Having just passed seven weeks on the road in Central America and now having only two days left in Guatemala before I return home this Thursday, I find myself cooling my heels in Antigua--I've run a bit over budget this week--and mentally summing up my journey.
My trip was successful in many ways. First, and most importantly, I allowed myself enough time to get truly immersed in the local culture. Though my original, vague goal of reaching beautiful Merida, Venezuela via Costa Rica and Panama was probably unrealistic given my penchant for taking things slowly and my unwillingness to spend more than four hours in a bus on any given day, I did achieve an important secondary goal of visiting several new places--notably Leon (Nicaragua), Perquin (El Salvador), Chichicastenango (Guatemala), and the beautiful countryside of the Ruta de Lenca in western Honduras (Los Cipreses, Marcala, La Esperanza, Gracias, and Santa Rosa de Copan). Also new for me were my brief stops on the Pacific coasts of both El Salvador and Nicaragua.
It was very important for me to give this trip a lot of time. My initial trips here in 2008 and 2009 were too brief--and too rushed--for me to do much more than take a quick glance at a region I'd found I liked at least as much as Southeast Asia--if not more so. One of the joys of traveling in Central America is the geographical fact that all these countries are very small, so the backpacking tourist can cover quite a lot of ground in relatively little time. Despite their size, however, these countries together boast an incredible diversity of peoples, languages, food, climates, and geographical features such as mountains, volcanos, cowboy countryside, beaches, two very different sea or ocean coasts, and numerous lakes--from the huge Lake Nicaragua to the large Lake Atitlan in Guatemala--and numerous smaller lakes and rivers between.
Secondly, once I'd postponed the Costa Rica leg of my journey, that opened up the possibility for revisits of Copan Ruinas (Honduras) and Antigua (Guatemala) this past week. Despite the fact that they were second time visits for me, they definitely remain highlights of this trip since I was able to capture hundreds of images of these beautiful places on my "photography mission."
My photography mission itself was a third important goal for me. I was able to take the time I needed to seek out and note photo subjects, mostly of city/town/village buildings and streets, and return later to take photos as unobtrusively as possible. There were three main reasons for this approach.
First, up until this time I had almost no experience taking hundreds of digital photos, so I considered this to be a learning experience for me. Early in my trip I didn't take very many photos at all, preferring instead to get the lie of the land. Later, after I'd become more sure of myself, I began to shoot much more, but with a strong emphasis on experimentation with light, shadow, composition, and subject. My aim here was to try to improve my skills shooting pictures with the modern equivilent of the old "instamatic".
Second, I didn't want to make myself a target for beggars and hustlers, or worse, thieves and muggers, by walking all over the place with a camera around my neck. Whenever I did shoot photos, usually I kept the camera in my shirt pocket or in my daybag until I found a likely subject.
Third, when it comes to photographing people, it pays to be discreet, especially in this region. Guatemalans in particular (but this goes for people all over the world) don't appreciate foreigners taking photos of them without permission. Consequently, I was very careful not to be too aggressive with the lens. Since I had almost no experience shooting candid photos of people, I was particularly careful to tread that path cautiously. I have probably improved a little bit in this area. But readers will notice that--once I get my photos posted--there aren't very many good photos of people apart from some typical street scenes.
Another important goal I achieved with this trip was the establishment of a credible travel blog which I can continue to build in the months and years to come. Committing myself to writing something almost daily was important in that it kept me on my toes, forcing me to wander--not aimlessly as I might have done two decades ago--but with some specific destinations in mind, always remembering that I had to be loyal to a readership (no matter how modest). This helped me to focus everyday on seeing things with a writer's eye. Everyday became a different story for me, and the challenge was to try to improve at creating a daily story that would be compelling to the general reader. I'm not sure how well I succeeded in that, but I think I've definitely made a good start.