SAN SALVADOR – Sometimes it is hard to get a sense of terrain and space while driving. You know you are on a road, in the desert, or mountains, or a forest. You know you are going somewhere, but the overall picture is indistinct, at least until later when you look at the map, your photos, your memories, and piece the whole thing together.
This is not the case for the road between San Salvador and Guatemala City. I had never driven the route in my own car but had taken it several times in a bus, from one city to the other and back again. Leaving Guatemala City you travel up and over the mountains through a misty zone of pines and hardwood, crossing the rim of mountains separating the two Central American countries. When you crest the mountains, you drop down to a hot plain that calls to mind parts of Texas and Mexico, distinct from the cool Mayan highlands. The highway is not straight but somehow feels that way. Up and over the mountains, across the plains and valleys, a stop at the border, across a river, and into El Salvador. The road continues on, close to the coast but never so close as to see the ocean, until you join the sprawl of San Salvador or turn off somewhere along the way.
GUATEMALA CITY — There may be no place in the world more familiar to me than where I am now, here, back in Central America. At this point I have lived abroad longer than in my hometown (at least in recent years) and anyway, my hometown isn’t my hometown.
A long time ago I wrote a story, which I will reprint here soon, called, “The Long Central American Goodbye.” The title recalled a specific memory but in a broader sense how I was unable to say goodbye, how each trip to the region led to the next trip, each of them both expanding my explorations and revisiting places I had been before, getting to know them in a deeper, more complete way. My experiences in Central America, centered around my work as a reporter and documentary photographer, led me directly to Sweden and Ukraine and in ways I consider those side journeys along the greater arc of my time in Central America. As I write this I will clarify that by Central America I mean the three countries, so much in the news lately, referred to as “The Northern Triangle,”Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. I hope to visit the other countries that make up the region: Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama but for the moment I am living in Guatemala and, with both Covid and work, more extensive travel is somewhere out in the future.
ZACATECAS–I was walking down the street in Zacatecas, Mexico and heard barking above me. This lineman was working on a tangle of wires and two dogs were on the roof next to him, letting him know he wasn’t welcome. It is a dangerous job, working high above the ground, with high-voltage lines and the complex problems of phone, and electric, and who-knows-what kind of wires all tangled together. Maybe there is even danger from angry birds… But usually, up there, a lineman doesn’t have to worry about dogs, leaving that to his brothers delivering the mail. Leica M9 Monochrome, 50mm f/2 Summicron.
GUATEMALA CITY — Is the dive watch still valid as a tool for scuba divers? The short answer is yes. It absolutely is. Before I begin to tell you why it is and why if you are a scuba diver you should probably wear one, first let me explain what a dive watch is. There are many “dive style” watches that look the part but are not. To really be considered a dive watch there is a series of standards (ISO 6425) a timepiece must meet including 100 meters of water resistance, a timing device (such as a unidirectional bezel) protected against inadvertent rotation, a certain quality of illuminated markers in dark conditions, etc. Before the advent of dive computers, a watch that could survive the water pressure, track the elapsed time of a dive and/or a decompression stop, and be read in low light, was an absolutely essential survival tool. It, combined with decompression tables, some good old-fashioned math skills, a submersible pressure gauge and an analog depth gauge (which tracks both current and maximum depth) served the same purpose as a modern dive computer. I find it somewhat ironic that most diving kits include an analog console with submersible pressure gauge and depth gauge but exclude an analog timing device. Now before anyone gets in a techno-huff, I absolutely believe in using a dive computer and I own two of them, the professional Shearwater Perdix with wireless Air Integration and the more recreationally oriented and smaller Atmos Mission One (so no scuba luddite am I). However, I also wear a dive watch while diving (and usually out of the water) and I think new students should be trained to use dive tables and analog gauges as well as computers.
This amazing and affordable little focus-free lens turns any digital camera into a gloriously trouble free point and shoot like those of days gone by.
GUATEMALA CITY — It’s a little-known fact that when Cindy Lauper sang her iconic 1983 hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” she was lamenting how her second career as a photojournalist, a career that had led her to cover the Iran Hostage Crisis and the early stages of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, left her little time to simply enjoy the pursuit of photography and her love of music.
So, yeah, I just made that up completely out of Wednesday-morning boredom but hey, you read it on the Internet so it must be true. But I was, quite honestly, thinking about having fun, about the lack of it, about how our deep and serious pursuits (and what seems like an increasing inability to simply have fun) has led the world to some pretty dark places. I think the general public’s reflexive, addictive need to document everything, every meal, every meeting, every little moment where we used to have space to disconnect, is a large part of that. And somehow we still end up with no actual pictures. Instead of having a few snapshots acting as touchstones for memory and nostalgia, we have what amounts to stop-motion movies of our entire lives, movies that are increasingly complete as people take more photos and videos, start using dashcams, bodycams, and action cams that record automatically, film every mundane moment with a cam on a selfie stick, reflecting their own images back to themselves in an endless feedback loop that leaves less and less time to actually live life. It’s a terrible thing, a strange and brutal way to live where nothing is experienced for what it is and simultaneously, we have created a record whereby nothing can be forgotten.
GUATEMALA CITY– I remember my first time. That first time sinking under the water and thinking, I can’t do this, I can’t breathe underwater, and on faith in the equipment taking that first breath. The dry air flowed through the regulator and filled my lungs. I heard the hiss of the inhalation and the loud bubbling exhalation and then the next breath and for the first time was able to look around without the immediate thought of getting back to the surface. The thought that followed was, how long can I stay in this place? How long can I make this wonder last? It wasn’t very long, a few minutes, but longer than anyone can hold their breath. There were no fish, no coral reefs and no danger from sharks or kraken or marauding enemy divers. We were safe in the pool at my military school where an Army diver was giving a demonstration and a pitch for his specialty. It might not seem very exciting but if you have never drawn breath underwater then you have no basis of comparison.