I wandered away from the crowd of tourists, brown magnolia leaves broke apart under my shoes. I found an old stone bench hidden in a narrow walkway and sat down. The cemetery felt like an old sanctuary, its white tombs and crying angels sat quietly under a gloomy sky. Split concrete and overgrown weeds spread out over the soft flat earth. The names of the dead etched carefully in stone. I looked around and felt at home.
Winter had ended and what remained was a visceral fear of darkness that lingered. This fear demanded something of me. It necessitated a change that needed to occur. I understood this fear and listened to it closely. It was the only thing left that felt real.
Feeling rather morose, I decided that I was tired of procrastinating. The trip abroad that had been churning around in my mind for quite some time began to take shape. The shape had real edges. It was large. It was called Africa. I had always wanted to go to Africa.
Instead I traveled to South America. I flew above the Andes Mountains and the airplane I was on shook so violently that it had to be diverted to Guayaquil, a large city on the Pacific Coast. After several hours sitting on the tarmac, the plane took flight again. It made its decent into the heavy night and shook ever so slightly, then glided gently over the ocean, leaving behind glimmering lights and swaying palms.
My plane landed in Quito to cheers and sighs of relief. After several perplexing minutes with an irritated immigration official, I walked past customs and out the door into the chaos of arriving taxis and buses. I found my driver who had been waiting patiently for me, holding a small white sign with name, Lea. “Mucho gusto,” I said in broken Spanish, shaking his hand. “Mucho gusto,” he replied, perplexed. Opening the car door, I climbed in and threw my backpack to the side, stretching my back against the black vinyl seat. As I looked out the window into blackness, something mysterious whispered to me from the mountains. My need for sleep was instantly vanquished.
We sped past motorcycles and pickup trucks, weaving around traffic and dilapidated concrete houses. Street vendors cooked variations of meat, the scent of carne rose from the churrascos. A mangy dog limped out of the way and a small child kicked a soccer ball, sending it down a broken staircase. Car horns honked loudly and smoke wafted through an intersection.
After driving miles and miles into the night on the old highway, the car slowed on a steep quiet street in the middle of a dark neighborhood. I stepped out into the chilly air with my backpack in hand and looked out over the sprawling city, its mountains covered in shimmering lights. A dog barked and a door opened. A man walked out into the street and introduced himself. I smiled, feeling fully alive.
The next two weeks of my life consisted of looking after dozens of small children in a large market south of the city. We arrived early in the morning and set up tents in order to block out the sun. Inca music blasted from a nearby speaker while farmers began to set up their tables. Chickens and dogs mingled with children and women. Old men, sans teeth, laughed with their wives as they unloaded wheelbarrows full of naranjillas. Hundreds and hundreds of people came, bringing with them barrels of maíz and frijoles. I took a child in my hand and wandered around the immense market, marveling at the variations of fresh fruit and meat. Long sausages dangled from metal hooks. Dark red livers glistened in the morning heat. A filthy dog wrestled against a long brown rope. People talked and bartered and laughed.
While exploring the country, I attempted to climb my first volcano. I spoke Spanish and ate chicken hearts. I drank instant coffee Bordain style and sat in the back of pickups trucks as they sped rapidly up and down mountain roads. I discovered the sound of Julio Jaramillo and became even more mesmerized with the sound of the pan flute. Halfway through my second week of volunteer work, I reunited with an old friend. On a Saturday evening during the first week of September, we walked through the city to Fiesta de Guápulo. While walking slowly up an old staircase towards people and cars, sparklers and fireworks crackled and erupted, lighting up the night sky. I stood in front of an old bar and watched as a man with the most amazing swagger I had ever seen walked towards me. He came and stood to the right of me and began to speak. I fell in love. I left Ecuador and returned to Ecuador. On my return, we fell deeply in love and traveled together, danced together, sang together, laughed together, and worked together. We fell even more in love and then everything fell apart.
My latest series of photos are very much influenced by Mark Ryden. His photo exhibition from 1997 has intrigued me for nearly fifteen years. “The Meat Show” evokes strong feelings. Often times I find myself perplexed by his images. They are disturbing and beautiful, all at once.
Ryden’s cartoonish paintings often depict small children, meat, as well as religious images. The combination of all of these subjects continues to amuse me. They are darkly satirical. They speak volumes about certain aspects of American culture. The photos I’ve taken in Ecuador tell a different story. The photograph above was taken in a small town roughly sixty miles south of Guayaquil, near the coast of Ecuador. I was traveling in a van, which had slowed down due to traffic on a dusty road. Beaten motorcycles sped past in a flurry as several heavyset women carrying sacks of maíz hobbled across the street. The scent of carne wafted through the humid coastal town. Large metal hooks hung from bodega storefronts. Chunks of vermilion red meat and various sausages hung from the giant hooks, evoking an authenticity I rarely see back in the states. Mesmerized by the sight of all of the meat, I took the photo.
The remaining photos were taken during my first trip to Ecuador, back in August. I took the photos in a large market south of the city where I spent my days volunteering with a local volunteer agency. Towards the end of my day, I wandered around the enormous market and marveled at the two hundred or so local vendors selling anything from fresh avocados to pig intestines. Large sacks of various beans and endless wheelbarrows overflowing with every kind of fruit imaginable. Giant slabs of meat glistened on blood stained countertops. Of all the things at the market, the meat intrigued me the most. I found the lack of sleek packaging and hormone injected meat very appealing. The absence of any kind of regulation was both refreshing and jarring. I decided on the day that these photos were taken that I was going to take more photos of meat. Meat! This continues to be an ongoing project….
Cuenca is a lovely city located in the highlands of Ecuador. The city is surrounded by mountains, and is incredibly lush and beautiful. Four rivers run through Cuenca, making it an incredible city to photograph. Aside from Cuenca’s natural beauty, the city if dotted with dozens of historical sights. The most popular landmark is the Cathedral of the Inmaculada Concepción. This stunningly beautiful church is located in the historical center of Cuenca, surrounded by palm trees. Built in 1880, the cathedral is hardly the oldest in a city founded in 1557, but it is one of the city’s most beautiful. I recommend visiting Colonial Downtown, as well as The Plaza of San Sebastian. So far, Cuenca has been one of my favorite cities to visit in Ecuador.