I spent most of my adult life flying Mexico

Saludos amigos!

I have truly been blessed. I learned to hang glide 30 years ago and I have spent almost every winter since then flying Mexico. I have seen this country as few gringos- or human beings for that matter- have ever had the opportunity. I have seen Mexico like the halcones and the zopilotes. But unlike our feathered friends- I got to sample the beer too. And sample, and sample and sample… Well, you get the picture.–

Or do you?

book Tales from the wild-blue-yonder

Tales from the wild-blue-yonder

I am compelled to try and describe my experiences in an effort to share them with the millions of Mexico fans who will never get to huck themselves off a cliff and disappear into the Mexican back country. It has been an exciting quarter century. The results can be found at my new web site www.TalesFromTheWildBlueYonder.com

I would post a few episodes here if that’s appropriate.

Currently I am camped and flying on the beach in Nayarit.

Carl chimes in:

John, it is great to see your post but you forgot to sign your name… And please, don’t deprive us of further episodes or excerpts from your books.  One of the purposes of this blog and our newly opened Talk About Mexico forums is to provide a friendly soapbox for other Mexico authors and bloggers.  There is so much “fluff” on the internet about Mexico that the really good stuff tends to get lost in the crowd.  Keep it coming!  Adelante!

Here’s a link to John Q Olson’s WildBlueYonder website.  John alsohas some very cool videos of flying along the beach in Nayarit, Mexico on YouTube.

I also encourage anyone interested in flying in Mexico to get a back-and-forth conversation going with John on the forum.  I’ll copy this post to the forums and hope that John is able to pry himself out of his hammock occasionally to contribute some more of his experiences.

About Kelly Nowicki

2 Responses to “I spent most of my adult life flying Mexico”

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  1. John Olson says:

    Treasure of the Sierra Grande or, Leyendo del El Indio Alonzo

    “¿Van a saltar ustedes señor?” he asked. “¿Ustedes van a saltar?”
    It was a question that always astonished the gringo when he was found on a precipice setting up a wing so, under the circumstances, he just kept moving, ignoring the peasant. So, the peasant repeated himself, which as Walter saw it, was totally unnecessary. “¿Van a saltar usted señor?” he asked again. “¿Van a saltar señor?”
    On yet another beautiful day, the two gringos had spread colorful wings and were busy stuffing battens above a cliff on an isolated mountain in central Mexico, and there would be no respite from the scorching tropical sol, except to fling themselves off the edge. That was the focus and that was the objective and that was the urgency: set up and get the chingada out of there. If they kept moving and kept hydrated they would probably be okay. If they stopped what they were doing and let that sun have at them they were certain to either slowly deflate or downright blow a valve. But the peasant was, if nothing else, persistent. He turned to Dahveed and asked the same question, “¿Van a saltar ustedes?” He spread his arms to animate to situation, he pantomimed a buzzard in flight and his eyes took on a lofty focus. For a moment he was Quetzalcoatl himself.
    “Ustedes van a saltar?” he asked.

    saltar; (intransitive verb) to jump, leap. spring, hop; to skip; to bound
    –From the Appleton-Cuyas English-Spanish dictionary

    Of course the gringos were gonna saltar.
    What a stupid question.
    This is why they had driven for days to get here, bought the Mexican auto insurance, paid all those hefty tolls to the greedy cabrones in their little toll booths, braved the kids and drunks and cartels and the loco drivers and the legions of other obstacles and hazards from Nogales to Colima, just to arrive here under the sweltering Mexican sun, on the side of this particular precipice.
    Were they gonna saltar!
    ¿Why else had the gringos loaded up earlier in the day and driven up to the flanks of Sierra Grande, an imposing massif outside of Colima, Colima, Mexico? This is why they were suffering so to get all set up—
    to saltar.
    Any pendejo could see that…
    ¿What did the peasant think—that they would make such plans and spend such money and take such pains… just to look good on a dusty mountain road on the side of a cliff in the middle of nowhere? ¿That they might set up their fancy wings and wait for someone else, maybe someone even braver or dumber, to take over? ¿Some other pendejo? ¿Perhaps they would just take a few photos and then put the wings back in the bags—let’s not and say we did?
    It was a question Walter had answered a thousand times at a hundred different launches and each time it seemed a bit more ridiculous. So he ignored the peasant and his stupid question. Or tried to. But the peasant was difficult to ignore…
    The piasano was wearing a magnificent old sombrero made in part of straw as usual, but with a leather panel atop the crown that gave him a distinguished countenance, a dashing bit of style. A tiny tassel dangling from the brim at the rear kept him in a sort of perpetual motion. He wore an elaborate western shirt with piping along the shoulders and down each arm, prancing ponies embroidered on each shoulder. The sleeves were fastened with stylish snaps and he wore a leather vest and bolo tie over top. His trousers were quite grubby but they had recently been neatly creased somehow. They were fashioned from some sort of herringbone fabric that Walter had not often seen in Mexico. He wore a sash belt, the loose ends of which dangled below his right knee. Ostrich skin boots completed his attire, and Walter decided he cut a rather dashing figure as he stood on the edge of the cliff making like the Feathered Serpent himself, and imagining what it must be like to saltar from such lofty heights. As he walked along the cliff edge Walter could see from the tooling on the back of his leather belt that his name was ‘Epifanio’, and that he was a ‘CHARO’. Across the back of his leather vest was an embroidered lasso and a splendid caballo. The lasso spelled the caballo’s name: HIDALGO, it read.
    Compared to Walter, who saw himself now as a dusty aging glidehead gringo, togged in old flying rags and sweating like an army mule, he was a rather refreshing sight. Maybe the peasant deserved some sort of answer.
    Finally, the gringo piped up. “Sí señor,” he started. Then he lied. “Vamos a buscar del tesoro.” Yes, sir, we’re going to look for the treasure. Sweat spilled off his forehead and stung his eyes.
    This statement caused quite a reaction from the peasant. He swung around from the cliff and inquired with his arms thrown wide, “¿El tesoro?” he cried. “¿EL TESORO?”
    ¿The treasure? ¿THE TREASURE?
    In its way, it was another stupid question, but at least it was one Walter had not answered over and over, countless times to countless pendejos. As everyone in these parts knew, there was only one treasure to be discovered atop Sierra Grande, or one alleged treasure anyway. As Walter understood it, technically the treasure still belonged to the railroad and the bank from whom it had been stolen long ago, and so there was really little point in finding it. The Mexicans would just take it away from you without so much as a muchas gracias señor, so what was the point? It was a nearly un-negotiable treasure anyway, in the manner of treasures everywhere, since it was so old and composed entirely of authentic minted Mexican gold coins—pesos—the likes of which you just don’t see anymore. You couldn’t just show up down at the cervesaria to buy your refreshing beverages with a handful of stolen gold coins. You don’t just take them down to the gasolinera and say, “Lleno por favor.” You can’t even cash them at the banco for that matter. You try that, and someone would demand to know how you came to have such a rare currency. The story would come out that you—the gringo—had found the treasure that el Indio Alonzo had stolen away some ninety years earlier, the tesoro he had refused to give back to its rightful owners; the railroad and the banko. The same treasure that he had stashed up on Sierra Grande before they lopped his head off to make an example of him, and put it on disply in the Jardin. You found that tesoro fair and square and now you’d like some beer and tamales, gracias. Finders keepers losers weepers…
    ¿How much are these things worth anyway?
    Known variously as the Tesoro del Indio Alonzo and the Tesoro del Sierra Grande, the treasure that el Indio Alonzo had made off with was around $1,800 pesos, at a time when pesos were far more precious than they are today. No one knows for sure how much the tesoro is worth hoy and that includes the campesino, the paisano, the charo Epifanio but hey! If you find it, it will be party time one way or another. ¿Maybe there is still a recompensa…?
    Unless, of course, someone steals it from you like they did to Bogey and his booty in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the dirty sons of bitches. Or if it draws gunfire as did the suitcase full of cashola in El Mariachi, the pinche carbon!

    Now Walter was all set up and Dahveed was all set up and still the gringos kept moving at a steady pace. In the forefront of their minds, in their frontal lobes, that part of their brains which separates action from inaction, there burned the notion that one of them was going to have to help the other launch, to help him ‘saltar’ as it were. It was just common glidehead courtesy. And that would leave one of them to launch himself solo as best he could—a frightening idea. Of course, whomever ‘saltared’ first would be the ‘wind dummy’: he could only guess at the conditions of the sly out front. Whoever ‘saltared’ last at least had some idea if he was going on a journey high into the Heavens, or conversely down into the burning Hell of the fields below. He could see that by what happened to the wind dummy.
    Either way, it was not an entirely pretty situation. Happily, it was the uncertainty of it all that the gringos craved. Dahveed was laying out his harness as though there was no doubt. Walter turned his back on his task and took the four steps that brought him to the cliff edge to check out the launch conditions.
    Launch, on Sierra Grande, is a flat road-cut bench in the mountain that leads to a narrow steel ramp that juts out from the cliff and down at about a forty-degree slope. The cliff itself is quite vertical for several hundred feet below the ramp, steep enough that you could not climb up or down it without great trepidation, you might only fall off into the hard rocks and cactus below. Which foolishness would lead only to tragedy Walter supposed. It was better to not think of doing it wrong, he knew, concentrate only on doing it right. Calm thy nerves and thy brain activity and focus completely on external stimuli—in this case the wind—and run hard! Keep the wings level! Keep the nose down!
    He stood with his toes on the edge of the ramp and watched the bushes below as they rustled back-and-forth in the thermals. A gust slammed him in the face, a hot gust, like it had maybe issued from the Fires of Hades itself, a gust that sounded a bit like a distant freight train rumbling up the mountainside. But were the thermals strong and consistent enough to loft a bold gringo high into the sky on a flight of fulfillment? Or were the gaps between thermal cycles lengthy enough to flush a pathetic gringo into the fields below? It wasn’t far down there really—only about eight hundred feet said the locals. Walter and Dahveed had scoped-out those fields on foot and found them to be rough ground covered with innumerable obstacles—rocks and rabbit holes and furrows, broken bottles and such, and thick with spiny cactus and thorny vegetation. They had both just shook their heads and glanced skyward, silently swearing never to land down here if possible.
    Back atop the cliff Walter stood in the hot blast for a few moments and Epifanio the peasant exhorted him to action. “Salte!” he cried. “Brincate!”
    Brincate, thought the gringo. Take it to the brink.
    Brink it… jump!
    Do it!
    Now!
    He looked to Dahveed who was taking a long swig of bottled agua. He dropped the bottle into his harness and wiped the dribble that had spilled down his chin. Both gringos knew what the other was thinking.
    “Go for it dude,” he said. “Salte!”
    “You give me a wire?” Walter asked.
    He pulled a windbreaker over his tee shirt. It was the only garment necessary at such a scorching flying site. He pulled his Camelback over his arms and clipped the strap shut in front of his chest. He stepped through his leg loops and pulled the harness on over his shoulders—always an uncomfortable chore—then he cinched up is back strap. He stepped over to the wing and clipped the D-ring into the hang loops, connecting himself for better or worse to a hundred-fifty square feet of tubing, wires and sailcloth. Dahveed moved around back of the glider to hoist the keel level for the hang check. Then Walter lay prone in his harness, checking his suspension.
    “Looks good,” said Dahveed. It was all that needed to be said, and it was all the effort that might be wasted under the circumstances.
    “You gonna ask the peasant for help?” Walter inquired of his amigo. Dahveed gave Epifanio a sidelong glance of speculation. If Epifanio was a quick learner, if he paid attention to what the gringos were about to do, if he took Dahveed’s wires and helped him—just so—and then quickly got the Hell out of the way, he might be a big help for Dahveed’s impending launch.
    If not, it could be Disaster.
    “Dunno,” muttered Dahveed.
    “Let’s pick her up,” said Walter.
    With the wings level both gringos picked up the wing- Walter mostly in control but Dahveed standing by for emergency assistance. They carried the wing to the ramp with Dahveed holding the nose wires and Epifanio hovering near by. “¡El tesoro!” he cried a time or two by way of encouragement. His ancient señora had appeared from his rattletrap old Datsun pickup and hobbled over to watch the exciting proceedings. She was wearing a full-length lime chiffon dress with many layers of skirts underneath and fancy ribbons sewn here and there. Her pewter-gray hair was tied in braids and wrapped in similar ribbons. She wore stylish reflector sunglasses that wrapped around her head. “Van a buscar el tesoro del Indio Alonzo,” her hombre explained enthusiastically. They’re going to search for the treasure…
    The struggle at launch lasted only a few moments. Walter picked the wing up a couple of times but had to set it back down as the cycles from Hell grabbed it and tugged it this-way-and-that. Finally, the wing felt balanced long enough to give him some confidence. Freedom… well, the Laws of Physics… were only a few steps away. Suddenly…
    “CLEAR!” he yelled, and Dahveed did a great job of getting so; he dived to the right and to the ground and Walter took those three desperate steps which transitioned him from an earthling to a birdman, a metamorphosis for better or worse. The wing stayed level, the nose cut into the cycle, and the gringo was off clean. “WahOOO!” he yelled with relief, and immediately began to climb. He looked below and under his harness and watched as Dahveed picked himself up from the abyss and dusted himself off. By the time Walter began his first circle, he gazed down to see that his amigo was already stepping into his own harness.
    While Walter dug into the lift and commenced to climb up the side of Sierra Grande, Dahveed clipped in, did a standing-hang check, then began inching his wing towards launch. He would pick the wing up a few inches, then set it back down a foot or so closer to the ramp. Up-shuffle-down, up-shuffle-down, up-shuffle… and so it went until the flier was standing on the launch ramp just two steps from his own transition, Heaven or Hell.
    In strong turbulence now, Walter was totally gripped on the control bar as he circled aloft and watched below with apprehension. Then suddenly it was over—or had it just begun?—Daveed’s wing sailed clear of launch, and the day was on!
    Now the job was just to wrestle with the lift and ride it as high as possible. Walter watched below as Dahveed too began his climb. He watched the charo and his pretty old señora getting smaller and smaller where they stood on launch and craned their necks skyward. Soon, they were but tiny ants.
    ¿What were they thinking?
    ¿Did they think the gringos were flying some sort of magic carpet, immune to the physical laws of the universe?
    ¿That they might just hover over the bushes, rocks, crags and cactus and casually scan every crevice for gleaming gold?
    ¿Did they believe the gringos were on a magic carpet ride? Just give them a few hours, a day or two at most, and they would be golden gringos, rich beyond their wildest dreams? ¿Gringos dorados?
    Well in fact, they weren’t on any carpet ride at all, magic or otherwise.
    They were hooked into a hundred and fifty square feet of sailcloth, aircraft tubing and stainless wire, seventy-pound wings that were bucking in the thermal updraft like wild horses. Imagine Pegasus with a fire under his ass. Icarus without the wax. Mighty Mouse on marijuana!
    Gripped on the bars, Dahveed and Walter circled close enough to Sierra Grande to take advantage of the ferocious lift as it roared up the mountainside, but hopefully not so close as to dash themselves into it. For the next ten minutes or so, there was no thought of the Treasure of the Sierra Grande—or El Indio Alonzo either—only of survival.
    Soon Walter cleared the windswept heights of the mountain, at which point Dahveed had caught up with him. Together, the two gringos milked the last bits of lift, which carried them high above the mountain. Stopping to circle here and there, the gringos could finally enjoy the ride, revel in their success, and marvel at the wild circumstances that had brought them high over a brooding mountain in tropical Mexico. The air was smoother here, having spent much of its angry energy climbing to such heights, and much cooler too. In the near distance to the east stood the Fire Volcano Colimotl, spewing an enormous cloud of steam and smoke. Looking the other way, far to the west glittered the Pacific Ocean, a graceful curving coastline defining Mexico.
    Half and hour of sightseeing and the gringos pointed their noses away from the mountain, saying ‘Adios!’ to Sierra Grande and it’s hidden treasure. They flew out and landed alongside the highway.

    It had been two successful flights, culminating in two successful landings. It was all the treasure they really hoped to find. With a refreshing fizz, the gringos popped the cervesas they had stashed away in their harnesses. They made a toast to El Indio Alonzo. Perhaps if the bandito had just flown a little he would not have been such a mean desperado. He might have kept his head.
    They released tension on the wing, pulled battens and folded up the sail.
    It was as Walter was pulling the cover bag over the wing that he heard a car door slam and turned to find Epifanio and his señora parked alongside the highway. The peasant walked around to her side of the car and helped his señora from within. They carefully picked their way across the field to where the gringos had almost broke down, and gave them a warm handshake.
    “¡Bueno, bueno!” he exclaimed. “¿Como estubo?” How was it?
    “Well,” said Dahveed, “typico de Sierra Grande—fuerte, turbulento, chingon!” Strong, turbulent, bitchin!
    Epifanio grinned at the gringos and nodded his head to agree, gazing at the distant mountains as though now he had some idea what it was like to ‘saltar’ from such a place, and turn into a little spec in the sky.
    Then suddenly he turned his eyes to the gringos with the hundred-thousand-peso question on his lips:
    “¿Y el tesoro?” he asked.
    And the treasure?

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