Mojarra Pond, Líbano, Colombia, 2017
Author’s Note: This article also appears at Medium.
I often ponder what my own photographs mean to me. At times, I’ve felt like my images represent my only voice in the world. And sometimes, like the present, I struggle with my photography because I’ve burdened it with the task of earning a living for me. But more than anything else, my photographs represent little life nuggets that I carry with me from moment to moment and from one life chapter to the next. They speak to me of people and places and moments, great and small, constantly reminding me that I’ve been somewhere and done something in my life.
I’m a one-camera, one-lens kind of guy these days, so whenever I walk out the door I carry the little leather bag that holds my modest gear. As I go about my day, I run into the most amazing things–canaries on a wire, the moon rising over a palm tree, a child with a toy horse, a real horse grazing in a park, a puddle of water shaped like a continent…
A few weeks ago, I discovered a valley near my house that I didn’t know existed before. With a companion and my camera in tow, I strolled down the mountain to explore this new destination. We were headed to a spot in the valley where my companion used to go as a child.
As we strolled, he told me the story of walking down to the valley at 5:00 am with his great-grandfather, an uncle, a younger bother, and a herd of little cousins. Their destination was a small lot on which a cow lived and the purpose of their journey was to milk the cow to earn money for the family. Along the way, Uncle Guillermo–who recently passed away at the age of 90–would gently herd the pack of children by tapping them on the legs with a stick. When they reached the lot, Abuelo and Guillermo would go to work tending to the cow, while the kids explored the marvels of the valley. Back then, the valley was home to dozens of farms, one of which had a multi-level coffee drying building designed like a Japanese pagoda, which the children referred to as the “Chinese house”. As the sun rose, the children and their elders would walk back up the hill, carrying containers of fresh milk.
As we walked that morning, cars, jeeps, and motorcycles zoomed past us, but I didn’t know where they were going. Today, many of the valley’s farms have given up coffee cultivation for fish farming–specifically a popular species called mojarra. And on Sunday afternoons, the mojarra farms host visitors for one of Colombia’s most charming and unique traditions–a Sunday lunch in the country.
As we walked from farm to farm, I first noticed the small fish ponds. From a distance, they looked empty, but as we walked closer, I noticed fins darting through the water and small circles forming at the surface as fish gobbled up insects. Along the edge of one pond, thousands of baby fish congregated at the edges. A chicken coop ran alongside one pond and a horse pasture bordered another. Several of the farms had swimming pools, where children splashed in the water, as their parents enjoyed abundant platters of fish and chicken, washed down with cold Colombian beer. Colorful red and yellow hibiscus plants encircled the swimming pools and hummingbirds buzzed from flower to flower indulging in nectar.
We lunched at a small farm–operated by a former classmate of my companion–where we spent the afternoon sitting at a table on the lawn outside the main house. While we waited for our food, a little gray kitty with golden eyes befriended us, gently caressing our ankles, as we watched a table of celebrants enjoying a birthday party.
When it was time to go home, a jeep rounded the corner just as we began walking up the hill. My companion landed a seat inside the jeep and I attempted to hang onto the back like a campesino. A film crew–likely producing a story about one of the new resorts in the valley–joined us on our bumpy but brief journey up the hill to Líbano, my Colombian hometown.
By the end of the day, my simple stroll in the country had evolved into a rich cultural experience. Best of all, I returned home with a small collection of nature photos to remind me of a special day.
Want to join me for a walk in the Colombian countryside? Subscribe to this blog at the bottom of the page to receive information about upcoming weekend workshops and photos tours, beginning in 2018 in association with Colombia Eco Travel.