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In a hole

INDONESIA | Sunday, 14 June 2009 | Views [502]

I arrived at Lake Maninjau on a Sunday. For 3 days it rained! My day was spent thus: wake up and walk to café bagoes at around 10am. Sit, read, eat and then leave at around 10pm. Lazy days and lounging nights. I was averaging around 3 books a day.

Lake Maninjau is found near the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Many years ago the volcano blew up leaving a large caldera. This filled with water and thus Lake Maninjau was formed. It is 17kms long, 8 kms wide and the road that circuits it is 70kms long.

The main reason I came here was to fly. The take off site was 1250 metres above sea level perched on the crater rim 5 kilometres from the small village of Lawang Top. To get to take off 1st you took a local bus to Mantur. This involved 44 hairpin corners on the road up the side of the crater rim. Once at Mantur I took a mini van the few kilometres to Lawang top. After that it was a 5 kilometre walk or on the second occasion a quick pillion ride on the back of a small scooter to the edge of the crater.

The views were just beautiful, the lake shimmering in the sunshine as the clouds were reflected of the surface. In the distance through a small gap in the crater wall you could see the Indian Ocean.

At take off I was all by myself as long as I didn’t include the 30 or so teenage school boys who kept on giving me helpful shouts of encouragement like “go on mister” and “don’t crash mister” and the 15 or so adults looking on with cameras ready. This was the 1st time that I had flown anywhere new by myself. Nervous…you bet! At take off the edge of the lake was 800m down and 3 kilometres away. Looking across the view I was trying to find somewhere suitable to land. June is in the middle of the rice growing season so there wasn’t a great deal of choice. I spotted two landing areas that “looked” okay and then I took off…

The take off was good and I turned to the left, if I had turned right I might not have enough height to clear the electrical wires going from pylon to pylon down the side of the crater. The views were great and the flying was smooth, enjoyable and I had the sky to myself. After a while I decided to head out towards the lake and land. Going across the two “landing sites” I decided that maybe I should have looked at bit closer before I leaped…

I was about 400m above the fields when I found myself a landing site that didn’t have wires going across it. It did however have trees at either end and 30m behind it electrical cables strung out between the pylons. So it looked like I would have to lose the height above the landing site…time to concentrate!

My last turn was a little tight and so I came in a little faster than I would of liked but being a lazy bastard I couldn’t be arsed to run off the speed so I rolled instead. Trust me it’s a lot safer!

The following day I needed to go to Bukittinggi and the atm (there isn’t one here in Maninjau). I spent 4 hours walking around the town and I didn’t feel the urge to get my camera out once. I did however buy a very nice shirt! For the 1st time in my life I am a multi millionaire. Walking around with a 1000000 in your wallet is great, even if it is less than £100.

The next day was the day that had to happen sooner or later…I smacked!

I was at launch for about two hours trying to take off. Each time the wing came up it just didn’t feel right, or the wing wasn’t really inflated properly. In the end I did manage to take off. After 30 seconds I knew that my head wasn’t “right” and so I decided to come into land. The approach was fine and I made my final turn, about 10m off the ground when a gust of wind picked me up 20m and held me there (well it has got 8km journey over the water to get here). Damn…I knew that I would have to turn to lose the height or crash into the trees at the end of the LZ. So I made a tight 90 degree turn to the left, quickly followed by an even tighter 120 degree turn to the right. Heading downwind I made a very tight turn to get back over the LZ and come into land. I came in very fast, flaring as hard as I could. It wasn’t enough! I hit the ground hard and rolled 3 or 4 times. On the 1st roll my right kidney and ribcage got close and personal with a pointy rock peaking up through the grass. I came to a halt, on all fours with my mouth open gasping for air. When I finally stood up wincing in pain I noticed that the wind had whipped up the water and now the entire lake was covered in whitecaps…word to the wise, landing in a force 3 wind isn’t good.

It was 6km back to the guest house and no way was I walking there. Instead I got a life on the back of a motor bike. Every time we hit a bump I winced in pain. This is Indonesia so there were many bumps on the road.

Five days later and all is nearly well. I haven’t flown since partly because I’m not fully fit, the weather has been overdeveloping early on in the day but most importantly there is a small part of me that is a little bit scared to land!

In two days time I am leaving Lake Maninjau and spending 15 hours on overnight bus to Lake Toba. Hope the landing sites are better there than here!

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