email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThrough the Eyes of the Condor
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Bolívar's dream of a unified region, a place where all nations would gather to form a stronger people, never came to be. He died in exile, despised and penniless, and Latin America forged ahead in all its splendid diversity.

Yet Bolívar was not alone in dreaming about Latin America. It is a place, when all is said and done, built on dreams. The fearless seafaring Alacaluf of Tierra del Fuego and the Aztec of Mexico dreamed of greatness and, with considerable struggle, won it. As did the inventive Moche, the Maya, and the Inca. And then, when Spain turned its hunger westward, all Europe dreamed of what wonders it might acquire. Latin America soon became the object of wholesale fantasy. Fifteenth-century sages imagined a land populated by Pygmies, Cyclopes, fierce warrior women, and sullen, dog-faced men. They fancied a world replete with magical realities: The fountain of youth. A paradise of the senses. Gold.

Even before Columbus set sail, he worried his old copy of Imago Mundi and dreamed of a land unlike anything he knew. Then, in the 16th century, as the territory Columbus had chanced upon was being settled, Sir Thomas More imagined the Utopia it might become.

The dreamscapes in Robert Haas's photographs hark back to that spirit of discovery. To the force of the imagination. For, despite all the hard business of life in Latin America—despite all the realities on the ground—we are a people who long to rise, who seek the sky, who patiently await the magic. Even if it will never come. Why else would we scratch lines into the parched clay of Nasca that only a winged creature might see? Why else would we pile stone on stone at Chichén Itzá to mark the sun's passage through heaven?

At one point, as Haas and I soared through the skies, I glanced down and saw the sugar fields of Trujillo where I had played as a child, the rugged Pacific coast my brother and I had explored on horseback, the dense rain forest canopy under which my forebears had struggled against all odds to ride the Amazon until it coursed out to sea. All of it at this remove seemed oddly divorced from the sturm and drang of family history, free of the human condition. Something happens when we look on the earth in that way: Mankind becomes a mere anecdote against that staggering canvas; we see ourselves as we really are—bound to the natural world around us. Mites upon a mighty orb.
Photography and text adapted from Robert B. Haas's book Through the Eyes of the Condor, introduction by Marie Arana, published by National Geographic Books.
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