Portrait of young girl

Portrait of a young Bolivian girl by Vic Briggs


About this image: I do not know the story of this child. Her portrait was mine to capture, yet beyond the smile of a Bolivian girl there is a narrative that ought to be told, for in many ways she will become a part of it. She is a part of it already.

I would like to think that she would go to school, that her childhood will be filled with dreams and that one day she will grow up to find those dreams fulfilled. Perhaps hers will be a successful career and a loving family. Or perhaps…

The truth is that wishful thinking oftentimes remains just that, and reality will have its say. For in Bolivia women are at a disadvantage when it comes to equity in all wakes of life. The rates of illiteracy are higher amongst women than men. There is a high degree of discrimination at an institutional level with women receiving both quantitatively and qualitatively worse education than their male counterparts. Where education fails, the opportunities of working your way out of poverty are few and far between.

While women have been increasingly active on the jobbing market, more than half of their number continue to be out of work and the majority of the work open to them is neither highly productive nor is it well paid. Low income amongst Bolivian women, particularly those of indigenous origin, is endemic.

So much for the dream of an illustrious career.

The traditional misogynistic culture that persists in this country subdues women to a life of dependency and subordination. The 1830s civil code of Bolivia that required women’s obedience to their husbands may have been overruled, but its ethos is very much alive. Women are expected to bear children and take care of their family, having almost exclusive responsibility for domestic work. Meanwhile, the maternal mortality rate in Bolivia is one of the highest in the world and in rural areas – particularly the altiplano where this girl resides – it is more than double that of cities.

She may get lucky, but that is another uncertainty awaiting her ahead.

Although the Bolivian constitution guarantees gender equality, effective equity is yet to be reached. Legal change is insufficient in and of itself. This is a battle for hearts and minds. It is a struggle for cultural change, which is far more difficult to accomplish.

I will continue to harbour hope and maybe – just maybe – this little girl will be part of that much needed change.

Daily Prompt: Young At Heart

Abandoned | Uyuni Train Cemetery

Uyuni Train Cemetery by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

You may know Bolivia for having the highest capital in the world: La Paz at 3,650 m or 11,975 ft above sea level. Or perhaps you remember it as one of two countries bordering Titicaca, the largest and highest navigable lake in South America. Indeed, the lake is home to Bolivia’s fleet (Don’t laugh. They do have one, and what’s a country to do once it looses its sea access to a bellicose neighbour?).

There are many wonders about this country that I could impart with you, but the one I want to share today is the story of its salt planes: Salar de Uyuni. You’ve guessed it. At 10,582 square kilometres or 4,086 square miles, they are the largest salt flats in the world.

The Salar is a desert of salt, virtually devoid of wildlife and vegetation. Only the giant cacti survive in its inauspicious planes amongst a few sturdier shrubs. First impressions can be deceptive however, and it may surprise you to know is that this seemingly desolate place is – for the length of a month at least – the home of several species of pink flamingos. Their bright plumage is believed to derive its colour from that of the algae they feed on, rich in carotene. I would’ve never suspected flamingoes of being fond of carrots, but it would seem they have found the next best thing.

When the Bolivian mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the Salar became the retreat to a more unusual group of residents. Located only a mile or so outside Uyuni, is a collection of antique trains. They look rather desolate against the backdrop of yellowing salt, abandoned… once upon a time their wagons filled with mineral treasures journeying to some distant seaport. For British engineering and train enthusiasts however, the place has a charm of its own.

About this image: Set apart from its locomotive fellows, this specimen caught my attention. I set my camera at an angle to create the elusion of motion. Using film rather than digital photography had the added advantage of giving the image an “antique feel” in keeping with the age of its subject.

Island Dwellers

An Incan legend has it that after creating the universe, Viracocha emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca. The bearded god  was so moved by the beauty of the island on which he had come to rest that he created the sun at this place. Henceforth the island that inspired him to set the skies alight was to be known as Isla del Sol – The Island of the Sun.


We walked for hours on the crest of the island, stopping every now and then to rest on stones that nature had improvised into crooked armchairs. In the afternoon, our toes found respite from the trek in a clump of clouds spied frolicking in the lake. When we finally reached Yumani, the fishermen were returning with their daily catch and my companions were quick to offer a helping hand in dragging the boats ashore.

Warmed by the welcome of a people as tranquil and unassuming as the island itself, we built a campfire on the lakeshore. Villagers were quick in coming to our aid and this beautiful youth sacrificed a handmade hairbrush so that we may have sufficient kindling.

With a delicious offering of fish safely tucked away in our bellies and stories of adventures past tailing off into the night, we watched galaxies unfold above: reminders that we are but fleeting moments in their onward journey. 


Weekly Photo Challenge: Community