Under protest, against the barrage of my Wife’s very angry Spanish learnt on our trip last year, Avianca eventually gave us compensation for leaving us stranded at the airport last year. Since this was in the form of a discount for another ticket with them, we decided to use the excuse to go back to Roldanillo, Colombia this Christmas to what is definitely the best XC flying area we’ve ever been.
Last year was a bit rough for our liking, but since everyone we met said it was unusually rough, we were hoping for some of the ‘huge smooth thermals’ we heard talk of. However, the biggest El Nino year since 1997 meant droughts across Colombia and some of the strongest conditions flying they’ve had – damn it!
Drought meant water rationing from about 1200 until 1800-1900 which really isn’t great when you come back from an XC in a hot bus!. We only got one day of rain which is unusual especially in December which would normally be 1 day in 3 of rain. In fact the best conditions we had were in December.
Strong conditions meant the mountains (on the West side of the valley where the Rolda takeoffs are) can get rough, but the climbs could certainly be great (my max sustained was 6m/s which looks like the clouds are falling past you!). The days generally started early, Pico was often working at 0930 but normally best about 1000ish.
We were there for almost a month and every day was flyable and XCable!
Getting up to take-of
This year there were few times people congregated in the square to catch a lift, instead the routine was to wait in front of Cloudbase hostel where a jeep and a pickup would leave every day at 0830ish taking tandems and hostellers. You’ll need to get there at least 0815 if want best seats i.e. not hanging off the back near the exhaust fumes, though sitting on the jeep roof does give the best views!
If you speak Spanish, contact Jose Manuela if you have a group of 6+ pilots and cloudbase trucks are full. He is a very reliable, responsible and nice driver (we travelled with him for both years). He invites all his passengers to his lovely finca right next to the Cauca river for tour and dinner (for free!) every year just because he is that nice! He is also building his finca into a nice guest house so he can host pilots. his number is: 3218394995. Do say Hi for Xiaoting and Al if you see him! 🙂
Price this year is 7,000-8,000 COP/PP for Pico and Agua Panela; 10,000 COP/PP for tangues. You can also take local buses with Occidente to Agua Panela: check with the bus station for timing and price.
Rolda is definitely getting more crowded, for good reasons! (where else can you get to fly daily, sometimes for 6 hours and have reliable cheap retrieves). Pico is currently the most popular launch; it has more house thermals which are less rough comparing to Tangues and its easier to clear the power lines comparing to Auga Panela. But sometimes there could be 50+ pilots packed tight on the very small launch and it is not often relaxing especially when thermic cycles came through irregularly between back-wind. XT is not so confident at forward launching and could find it stressful sometimes.
Some days the land owners at Pico charged a fee for using the launch: 3000 COP/PP; Los Tangues is also 3000 COP/PP but in December, the aunch was mostly deserted as everyone swarmed to Pico and no one bothered to charge us anything the few times we were there. Agua Panela is the only launch that still remains free. This year two comps were held there so they even cut the grass on the launch.
A new grassy landing field next to the one that I used last year to the South of Rolda is available. This one has a small windsock which is handy in the unpredictable winds but it is 2000 COP to land there, but only if people are there to collect it! The old landing field is still free and a section has been cleared of vegetation so its very nice.
We found that the main Rolda bus company Occidente is stopping less regularly for pilots hitching on the road. Were not sure if they changed their policies or if is that they are always too full (though it didnt seem so!). However there are some other companies and hitching (normally free is still pretty easy). Bus prices haven’t changed.
Not on a budget this year, we can tell you that a normal taxi from Cali to Rolda is 240,000 COP each way which would fit up to 3 pilots depending on luggage. A mini van is 260,000 COP in which is very spacious for 4 pilots.
Other useful stuff
A local SIM card (a new number) in Roldanillo costs only 6000 COP. MOVISTAR works well in the area; you can then charge money as much as you want to your number. Some shops has a minimum 6000 COP charge requirement, some don’t. We found that if you charge more to your cellphone, the more economical it is: 10,000 COP last us about 3 weeks when 5,000 COP only last us for 2 days (although the shops may not tell you this).
There are more and more families renting their rooms out to pilots. The one we stayed in costs 35,000 COP/night for two people with shared kitchen, balcony and private bathroom. It was very close to Cloudbase and the square and we could see Pico and Tangues from the balcony. 🙂
Have fun out there, just remember to be wary of the back-wind and strong conditions especially in the mountains. See our blog from last year for more details.
Bonus section: friendly locals and fun retrieves!
What makes Roldanillo amazing is also the most sincere, friendly and generous locals you meet. We had so much fun landing out this year. Just remember to learn some basic Spanish and greet the lovely locals with smiles! Below are a small selection of this year’s highlights:
Jan 18th: Diego, a vet lives in tulua, saw me land and came to give me a ride after he finished vaccinating some cows. He invited me to his house and introduced me to his family. His family offered me lunch, fresh towel and a shower at their house and a tour around tulua. Diego gave me his number and address of his house in case I land near tulua again!
Jan 14th: Local kids guided us to a waterfall for a fun swim after landing (one kid even carried my glider all the way! )
Jan 9th: An old lady came to help me pack when I landed in her field and invited me to lunch at her home. She lives with her two brothers and one sister. Rest of the family have moved to the cities but they enjoy the quiet countryside. They gave me a tour of their farm and picked loads of fresh grapes and guava for me to take home. The old lady finds hard to pronounce my name so keeps on calling me ‘my love’ and gave me directions to her farm to visit again. She insisted carrying all my heavy gears to the road and made sure I got on the right bus. I left almost in tears as she said “everyone around the world should be friends” ” you have a family here and take your husband back here to visit any time!”
Jan 6th: I landed in a sugarcane plantation. Many stopped working to keep me entertained. A giant sugar cane truck happened to be heading back to Roldanillo just when I packed up. The whole plantation waved me goodbye as I rode on the almighty truck! No one dare to mess with my retrieve vehicle today.