American-born photographer Thomas Ives has worked for international news and feature magazines for over 38 years. His photo essays and images have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Geo, Stern, Newsweek, Life, Smithsonian, and many others publications. He currently lives in Vilcabamba with his Ecuadorian partner. For more about Thomas, click here, or here (en español).
I had been floating around the Ambato and Riobamba area back in 1974, buying folk crafts for export and shooting stock photos. One day, I found myself just after dawn at the Latacunga bus terminal where people were coming in on rattling 1950’s Ford buses for the weekly market. I had arrived on one of these, its door tied shut with some electrical cord, the driver smelling like he had just returned from an all night fiesta. The locals smelled like wet wool ponchos and sweet wood smoke. It was very romantic. I was in my element.
I climbed to the top of my bus to document the unloading of an adjacent bus. It was an ideal vantage point to watch the locals disembark. They poured out of the faded sea-foam green Cooperativa “Eloy Alfaro” vehicle like clowns at a circus; 26 of them! They had swaddled babies on their backs, toddlers in hand and a few plump wide eyed chickens, their patas bound with string.
Their rough-sawn wooden display tables, boxes of produce, hand-forged tools or folk crafts were handed down from the top of the bus to a waiting group of porters. They, in turn, tied woven rope around the goods and hefted them onto their backs for the walk to the market. I saw a pittance change hands once the portage was closed. The porters never spoke a word, just shouldered the weight and marched off. These men were cut from a different stock: their complexions were highland, burnished by sun and wind, their eyes dark and stoic, their hands calloused with stubby fingers. If we had been in Bolivia or Peru, they would have been chewing coca leaves.
The 70’s were a good time to be traveling anywhere, but especially in the third world. There was a sense of discovery and adventure that seemed to dissipate by the 90’s. By then almost every place exotic (difficult or expensive to get to, with rough public transport, culturally taxing, with water-borne sickness a given) had been visited. I remember running into other foreigners on dizzying high altitude trains, ill-maintained dangerous airplanes (Fix Airlines DC-3’s out of Darjeeling) and we either pretended not to see each other, so as to maintain a faux exclusivity, or we got together and chummed around for a week or so, drinking and smoking ourselves silly, sharing must-sees and don’t-bothers, stealing each others travel companions . . . like Trish, the gorgeous Aussie blonde. “Thanks Tom for rescuing me from Wolfgang … I couldn’t stand it any longer.” “My pleasure.” I replied as we boarded another rickety bus to ….. somewhere.
– Thomas H. Ives
Photo taken in Latagunga, 1974. Copyright © 2015 by Thomas H. Ives. Contact email@example.com