When I travel to any part of the world one of the first things I do is to ask the local people about the possibilities of visiting surrounding villages and whether each is worth visiting, what there is to see and do there etc. At first I give no information about who I am, why I am in the area or what my interests are. This may seem a little unfair but I like to rule out the likelihood, initially at least, that volunteering this information will influence their response. In other words I want to start out by hearing what they think is interesting and worthwhile.
I'm often told "there's nothing to see there" or "there's nothing to do there." One such place that recently elicited this kind of response from locals in Panajachel, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala was San Marcos La Laguna. San Marcos is a very small community of Kaqchikel Maya on the western shore of the lake.
I decided to go there anyway: not because I disbelieved the people who had expressed their negative opinion, but more because other research had shown that San Marcos was becoming a sort of 'spiritual haven' with the proliferation of yoga, massage and other spiritually-based practices. On top of that, when your photography is almost exclusively about people, there is something 'happening' everywhere in the world.
It was a short boat trip over to San Marcos and I was the only non-local passenger on the boat. A boardwalk of about 75 meters lead me away from the lakeshore and into a sort of plaza — albeit a very small one. I immediately asked someone where the center of the village was. Quizzically, he looked at me for a few seconds before announcing that I was standing in the center of the village! So this was it: a school, a couple of stores and a food stall. I had about eight hours before the last boat would leave the village to take me back to my base so I wandered around. Within thirty leisurely-paced minutes I had walked the length and breadth of the whole village.
My informants in Panajachel had been right: there was nothing happening in the village that an average tourist would likely find interesting. But my camera had already seen dozens of photo-opportunities. I walked outside the village and my camera found even more non-events worthy of its work. A few hours — and maybe a hundred photos — later I came across these two sisters. Schools were out in Guatemala at the time and the girls were just idly passing the afternoon doing nothing in particular. Sometimes even the most mundane events can make for interesting photographs.
The Kaqchikel Maya are featured in our documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.
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