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Paragliding at La Cumbre, Argentina

Indeed, a paraglider is considered an aircraft -- "unpowered" aircraft, that is. Therefore, pilots such as Hernán must master meteorological forecasting, aeronautical theory and national aviation regulations.

But I preferred the poetry of it to the science.

"Hernán has feathers," one of his colleagues had told me, and I understood why when we began ridge soaring.

This wasn't any ridge soar. Hernán flew the length of a ridge -- cutting it treacherously close -- with precision, right into a new thermal. "Want to do parabolas?" he asked. I gulped, and agreed.

No, it wasn't infinity tumbling. But it did satisfy my childhood longing. We swung back and forth, carving ovals in silent air. We finally approached the condor. For a sublime moment, I peered into his prehistoric-looking eyes. Hernán was quiet, too, and I sensed that, in that moment at least, it wasn't about being the champion. What are titles and trophies compared with the euphoria of escaping gravity, soaring with the birds?

And then it was over. Hernán dove left and flared the wing. We landed, running hard again, atop the cliff where we'd begun.

Powers is the author of "Whispering in the Giant's Ear: A Frontline Chronicle From Bolivia's War on Globalization." His Web site is http://www.williampowersbooks.com.


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