Spend too much time at the big airports as I do, and its easy to slip into believing that behemoth centers of people-moving is what flying is all about. It’s not.
On a beautiful, sunny summer day here in the southern hemisphere, I was reminded how wonderful it is to power down by visiting two small airfields in Chile where flying remains true to the poetic narratives of Antoine Saint Exupery, Richard Bach, Ernest K. Gann and others.
Today, I spent the afternoon at the Club de Planeadores de Vitacura in Santiago, Chile – an 82 year old club for sailplane flying. While a steady breeze kept the windsock erect, the motorless aircraft were towed skyward where they proceeded to fly around the mountain valleys and return noiselessly to the runway with a dramatic left hand descending spiral.
I sat in the wooden stands for a long time, enjoying the aerial ballet before realizing – even sitting in the bleacher should be treasured. Observation areas at airports are a barely-surviving acknowledgement that flying is a treat for those on the ground as well as in the air.
My trip to Chile includes visiting a number of Chilean vineyards; the magnificently picturesque and historic Errazuriz Wine Estate in Aconcagua Valley and the fabulously hospitable De Martino Winery and ViñaTarapaca both in Isla de Maipo.
Look, I like wine as much as the next gal, but I was really captivated by the asphalt runway at Viña Tarapaca which allows the owner, a pilot, and arriving visitors to see the remarkable landscape of the vineyard and estate from the air before being taken by horse-drawn carriage around the fields and ushered into the tasting room to appreciate the products.
I know, I know, bottle to throttle and all that. At Viña Tarapaca they have a solution; 18 guest rooms for sleeping it off.
Drinking or not, flying or not, the 18-year old, 2000-foot airfield, on a parallel path with grape laden vines and framed as it is by boughs of blooming wisteria is 100 percent in keeping with the romance of aviation – the good, old fashioned, Robert Redford-and-Meryl Streep-go-flying-Out-of-Africa-kind of romance.
If I’m lucky, this July I’ll be invited once again to participate in the annual fly-in at Danbury Municipal Airport, a red-white-and blue affair if there ever was one. It will be another reminder that no matter how dreary and unpleasant aviation news can be, there’s a whole other world of flying still to be celebrated. What do you say we drink to that?
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.