June 27 - June 30, 2013. Cochabamba, Bolivia.


Before heading out to Chari Chari I used the few days I had in Cochabamba to capture some timelapse footage of the city from up on the famous Cristo de la Concordia mountain, just east of the city center. I had captured some amazing images of the city and the statue the year before and was eager to see how a timelapse of the sunset would look. The sunsets were spectacular and I just sat and watched as the clouds turned from white to pink and finally black as the city lights rose up in an orange glow from below. The pictures were great but I was a little scared at being up on the mountain past dark. Although the steps down to the city were fully illuminated at night they made you stand out in plain site to anyone watching you descend from below and robberies were known to occur.


The first night I ran down the steps with a knife in one hand and my tripod hoisted up as a bat in the other, but I didn't see anyone. The second night I was a little less cautious and as I approached the final steps to the bottom three men appeared from behind the bushes to my left and rushed toward me. I hesitated for a split second but then saw a gun in one man's hand pointed at me and another man with a foot long knife raised over his head in a stabbing motion. I knew right away my moment for escape had passed and, before I could run, they grabbed me from behind and started wrestling my backpack, camera bag and tripod away. I was terrified but my instincts quickly kicked in - there was no way in hell I was going to let these guys take my camera. I was a head taller than most Bolivians and, since they all had their weapons pointed at me, they could only hold on to me with one hand. Strength was on my side. I let go of my tripod, I hated the thing anyway since two of the legs were broken, and elbowed my way out of their grip. Half expecting a gunshot I ducked my head as I ran, but something told me they would miss anyway since I was moving so fast. My footing was sure as a careened down the remaining steps and across the highway toward a nearby police station I had seen on my way up.


I found a cop at the station and tried explaining what had just happened. He got the point and rushed out the door and up to the steps with me in tow. He told me to walk back to the area where I was attacked while he skirted up the hillside in the dark, hoping to set up some kind of ambush on the robbers. I was a little sketched out about trying to track down three armed men but I wanted someone to get caught and was kind of hoping I could get my broken tripod back. Of course, the robbers were gone and my tripod was nowhere to be found, but after a few minutes of searching through the bushes the cop flushed out a young boy who ran past me and down the steps toward the city. The cop chased him down and tackled him just outside the station. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize him as one of the robbers but the cop interrogated him anyway for an hour and took down all his information. I gave the cop my name and driver's license too. When two more officers and a camera man showed up I explained it wasn't worth investigating further and they all took off. Before the cop would let me go he wanted to take a look at what had interested the robbers so much. I showed him my camera and explained I was a photographer. He handed the camera back but then, as I had feared, he tried bribing me before giving back my driver's license. "How much do you want to pay me?" He kindly asked, hoping I was a loaded foreigner who would fork over cash like a deer in headlights. I was already pissed off from being robbed so I refused to play the game. Even if the guy had caught the real perpetrators I wouldn't have paid him. I hate theft but corruption is worse. It's so backhanded. At least a thief is honest about what he wants. He saw I wasn't going to budge and gave up pressing me further. I took my driver's license and hurried back to the house as fast as I could. I explained the whole story to Zoe and vowed I would never stay up on the hill past dark ever again.


The next morning we packed up all our bags and took off for Chari Chari, the site where I had worked as a B2P Construction Manager for three weeks last year. It would be a five hour drive out into the country but I was looking forward to it. Despite all the conveniences, city life is stressful. I was eager to be surrouned once again by people I knew, in a community where the doors are always open. I thought about the robbery from last night and how this would be the third life threatening situation I had experienced since arriving in Bolivia. The first week I had nearly lost myself without food or water in the dry hot foothills between Copachuncho and Totora, and just last week I had risked drowning by crossing a raging river in the Amazon. Now this. I've never been robbed or had a gun pointed at me before so the experience left me shaken. I kept thinking what would have happened if the men had been more aggressive with their weapons. Would I be in the hospital, or worse? Photography is fun and rewarding, but it comes with risks. The most interesting images always carry with them stories, but too often we forget there is also a person behind that camera, taking that picture, experiencing that moment. That is why I love this work. My instinct to capture a moment through a lens and share it compels me to explore the world. For a shy mountain boy with a funny name I have used my camera as an excuse to travel to new countries, learn new cultures, and meet new people. And for that, I am forever grateful, regardless of the consequences.


Timelapse: Cochabamba Sunset and City Lights
Timelapse: Cochabamba Traffic

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Blog Archive

Chari Chari, Bolivia
"Una Vez Más"

2013.06.30: Cochabamba, Bolivia

Las Cruces, Bolivia
"Seguro Travesía"

2013.06.21: Copachuncho, Bolivia
"Duke/CU Bridge Fiesta"


Palca, Bolivia
"U-M Bridge Fiesta"

Rodeo Chico, Bolivia

2013.05.31: Copachuncho, Bolivia
"Regresar a Bolivia"

La Paz, Bolivia
"Bridging Cultures"