If you can bear the heat and humidity, there are plenty of rewards for photographers in Cartagena. Every ancient wall is a canvas, every wooden shutter and every rusted padlock a handcrafted sculpture. The Old City has been beautifully restored, with just the right level of peeling paint and scuffed wood to stop it feeling …
As the sun sets and the sweltering temperatures begin to subside, the dancers come out in Cartagena. The energetic drumming is like a siren call, ringing through the colonial streets, drawing onlookers from across the old city.
This little boy’s feet are barely touching the ground; he is floating on the roof of South America. The vivid colours are a joyful contrast to the bleached salt and dusty moonscape; we are finally returning from the otherworldly scenes of the Altiplano to warmth and colour. The boy is dancing in the sunbeams, and he is smiling.
The history of Hagia Sophia seems significant right now, as it is a symbol of the different cultures, religions and governments that have ruled this country. Even its names tell stories of its multicultural past – Hagia Sophia is Greek, while Aya Sofya is Turkish – and the city where it stands straddles two continents.
The Amazon rainforest is a place so utterly bursting with life that as the sun sets and the temperature drops, it’s as if you can actually see the forest breathing. A thick snake of fog slithers its way along the rivers, while the canopy exhales steam which glows gold in the fading sunlight.
Cuba’s classic 1950s American cars all mark the point at which time apparently stopped in this Caribbean island, when the revolution severed it from the rest of the world. But time didn’t stop, of course – hence the rust, and the decay, and the peeling paint and crumbling concrete. The 50-year-old ideology feels old now, the people are weary, and the island prison is like its cars: a beautiful relic from the outside, but falling to pieces within.
The Afroecuadorians of Esmeraldas are descendants of West African slaves brought here five centuries ago. Some of their ancestors escaped slavery, some were freed from the mines. Others dodged slavery altogether when their ship was wrecked in the rough Pacific watersc, and they managed to swim to shore to create a new life for themselves in the South American jungle.
Juan hand-rolled the fat cigar in front of us in the little wooden hut. The leaves had been fermented for four months with honey, vanilla and just a little rum, and smelled delicious enough to eat. Juan took a small bundle of leaves, rolled them and held them in place with paper. Dark brown leaves from the inside of the plant were then rolled diagonally around it, and the classic form of the Cuban cigar appeared before my eyes.
A safari is normally characterised by trying to get nearer – tracking something down, pursuing it, getting the long lenses out. But a flying safari is about being just far enough away to make out the horizon beyond the mountains, to watch the coastal fog creeping up behind the dunes, to observe the earth becoming an abstract artwork of shadow and light, the known and the unknown.