Valle De Bravo is a Mecca for free flight. Hang glider and Paraglider pilots flock to Valle for a break from the cold weather and some world class soaring. My first trip there was this February. I knew from the first day there that I’d be back again and again.
Mexico is an incredibly diverse country and is impossible to summarize in the scope of this (or any) post, so I’ll avoid that. I’ll only say…if you’re allowing the fear of the unknown to keep you away, you’re missing out. Big time.
On arrival in the country, it’s obvious to anyone from developed country: Mexico city is bonkers. Nuts. Chaos. I don’t want to live there, but it’s a fantastic place to pass through
Climbing out of the Grit and Grime of the big city on the tollway, the scenery changes to pine forest, then high arrid farmland. Winter is the dry season here, but it’s a perfect 75 degrees out.
Arriving in Valle I feel like I’m returning home. The small city is tightly stacked onto a hillside surrounding the West end of a beautiful lake. It’s a sort of tourist town but is nicely devoid of white people. The tourist here on the weekend are mostly upper and middle class from Mexico City, looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the DF.
After all, what are we here for? Paragliding requires a very specific and sometimes rare set of weather conditions. Unstable air, decent lapse rates, light winds, and reasonably high cloud base, to name a few. Valle is special because it provides these conditions nearly every day in the winter. I’ve never spent an un-flyable day here. Parawaiting is a respectable hobby, but I’d rather be paragliding.
The main launch is about an hour trip from town. Every morning we’d head to launch around 9:00, Fly as far or as long as we could stand, then regroup for lunch and do it again in the afternoon. Every. Single. Day. What could be better?
I set a goal to fly from the main launch all the way back to the lake to land on the postage-stamp sized LZ on the shore. I accomplished that feat on day 2. The flying was phenomenal. There’s absolutely nothing on earth like climbing to cloudbase in a strong thermal in a paraglider. Try it.
Here’s an interactive GPS tracklog of one of my flights, from the launch to the lakeside LZ in Valle. Forgive the bold blue lines for now, not sure how to get rid of em:
Ami has been learning to paraglide recently and took some huge steps in Mexico. She had several great tandem flights with an instructor, one of which flew all the way to town, and into a cloud. She surprised everyone with her fast progression and she eventually flew from the main launch by herself. That’s quite an intimidating place to fly for a fledgling, but she was excited and unphased. So much so that she did it another 3 times during our stay.
I also took my first big hang glider flights and had a blast with that. I’m now officially “biwingual”
The People, Food and Festivities
Add to the list of things to love about Valle – The Mexicans. Locals here are friendly, happy, and proud. As they should be. White Americans like myself are somewhat of a novelty in the more rural parts of the area. Local kids go bananas when a strange man comes out of the clouds and lands nearby. On approach to landing, it’s common to be swarmed with excited youngsters. In the main LZ, they’ve perfected the art of packing a paraglider into a backpack for a few pesos. I brought along and portable photo printer and handed out little portrait prints. You would have thought they’d won the lottery.
The average rural family gets by growing small crops, practicing a trade and working hard. They’re happy we’re here to enjoy their home. Unlike a few other latin american countries I’ve visited, the “Gringo Tax” here is little or nothing. I never felt unwelcomed, discriminated against, or taken advantage of.
Taxis are everywhere here, even in the tiny rural communities. Sinking out and picking a field to land in is a non-event. Simply pack up your glider ( Or have the local kids do it), and walk to the nearest road. In no time a taxi will swing by. I’ve paid 10 pesos ($0.80) for a short ride, 40 pesos ($3) for a 30 minute trip. Gotta love how easy and cheap it is to get around here.
Every night there was some sort of party. There were street parties with Piniatas, drinks, and dancing. There was an abundance of street food. Tacos, Pomasos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tostados….the list goes on. The food was amazing and cheap. our average street meal was probably around 50 pesos, but I’m fat and overindulgent. You could live here on pennies.
I could go on and on……but spare me the time and just book a flight yourself.
A Rant, some observations and opinions regarding safety and travel in Mexico. Click here at your own risk
I can’t help but think I’m treated better down here than these people might be in the U.S., and I’m ashamed of that. U.S. Americans are losing their humanism to partisan politics and personal greed. I try to remind myself of this, and how fortunate I am. Life is easy for me, mostly because of where and when I was born. How lucky can one guy be?
We read a lot of bad things about Mexico in the media today. The drug wars are ravaging parts of the country. Lets be clear here: Mexico doesn’t have a drug problem. The U.S. does. There are very few addicts in Mexico, compared to the U.S. In places, these people have suffered devastating acts of violence to feed the habits of the northern countries. There’s no easy solution, as it seems that the “cartels” are more powerful than the law enforcement. That’s not an exaggeration or cliche. It’s just the sad truth.
That said, don’t let the horror stories keep you out of Mexico. The most dangerous groups of people want nothing to do with you. The rest is avoidable. Don’t put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t travel between towns at night. Stay in groups. Don’t buy drugs. Be nice. It’s as safe as you make it, I promise.
Finally, a gallery of a few of my favorite photos of the trip: