Project published in The Plant magazine (Issue 10).

The first morning, I ran outside just before the sunrise. I hadn’t seen anything yet as I’d arrived after dark the previous evening. 

Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click. 

Taking pictures had never been so easy: every view in Tolar Grande was perfectly framed. In fact, I can’t take any credit for these photographs. It is really easy to take beautiful pictures when nature flaunts itself so overwhelmingly. 

The plan was always to get to Tolar Grande. I didn’t care if I didn’t make it to any of the other planned destinations during my trip. A quick Google Images search had already convinced me in less than two minutes that I had to go there. 

From the town itself, to the red hills of the Devil’s Labyrinth mountain range, to the Ojos de Mar (‘Sea Eyes’) to the holy black pyramid of Cono de Arita. Some of these landscapes felt like optical illusions, or perhaps more like paintings by Dalí, who had dreamed up the Andes Mountains whilst high on his visions. 

This area is part of the Puna grasslands in South America where the climate is incredibly dry. After two days there, blowing your nose becomes painful and your skin had turned into sandpaper. It’s not as hospitable to live in as it is to photograph. Nevertheless, presently, there are some 150 people living in Tolar Grande.

Its inhabitants mirror its landscape in their demeanour. Silence envelops the region. They didn’t understand why I was excited to be there. It made no sense to them to be moved by the mountains, let alone the idea of being subjects in my photographs. I made friends with a local mountaineer called Flavio, who agreed to take me around. He chewed coca leaves and played the funniest cumbia music from his car stereo, which altogether added to an already surreal trip. 

By my second day there, I decided to buy some cigarettes. The magic and beauty of that place was so intense that I had to numb myself with something. What a terrible idea. No one smokes in La Puna according to Flavio. It’s stupid, as it’s located at an elevation of over 3,400 metres: your lungs are already fighting to get enough oxygen up there. Smoking just makes it more difficult. But, stubborn as I am, I didn’t give up and carried on for the rest of the week.

Somehow, the cigarettes helped me take a break away from the infinite landscape and my trigger-happy finger.