The practical paragliding lessons in Cochabamba were for a few hours in the mornings and the theoretical lessons in the evening. So during the afternoons we discovered the culinary delights of Cochabamba and only suffered food poisoning from about half the meals we ate, a good record for Bolivia. Their diet may be the reason that they make many of their toilet seats so ridiculously comfy. They are cushioned and make a soothing and comforting sssshh sound as you descend onto them, like a toilet air bag for those that make too rapid a descent from the standing to sitting position. In the whole of South America you're forbidden from putting toilet paper in the toilet, something that took many blocked toilets to fully understand the consequences of. After Fay's airborne hiccup, we both took a few more lessons learning the art of take off and landing, before I moved on to my solo flights. We had some unexpected assistance on our final day from the park guard. I was on film duty as he approached, and as staggered his way towards us, I wasn't sure if he was going to arrest us or join Fay's vomiting society (terrafirma section). Instead he alternated between shouting abuse and encouragement at Fay and told me, without much conviction, that 'this is Bolivia', but I wasn't certain if he was trying to inform me, or convince himself.
So with the learned aeronautical wisdom of the the 'drunk ranger' bestowed upon me, I took to the air on my first solo flight on 5th December. Jumping off a mountain rather than climbing up it took some adjusting, and to say I wasn't nervous would be a lie. So i chose what i consider by far the best strategy in these situations, and tried as hard as humanly possible to forget that I was standing on the edge of a mountain about to leap to my airy doom. And it all went surprisingly well. I landed, both alive and in the landing zone. With the minor exception of me not being able to get seated and dangling painfully like a rag doll being given an indefinite wedgie for the entire flight, i had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
A couple of days of 'rain stops play' to recover, and then on 8th, I was back for more. 3 solo flights that day and during each I managed to progressively edge my derriere further back into the seat and look a little less like a dangler, and a little more like a paragliding pilot. Again and again I landed, still alive, in the landing zone. On my final day of flying, my confidence had grown to such an extent that I wondered why on earth this flying lark had alluded man throughout the ages. What had we been doing? When Icarus was busy plucking the feathers from some poor, embarrassed, now naked duck and messing about with a tub of glue, why didn't someone tell him to get his nan to sew 10 pairs of pyjama bottoms together, add some string and attach it to his underwear? Anyway, I donned my harness, brought the wing above me, turned and gracefully leaped to play with the birds. Unlike my previous flights, I had 2 unexpected guests with me on this one. The first was a very gusty wind that collapsed 40% of my wing. The second was an unexpected thermal that threw me off course. Again I landed alive, but a different landing zone, in the shape of a prickly bush and very hard piece of ground, had to make do. It wasn't a soft landing, and my dreams that night were of cushioned toilet seats. I had one more flight that day, and Christian caught the approach and landing on video: