It's a bird!
It's a plane!
No, it's a 2012 KTM 250 EXC-F, soaring high above the valleys of Bolivia's boundless jungle!
Teaming up with Madness Sports Bolivia and KTM Motorcycles last week, I captured the spiffy new orange and white KTM motorbike for new posters and promotional materials, showing off KTM's take-anywhere-you-want attitude.
The plan: send a 96 kg KTM 250, and a brave rider, zipping across the craziest zip-line you could imagine, while a photographer (me) hangs out on another zip-line to get the "shot" of the machine crossing over a 200 meter high waterfall.
This extreme photo shoot could be an Adventure Photographer's wildest dream... Or nightmare. Hanging on to a cable 300 meters high precariously clutching my Nikon, trying to compose, focus and not lose my cookies was not on this week's agenda, but somehow I was "up" for the challenge.
In Los Yungas, Bolivia, zip-lines are common; Cocaleros use them to transport heavy sacs of dried coca leaves (and themselves) across the steep valleys in order to bring their goods to market in La Paz, 3 hours away. Even kids use them to get to school, saving them hours walking down and up the nearly perpendicular slopes of Los Yungas. Very few people have died even though their system of cables and pulleys seem a little shabby.
When you can cross the valley in less than a minute traveling at over 50 km/h who can blame them for trying to save time and effort?
Just before takeoff, I was super excited and, yes, trembling semi uncontrollably. But owner and operator Fernando Jordan Saravia from Madness Sports assures me it is safe. "You don't have to do it" as he notices my edgy-ness, adding "but it's very relaxing, muy tranquilo."
From the look in his eyes I now understand where the name "Madness" originated.
What lens do I use? Changing lenses out there won't be an option. What if I get stuck? I have to take my gloves off to hit the shutter. If I fall I'm dead. What if i have to pee? What if I pass out? If I fall I'm dead.
Shutter speed. Memory card. Battery. Check. Never-failing harness that I love so much. Check.
Once I'm airborne, all is calm. Things become very clear and lucid. A sizeable Andean Vulture soars so close past my face it tickles my nose. I'm out of my comfort zone but my mind is focussed on the moment and not contemplating what could go wrong.
Madness Sports has propelled hundreds of adrenalin-junkies (tourists) down the cable with no problems, even Fernando's kids "love it" he exclaims. The "Flying Fox" zip-line has been in operation for about 4 years at the Las Cascadas Ecolodge near Coroico, which boasts amazing vistas and at least six striking waterfalls, one of which the zip-line crosses at a birds-eye view with a blur.
In the end we got the shot with the right lens (Nikkor 18-70mm), had a blast, and the only casualty: an exhausted photographer's body covered in hundreds of mosquito bites.
Stay-tuned for the poster.