One day, I got a call inviting me to fly over Jalisco’s salt flats, located 17 kilometers northwest of Lake Chapala, in a tiny three-wheeled aircraft called an ultralight — also called a trike. I was told it’s a kind of delta wing or hang glider with a small engine and just enough room for two people.
Well, up to that moment, my policy about high and dangerous places was that I preferred to enjoy such views only when wearing a harness and attached to a rope. Nevertheless, I picked up the phone and called a friend with hang glider experience for an opinion.
“You have a chance to fly in an ultralight?” he said. “Go for it! My wife and son both loved the experience!”
Well, I assumed that his wife and son had not only enjoyed their trike flights but had also survived them, so I accepted the invitation.
So the following Sunday, I headed for Kordich Air Sports — a 40-minute drive from Guadalajara — where I had an appointment to soar into the sky at 9 a.m.
After driving through a pueblito called Los Pozos, I stopped and asked a local man if I was on the right track.
“Sí qué sí,” said David García with a big smile, but he said he prefers to call the place I was looking for “Los Pozos International Airport” because, as he explained, it now attracts hang gliding enthusiasts from all over Mexico and a few other countries. They gather here to float upon the extraordinary thermal updrafts created by the unique geography of Los Pozos.
Los Pozos is bounded by a towering cliff on one side and desert-like, treeless flats on the other, plus 80-kilometer-long Lake Chapala nearby.
A few minutes later, I was given a warm welcome by owner Pedro Kordich, who has been flying delta wings for some 35 years.
“Early in the morning, we have ideal conditions for flying ultralights,” Kordich told me, “but a few hours later, the thermals begin to rise, and then it’s perfect for hang gliders. At Los Pozos, you can have the experience of surfing, only you are riding waves of air instead of water.”
But now it was time for my ultralight flight.
First, I slid into my seat behind Pedro. Then he and an assistant snapped a seat belt on me and fitted a huge helmet on my head with a built-in communication system. I felt a bit like an astronaut about to head into space.
“Vámonos,” Pedro shouted with a big laugh as we sped along the runway.
Suddenly, we were in the air and Pedro was already turning the aircraft left and right, pointing things out to me even though we were only 20 meters off the ground. He was “steering” by weight-shifting: pushing, pulling and turning the bottom bar of a big tubular triangle. I was amazed at how maneuverable this trike was in comparison to a commercial plane.
Then we went up high and fast, and suddenly I could see, in one panoramic view, all of Lake Chapala and, beyond it, the Nevado de Colima volcano, at 4,260 meters, the highest point in Jalisco.
In addition, I hate to say, I could see countless forest fires blazing in the hills all around us. It was an overpowering view.
“If we fly over one of those incendios, you might feel some turbulence,” came the tinny voice of Pedro through my earphones.
I answered something, but I’m not sure what it was since I discovered that I couldn’t hear my own voice due to the engine’s roar. Without a doubt, I must have said, “Hey, sure, let’s fly right over a forest fire” because that’s just what we did.
Far below (maybe 400 meters?), I could see orange flames licking the sky. Our smooth ride suddenly got bumpy. Apparently, this is what you would experience if you flew in the afternoon around here, which is why they do the trike flights in the morning.
The next phase of my ultralight educational experience was discovering exactly what happens when the engine fails.
Pedro turned it off and: nothing! We didn’t fall. We stayed right where we were, only now, it was a whole lot quieter.
This truly amazed me. Our trike was behaving as if it were a kite tethered to an invisible rope, “as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”
I recalled a comment a friend had made about his second hang glider flight in this very place.
“The thermals lifted me up, and there I stayed for over three hours. It was a wonderful experience, and I didn’t come down until the sun set.”
My experience was also marvelous, and I believed I was up there for at least half an hour. However, when I came back down to Earth, I was told my flight had lasted only 10 minutes.
Well, those 10 minutes were jam-packed with rich experiences I’ll never forget. I highly recommend you give it a try!
As I was preparing to leave, a lot of hang glider pilots were arriving.
Now, the hang glider (delta wing) differs from the trike in that there’s no motor. Takeoff and landing depend on the pilot’s legs. This means the hang glider flights all start at the top of the sheer cliff that was towering above us.
One of the hang glider pilots I talked to was Mexican photographer and cinematographer Lars Herrmann. I asked him what he found so attractive about this sport.
“Hang gliding is about nature,” said Herrmann. “It has a really strong spiritual side. It’s about being up there all by yourself, reading the weather conditions, reading the clouds.
“When you’re in a hang glider, everything is beautiful; there’s no war when you’re up there, no envy. You forget about everything, and you concentrate on the present. You don’t worry about your possessions; you only think about flying. Hang gliding is the very best antidote for a midlife crisis.”
A short flight in a trike costs 1,700 pesos and lasts 10 minutes. For 2,300 pesos, you can fly twice as high for 15 minutes.
If you just want to sit and watch the action in the sky above, it won’t cost a centavo.
Kordich Air Sports also has a new tandem option: you are in a delta wing with an expert pilot, but instead of jumping off the top of the cliff, a trike tows the two of you, pulling you up to the proper altitude, where — like Ana Paula Díaz, one of only three women who practice hang gliding in Mexico — you will have a chance to discover that this sport is pura libertad, or unbounded freedom.
In a future story, I hope to describe the tandem delta wing experience.
For more info, phone Pedro Kordich (who speaks excellent English) at mobile 331-270-3838 or visit the Kordich Air Facebook page. And if you’ve been in one of these marvelous machines yourself, by all means, let me (and our readers) know what it was like for you.
The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, since 1985. His most recent book is Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume Three. More of his writing can be found on his blog.