I believe we were on the cover of the Big Spring newspaper every day - not totally sure, but I bought about 4 papers and hang gliders were on the cover of every one I bought. The restaurants even agreed to stay open past 8pm for us ;-)...incredible actually, for a town that rolls up the street at 8 normally.
After a couple of days of decompression after the meet ended, we headed off to Mexico for a little holiday. We have spent the last four days in Playa del Carmen, a somewhat small town on the Yucatan Penninsula about 45 minutes south of Cancun. Thanks to a great tip from Jeff O'Brien, we went right past Cancun and all the barfing spring break types to this smaller town, with slightly fewer barfers. It is still pretty touristy and everybody and his brother wants to sell you something, but it has been quite nice.
Our first whole day here we took the fairy out to Cozumel and rented scooters to putt around the island. The carribean water is beautiful clear blue and as warm as bath water. We made the circle around the island stopping along the way a few times for swimming and snorkling. That was such an exhausting day being out in the sun all day that we opted for a day in town at the local beach yesterday. Couldn't do much other than alternate swimming and snoozing on the beach.
Today, our last day, was pretty cool. We rented a car and took off for the 3 hour drive to Chichen Itza. The Mexican's don't make it easy to rent a car here and if I had it to do over again, I would definitely take a tour bus. The drive was long on roads with potholes bigger that my bathtub, but we made it there. What a cool site Chichen Itza would be without all the tourists ;-) They no longer allow people to climb the main pyramid so we were a bit disappointed that we couldn't go to the top. But, we made up for it by stopping at another smaller set of ruins on the way home. They have a pyramid much taller than the one at Chichen Itza and we were able to climb to the top of it and stand there imagining how it might be to launch into a big fat thermal and float around above it.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The day after the French Nationals ended, the Tour de France came through Laragne. They closed off the roads fairly early in the morning and we were too lazy to get up at the crack of dawn, so instead we pulled out the map and planned to drive somewhat close and then hike along a ridge to see the race. Luckily, we were able to find a dirt road that got us really close and then we just walked up the pass a few kilometers and waited for them to come up the hill.
What a cool thing to see! I had no idea there would be so much hoopla. The "caravan" comes through for about an hour before the riders and its hilarious - a bit like the Macy's Day Parade. There were "floats" and dignitaries, helicopters, the whole works. The caravan was nearly as cool as the racers and it certainly lasted a lot longer.
The shot with the bare-butted fellow is of the leaders at that point. The closer up shot is the peloton - with Floyd Landis at the far right in the green.
Monday, July 10, 2006
They have a really cool ridge here that they launch from. Its very narrow and you can launch from either side. Makes it good for days like today when the wind was very light and they were unsure about the direction. Just set up in the middle and take off in the direction that looks best!
The competition is going well so far. There are pilots from Germany, Austria, Italy, the UK, Sweden, Norway and probably a few other countries too. But, mostly there are French guys. They are dominating after the first 2 tasks, but I fully expect those Austrians to catch up soon ;-) I hope to fly here tomorrow or the next day. Being the big chicken that I am, I'm a bit nervous about flying a Litespeed and so, like usual, everything has to be absolutely perfect before I can muster the courage to go for it. What's new.
Last night was the final match of the World Cup- France against Italy. With so many Italians here we figured it would be fun to watch the game with fans from both sides. The entire village of Laragne was out for the game with a big screen in the town square, a small marching band and everyone with French flags painted on their faces. If anyone doesn't know yet, Italy won.
I'll post some random pictures soon.
Monday, July 03, 2006
The Europeans ended with a bang on Thursday. After the British team filed a protest the second to the last day, they cancelled the last day of flying because they couldn't find (or didn't want to find) a way to prevent guys from cheating by going over the 7000ft ceiling. It was a bit sad and disappointing not to have a final task. But, what was more disappointing was the behavior of so many pilots at the prize giving the next day. There was so much animosity toward the Brits for filing the protest and as a result, having the last two days canceled. While I understood the frustration on both sides, I thought the behavior of some was so very childish and unsportsmanlike. During the presentation of the team medals, the French (apparently in protest against the Brits, who received the bronze) walked up onto the stage, took their medals and then walked off again. They wouldn't stand on the podium with the Brits. This, of course, was after continuous whistling (which I guess is the equivalent of our booing) by the Swiss team who felt they were robbed of the bronze medal by the protesting Brits. It was about the most disrespectful thing they could have done and I found it rather tasteless. The Brits were fed up with pilots cheating by breaking the altitude restrictions and it seems many of the others (the French and the Swiss) felt like they should be allowed to do as they pleased, despite the disparity between those who cheated and those who chose to obey the rules.
The bottom line is that I don't know what the solution was exactly. But, to those who have the integrity to follow the rules that are laid out for the competition, it is disappointing, to say the least, to watch others cheat without consequence. I thought that cancelling the day wasn't exactly the right decision. Instead they should have simply punished only those that were breaking the altitude restrictions and not the entire field. However, according to a few reports this wasn't feasible because at least 20 pilots did not have 3D GPSs and so their flights/altitudes couldn't be verified. Plus, it would have been somewhat burdensome for the organizers to check every single 3D GPS. The only fix for this would have been either to never mention the rule in the first place, or be prepared to actually punish the cheaters. Seems the organizers just couldn't find the courage to do this.
Anyway, in the end the Austrians won the team Gold and young Michi won the individual goal. Here are a few pictures of some of the happier pilots ;-)