I’ve been taking mental portraits and landscape panoramas of my host town for over a year now, but only a few of the shots have made it into digital format, and even fewer have landed in a public forum.
There are at least two reasons for this:
First, I’m not keen on toting my big DSLR or my smartphone around town; it’s not great for my safety OR my reputation. Part of my integration strategy has always been to minimize the “OMGlookatthegringa” effect as much as possible.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, I want to protect the dignity and privacy of my town’s beautiful people. That’s always been on my mind, but the more I get to know them, the more it matters–I care about them, they’ve shown me respect and love, and I want to do the same for them. So I’m trying to be careful to use my photography to support and promote my town, not to degrade or expose it and its inhabitants.
That said, I have spent the past 15 months living a distinctive day-to-day reality in a setting that just taunts this photographer’s eye! Every morning on my ride to school, there’s a view over the aqueduct that the morning sun just glorifies; the afternoon ocean is the bluest of the whole day. The popcorn man has the brightest smile and my students–my students are each and every one of them a portrait just begging to be captured! And at the same time, there are some less-photogenic aspects of our life here: pollution, poverty, underachieving infrastructure and neglected streets, buildings and dreams.
A few weeks ago, three of the new Peace Corps trainees came to visit my site and shadow me in my home and school routines, and I had the opportunity to catch some of the shots at last.
The new visitors gave me an excuse to carry a DLSR camera like a tourist, and their presence gave me bonus protection to lug the expensive thing around. Best of all, their enthusiasm and interest in my Peace Corps life helped me to see what had become my ordinary environment through their fresh perspective.
This is the result of that excursion, a glimpse of my daily life–the backdrop, setting and a few characters to my reality. This is my Puerto Colombia.
Michael getting closer to the fishing lanchas for a picture.
A view from the beach towards the old pier.
This is the entrance to the beach, a block from my house!
One of the contradictions of daily reality here: beauty next to destruction.
Taking a break outside the panaderia! We stopped to get some cookies before visiting my friend Julio’s family.
The trash collected after a night of weekend beachgoers.
We really struggle with a pollution and littering culture here, part of which is localized and part of which is brought by tourists from the nearby cities.
A view from the beachfront back towards my house. Those two tall buildings are a set of apartment complexes built by the navy. They’re now filling up with cute young families in uniform.
Out on the pier, we’re halfway to Miami!
A popular local artist has several pieces that all exhibit similar characteristics of blue backgrounds with brightly colored ocean scenes.
Tools for a morning as a fisherman.
The plaza of Puerto Colombia, the center of life here! On a weekend night, it’s packed with street vendors, a trampoline booth and my high school students strutting their stuff.
City Hall of Puerto Colombia.
The beachfront street has an installment of decorated benches from one end to the other. I think there are more than 35 benches painted, tiled or sculpted with everything from beach scenes to frescoes of seagulls.
We’ll call him L. L has had some struggles, but is the epitome of a beach bum these days: he fishes like a wise, old man, loves to laugh like an excited little kid, and surfs the days away.
L’s smile, which I usually see beaming from behind a surfboard balanced on the back of a moto, is exuberant.
A view towards the old pier. From here, you can imagine it in its heyday, teeming with European sailors, young dock workers and Colombian train conductors blowing the whistle to cart the freight inland.
This is one of the “arroyos” near my house. When it rains, it’s a rushing river.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of trash on our beach, which drives would-be tourism growth away.
There are new art installments along the beach, all done by local artists. This is one of my favorite: at the bottom, there’s a pair of bird feet with no bird attached!
We decided to take a maiden stroll on new eco-boardwalk!
For all the construction in the area, there are still a lot of forgotten projects. This is one of the most colorful abandonments.
The eco-boardwalk travels through a stand of mangroves (that’s what these are, right?) to the beach on the other side.
They are still finishing the eco-boardwalk’s pavilion area.
The graffiti in Puerto is usually artwork or the occasional love note.
I took the kids to visit my old neighborhood, including this store, where my good old friend Alfonso and his family live. Their grandbaby is growing so fast!
We made it down to the old abandoned pier, where we ran into some of the usual fishermen. If you’re too small to eat, they put you back to work.
I asked the fishermen if they eat the catfish here. “It’s the best soup!” they said.
Everything is organic here! And cheap–my week’s produce here puts me out about $8.
The side view of my produce stand. They call me “princesa” and are very obliging of my strange purchases: half a squash; a single passionfruit; sometimes a single potato; but always a load of cucumbers and bananas!
The old pier or, as the old men here joke, the “four piers” since it’s now in four pieces.