Nine Months of Photography in India, Guatemala and Costa Rica

When I was younger, I enjoyed fiddling around with my camera, but I never took photography or yearbook in high school because I didn’t have space in my schedule. As I got busier and busier, a thick layer of dust began to accumulate on my camera, and I eventually forgot how much I loved photography. That is, until this trip!


India is one of the best places that I’ve ever been to photograph architecture, due to the area’s long, rich history. It was enlightening and inspiring to spend 3 months surrounded by countless buildings representing numerous different cultures and time periods. Not to mention, I practiced my photography on, among other architectural feats: 3 forts, 2 palaces, 4 Hindu temples, 2 Sikh Gurudwaras, 2 mosques, 1 Buddhist temple (the Dalai Lama’s temple, to be precise!) and, of course, the magnificent Taj Mahal. This particular photo was taken in Jaipur’s City Palace, not far from where I was living.


One of my favorite excursions in Guatemala was going to see the ancient Mayan ruins in Tikal. The flight alone was quite exciting (we flew there in a small propeller-powered plane that had a knack for bumpy landings). The ruins, however, were even more spectacular, and I loved wandering through the jungle and suddenly stumbling upon massive and ancient stone structures looming out of the dense foliage.


Costa Rica as a whole is much more focused on ecotourism and wildlife than on architecture. Still, I’ve enjoyed snapping photos of thatch-roofed huts on beaches, quirky shops, and “hippy” restaurants that remind me a lot of the ones back home in Seattle. However, the photos closest to my heart are the ones I’ve taken of Providencia, the town of 200 or so people where we live. Providencia is up in the mountains, and spread out along a road that wanders through coffee farms and cloud forests. I took this photo part way up one of the mountains overlooking the lower part of the town – capturing some of the landscape too, of course!


As a child, one of my favorite subjects to photograph were animals. I got a few good photos of birds and raccoons, but mostly the animal subjects were my pet guinea pigs and cats. On this trip, however, I’ve seen countless animals. For instance, I saw this Rose-ringed Parakeet on our second day in India, perched inside of the Qutb Minar (the tallest brick minaret in the world!)


One of the strangest looking birds that I’ve ever seen was this Ocellated Turkey in Tikal, Guatemala. It’s at least as big as the turkeys in the US, but with iridescent blue feathers, small orange bumps protruding from its head, and a large pink ball dangling from its chin.


We’ve seen more animals in Costa Rica than in any other country. Even though the country only makes up .03% of the earth’s surface, 6% of the world’s biodiversity is located here! I’ve photographed sloths eating, a family of tapirs sleeping, boundless birds, and four species of monkeys. My favorite photo, however, just has to be this one of a monkey with her baby. The look of wonder on the baby monkey’s face is a mirror image of a human baby’s; a much-needed reminder that, where it really counts, humans have a fair amount in common with these endearing creatures.


Of all the subjects that I’ve photographed, I must say that humans are my favorite. Looking back at my photos of people in each country, it’s amazing how much a single picture can say about the place. Comparing photos of people between these three countries bring out the contrasts in clothing, customs and culture. I thrive in the new and unfamiliar, so I truly admire these differences as they are what make each country so unique. Still, it is also worthwhile to notice what similarities these countries share with each other, as well as with my homeland.


In India, I was entranced by the brilliant colors and sumptuous fabrics of the women’s sarees, lehengas and hijabs. One of my favorite photos shows a group waiting outside of a Sikh temple, with each wearing one of the required (but still colorful) head coverings. They were waiting to receive a free meal, which the temple supplies to around a thousand people a day, rich and poor alike.


The people living around us in Antigua, Guatemala made quite the mixing pot. Some wore traditional clothing and had varying degrees of Mayan blood, others were westernized Walmart-shoppers, and, not to be forgotten, the abundance of 20-something expats, mainly from the US and Europe. Although the antics of these expats was sometimes quite amusing to watch, my favorite subjects were those who had stuck to Guatemala’s customs, as in this photo of a woman making the traditional huipil fabric:


In general, Costa Ricans (or Ticos, as they call themselves), don’t look all that different from your stereotypical gringos, with their fair skin and eyes that are usually lighter than mine. Their dress is quite similar too, and I think my host mom owns more jean shorts than I do! Still, the people here are so much more open and friendly than people back in the States. They seem to genuinely care about everyone, even if they only met them five minutes before! This amiability and warmth was captured in its finest in this photo of our group relaxing with local teens at a waterfall near where we live. Disclaimer: This is the only picture in this post that I didn’t take, but the Young Dreamers are so much fun to hang out with that I can’t bear to leave their company long enough to take photos!


I’ve discovered a lot of new passions on this trip, for which I’ll be forever grateful. For example, after deciding (at the age of 9) that I would never ever EVER teach, I’ve found that it is extremely gratifying (not to mention fun!) In fact, I loved teaching in India so much that I’m going back there to teach for another month once this program ends. As another example, I was always too intimidated by languages with different alphabets to give them a shot. But, after being introduced to Hindi, I’ve decided to take Hindi and Arabic in college and major in linguistics. Still, I’m equally grateful for the forgotten passions that this program has helped me rediscover, such as surfing, reading, and of course, photography!


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