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The Road to Sorata

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/11/2015 Saleem Ahmed

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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(to see more of my photographs of Sorata, please click here)


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