It’s one of the most gruelling runs imaginable. First, there’s the treacherous rocky terrain and steep incline to negotiate, on which you’ve already seen a couple of your friends face plant. Then there’s the adrenaline induced by having an instructor bellowing orders in your ear: Faster! Faster! Keep running, keep running!” And all the while there’s the knowledge that the finish line, the ultimate goal you’re straining to reach, is the edge of a cliff.
There’s no doubt about it: running off a 1900m-high mountain is a tad stressful. But there are few better ways to calm down than by floating above Ölüdeniz’s stunning Blue Lagoon. Turkey’s most picturesque paragliding spot, the high season sees up to 300 people a day launching themselves off nearby Mt Baba (Babadag in Turkish), meaning Ölüdeniz is quite literally raining men.
Ali, my pilot, has been paragliding since 1989. While commercial flights might last around 45 minutes, experienced pilots can use the thermals rising off the coast to keep themselves floating indefinitely – all day if they so desire. It’s a lifestyle,” Ali says. “I can’t stop flying. I’ve tried many times.”
The pilots are obviously at home in the air. One of them, after asking his passenger’s permission, lights up a smoke in mid-air; another takes a call on his mobile phone.
The running take-off excluded, the scariest part of the experience is the drive up the mountain, on a loose road about one metre from a sharp cliff face. Nerves begin jangling as the temperature drops noticeably the higher in altitude you climb. And yet, from when your feet first leave the ground, paragliding is remarkably soothing. The brilliant blue of the bay below, the smooth, turbulence-free ride, the surrounding tranquility – it’s hypnotising.
After an hour’s contemplative floating, Ali attempts to bring me back down to earth – both figuratively and literally – plunging the parachute into an exhilarating succession of spins. I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline rush, or just the intense G-forces, but I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”