All pictures by Bianka Ibarrra
The forest through the trees
The regular road was blocked. Every time we had to drive to the hospital where my father was recuperating we had to take a detour over the Feldberg. What a majestic mountain.
There is this valley near Oberursel which has been taken straight from an artist’s mind. Higher up, between the evergreens, the clouds did battle with the view; swirling, obscuring and sometimes revealing. In those moments, when we saw the landscape below, it didn’t feel like we were looking across the landscape. It felt like you were looking across worlds.
And then there are the sunsets from the top.
Isn’t it funny that at the very moments when we most need to stop and appreciate, are the times it’s the most difficult to do so? We only took this one picture. The rest of the time we barreled on through, barely looking up from internal little worlds.
The waters of the Amazon
“I went to Letecia for a job once,” our guide tells us. “Family of mine said I could work with them. I was supposed to be there for six months, but after three days I couldn’t take anymore. So much traffic! So much madness! We’re not supposed to live that way.”
Leticia is a town of 33,000 in the middle of the Amazon. For the longest time, it was the center of the tropical fish for the aquarium trade. There is no road connection between the city and the outside world. You can only get there by boat or plane.
It was mayhem in comparison to the waters of the Amazon.
Before we made our way to the Hacachina oasis in Peru the only place I’d seen a desert was in the movies. That’s probably why I so underestimated it. Climbing one will only take 15 minutes, I said. Then we can relax for a while on top as we wait for the sunset.
It isn’t quite like that. The best comparison I can make is that you’re breathing in sandpaper while scrambling up a vertical beach. With each step, the dune crumbles beneath you, even as the air and dust join forces to suck the moisture right out of you.
We did make it to the top. Just in time to admire the last of the sun’s rays. We didn’t have much to say – or perhaps it was that we didn’t have the breath to say it.
Fortunately, it was a great moment to appreciate in silence.
For over four years I’ve been traveling the world. I’ve gone from Asia to South America and I’ve gone to plenty of places where people told me I shouldn’t go. We even spent 10 days in Salvador, murder capital of the world.
And yet, in all that time nothing ever happened to me. Nobody robbed me. Nobody threatened me. The worst I can say is that sometimes people overcharged me. That is, until we returned to Amsterdam a week ago. We went out to have a few beers, I let my defenses down, and in that space, somebody made off with my wallet.
We put far too much faith in the devils we know.
One day a year they dance for eight hours through the streets of Sucre, Bolivia. The parade winds through the city and each group celebrates something different in expansive costumes. There are dances for the miners, the schools, and – well – these guys.
We have no idea what they’re dancing for or against. But whatever it is, they feel pretty passionate about it.
Here’s a thought. If there were aliens or monsters living among us, the only days they could be themselves would be when we all dress up for carnival.
The village of Coroico in Bolivia is laid out across a whole mountainside. This means that from the marketplace, the local gym and the football pitch you have views of mountains, rivers and waterfalls. You’ll turn an unassuming corner and find yourself overlooking a jungle-filled valley.
But it was the clouds that were the most spectacular. Like the ocean, they pulled out and rolled in. Like playful children, they ran out and then sneaked up again. And in the process, they turned walk could have been a static view into something that changed, evolved and made the mundane magical.
We met this cheeky fellow in an animal sanctuary in the Amazon. “He’s a Capuchin,” the caregiver explained as he tried to make the monkey give us back our toothbrush. “They’re nut crackers. That’s why they have so much more energy than the others.”
He doesn’t just use that energy to steal stuff (he’s very good at zippers, as we found out the hard way) but also to copy people. “He loves soap,” the caregiver told us. “He’ll actually rub it all over himself.”
It also turned out he was also fascinated by our water bottle. Useful, as that meant the caregiver had an opportunity to take our toothbrush back (and really annoy a Capuchin).
In more than 70 countries being gay is still a punishable crime. In some places, it’s even something that can get you killed. And that’s just one of the ways in governments restrict who we are and what we can do. In some places, you can’t convert. In others, you cannot speak your mind. Many people cannot travel where they want to. Everywhere, we’re sacrificing our children’s liberties to live excessively today.
But the worst part is how blasé many of us are about it.
There are gay people who shrug at the sacrifices made by those who died to make them free. Many of the young would reverse the liberties to speak freely to avoid anybody offending their sensibilities. And there are countless millions who ignore the sacrifices made by those who fought for democracy by not even bothering to participate.
I call them brain farts – those moments where something blindingly obvious slips your mind anyway. That’s how we ended up wandering through a cave underground without a flashlight. We should have known we needed one, but somehow it had escaped us both.
And so, by the flash of our camera, we crawled forward. With our hands and knees always ready to find those sharp points we hadn’t seen in the camera’s stark light.
There is a brilliant moment that everybody that’s thrust into the darkness hopes for – and that’s when you rediscover the light.