When photojournalists Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky started plotting what would become a seven-month trip through five countries in South America—Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile—they covered their bedroom walls with road maps. As they researched on the web, in guidebooks, and through word of mouth, they put sticky notes on the places they wanted to hit. Soon they could hardly see the maps beneath. In February of 2009, the couple set off with the goal of experiencing South America—and capturing unexpected stories through photos.
The pair traveled in a Jeep they call Sancho, and ventured from place to place looking for interesting communities and subcultures. “It wasn’t like we were tourists. When you’re a tourist you keep to yourself and don’t really share as much,” Gachet says. “We made a point to push as far as we could.” That meant veering off the beaten path to a Mennonite enclave in Bolivia and a nearly deserted island off the coast of Chile, but also visiting such landmarks as Machu Picchu. “Even if you do the touristy thing there, it’s so breathtaking and worth it,” Gachet says.
As photographers, “we’re used to doing everything we can to get ourselves into a group or into a story and be accepted by the people,” says Kashinsky. “It’s not always easy, and a lot of times it takes a lot longer than you think. But slowly, no matter what the situation is, the more time you spend, the more people open up to you.”
Here are five of Gachet and Kashinsky’s tales from the road. For more stories of South America, go to their blog.
Esmeraldas is one of the poorest provinces in Ecuador, but despite “being so forgotten and pushed to the edge, people in the pueblos are in such a good mood,” says Karla Gachet. “It’s a very basic and peaceful life.” On Limones, an Afro-Ecuadoran island in Esmeraldas, twin girls arrived too late for school and were locked out. “They begged to be let in,” Gachet says. “They even started to climb up the walls.” Above, swimmers from Limones—which supports itself by subsistence fishing—jump into the Pacific.
An estimated 15,000 Mennonites live in secluded farming communities near the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. “They’re always looking for a place far away from everything, where they can be totally isolated from society,” Gachet says. The first wave of German-speaking Mennonites migrated from North America to Bolivia in the 1960s. Today, their way of life revolves around farming and a strict adherence to religious dictates: They’re not allowed to drive cars, watch television, or listen to most forms of music. Kashinsky and Gachet spent six days living with a family that had eight children—four girls and four boys. “The kids go to school until they’re 12, and everything they learn is from the Bible,” Kashinsky says. “After they turn 12, the boys work at the farm, and the girls cook, bake, and sew all day. They’re an outsider group, but they are a tight family within a tight community.”
“It’s hard to get into the tango world in Buenos Aires if you don’t know the right people,” Gachet says. In the La Boca section of town, there’s a street called El Caminito, which Gachet describes as the “Disneyland of tango.” At a restaurant on the touristy strip, she and Kashinsky met dancing partners Cecilia Rodriguez and Emmanuel Casal, who let the photographers shadow them for a week. “These kids are so full of energy, they dance at milongas [tango gatherings] until four in the morning,” says Gachet. “Through them, we got to see the underground scene.”
David Peranchiguay is a member of one of the eight families who inhabit Teuquelín, a tiny island near Chiloé in southern Chile. “Teuquelín used to have really big salmon farms, but then a fish disease came, and nearly everyone left the island,” says Kashinsky. “All the young men are gone; now there are just older people and women and children.” The families support themselves by fishing and farming potatoes and luga (seaweed). During Gachet and Kashinsky’s stay, the residents shared a crab feast with the couple.
The Yawar Fiesta, or Blood Celebration, is a traditional Peruvian ritual that symbolizes the fight between the Spanish and the Amerindians. “Condors are a symbol of the indigenous people of the Andes, and bulls represent the Spanish,” says Kashinsky. The fiesta takes place over several days: First, villagers from Cotabambas capture a wild condor and parade it around for all to see. Then they tie the condor to the back of a bull, and let the two creatures fight it out in a ring. On the final day of the celebration, they set the condor free.