Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hang Gliding in Interlaken: I am like a bird!

Voted as number 2 among Trip Advisor’s World Best Adventure tours, all the hype I read online was proven to be true. Flying like a bird has always been human’s wildest dream. And Hang Gliding in Interlaken with Bernie the Birdman from is truly the coolest thing I’ve done up to date! 

The dramatic landscape in Switzerland is so out of this world. I was determined to have a good look at it from a bird eye viewpoint and tick this off my bucket list. A month prior to my trip to Switzerland, I googled about all the Helicopter, hang gliding and paragliding operators in the country. This company-- the Hang Gliding Interlaken stood out from the crowd with tons of unanimous amazing reviews so I was immediately sold! I emailed them late at night  for a spot and Bernie the Birdman responded soon after. To be honest, it was the best email to wake up to! I was already on cloud 9 when my tandem flight session was confirmed.  

Scheduling a flying session and communication about the pick up was easy. Bernie and his crew are extremely accommodating, everything just fell into places like a charm. We were picked up from the Interlaken Ost station at 10.30 am. It was the Swiss National Day and Bernie was wearing a traditional costume. We were privileged to be able to meet his whole family before and after the flight, all beautifully dressed up in Swiss Traditional Costume! 

Approaching the site, I got a little nervous again. Bernie showed us some video footages of his previous customers and clearly, all of them have had a good time. When I saw that Bernie’s 4-year-old daughter had gone hang gliding too, it made me felt at ease. I was so inspired the fear of flying just disappeared into thin air. Bernie and his family were very friendly to us and the enthusiasms they showed further convinced me that I was with the right company! 

There was a bit of a hike (about 200 meters) before reaching the take-off site. I carried the equipment bag while Bernie pushed the glider up the small hill. The weather wasn’t too good as the fog began to gather. However, we still managed to have fun filming some comical videos while waiting for the sky to clear up a bit. Bernie taught me the way to set up a Hang Glider. I had mixed feeling while setting it up... What if I messed up and it crashed due to my mistake? Fortunately, not on Bernie's watch! He checked the glider and fixed everything I’ve done wrong (Disclaimer: I am an idiot. ) The sky cleared up by the time we were all harnessed up. 

Bernie reminded me, again and again, about the 2 most important points to ensure a smooth take off: 1. Run without slowing down and follow his instruction. 2. Look good for the camera! As soon as he confirmed that I was mental, physically and (spiritually) ready, he strapped me in and told me to run with him. “This is it,” I told myself. Knowing that I’d come to a sudden halt at the edge of the cliff, I decided to keep my eyes shut during the launch. I ran with all my effort and the next thing I knew, I couldn’t feel the ground. I thought my knees had gone weak but when I opened my eyes, we were already up in the air! Bernie instructed me to drop the footrest and stretch my feet on to it. I struggled at first and once I got the hang of it, I started to enjoy the experience (yes, even WITH the fear of height! Do you realize how incredible was that? )   

Accompanied by traditional Swiss Music, we were soaring high up over the lake and the valley, I felt a strong surge of pride and happiness, I had overcome my inner monster... the fear of height wouldn’t be able to put me down. It is hard to put my feeling into words but I’ll try! Bernie is a very passionate and extremely skilled flight instructor. The whole time hang gliding with him, I felt safe and relaxed even though that was my first time doing it. He had total control over the flight and all I have to do was to kick back and enjoy the ride! He pointed out interesting spots below us and told me some educational facts about hang gliding. The view of the lake was spectacular: the panoramic view across the valley and the snow-capped Jungfrau mountain in the distance were incredible. Bernie is also very engaging, good in telling jokes and striking up conversations. His excitement and sense of humor was contagious, we had some good laugh up in the sky (I was impressed by the fact that I was able to laugh! haha! ) He let me hold the steer for a while and asked me to pose like a bird for the camera as we go higher. 

While flying over the lake, Bernie asked if I was feeling okay and whether it was a good time to start doing some fun tricks. I could feel an air of coldness running up my spine when he asked. I tighten my grip and swallowed my fear. “Yes!”  The crazy spinning moves began. No matter how many times I pinched myself in order to keep my cool, I couldn’t help but scream on the top of my lungs. You’d be startled if you are on the ground as my scream echoes across the valley. The feeling riding on a glider while your instructor is doing freestyle spinning moves is simply... (lost of words). It is something like going full speed on a roller coaster except that there is no track in front of you. There were occasionally feeling of free fall but you’ll get over it the next 0.01 second as the glider turned. I felt like a crazy bird on sugar rush flying through the clouds.    

When it was time for the landing, Bernie pointed out the secluded landing spot below us and he told me that their landing space is different from other paragliding/hang gliding operators in the region. It is part of the effort to maximize flying time. True enough, I did notice that all the paragliders that took off before us fly towards the landing spots quite soon while we were still having fun exploring the open air, enjoying the view. We stayed in the air for 40 minutes (or longer?) and I appreciate every second of it!   

After the landing, Bernie proceeded to show me the videos he took on his iPad. I was impressed with the videos and photo quality: High resolution and all those perfect angles! He placed the microSD card carefully into a package and wrote some words on the cover. I was given the name “Vivian the Vulture” on the spot. 

We all had a couple of beers to ease the nerve. The feeling of adrenaline rush refused to wear off even after 20 minutes!

If you're up for an exhilarating activity in Interlaken, look no further! I ensure you that it is worth every Swiss Franc spent! Bernie’s team is top notch, I cannot speak highly enough about Hang Gliding Interlaken and my flying experience, It was such a dream came true. 

Confession time! 

One day prior to the flight, my insecurities attacked again. I have fear of height since forever and apparently it was putting me down as I became indecisive about Hang Gliding on the day after. I do not know what came upon me… I’ve done paragliding in Chamonix, it went smooth, I had fun, it shouldn’t be a problem at all, I shouldn’t be afraid! But the thing about flying with a fear of height is, it's not like anything else which you could do better since you've done it once. The fear actually grows and it was consuming me. I literally gave myself a slap in the face and sternly looked into the mirror “Pull it together, lady! Stop overthinking, We are gonna fly high!” I opened the Trip Advisor page and read all the reviews all over again (ah, seriously, such soothing effect!). 
I decided to take a leap of faith. 
I did it. And my only regret is not doing it sooner. 

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Miss Happy Feet was a guest of Hang Gliding Interlaken. However, all photos and opinion are as always, strictly my own. 

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