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Sueños Ahogados

I almost bought land here, when Jane and I were first married.  It measured 20 x 120 meters, stretching up from the lake in three terraces, planted in corn.  We planned to build and eventually move there.  A year later, we decided, mostly for financial reasons, to abandon the idea.  I forfeited a sizable deposit, but saved much more.

It is technically illegal for an extranjero (foreigner) to buy lakefront property in Guatemala, but the prohibition appears to be enforced about as diligently as speed laws are in the United States, possibly even less.  Recently, I have come to the realization that the prohibition, at least here at Lago Atitlan, is more a caution and protection, also similar to our speed laws.

Lago Atitlan lies in a valley formed by three volcanos and a number of high ridges and peaks.  It is nearly 1000 feet deep, with no visible egress.  It is thought that there is a subterranean river which allows water to escape from the bottom of the lake, thus maintaining its level.

The level of the lake has fluctuated over the centuries, at times higher than it is at present, at others much lower.  There are stories of ancient Mayan ruins hidden beneath its waters.

Several years ago, a seismic event blocked or partially blocked the egress at the bottom of the lake, and, in the ensuing years, the water level has risen by close to 20 vertical feet, drowning cornfields, homes, businesses, and 2/3 of the property I decided not to buy. The remaining third is under threat still, and useless for construction as it is too close to the water.

Many of the buildings either completely or partially submerged belonged to foreigners who, like me, did not know the history or geology of the lake.

I have visited Lago Atitlan and San Pedro five times now.  The first time one photographs a place, everything is fresh, interesting, and different.  Even on my second and third visits, I was still finding new ways to see and record.  The last time I was here, six years ago, I took very few photos, concentrating predominately on my Spanish studies.

It is challenging to find new ways to photograph in a familiar environment.  I have been trying to exercise this skill at home, going into the alley behind my house and seeking new images in the mundane, everyday surroundings that I take for granted.

I am currently frustrated because, although I can do the same thing here, photographing San Pedro as an already familiar place, I am aware that, since my early visits, my abilities as a photographer have grown.  Many of the photographs I took when this place was fresh and new to me are crude and amateurish.  I am struggling to learn how to photograph San Pedro as if I had never seen it.  If I am successful, I would like to photograph Tucson in the same way.

For the moment, the inundation of so many hopes and dreams by the rising waters has provided me with subjects that I love, ruin and decay, while giving me something of the experience of a first time visitor.

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