As we left the car park I wasn’t quite sure which country I was in. I suddenly found myself in a setting that was both familiar and comfortable, but not Spanish. I felt like I was back in Kenya. An open bar was surrounded by flowering trees and decked with dark, wooden tables, which were covered with Maasai tablecloths. The whole area was surrounded by tall Savannah-like grass and, beyond that, rice fields. It reminded me of a cross between the Karen Blixen house just outside of Nairobi and a safari camp.
“I was inspired by Out of Africa,” later explained Carlos, owner and operator of Aero Club Emporda. “In the evening we play the soundtrack from the movie and it’s like you are there in it.” Consistently on lists of movies that inspire people to travel, Out of Africa also inspires people to fly. “Flying an ultralight plane is not so hard,” explained Carlos, “you only need about 30 hours of lessons and you can be certified.” Carols offers lessons at Aero Club Emporda, just one of the many things that keeps him busy. He also builds planes from parts sent from all over the world and stores about 30 planes in his impressive hanger.
I don’t know if it was our immediate connection and mutual love of East Africa or if it was his friendliness and big smile but I liked Carlos right away. From this facility he takes visitors for rides in one of his Ultralight planes (80 euro for a half hour ride) in order to see the beauty of Costa Brava from above. It seemed only appropriate that the plane in which he took me had on its door a decal of a Boabab tree and mention of an African Foundation.
After doing a preflight check of the plane we boarded the two seater Ultralight and the propeller started spinning. Carlos pointed out the instruments and gages on the dashboard and demonstrated various maneuvers while the engines warmed up enough for take off. “I like flying these planes,” he explained pointing toward the dirt runway, “because you don’t need a sophisticated runway and they are easy to take off and land anywhere.” With Ultralight planes there is also no need to register your flight with air traffic control because they fly so low to the ground. Flying an Ultralight means that one has the freedom to fly whenever and wherever they wish.
Takeoff was surprisingly smooth in such a small plane and before I knew it we were airborne and I was admiring our shadow growing smaller and smaller on the rice fields. First, we headed toward the sea and flew southward for a ways along the coast. The clarity of the Mediterranean was even more obvious from above as it was easy to see to the bottom in even fifty plus meters of water. Sailboats were anchored in small coves, mansions and large resorts lined the coast and Carlos was helpful to point out certain homes that were owned by celebrities and well known residents.
Next we cut inland and circled low over medieval towns and fifteenth century, restored farmhouses. Medieval restoration is a big business in Costa Brava and once restored using original materials the homes are extremely valuable. Many, Carlos explains, are second residences for wealthy families from Barcelona.
Before coming in for a landing Carlos let out a chuckle. “Are you hungry?” He asked me, I looked at him confused. “Well, I hope that you like rice!” With that he flew the plane lower and lower until we were gliding over the rice fields and I could almost touch the vibrant green paddies from the window of the little blue plane.
Carlos, like many other people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in Costa Brava, is extremely passionate about what he does and the area in which he lives. When he talks about planes and flying his face lights up like a small child. And when he talks about Costa Brava a calm comes over him and it is apparent that there is no where else he would rather live. I was reminded of one of my favorite lines from Out of Africa, when Karen talks about her love of the Ngong Hills. “…Here I am,” Karen explains, “where I ought to be.”