While it’s easy to yearn for days gone by - life before rampant commercialization, packaged tours, and touts hawking experiences or souvenirs - dealing with the reality of untouristed places has its own challenges. I discovered this while visiting a colonial mountain town in Colombia.
Beautiful, dilapidated architecture was arranged traditionally, with cathedral and municipal building set on a central plaza, and streets lined with worn, white-washed adobe walls hiding old homes in various states of repair. There were views of the mountainside where cows grazed and crops grew. A stream gurgled through the center of town, adding further coolness to already crisp air, and men and women, bundled against the cold, made their way to their daily activities. Few cars or motorcycles disturbed the silence. When I arrived in the late afternoon (after traveling for hours), however, I discovered that what there was not was much food. The two restaurants in town were closed as it was a Sunday, and the few corner stores sold nothing but junk food, booze, and produce. Irritability setting in, I gave up my search for a square meal and settled on bread and coffee from a bakery and an avocado seized from a passing vendor. Hunger marginally dissipated, it was now night, so I returned to my room in a drafty lodge, took a cold shower, then hurried to take full advantage of the warmth of the wool blanket on my bed.
I passed the next week or so quietly enjoying the time unlocked by the leisurely pace of the town: the ebb and flow of farmers heading out to their crops or pastures then returning; walks with children up mountains and to a hidden waterfall. Quiet days were punctuated by a Wednesday livestock market and a Saturday celebration of the town’s patron saint (shown in this photograph). I had ample time for reading and reflection… perhaps too ample. Without access to the internet and missing foods that were not designed for subsistence, I grew restless. Would I not be as likely to find images worth capturing in a lively coastal village with raucous bars and fishermen hauling their nets in at dawn? Would such a coastal village not have better food, more adventure, perhaps other wandering travelers to commune with over beer and stories? I left.
Years later, I don’t second guess my decision to continue on my way, but I am pleased that I stuck with the village as long as I did. Not only did it turn out to be photographically significant for me but it also left an indelible memory that I continue to treasure. So perhaps the verdict is that I do prefer the forgotten mountain towns of yesterday to the bustle of developed tourist destinations, but I also do like the excitement and energy of somewhat busier coastal communities like the one I moved on to.