They all look the same. One after the next, block after block. From my vantage high above the pavement that runs like an airstrip through this neighborhood, I cast my eyes out on a sea of squares, each one contoured upward into peaks of brown shingles, as far as I can see. I am one of many invisible people here; contractors, sub-contractors, bricklayers and carpenters; painters, carpet layers and pool cleaners; cable guys, plumbers and gardeners; lawn mowers, fence builders, window cleaners and tree trimmers. In my case, I am the Christmas light deconstructionist, the roof scrambler, the sweater-clad, ripped-jeaned…

Burrowed deep within my sleeping bag and a few additional comforters, I find a tunnel within the folds and poke my head through. I let out a breath and a ghost appears above me. It drifts away, as if trying to coax me along with it, until it loses patience and decides to disappear without me. The teal light of the sunrise, still too weak to penetrate the drab seventies curtains, finds its home within the fabric itself, as if this old run-down camper was actually some product of the future, its curtains emanating an illuminated charge from the sun.

At dawn, my home is too cold for a ghost, but I get out of bed all the same.

A late night game in the Candelaria District of Bogotá. Photo: Danny Holland

Off of 7th avenue and 54th street in downtown Bogotá, there is a small brewery that stays open late. The brewery is a bright box of light — a chink in the city’s armor of a thousand closed shops along the street, their pull-down metal curtains like scales over the city’s heartbeat.

Across the street is a small square where cabbies from all over the city come to catch a breath from the drowning traffic and the stop and go of their lives. Here they smoke cheap cigarettes and drink tinto. …

All photos, unless otherwise noted, compliments of Juan Diego Reyes

I awake to a solitary figure standing outside my tent. A dark energy begins to boil in my belly until I realize that although I’ve never seen him before, I know who he is. Through the mesh he’s no more than a blurry silhouette, but still I can recognize the notch in his hip. It’s common to all people who spend their entire lives standing, watching. He spies a few lonely cows as they graze the steep slope beneath us, making slow progress up towards the cliffs of Nueva Machetá. His name is Orlando. I’m camping on his land.


All Photos by Juan Diego Reyes. This is the author on Diente del Oro

I pour myself a cup of coffee and train my eyes on El Principito (The Little Prince), a children’s book I’m attempting to read in Spanish. I get through a paragraph every half-hour or so, slurping to procrastinate. I’m constantly cross-referencing certain words in my Spanish dictionary, or else punching them into my phone’s verb translator app. I make notes in the margins, dog-ear certain pages, underline and circle in pen. My mom is a retired librarian and she’d be disappointed, I figure, by my penchant for defacement. But such research for meaning makes it difficult to gain momentum and…

While I write in Dila’s living room, she pops her head in for the tenth time in an hour.

Quieres comer algo? Tomar jugo?”

She speaks to me as she has from the moment I arrived in her home, three hours south of Bogotá — as if I can understand every word she says. Juan is out running errands before we hop on a bus north to the Chicamocha canyon, gathering goods and exchanging our precious American dollars into disposable pesos. …

Suesca Rocks. Photo: Juan Diego Reyes

Juan-Cristo lives in a single-story, three room home on the outskirts of Suesca. We turn off from one dirt road and onto the next and our little coupe makes a high wheeze as the engine struggles up the final hill. Juan parks and Juan-Cristo leads us up a grassy knoll, past a step of broken concrete and onto a smooth unblemished surface just before his front door. It looks like his patio has lost its will to live.

Inside is a small barren living room with a miniature table near the back. On top is a camping stove with a…

On approach I peer out the window of the plane and get a look at the city. Bogotá. I track the roads as they dissect the city into hundreds of squares, noting for no particular reason if those roads are brown, black or grey. I rehearse what I’ve learned under my breath: soy Miguel… como te llamas?… no hablo español… mas despacio, por favor… trying to conjure up some sort of inner positivity and optimism that I know will do nothing to make up for my non-existent Spanish. I want my mind to be ready and willing to speak this…

All photos courtesy of Lauren Savoy

All at once in the arenaceous landscape his world took form. Animals became animals, trees became trees and finally the smoke suffocating the narrow streets rose above the corrugated iron rooftops to expose his life. The village was draped in the bright white heat of the sun, in the middle of a desert that was spreading as fast as the the lakes were disappearing, evaporating heavenward as if the water knew that there was nothing for it here anymore. …

Nacombogo, Burkina Faso:

I sat listening in the dark, my eyes on the night sky. The men around me (all teachers at the local high school) were debating whether or not their country’s president would soon be out of a job and on the street with the beggars and the touts.

“When you cannot control your own military, it is over,” one said.

“These men return to their villages with the money the president gives them, and they build mansions next to families that haven’t the money for food.”

“We should burn his mansion to the ground.”

They all laughed…

Michael Ross Holland

Climber and Writer based in Wyoming. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Social Worker. Dirtbag living in his car.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store