Everything started with two bags of wool, a crowded bus, and a beautiful smile. Maria stood on the side of the road surrounded by her weekly purchases from the Villa de Leyva market.
I hopped out of the bus to help her toss the larger items on the roof, and we crammed into the same little seat on the same little bus heading out of the same little town. She had to have been in her 60s, and she wore a traditional tan-colored fedora on her head. Her strikingly beautiful black hair was pulled into long, tight pigtails that cascaded down her back.
We started talking in Spanish about the weather, the bumpy road, and what the hell a six-foot-three-blue-eyed gringo from the United States of America was doing in Colombia on the road to Bogota. I didn’t really have an answer for her, other than that I was searching for Something — for Answers — for the Truth. She smiled and responded with a warm chuckle. Maria’s teeth were straight and white, and although they were most definitely fake, she was more apt to show them off than anyone else I’ve ever met. In her eyes, I recognized a perfect soul. But then her countenance changed.
“Does your mother know where you are?” she asked next, flashing now the look of a concerned mother.
I laughed and told her that my mother had a vague idea of my whereabouts, but it was usually better that way when it came to revealing the true nature of my travels. Maria looked at me with concern and invited me to visit her home. I didn’t have anywhere to be, and it was still early, so I decided that spending the day with Maria might just be the ticket to finding some answers to the journal of questions I’d been accumulating over the course of my trip.
Later, much later — after a long wait at a crossroads, another drawn-out bus ride, and a walk with Maria, her family, and a donkey — I realized that the sun was setting, and I gave in to the idea that I wouldn’t make it back to Bogota that night.
With golden light spreading out over the hills in front of us, I plodded along a dirt path into the complete unknown. I had no idea where I was going or what would happen when I got there, but I felt happy and alive, as if I were walking home.
It was right then that I understood what I had been doing for the past several months. I was trying to escape–my home, my family, my job, and most importantly myself. As writer George Moore once said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” In Iguaque, a home away from home, I found the answers I was looking for. Besides the vivid memory I have of Maria’s smile, these photographs remain with me as I continue to search out the answers to new life questions.
Along with his first camera, photographer CHARLES TOWNSEND BESSENT gained an instantaneous compulsion to document the earth and all of its eccentricities. He believes that a photograph should speak without the necessity of words and that traveling is the highest form of pleasure. Currently residing in Vail, Colorado, Townsend photographs anything from extreme sports to weddings. He spends his spare time on the road in search of images that evoke emotion and connect people across the globe.