Cliff diver Orlando Duque is a man known for going deep – but this time it's not only deep water, it's the deep jungle of the Amazon. The world-renowned aerial artist, along with fellow cliff diver Eber Pava, spent 10 days exploring the Amazon River in Peru, Brazil, and Colombia in search of the unique opportunity to dive from massive ceiba trees, towering up to 35m above the murky, muddy river.
“What I leave behind in the Amazon is a lot of sweat, a little bit of blood and a lot of energy,” says Duque at the start of the video. He told us more on the phone: “The trip was incredible,” he says.
“Definitely a success. Finding such a big tree, in deep enough water to dive, was not guaranteed.” The trip took them to Zanzanbu in Peru, Letitia in Colombia and Palmari, Brazil. It was at the latter that they found the largest tree, which they spent three days diving. “The tree was just right – great landing, perfect height and light coming from the right direction for great photos.”
The second thing Duque mentions in the video is the height of the trees. “We were diving from about 27 or 28m,” he says. “We were doing about five jumps a day. People don't realise that's a lot – even on a perfect dive – no splash – you feel the impact. Each one packs a punch and after a couple days you feel it in your joints and in the muscles of your back.”
A rigging team assembled rope ladders to allow the divers access to the jungle canopy. Once aloft, Duque says the biggest challenge was staying there while the Amazon's incessant mosquitoes tore at his skin. “It was almost as bad as not knowing what was in the water below!”, he says.
That would include crocodiles, piranhas and river eels – all very good reasons to exit the water as quickly as he entered it. While the discomforts of a jungle environment were a challenge at first, eventually Duque grew used to it. “At first we were fighting to stay clean and dry,” he says. “But after a couple of days, you let the jungle take over and you just deal with it.”
Given that Duque and Pava were nowhere near modern medical care, they kept their dives simple and graceful rather than technically difficult. The murky brown water was by no means inviting, but thanks to a close proximity to the shoreline, the divers were able to spot their landings cleanly and quickly scamper back on to the boat before risking an attack from anything with teeth.