Wednesday, March 26, 2008
On top of the world
I left James (the Englishman) and Finbarr, aka “Fin” (the Irishman), at a pub last night around 2:00 am and we all agreed to meet today at 1:00 pm to take the gondola up the mountain to see the city from above and do a little hiking. I got there at a little before one today and Fin showed up a few minutes later. He said that he and James stayed out until 5:00 am or so (from what he could remember). James was not there yet, so we decided to go get some lunch near Jame’s hostel and keep any eye out for him while filling our pie-holes. But, after eating and waiting until around 2:00 with no sign of him, we decided that we’d head on up the mountain and let James and his liver sleep in for a bit.
On the way up the hill to the gondola, we passed this small, old cemetery. It’s been around since the 1800’s, so there were some very interesting old headstones and information about the people remembered.
Fin and I paid for our gondola ticket and headed up 27,000 feet to the top of the mountain. The moment you sit in the gondola, someone comes by and says “Can I get your picture real quick?”…so they snap a shot (I’m assuming so they can identify your body if the car drops somewhere along its journey to the top) and we were on our way. It was quite a dizzying view looking back down, so I tried to focus on things just around, beside and above us…anything to avoid looking far below us as we swung up to the top.
The view was AMAZING.
It almost didn’t look real. The water was so calm and blue, the mountains were so clean and colorful. It looked like someone had painted it all and was projecting it up on some giant screen, to be turned off once all the tourists went to sleep (and I’m not convinced that it doesn’t really happen that way). You could see the entire city and the variety of lakes branching out in all direction, plus random paragliders wafting down from another mountain above us.
It was also the first time I actually felt weak in the knees from height. Just looking down from the observation area made my legs/knees feel less stable and a bit tingly. So, rather than pitch myself over the glass railing to the scenery below, I decided to kneel and take the rest of my pictures from that position. The view was just so beautiful that I kept taking the same pictures over and over again…thinking I may not have captured it properly the other 45 times.
We decided to hike up a trail that led through the forest above us and ended at the spot where all the paragliders were leaping off of the mountain. The mountain was covered only in fir trees and, although it was a bit dark in the forest, the needle-covered trail was pretty comfortable to walk on. But, looking up the trail still felt a bit creepy…like there could be a pack of hungry wolves or some mythical creature waiting for us somewhere along the path.
Oh…speaking of mythical creatures, Ozzie and Sharon Ozborne were wandering around town shopping yesterday. We didn’t see them, but they did cause quite a stir amongst the locals. Fin and James were really disappointed that they didn’t run into them at some point. They're big fans of he-who-bites-off-bat-heads (where was he when I needed him in Sydney?).
Meanwhile, back on the trail, Fin and I continued up the steep, dark, trail for about another 20 minutes. Every once in a while, we’d hit a patch of sunlight peeking through the dense forest, then it would disappear a few feet later.
At one point, the trail brought us over to the other side of this mountain and opened up to show some of the other mountains behind it. Again, a view that didn’t suck. There were two “tin men” on the slope who appeared to have been enjoying this view for, possibly…ever.
We finally made it up to the top of the hill and, after catching our breath and taking in, yet, another spectacular view of the area, decided to just watch how this whole paragliding thing worked and to see what kind of crazy kids were voluntarily leaping off of a mountain with just a few cords and a giant sheet between them and the forest and lakes far below.
The first “kids” we see are a couple, likely in their 60’s, gearing up with their instructor/co-pilot.
After doing two “practice” runs of instruction that, pretty much, amounted to a “When I say “jog”, jog. When I say, “Run”, Run...the instructor spreads out the parachute…
Then, pulls on it a bit to make sure it’s catching some wind. Yeah, I think that’s probably a good thing to check before you pull this woman off of a mountain…
Then, he tells the woman to come over to the edge of the mountain by him, he clasps a few clips into her harness and, what appeared to be only one or two into his own, then pulls back on the parachute again and it suddenly catches the wind and pulls immediately up into the air. In those few seconds, the guide whips around, grabs the woman and they’re up in the air heading out…her legs flailing around as she attempts to get some kind of balance (and probably hoping that she’s not filling her pants, as I felt I was about to do on the ground a few feet away).
And then they’re gliding out in front of us, swooping up and around ever so gracefully. It’s really quite beautiful to watch and, as terrifying as the whole thing seems to me, I’m pretty jealous.
I want to want to do it. But at this point, I can’t bring myself to take that leap (literally) from the ground over the edge of a mountain, with the ground 27,000 feet below. Fin says he feels the same way and, as much as we’re sure we’ll be considered a little wussy for not just doing it…decide that it’s okay and say “one day” (and on a planet where the ground below us is covered in thick, foamy cotton that would cradle a fall from any height) we might do it. Just not today….or this week….or at any time that there is still open air between the sky and ground…
We headed back down the mountain, passing the “luge” slope that is also available for people to enjoy. Basically, it’s a winding, concrete maze that runs down the side of the mountain to the gondola/gift shop a bit below. We didn’t do that because we were afraid (although, in theory, riding down a slope on a plastic cart sounds scary) or thought it was too dangerous. It really just looked a bit…silly. The “thrilling” trailer they show in the gift shops makes it look like you’re gonna speed down this twisting and turning slope of death.
The reality is that most people didn’t seem to go faster than I could have walked and, at certain points, a few people were almost “Fred Flinstone-ing” their scooters to get them going again, after they just stopped moving in certain areas. However, there was a cute Indian family all scootering close together. They were all having such a good time and I just enjoyed watching the wife, decked out in her customary dress, wearing a helmet and enclosed in this little plastic car, laughing and smiling her way down the slope. You don’t see that on CNN very often.
Fin and I took one last look at the view, then got back on the gondola and made our way down to the ground. As soon as we get off the gondola, you walk right out to a place where they have your picture (from earlier), now printed in 4X6 and 4 “custom” postcards. They basically photoshop you into random scenery…hilarious, badly thrown together and cheesy…so, of course, I had to get a copy. They only give you the regular photo online, so this is all I have. You’ll have to see the “night” shot and “winter” shot in person.
We had a couple beers, then wandered about the water area for a while, chatting and watching the sun starting to fade away.
We got something to eat and were about to head to another bar when we saw James, looking less than peppy, on his way back to his hostel from a quick run out for some Gatorade and instant noodles (a hostel diet staple). He said he didn’t wake up until 4:00 and actually got out of bed around 6:00. He was feeling a bit sluggish, but said he wanted to join us. So, he dropped his noodles (so to speak) into his room and we all headed to a bar. James actually at some beans and toast there and kept it down, so you know what that means….James is feeling better and is now able to drink a “wee” bit more.
We all just sat at the bar, listened to a variety of music, and watched the people. James and Fin were especially watching our bartender, a young gal from Germany. Their favorite parts of that were, pretty much, anything she did….reaching up for a glass…bending down to get a bottle…any hint of direct eye contact. If men could ovulate, the sound that James and Fin’s bodies would be making could be heard around the world (and likely across several solar systems).
So, I told the bartender that they were both leaving tomorrow (which they are) and would she mind if I took a picture of her with them. She was very cool and said “sure”.
I just like to help people in need...it's what I do.
Thanks for hanging out with me boys, I had a great time and am very glad we met. I hope you both have a safe journey to your next destinations and that our paths cross again sometime soon.