Brazil February 2005

I must start off by saying this was
one of the best trips of my life!

I had been to Brazil 3 years ago in the spring of 2001 and had a really great time flying with friends and experiencing the warm culture of Brazil. In 2001 I spent a week in Rio de Janeiro and 3 weeks in Governador Valadares, the world famous site with amazingly consistent weather, soft thermals, excellent cross-country potential, easy retrieves, beautiful people and a great town. Rio has some very scenic flying, but Valadares is EPIC!

I decided to lead a 2 week tour that would include 3 sites. I had seen pictures of Pancas with its huge stones and remote jungle and it was high on my list of places to see and fly. Governador Valadares would be the main place to fly and have my students learn to thermal and go cross-country. We would meet in Belo Horizonte and fly a local ridge and thermal site called Moeda (Coin).

I arrived in Brazil a week ahead of my students to work out the logistics. I hired an excellent guide named Camilo, who grew up in GV (Governador Valadares) and had lived for a year just outside Boston, MA. His English is near perfect and he has a joy for sharing his Brazilian culture. He had done some previous guiding and was recommended by Chris Santacroce and David Prentice. Camilo is just a fantastic guy who worked really hard to make everything run smoothly. He hired a van driver named Bazola who didn't speak any English, but worked tirelessly to accomodate our every driving need day and night.

3 students arrived a week later and 1 more joined us the following day. Ben Haug, Ryan Patronyk, Gregg Patronyk, and Neil McGarry joined Camilo, Bazola, and I at the Belo Horizonte Airport. We jumped in the van and immediately headed to the site named Moeda just south of town to get a taste of Brazilian air. Conditions were good and got better as the day went on for ridge soaring. The ridge extends 15 miles and we sampled the ridge for 2 miles, but mostly hung out around launch. It has thermals that join in with the ridge lift to give the site extra flavor. It was a really nice way to relax after the long airline flights.

After 2 days of ridge soaring, we decided to take the show on the road and head up to GV. It is about a 5 hour van ride to the northeast along the Rio Doce (Sweet River).

GV is a paragliders paradise! The thermals are soft in February and you can fly for 3 hours almost every day. The site is called Ibiteruna and it hosted the 2005 World Championships in March, 2 weeks after I left. The town has a population of 300,000 people and has all of the amenities. There are a variety of hotels, internet sites, car rentals, and restaurants. GV is in the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines) where precious stones and cattle ranching are the main economies. It is a town that has grown and been influenced by visiting pilots from around the world. Everyone has a cell phone, many residents have cars and the general population doesn't seem too economically challenged.

A 40 minute drive up a steep cobblestone road puts you up on launch. You can launch the North or South side, but I definitely prefer the North Side with a nice grassy slope instead of the South Side with its cliffy drop off. Once airborne, pilots work the spines and cliff face along with local birds called Urubus. Ones ability to thermal and cross-country coincides with your ability to spot these friendly soaring vultures.

The landing zone is called Ferra de Paz (Field of Peace) and lies just on the other side of a murky river named Rio Doce. As you land 20 young boys come running hoping to earn 1 or 2 Reals (Brazilian $) to fold up your wing. They pack better than 98% of all pilots worldwide. They are very good at it and with a general conversion rate of $1 US = $2.6 Reals, you can have your wing professionally folded for .40 Cents US. Well worth it!

To say that the flying was excellent is really an understatement. All 5 of us had incredible flights. My 4 students had just learned to fly paragliders 3 months earlier, and now they were experiencing soft thermals carrying them up to cloudbase with other trigger points within reach. We flew many hours over a weeks time averaging 2-3 hours a day. Ben and I had a great flight one day, reaching cloudbase several times and staying in the air for 2-1/2 hours. We only managed 10 miles in that time due to light lift and a bit of a head wind, but what an incredible flight!

After landing the kids came running. About 6 kids showed up to help Ben, Patricio and I fold up our wings and carry them up to the road and down to the bus stop. What's really convenient about GV is that the wind generally follows a road heading southwest that connects a number of small towns. The Rio Doce Bus Company runs a bus almost every hour back to GV. The farther you go the more it costs, but my longest flight during our trip of 49 miles cost me about $12 Reals or $4.80 US. We also had Camilo and Bazola driving the van for us to help pick us up. We often let them stay near launch in case one of us bombed out in the landing zone and needed a quick retrieve to launch. So having the bus as an option worked out really well.

Every day more and more pilots would show up as March and the World Championships were arriving. Generally we would have a great breakfast at the hotel and then pack up the van and head up the hill around 10am. Cloudbase would be low as we arrived on launch, but would start to rise. As we started to see Urubus circling nearby, we would get ready and try to launch as close together as possible. I generally launched last and tried to fly with as many students as possible. Generally 2 or 3 of us would get high enough to go cross-country. The first trigger point after leaving launch would be either the next town called Era Nova or a nearby hill called Salvation.

Ryan flew like a champ. He really took to thermalling and cross-country and had a 24 mile flight 3 months after learning to fly. His first thermal flights were on this trip and we had great conditions to really get it all working.

Above is a view looking back at Ibiteruna and Ryan is climbing up over a spine near the second town of Alpercata.

Even short cross-countrys bring a smile to your face!

After a week, we loaded up the van and headed to Pancas, about 5-1/2 hours southeast of GV. It looks a lot like Yosimite with black rock instead of white. It was just the scenery I was looking for to take a few shots with paragliders in them. It was breathtaking!

We only had 3 flights in Pancas due to our timeframe, but they will be some of my most memorable flights ever. Above Gregg ridge soars over the jungle with the amazing rocks in the background.

Here is Neil off launch. We had an incredible afternoon flight and the clouds continued to develop. Shortly after we landed the rains came raging down creating 100s of waterfalls.

This picture is for mom! She always wants me to be in the photo, but I tell her I'm the photographer. Thanks Neil from my mom!

This was one of my most beautiful hike outs ever. It was like landing in Yosimite on a warm day.

Here is the main landing zone just outside of the small town of Pancas.

On the way back to GV we stopped to feed the monkeys. Camilo knew a great restaurant near the jungle that was known for having monkeys nearby. We purchased some monkey food and headed for the trees. Camilo called and shortly after 15 monkeys came swinging through the trees for a free meal. It was really fun.

We headed back to GV for a couple more days of epic flying before everyone departed back to the US. I think we all went home kicking and screaming wanting more of the place we had grown to love called Brazil!

Left to Right: Bazola and his wife, Ryan, Gregg, Camilo, Neil, Bo and Ben on one knee. This was a great group and I think we all had a wonderful time in Brazil. Thank you guys!

Click here to download a 133 MB 8 minute slide show put together by Neil. Nice shots!

Meus amigos Brasileros!

Circling Hawk Paragliding

© Circling Hawk Paragliding • Santa Barbara, California • Bo Criss • 805-403-5848 • Bo@CirclingHawk.com