So what happened when my favorite woods from Africa, Central and South America became unavailable in the sizes I wanted?

I figured I’d go to the source . I had never been there before but I booked a trip to Guatemala. Didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know anyone. Had no idea where to look for a supplier. It was a strange way to start a trip but going on photo shoots all those years , usually to places I had never been before, set the pattern of getting on a plane and hoping for the best.

i drove to Hartford , CT to take a plane out of Bradley to Miami. From there It was a smaller plane to Guatemala City. As luck would have it the man sitting next to me was a forestry expert from one of the Scandinavian countries,  I forget which one, and he was on the way to Guatemala to act as an adviser to the lumber companies in the country.  You couldn’t make that up!  We got to talking and I explained why I was going there. It was an understatement when he said he might be able to help me.  By the time we landed I had a list of names that included every owner of a lumber facility in the area and their phone numbers.

The first call I made after checking into my hotel was to a man who was a US expat.  He was a retired PanAm pilot who had decided to stay in Guatemala and was now the owner of several lumber facilities, I figured he would be the easiest to talk to. I introduced myself and explained the call.  What came next really surprised me.

Where are you now? I told him. Got anything planned for tonight? No. I have a bunch of friends in the business coming over tonight to watch the title fight from the states. Come join us and I’ll introduce you to everyone and we’ll see what we can do you help you out. He gave me the address of his townhouse and told me when to be there……and that was the beginning of a long friendship and a few trips a year to Guatemala.

Ed Jaffe in Guatemala

This was the view from my bedroom window up in the hills.

We never did figure out how to legally break the embargo so I didn’t get the wood. But I fell in love with the country and the Mayan decedents I met in the mountains.  Since I was living in Vermont at the time and stone was readily available I just switched to marble. The culture provided me with a source of work for several years until my friend told me not to come back because it was getting too dangerous up in the hills and he knew I always went there alone.

Ed Jaffe in Guatemala

Market day and a chance to catch up on gossip.

I had been working with the Maya for a long time and  decided to switch to the Incas so I booked a trip to Quito, Ecuador and then on to Otovalo.  Quito is one of the airports in the world where you don’t carry your luggage from the plane to customs. The air is so thin that it takes 3 days to get used to just walking around.

On the way to Otovalo my driver went past one of the large volcanoes in the area and told me it had a elevation of 12000 ft. I mentioned that it didn’t look that high and he responded,,, don’t forget that the road we are on is almost 9500 ft. That put things into perspective for me. We were in the Andes.

Ed Jaffe in Guatemala

The Andeans are all small but the men can carry as much as 100 kilos like ths. I met this woman about a mile out of town in Ecuador. She had a long way to go but had time for a smile and a short chat. Amazing!

it was 1995 and 2 days after I arrived Peru and Ecuador entered into a very intense border dispute over who owned the oil in the head waters of the Amazon. I was staying at a hacienda north of the fighting but it was an interesting time for a while until the airport reopened and we could get out of there.


I have not been back.


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