As this is my first entry on Huffington Post, I would like to briefly introduce myself and my intentions for this blog. My name is Saleem Ahmed, and I am a photographer and professor based in Philadelphia. Over the past several years, I have studied, traveled, worked, and lived in several different countries. While constantly in motion, I have documented my experiences both within the United States and abroad. My plan, for now, is to highlight specific moments or adventures that I believe are worth sharing. That being said, I will begin with a story from South America.
Since 2010, the Bolivian capital city of La Paz has been home to various arts-based education projects that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. While working with the International Design Clinic, and several Bolivian-based non-profit organizations, I have had the opportunity to develop a series of photographic projects under the name Vista Oculta. My most recent trip in October 2015, will likely mark the conclusion of this work for me, so I would like to reflect back on one of the destinations I have continued to visit, year after year.
Nestled in the valleys of the Andes Mountains, rests the sleepy town of Sorata. Each of my trips to Sorata has served as a getaway; an escape from the hustle and bustle of La Paz. The journey always begins from the congested streets of La Paz, to a dissection of the city of El Alto, and west through the Altiplano towards Lake Titicaca.
As the roads open up on the Altiplano, Huayna Potosí now dominates the horizon. Small brick farmhouses dot the foothills of this majestic snow-capped mountain range. The view steals your breath, if the thin-air altitude hasn't already.
After a quick glimpse of Lake Titicaca, the van begins climbing even higher. Within moments, the picturesque views are replaced with heavy fog and dropping temperatures. Visibility is now limited to a few tree branches around each ominous bend in the road.
Eventually we reach a peak, and the driver's gas pedal is no longer necessary. Gravity now pulls the van slowly down the winding mountain road, deep into the valley. Informal look-out points double as pitstops, where the van's brakes can cool off from the continuous pressure.
Perched on a ridge in the distance is Sorata, with an always-important fútbol field clinging off to the side.
Sorata is quiet, even when the open-air market spills into the central plaza. The narrow cobblestone streets and ornamental iron balconies give off a European-colonial feel.
For many travelers, Sorata serves as a final base camp before a trek up through the mountains that tower over the northern landscape. It is a pedestrian town, as you only need a few hours to explore by foot. Toyotas carrying passengers and produce simply load and unload on the way to-and-from eastern cities.
For me, Sorata is a place to de-stress. It's a place to forget about your immediate frustrations and disconnect from the world. It's a place to wander aimlessly and intentionally get bored. And when your head is clear and you are ready to leave, you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of an entire valley filled with clouds. One of those moments when a photograph does no justice.
(to see more of my photographs of Sorata, please click here)