Paragliding in Governador Valadares, Brazil

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Looking back at Pico da Ibitruna from the South on XC 

General Description: 

Governador Valadares is located in the state of Minas Gerais and in the middle valley of the Doce River 

The best flying season is usually between December to April but the fast changing climate is making it harder to predict as for many places these days. This year, there was not much rain during the raining season and pilots were having cracking flights as early as November although that also meant rougher conditions than normal in December and January because it was so dry.

It can be flyable very early during the day (as soon as the usual morning cloud lifts above launch), but the XC window only seems to start after 11:00 a.m as it can be especially tricky to make the 1st and 2nd climbs. The earliest we launched was 11:40 a.m. On good days, it could remain good for XCs as late as 5:00 p.m. but we also had XC days when the thermals seemed just to disappear as early as 3:00 p.m. If you want to fly locally, you can go up to launch and fly almost any hour of the day provided you can find transport up.

The conditions here can change rapidly from epic to awful and vice versa. One day, there were dark scary towering clouds and thunder near launch, so we flew early fearing a full on storm later. But after successfully not getting sucked into the 2nd cloud and heading downwind on XC to the next cloud, the sky suddenly turned blue, leaving us stranded!

Most XCs head south, following the main tarmac road between GV and Caratinga and the typical northerly wind and where there are regular buses back to GV. However, during most of our time in GV, the wind was northeasterly or easterly and sometimes even westerly and southerly, so it was more tricky to cover big distances. But in these conditions you can set yourself the challenge to do triangles, out-and-returns or explore other routes.

Take-off:

  • Pico da Ibitruna: It is around 45 mins drive (if your truck does not break down, or not turn up as happened to us!) from the town to launch. There is a café on the top and there are bathrooms and water taps, but the opening hours are irregular and it may not open at all during some weekdays, and the water taps may not have water… The launch is a long grassy strip with the road separating the west and east sides. We launched mostly from the west side during our stay there but prefer the east side as it generally seems to work more reliably and be less sinky than the west side. However, there are less bomb-out options on the east side if you do hit sink, and you may struggle to fly around the mountain to the normal landings on the west side! There are many thermal triggers on both sides: even the bomb-out fields on the west side often trigger thermals! There is a rocky cliff on the west side with signal towers sticking out on the top: it often triggers thermals but you want to get to it high as it was often rough and sinky low down.
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Pico da Ibitruna takeoff from above

Landing:

  • Official landing: The official landing is on the far edge of the river, which you reach by crossing the island formed from a split in the river. Locals warned us that there is a restriction how high you can fly over the landing as there is an airport nearby, but you can always loose height over the island and the river before coming in. Its a fairly tight spot which may concern low airtime pilots as you have to loose height above a huge fast flowing river, and then come in over some power lines, buildings and, depending on the wind direction, near a tower block. But it’s actually quite a nice big area and quite fun. There are also normally locals who can pack up your wing professionally for a cheap price. If you hit some brutal sink after take-off (which can happen here quite often) and can’t make the official landing, there are bomb out fields on the take-off side of the river. The bomb-out fields often do trigger thermals however, so be ready for the rough stuff and to make the most of it! There are buses back into town if you walk a couple of km towards town on the dirt track and sometimes there is a even taxi hanging around. We won’t recommend walking back – from experience, it’s a very hot and sweaty 2hrs to the town centre as the only bridge is far to the south!
  • XC landings: Around Pico da Ibitruna, its all rolling hills and farmland, with an occasional little town and grey cliffs as far as you can see and good landing options are quite common. If you follow the main road towards Caratingaon XC it can be hilly near the road especially when you get closer to Ihapim where there are very limited landing options for 10 k or so due to the hilly terrain and the many many power lines! Here you need to get high or be prepared to land on top of a hill or somewhere further away from the road.
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Official landing, mid-right of picture (far side of island from photographer)

Pros: 

  • Reliable flying conditions: During 3 weeks we spent in GV in March, there were only two days towards the end when it was raining and not flyable. According to others who have been there since December, there were only few days within the four months that they could not fly, but its apparently not always so good. Some days may be trickier than the others to cover distance but this can make the flying more challenging and varied.
  • Better potential for big distances: When the wind is northerly, you can follow the main road and go big distances downwind! We got only a couple of days that were easy to fly downwind during our stay, but we managed some large triangles and out-and-returns when the wind was not carrying us down south. It is also a challenging and fun place to go XC: especially the first bit – making it away from the mountain! Climbs vary from almost zeros to about 5m/s which can be rough or smooth. On a long XC you also have to be prepared for some low saves – hanging on in rough weak climbs hoping for the vultures or eagles come to help (which they often do). It’s such a privilege to fly with them and they seem just as interested in us – flying close to check us out, or surfing our wake!
  • Smoother and less complicated flying conditions: GV offered unbelievably smooth thermals for me after Roldanillo! As you may have noticed, we had a lot more pictures from GV and its surrounding sites than Roldanillo. It was a nice change when we do not always need to fight to keep our wings open! Having said that though, in some locations and on some days, it couldalso be unpredictably turbulent, even in light winds, and especially around the take-off. For example, in the official landing on day, we watched a Skywalk glider get low and close to a ridge below the launch and have a really scary cascade of collapses which eventually recovered and they landed in the bomb out field – don’t get too close to the rock-face down low! Climbs could be weird too – mostly smooth in comparison to Roldanillo, but it could catch you out if you were flying in something big and smooth, it could suddenly change to turbulent. Al experienced a couple of parachutal stalls in one gnarly thermal, and also some severe asymmetrics and frontals at times! See our blog on roldanillo for reference. 
  • Relatively easy retrieves if you follow the main road: If you follow the main road between GV and Caratinga, there are buses that will stop for you anywhere and they are often Air-conditioned and very comfortable! There are hourly buses from caratinga to GV and closer to GV, you can also get some more frequent local buses. But they all run less frequent on weekendsbut hitch-hiking is possible and often free. I had one of my best retrieve ever near GV: when a local saw me land and stopped his car, waited for me for more than half an hour as I slowly packing up in the field (as I could not even believe that he could be waiting for me!), fed me food and drove me to my door for free! Motorbikes and even bicycles often offer lifts but they can be utterly uncomfortable with a big glider bag, sweaty hands, and an ill-fitted helmet over the many speed bumps going into town!
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Looking back at Pico da Ibitruna from the South on XC

Cons: 

  • Relatively difficult and expensive to get to take-off: The transport to take-off is not well-organized (apparently due to rivalries between the two clubs that operate here!) and there can be more pilots than available spaces. It generally cost 30 R per person to get to launch (around 10 USD) in one of the organised transports, or taxis are around 100 R from the town. You do need to pick some reliable local drivers for the transport up though; one day our driver simply did not show up with no explanation whatsoever so we missed out on a flyable day! The local club has a bus going up to launch on weekends: 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and 10:00 a.m. & 1:00 p.m. on Sunday for 20 R per person. But it is incredibly slow and noisy and never departs on time!
  • Power lines: There are a lot of them everywhere! Just because you’ve seen 4 going across your chosen landing field does not mean there are not a few more to catch you out! The most dangerous ones are the “home-made” skinny lines hanging very low close to the ground. It is very hard to notice them in the air until you are very low. On one of my flights, I had quadruple checked my landing field only to find in the last seconds a power line hanging 4 meters over the ground right in front of me with one of its poles hidden under a local roof – almost impossible to spot from the air!
  • Hot climate and a sprawling city:  In a way GV is similar to Roldanillo in that if you don’t fly, there’s nothing to do, but its hotter – much hotter! With the Pacific wind, Roldanillo usually gets cooler at night, but GV retains the heat throughout the day and even overnight. It is over 30 Celsius every day when we were there in March and according to other pilots, it was much hotter in December! Electricity is expensive so Air-conditioning is a luxurious commodity. We were on a budget and could not afford an air-coned room and on some nights it was almost too hot to sleep under a fan!

For us, it is also a less friendly place to stay than the small town of Roldanillo. In Roldanillo, all pilots hang out in the town square and it is very easy to get acquainted with locals in such a small place! GV is much bigger and people are more spread out making it a bit less friendly a place for us to navigate around.

  • Relatively higher living costs: 

o    Accommodation: We rented a very comfortable room with a local family for 350 R/week without air-conditioning. There are many hotels in GV but some of them are expensive.  From we heard, the cheapest you can find is probably 45-50 R a night per person with air-con though without kitchen.

o    Food: There are more eating out options than Roldanillo and more diversity of food. We cooked most of the time and there are some good local farmers’ markets but the price for eating out can be comparable to Europe.

  • Beautiful other flying sites and touristy attractions but they are less accessible if you are on your own: There are other nearby sites such as Castelo, Baixu Guandu and Pancas. We flew Baixu Guandu and Pancas which were some of the most stunning places I have ever flown! However, it is very hard to get to launch and fly on your own in those places. See our blogs here for more details. And as Brazil is such a big country, travelling time and costs to get to other flying or touristy destinations is very significant. We visited a beautiful national park south of GV (caparao national park) but it took us 8+ hours and 3 buses to get to the park!
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Pico da Ibitruna from the bomb-out field! (Jurassic Park)

In conclusion, GV is a great XC destination, but a more difficult place than RoldaniIlo to fly on your own. Despite the expense, next time we go we will probably go with a tour so we can fully enjoy the variety of flying the region offers and have guaranteed air-coned retrieves (even if we land out remote!) and air-coned accommodation!

We can’t recommend Steve Barton’s tour enough: Steve is very knowledgeable about all local sites and does his uttermost best to make sure that you are having a great time! And frankly, I never thought such exceptional organizational skills are possible for the male species before I met Steve :p

More details on GV can be also found in our related blog here

More information on GV, other flying sites nearby and Steve’s tour click here

Written by Xiaoting