Image Credit: Photograph and caption by Lorraine Yip / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Traveling through Cuba in a vintage 1950 Chevrolet with a speedometer which no longer works.
We were passing by the city of Camagey known for its winding streets.
The modern American Hawaiian hula figure and yellow taxi cab sign on the dashboard adds to the time travel-esque element of the classic Chevrolet, set against the backdrop of an old and perhaps dilapidated , but not forgotten, Cuba.
Here it isn’t hard to find empty walls on high rises, garage doors or abandoned factories.
Like Rio de Janeiro, where graffiti is legal, Buenos Aires has few regulations around graffiti art.
Most of the time, all the artist needs is permission from the building owner. In many cases, artists are sought out by building owners who’d like to add something interesting to their bare walls.
In a city where the arts are as celebrated as tango and wine, porteños are favourable toward street art as a means of beautifying their city.
Argentine street artist Martin Ron explains, “we have a lot of freedom to paint and the acceptance of the public means that street art is not perceived as vandalism as in some countries.”
While there is still crude graffiti around the city that boasts of sexual conquests and football victories, much of the artwork in Buenos Aires has a deeper significance.
In the city’s Villa Urquiza neighbourhood, a giant baby painted by Italian street artist Blu is invaded by exploitation and corruption of human beings.
Another of Blu’s murals features hundreds of figures with their eyes covered by a blindfold in the colors of the Argentine national flag, obediently following a dark figure who stands above them wearing a presidential sash and a suit and tie.
In the 1920’s, Villa Epecuén and its delightful salt lake were a popular tourist retreat for Buenos Aires vacationers.
Arriving by train, as many as 5,000 visitors at a time could relax in lavish quarters after taking advantage of the therapeutic waters of Lago Epecuén.
The mountain lake was usual in that its waters were saltier than any ocean—in fact, it was second only to the Dead Sea in salt content, and people suffering from depression, diabetes, and everything in-between came to soak in its healing waters—the very waters that would eventually harbor the village’s ruin.
In what can only be described as a freak occurrence, a rare weather pattern developed over Villa Epecuen in 1985, causing a seiche in the lake.
The seiche broke a dam, and then shoved its way through the dike. While the devastation was slow, it was thorough—the inevitable flood gradually devoured the entire village, submerging it under more than 30 ft. of briny waters. 280 businesses and countless personal dwellings disappeared under the surface like a modern-day Atlantis.
It wasn’t until 2009 that drier weather allowed the waters to retreat enough for the town to reemerge.
The damage total, the village was deemed a disaster area offering no incentive to rebuild.
What remains now is an eerie ghost town with rows and rows of dead, naked trees, decrepit buildings, and an entire landscape seemingly bleached out and stripped to bone by the once-healing salt waters that ravaged everything in sight.
Stretching from Alaska to the pencil tip of Argentina, the 48,000km-long Pan-American Highway holds the record for the world’s longest motorable road. But there is a gap – an expanse of wild tropical forest – that has defeated travellers for centuries.
Explorers have always been drawn to the Darien Gap, but the results have mostly been disastrous. The Spanish made their first settlement in the mainland Americas right here in 1510, only to have it torched by indigenous tribes 14 years later – and in many ways the area remains as wild today as it was during the days of the conquest.
“If history had followed its usual course, the Darien should be today one of the most populated regions in the Americas, but it isn’t,” says Rick Morales, a Panamian and owner of Jungle Treks, one of a few adventure tour companies operating in the region.
“That’s remarkable if you consider that we live in the 21st Century, in a country that embraces technology and is notorious for connecting oceans, cultures, and world commerce.”
The gap stretches from the north to the south coast of Panama – from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s between 100km and 160km (60-100 miles) long, and there is no way round, except by sea.