It all started with a very long plane flight to Istanbul and then onto Antalya. Antalya is a largest city on the Mediterranean coast next to a spectacular mountain range. We spent the first day recovering from jet lag (9-hour time zone change) and trying to understand the currency. Turkey transforms even the humblest person into a millionaire since 1 million Turkish Lira equals about $2.15. A four-hour bus ride that cost 4 million gets you from Antalya to Fethiye (pronounced Fet-ee-ay not Feth-ee as you might think). From there it is an easy 500,000 TL dolmus ride to Oludeniz. Dolmus means shared ride, and there are large vans that come to almost a complete stop when picking up people and dropping them off again. They are the easiest and cheapest way to get to most places.
Driving down into the Oludeniz valley is a paraglider’s dream. As you look up and across the valley towards the beach, you see dozens of paragliders in the air. This fact remained a constant throughout our entire stay. From an hour after sunrise to well after sunset, there were never less than 10 paragliders visible and typically more like 30-40. There are approximately 40 tandem pilots working in the area for 6 different tandem companies. Their main business was flying tandems off of Babadag (Father Mountain) the 6,550′ mountain that rises above the town of Oludeniz. Pilots got to the top of Babadag in old looking but actually newer Turkish-made Chrysler pickups. The single pilots then hitched a ride up the mountain for 5 or 6 million Turkish Lira (depending on the company). 3 million goes straight to the National Forest Service for allowing you on their property. This 3 million TL is collected each and every time that a person crosses into the park. Doing the math makes it about $15 per trip and we made 2-3 trips per day. This worked out to be the most expensive part of our entire vacation. Now is a good time to mention driving in Turkey. This was the most dangerous part of our vacation due to very few road rules and lots of horn honking. Apparently, passing at high speeds on blind mountain corners is not at all considered stupid.
There are several launches available on Babadag depending on the wind direction and conditions. My vario said that the lower launch was at 5500′ and the upper launches were at 6100′. The lower launch was big enough to spread out about 40 gliders, however the upper launches are only big enough for about 4 side-by-side. Since we are trucked up in groups of about 10, there can very easily be about 50 wings (half of which are tandems) wanting to take off at about the same time. Because of this, it is necessary to be very organized. You would spread out your wing and get everything completely ready by the time you were third in line so that when it was your turn you could launch at the first possible moment. If you weren’t ready by the time it was your turn or if you took an exceptionally long time launching (over 5 minutes), someone would probably start complaining. Luckily, you could pretend that you didn’t understand the language that they were speaking.
Flying Babadag is an experience unlike any other that I have had. After launch, there are consistent thermals all along the upper ridges of the mountain. You basically thermal for as long as you want/can then head for the beach. Nothing over about 3000′ lets loose any thermal so once you leave the peaks of Babadag it is smooth sailing. When I say smooth I mean really smooth, not a single bump total glass sled rides stuff. So you cruise in the smooth stuff for a while until you get over the beach. You typically arrive over the beach LZ with about 3500′-4000′ of altitude remaining. Now is the time to practice that B-Line stall or the spiral dive that you learned in maneuvers class. Once you’ve had your fun it’s time to land. The landing zone is a wide sidewalk parallel to the beach. You pick one of the dozen or so large carpets to land on, so that the guy that packs up your glider for you doesn’t have to come over and get you. A cool 500,000 TL gets you a better folding and packing job than I have ever done myself. Time to head over for a chicken kabob and talk with your flying buddy about the unbelievable views while you wait for the next ride up Father Mountain.
by Mike Kinney & Wes Brown