Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pradeep Learns to Fly

April 17th – 21st, 2012

One morning I was walking by one of the cliff side restaurants and stopped to say a quick hello to a couple of guys I know. One is Jiwan from Nepal who was a waiter up in Manali at the place I stayed last May and the other was Michael (really Mischa but he tells his English speaking friends to call him Michael), an excellent tandem pilot who hails from the Ukraine. With them was an Indian man in his late thirties who introduced himself as Pradeep.

As I was leaving Pradeep approached me and inquired whether I would be interested in helping him to learn paragliding. He told me that he’d already had a few tandem and solo flights along with a couple of days ground handling with a couple of other guys in Arambol. I explained that first off, I didn’t have a tandem wing and I’m not even fully certified to fly tandems (although I had partially finished a tandem course back in Canada a few years ago). I also noted that I wasn’t an instructor although as part of my tandem qualification I had participated in an instructor’s course. And the third important item for him to be aware of was that my wing was an intermediate level wing, not typically a good one for a student to learn on...kind of like learning to drive in a Porsche... Pradeep seemed unfazed by these factors and asked whether we could work together over the next five days, beginning with ground handling and just see how it goes. I figured why not.

We met the next morning on Sweet Water Beach and after unpacking the wing, Pradeep began some practice on the beach known as “kiting” or “ground handling”. It’s a very important skill to develop as a beginner and to continue practicing throughout one’s flying career. Some say that every hour of ground handling is worth 10 hours of experience in the air and I think I agree.

It was obvious that Pradeep had had some previous practice as he was able to get the wing above his head a few times but couldn’t consistently keep it there. His technique for his reverse launch was different from what I had learned and he told me that he had just kind of figured out a system on his own. Well hats off to you Pradeep for being inventive but it wasn’t the greatest method as it required him to let go and grab the opposite brakes part way through the launch which I’m not a fan of. In strong wind you could find yourself in trouble at the point where you have no hands on the brakes and therefore no control. I walked him through the way that I was taught and realized that he was a quick learner, often only needing to be told something once and it had already sunk in.

Pradeep figuring out what line does what:

"Run to the to the right!"...Pradeep kiting on Sweet Water Beach:

I later learned that he is from Mysore and he is a contractor who primarily takes staff from IT companies, often from Bangalore, on outdoor team building exercises such as rock climbing or rappelling. No wonder he was picking up things quickly and also very safety conscious.

At the end of the second day, with about 6-7 hours of ground handling under his belt, there was a notable difference in his skill and after some discussion we agreed that he could try a small flight from a rocky bare patch on the hill just above some beach restaurants. The flight would be short and the landing simple. All he would have to do is fly out over the restaurants, turn slightly right and he would have a long, open beach to land on. My one concern was that the launch was a bit steep and so his reactions on takeoff would have to be quick. Pradeep seemed unfazed by this so we set up the wing and he got prepared.

“Ok, ready.” Pradeep stated as he began to pull the wing up. The paraglider shot up quickly and before Pradeep could turn around he was lifted off the ground still facing back towards the hill...oh shit! He seemed to have his fingers stuck between the crossed risers as he flew off twenty feet over the restaurants. Oh no...what have I done?!? I felt like a mother duck who had just pushed my duckling out of the nest but he wasn’t quite ready for it yet. I yelled out instructions to Pradeep as he worked on getting himself turned around. By the time he was facing forward he had uncontrollably and inadvertently turned too far right and was now over the small fresh water lake (hence the beach’s name). The lake is only 2-3 feet deep so I wasn’t too concerned but all the gear was going to be soaked.

He started to fly forward towards the beach side edge of the lake which is separated from the ocean by a long stretch of sand. There were some young coconut trees interspersed in the sand by the lake but more alarming was the small power line that ran over to the one beach restaurant in the middle of the lake. I knew there was probably no threat of electrocution due to the feeble electrical system here but knocking the line off of its poles was not going to make us any friends.

Amazingly he landed on the shore and the wing fell forward over some of the small trees instead of back into the water! By the time I rushed down to him with adrenaline still coursing through my veins he had extracted the wing from the trees and had walked out to a sun bed and still had a smile on his face. It seemed as though I was more shaken up by the flight than he was. We sat down and debriefed what had happened and I realized that really I, as the instructor, had made the crucial bad decision of allowing him to take off from that steep spot. In the end, no harm, no foul. As Pradeep reiterated, from that height there wasn’t any chance of any major injury which was true...but had he crashed through a restaurant’s roof or taken out the electrical line it wouldn’t have been cool. Afterwards, we spoke with Michael, the Ukrainian tandem pilot, and he offered some good advice and also was receptive to us borrowing his radios so that we could have Pradeep fly off from the top of the cliff where the takeoff is flat and much bigger, more suitable for a beginner and the radios would allow me to talk Pradeep through the landing phase.

Ukrainian tandem pilot Michael (Mischa) and his girlfriend Lena:

The following day we returned to kiting and there was a large improvement from yesterday’s practice. Unfortunately the wind was too strong for him to fly later in the afternoon but the following day, after an hour of ground handling we hiked up the main ridge to the takeoffs that face Kerim Beach to the north. While we were setting up on the west launch Michael arrived with some tandem customers. We allowed him to go first and then Pradeep attempted unsuccessfully to launch a few times but eventually he was in the sky with the instructions to turn to the right, follow the ridge but stay out in front of it. Meanwhile I quickly sprinted 50 meters to a spot where I would visually be able to talk him through the landing.

I asked Pradeep a couple of times to kick his legs together if he could hear me on the radio which he did. However I later learned that he couldn’t hear me as the radio had fallen back over his should during takeoff. No wonder he hadn’t fully obeyed my instructions. No matter, he had performed a nice approach and landed safely after a 3 minute flight. I could tell he was a happy camper as he jumped around with glee on the beach down below...I love seeing the joy of flight in new pilots, it’s something special.

On the last day we hiked up to the same launch.  It took more launch attempts before he got in the air than the previous day but nonetheless he was soaring again.  I decided to talk him through some ridge soaring as there were no other wings in the sky and he seemed to be comfortable in flight.  The wind began to pick up a bit and I didn’t think the conditions would still be launchable for him by the time he landed and walked back up so instead he continued to ridge soar under my radio instruction.  After 40 minutes of flying I coached him through the approach to land on the beach and he performed it perfectly.  I walked down to the beach and he was grinning from ear to ear and gave me a big hug.  Well done Pradeep!

Pradeep soaring above Kerim Beach:

Pradeep high above the ridge...loving his ride:

The wind picked up in the afternoon but he was happy to try some more “extreme” kiting and I have to say I was very impressed with how much his skills had improved in five days. I couldn’t have asked for a better first student.

One happy student:

Welcome to the world of free flight Pradeep!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Martin & The Magic Villa

April 3rd, 2012

Way back in late November I was sitting in the Olive Garden restaurant and lo and behold, who walked in?!? It was Martin from Sweden whom I had met here last year! What a great surprise.

He and his girlfriend Ida stayed in the Classic Huts over the New Years last year and they had shared in the hilarious game of charades with the Russians from Vladivostok in the wee hours of that night. They then returned in February from traveling south to Kerala and Naomi and I went with them to the Anjuna market. It was a great surprise to see him as I didn’t know that he was coming back to Arambol.

He sat down for a beer and we caught up our lives from the last 9 months. Martin was planning to stay in Arambol until April with the goal of writing a book, a fiction comedy about the nonsense of borders, the imaginary lines that we humans draw on maps to segregate ourselves. He was focussing on the Swedish/Norwegian border. Unfortunately he planned to write his book in Swedish so I wasn’t going to be able to read it. Meanwhile Ida would be staying in Sweden to focus on a new job in a fancy restaurant where she was in charge of the wait staff but she would be visiting for a couple of weeks from Christmas through to the new year.

Martin was staying in Classic Huts again and I was all but ready to move there at the start of December without even knowing that he was there. I had been staying in one of the buildings run by the Om Ganesh Guesthouses since Naomi and I returned from Kerala back in mid October. The price of the room was going to be at least double over the holiday season so I thought it made sense to move back to the cheaper huts. I had moved most of my stuff (I have definitely been accumulating things while I’ve been here) to the Olive Garden in the previous few days but on my last evening Martin finally accepted my invitation to come over for a game of chess around sunset time.

Well he was gobsmacked by the beautiful view and peacefulness of the place and suggested that he should move over here instead. We spoke with the pot-bellied manager Raul and worked out a price of 450 rupees ($9) per night for the entire season provided we stayed through the quieter months of March and April. Classic Huts’ rate was 350 so for $2 extra per night, it was a no brainer. Unfortunately an older guy from Finland or Norway had just moved in next door to me and was planning to stay a month but I think thanks to some slight influence from Raul he switched to a downstairs room and a couple of nights later Martin moved in next door as my neighbour.

The building consists of two floors with two rooms on each floor. The top floor has a nice balcony running the length of the front of the building that looks out at the ocean through the palm trees. I was quite excited to stay here for the next 4 months with a neighbour who is a good friend. Soon after moving in, Martin dubbed our place: “The Magic Villa”.

The Magic Villa - My room is on the top right:

Looking down at the Villa from the ridge:

I had recently purchased a hammock from the Olive Garden and Martin decided to get one too. This became his “office” for writing his book. Later a Swiss guy downstairs who had acquired a fridge from an Indian friend left and we moved the fridge to our balcony as a nice addition to our little piece of paradise.

In the first few days we decided to hunt for a decent chess board as we were both interested in playing. Most of our dinners together became venues for all out warfare on the black and white squares of the playing field. Initially I was winning all of the games but thankfully Martin took it in stride and stuck it out and finally on our tenth game he won. As the months passed, we became equals in the game.
One of many heated chess battles:

I also introduced him to Yaniv, an Israeli card game that I had learned in Manali last May. It’s a great game in that whether you are two people or five, it still works and is fun to play.

This was followed by what became one of our staple games, Tropic Euro, which Martin preferred to call “Plantation Nation”. It’s a game I downloaded for free to my laptop and it mimics a board game that I used to play with some friends back in Canada called “Puerto Rico”. The concept is that each player has an island with plantations of various goods such as bananas, cocoa and coffee. You plant various crops but also construct buildings that can either gain you money or victory points. To stop short of fully geeking out here, it’s a cool little game and Martin seemed to agree. Many of our evenings either started or ended with a game of Plantation Nation.

Ida arrived on Christmas day and it was wonderful to see her again. She is a kind, intelligent, beautiful Swedish blonde and I think that Martin has hit the jackpot. They’ve been together for over 3 years and they really suit each other.

Ida stayed for the next couple of weeks and I was soon introduced to a new card game called Halsta, a Swedish gem that is not widely known as it has been passed down from generations to generations in Martin’s family. Poor Ida has had to rise to the challenge of many a game in Martin’s family’s summer cabin where heated and wine fuelled games test the mettle of all. Friendly yet intensely competitive games combine sly play with blatant propaganda. I think she proved herself a worthy partner of Martin’s to his family with her card play. I hope someday that I’ll get to experience an Eklund family. If one successfully gets rid of all of their cards in one go (which isn’t too common), they get to exclaim “Nu Ar Ni Dar!”...roughly meaning “Now you are there”. I can’t wait to introduce my Canadian friends and family to this serious yet entertaining pastime.

Ida and Martin enjoying the view from the balcony:

Ida’s time in Arambol was short but it was great to celebrate a second New Year’s party with her and Martin, even though this time we were missing the charading Russians. It was sad to see her go but her

Ida's last night:

Our wonderful seafood dinner at the Outback restaurant:

Martin and Ida at the Olive Garden:

Ida's sendoff:

On one trip to Mapsa I decided to pick up a new game for Martin and me to play....Carrom. Back in Canada, my friends and I play a variety of games, one of which is Crokinole. It’s an octagonal board with a round playing surface where you flick these little pucks with your fingers and thumb. It’s kind of like mini curling or shuffleboard...yet slightly different. Well Carrom is the Indian version of this Crokinole.

Carrom is almost like pool or billiards crossed with Crokinole. It’s a square board with pockets in each corner. There is a “shooter”, a heavier, bigger puck than the other black and white pucks...oh, and there is one red one known as the “queen”. You flick the shooter at the other pucks with the intent of sinking them in the pockets. There are two main types of games with Carrom and we started off with the basic one where black pucks are worth 5 points, whites 10 and the queen 50. It’s simple in that any puck can be hit by either opponent. We eventually graduated to the more complex game which is more like pool where one person plays the black pucks while the other shoots for white. In the end we found this game more entertaining yet definitely more challenging. Martin and I were fairly evenly matched in this pastime but I’d have to give him a bit of an edge over me.

Playing Carrom:

Nice shot Martin!

This is Smiley, one of our canine friends who would visit us (I think the cookies and water we gave him helped). He gets his name from the smile he gives when he first greets scared Martin at first as it looks like Smiley is baring his teeth but it really is just a smile:

Not everything is happy in the Magic least not for this gecko:

I moved the gecko out of my room where the tiny ants were feasting on him and when we returned from supper, the big ants had almost finished him off:

By the end of his four month stay here, Martin managed to crank out over 120,000 words for his book and was very close to finishing his first run through of the story. He says it will take him a fair amount of time to edit it but I was impressed with what he’d produced (even though I couldn’t read it!).

Martin relaxing in his Ali Baba gear:

Then Martin decided to get us matching outfits for our gaming sessions...and no, we did not go out into public looking like this:

Martin leaving for lunch one day:

Martin with Cock's Town waiters Vijay and Sunny:

It was sad to see Martin go as he was a good neighbour, fun opponent in a variety of games and a great friend. Take care buddy and hopefully we’ll catch up for some more gaming one day...

Our parting shot: