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GUEST PHOTOGRAPHER: ANNA WATTS - Returning to Atitlán & A New Adventure in Colombia

June 27, 2018 4 min read

My adventure with the Love Is Project began by Lake Atitlán, Central America’s deepest lake (no one really knows how deep it is —rumor has it that the ruins of an abandoned Maya town can be found at the bottom) and renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful places. Atitlán is never short of breathtaking, even if the 20+ Guatemala stamps in my passport suggest I’ve been there a few too many times.

April is the start of raining season in Guatemala, which means only glimpses of the three majestic volcanoes that border the lake basin — the majority of this season is made up of cloud caps, the misty feeling of being at sea and and the occasional glance of a deep blue or green forest corner of volcano in the cloudy distance. Tourists are told to skip this season and wait for the crystal clear views of volcanoes and sunny blue sky, but this is by far my favorite time at the lake — poetic, dreamy, soft light for photographs, and a slower, less-touristed pace of life around the lake.

Lake Atitlán
Fishermen in the afternoon during rainy season when the lake remains nearly completed clouded over from mid-morning onwards. This was a brief and rare view of Volcán San Pedro, one of the three volcanoes bordering the lake.

At Lake Atitlán, I met Chrissie, founder and CEO of the Love Is Project, who had hired me for a whirlwind photoshoot across Lake Atitlán, into the artisan-based village San Antonio Palopó off to the colonially ornate and touristed city of Antigua and before we embarked on a 5-day adventure on the tropical and sunny shores of Cartagena, Colombia!

Love is project bracelet worn on Colombian womanLina of Cartagena, Colombia modeling Love Is Project
Colombia-artisan-crafted bracelets.

Aside from the scenic water- and volcanoscapes, Lake Atitlán features a number of diverse and unique Maya villages around its basin. In the true Love Is Project way (embrace the world!), Chrissie and I planned out a day of lifestyle shooting that would bring us to three of these different communities (with seven models from four different countries!) by way of the typical transport used to get between towns around the lake:lancha or boatride.

This packed day included: a brief morning shooting at one of Atitlán’s beautiful (and completely eco-friendly) hideaway hotels; mid-morning shooting in the sleepy, artisan village of San Juan La Laguna; and an afternoon in the newly-vibrantly-painted town of Santa Catarina Palopó. For anyone new to traveling to the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala, I can’t recommend any of these options enough as a way to see both the local and tourist flavor of the lake.

Founder Chrissie Lam of Love is Project at Fortuna Atitlan
Chrissie Lam, founder of Love Is Project, on our favorite dock at Fortuna Atitlán, a hidden eco-friendly gem of Atitlán’s lakeside retreats.
Love Is Project bracelets worn by women in Guatemala
Our models enjoying the sun and beautifully colored walls of San Juan La Laguna, a small artisan village on Lake Atitlán known for weaving, natural dyeing, and brightly colored paintings of the local markets.
Happy women in the streets of Guatemala with Love Is Project bracelets
We spent a good part of the day running and jumping through San Juan’s quiet cobbled streets…
Women eating ice cream in the streets of Guatemala wearing Love Is Project bracelets
And getting plenty of ice cream to cool down after!
Love Is Project as an anklet with beautiful ocean background
Then it was right back onto the lancha...
Chrissie Lam founder of Love is Project having fun under the sun in Guatemala
To arrive in the beautifully painted Santa Catarina Palolpó!

On Monday, Chrissie and I hopped onto aflete(another form of lake transportation —a taxi that doubles as  a ride on the back of a very crowded pickup truck) back out through Santa Catarina Palopó to another artisan village farther along the lake, San Antonio Palopó.

In San Antonio, we met the group of artisans who are crafting all of the Love Is Project Guatemala bracelets, hand weaving these beautiful pieces on small foot looms with threads purchased in local textile shops. This group of artisans are Kaqchikel Maya and most speak only the indigenous language of Kaqchikel. We had a lot of fun sharing and translating Kaqchikel and Spanish definitions of love before observing the intricate process of weaving that will produce the Love Is Guatemala bracelets.

Love is Project Guatemalan artisans share their definition of love
Sharing definitions of Love from the Love Is Project book.
Beautiful Guatemalan artisan of Love Is Project
The San Antonio Palopó group of artisans were curious, but very shy —it was the first time they’d ever been in contact with a camera like mine, they told us.
Guatemalan Artisans at work making Love Is Project bracelet
Weaving the Love Is Project bracelets on the smaller version of the standard foot loom. The standard, larger loom is used to weave the huipiles or blouses that indigenous women in San Antonio wear.

From our morning with the artisans in San Antonio, it was time to make the 3-hour trip through the scenic valley and rural highlands of the Sololá region of Guatemala to the famed colonial city of Antigua.

Model wearing Love Is Project bracelet in the streets of Guatemala
Our beautiful model Avery in the last sunlight of Tanque el Unión, an old colonial square of Antigua.

After a brief stopover in Antigua, where we took advantage of the burgeoning boutique hotel scene, the beautiful colonial streets (you can’t stop in Antigua and not have a sunset lifestyle photoshoot, however brief!), we were off on a plane to Cartagena, Colombia!

Ladies from all over the world spreading the love through the Love Is Project bracelet

People representing Love Is Project around the world

Can you tell that we were modeling bracelets? From artisans in Guatemala to Colombia to gals + guys from Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and beyond, we easily met and photographed over 30 different friends-and-friendly-strangers-come-models between the two countries.

Love Is Project bracelet worn by many in Cartagena
Our last (and hottest) lifestyle shoot of Cartagena.

Cartagena was an (albeit touristy) dream of perfect colonial streets, brilliant colors, blasting salsa and merengue music, and some of the most fabulous looking women I’ve ever seen on one city’s streets. Highlights: eating street arepas, shooting lifestyle photos at sunset around Cartagena’s vibrant alleyways and flower-bedecked terraces, and seeing the countryside, farmland, and small town life through our five and a half hour car ride to Tuchín, an artisan village outside of Cartagena.

Colombian model wears Love Is Project bracelet
Our beautiful Colombian model Lina posing on the street corner at dusk in Cartagena.
Love Is Project love bracelet in Cartagena
A family of artisans in Tuchín, Colombia showed us how they use caña flecha, a tall grass that grows around their home, to slice into thin strips, dry, and color to then weave into the bracelets pictured on the above right and hanging from the parrots’ cage.


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