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  Field Notes From
In the Shadow of the Andes: A Personal Journey

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From Author/Photographer

Pablo Corral Vega

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Kent J. Kobersteen

image: compass
High in the Andes

Field Notes From Author/Photographer
Pablo Corral Vega
Early one morning right after a major earthquake in the little town of La Tebaida, Colombia, I was walking around shooting the devastation. Every single building in town had collapsed, and people were using plastic tents as shelter. Then I spotted two women standing by what was left of their house. “May I take a picture of you?” I asked.
“Yes, but you don’t look like you had breakfast this morning,” they responded. I told them that I had already eaten and that they shouldn’t worry about me, but they insisted.
They prepared the most wonderful breakfast inside what was left of their house: a roofless kitchen covered by a blue tarp. They had lost everything, and yet they were amazingly friendly and generous. Colombians are like that. And while I was enjoying their wonderful freshly roasted coffee, the woman named Blanca Gomez said, “You may lose everything you have in a second, but the only thing that remains is the care and love you plant within the people in your life.”

I was shooting volcanoes in Ecuador. An alert had already been declared for Guagua Pichincha, so most people had been evacuated from the surrounding area. But I decided to drive up to the rim of the crater at 3 a.m.
The sound of the volcano was deafening, like a jet revving up for take-off. The earth vibrated. Sulfurous steam billowed out of the hundreds of cracks around the crater. Never in my life had I seen anything more frightening and beautiful.
I went down into the streets to shoot, and ash was falling like snow. The particles were so tiny that they invaded everything. It was hard to breathe. Every single camera and lens I used that afternoon was damaged. I was exhausted and sick after breathing all those fumes with no real protection, but I was so incredibly lucky to have left the crater before the explosion. I was alive.
In the Bolivian town of Toledo, a large group of people were celebrating Challa, a thanksgiving day right after Carnival. I was quite hungry, so I was happy when the revelers invited me to have lunch with them. They served me a large plate of chuños (a dry tuber) and llama meat. It smelled great. But when I tried to cut the meat, it was too tough. So I tried to bite it, but it was too chewy. I put a large piece in my mouth, and it tasted terrible. I didn’t want to be rude by not eating but I just couldn’t do it. I excused myself and hid the meat under some bricks. When I returned, the old Indian woman who had done the cooking saw my empty plate and thanked me profusely for appreciating her food. She quickly gave me another piece twice as big as the first one and stayed until I managed to finish it. The young women were so delighted that they shouted, “Marry me, marry me! I will feed you chuños and llama every day!”
I left Toledo soon after, but for several days I had that taste in my mouth.

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