Perhaps you have already noticed the colourful mobiles levitating above Rorota. But who are the people who, come the weekend, enjoy the beach 300 metres up in the air?

A paraglider flight starts in the office. Every pilot has their own set of signals. If the neighbour’s mango tree waves gently in the breeze, or if the awning of the shop opposite flaps, then that means conditions are right. You then need to pop back home to get changed and pick up your wing. To get to the takeoff spot you head off down the road to the beach. On the way there the paraglider pilot tends to spend more time looking at the tops of the trees than at the road, as the way there is full of clues about flight conditions. For example, when you go past where Francis lives, the president of the Exo7 paraglider club, you should take a glance at the air sock on the roof of his house indicating where the wind is blowing from. 100 metres further on and the sailing club flags on the APCAT beach confirm the wind direction. By then you’re almost there.

For the wind direction is the determining factor for a good flight. Ideally, it comes perpendicularly to the coast. The principle is simple. The trade winds encounter Mount Rorota and so have to go upwards creating a zone in which paragliders can gain altitude. The pilot can then stay just in front of the Mount, veering left and right the whole time. If you move too far away from the Mount the upwards air currents are less strong and the paraglider starts losing altitude.

But first of all you have to go up to the takeoff spot and earn your right to a flight. And going up a climb of 100 metres with a ten kilo rucksack in the French Guiana climate is no walk in the park. Having said that, most paraglider pilots are grey-haired and a bit chubby, and so it is no bad thing for them to do a bit of sport. In general paraglider enthusiasts enjoy the good things in life and, if there isn’t any wind, they know where to go and have a drink.

The takeoff zone is a little plot of grass in the middle of the clearings. When the grass is too tall the pilots organise a Mayouri, and they all get together to do a spot of gardening. Often the flight is over on takeoff, before it has even started. If the wind is not strong enough or coming from the wrong direction it’s better to stay up there with a few friends and simply chat while making the most of the scenery. Often we decide to walk back down or else to do a “flop” and fly straight back down to the beach without gaining any altitude. But when the wind blows then you can be sure of an adrenaline rush. No plane, no motor, no fuel, no noise, just two or three steps to the void and you take off gently, effortlessly.

The first person takes off to show the way as sometimes you have to work hard for every metre you gain in altitude, and use the relief to gradually work your way up. When you reach a ridge then it’s a wonderful feeling of freedom. The view is magnificent, all 360° of it. In front of you are the sea and the islands, on the right the Connétable and the mouth of the Mahury, on the left the Iles du Salut and Cayenne, and behind lie Mount Kaw and the marshes stretching out as far as the eye can see to Mount Ouanary. Up in the air some pilots wisecrack over the radio or listen to their MP3, others take the opportunity to get away from it all and think of nothing. Comfortably ensconced in your seat and with the wind whistling in your ears everything is so calm. So calm that you feel you can even see the clearings gnawing away at the flanks of the mountain, gradually spreading out across the slopes. Day after day the deforestation of Mount Rorota continues out of sight, from the road in any case.

The plage des Brésiliens is beautiful seen from the sky with the coconut trees and waves. During the laying season you can even see the lines left in the sand by the leatherback turtles come to lay their eggs amidst the plastic bags and beer cans. Sometimes when you land you imagine how indignant the leatherbacks must be on leaving the depths of the ocean and having to make their way through all the litter sullying what would otherwise be a little corner of paradise. The local authorities have done their bit and installed waste containers, but apparently they forgot to hand out instructions for use.

When you land on the sand there are always a few people who timidly come up to look at the surprising contraption of fabric and cord. No electronics whatsoever. An organic sport. And then as you fold up your wing they ask their questions. “Are you going to take off again?” “Do you jump from a plane?” “Can I have a go?” And we always reply that they can go for a first flight with Gilles, the paragliding instructor, and learn to fly with their own wings.

Practical information

 

The site

Mount Rorota is an all-year-round soaring site. There are no meteorological pitfalls and the wind is laminar, meaning it is best to opt for a fast wing. The relief is covered in forest and the only landing spot is the beach.

The fact that there is not a paragliding school is a drawback, but the site is well suited to learning in a special training two-seater.

The club

Exo7 is the sole site manager and it is imperative to contact the club before flying. Exo7 has signed an agreement with the DGAC (the civil aviation authorities) and the flight zone has to be “opened” and “closed” by the control tower at the airport.

The club’s website is full of practical information:

http://www.exo7.free.fr