A Surreal Republic, Chapter I

Retracing tropical pasts

A Surreal Republic by Olga de la Iglesia, Chapter I

It wasn’t a special holiday. We were staying in an all-inclusive resort, one of those places that attracts tourists by pulling the wool over our eyes with glossy-magazine-like tropical paradises: a white sand beach, a palm tree bending out to sea, a divine tanning location and not a single concern about what you are going to see, do, drink, or eat.

  • Retracing tropical pasts

I don’t know why I wanted to go back there. I don’t know if there’s something from a past life that connects me with this island. Maybe I had forgotten something here and life simply brought me back to this surreal republic for me to live, see, and learn everything about who I am now.

  • Retracing tropical pasts

I was not aware of the limits, or what was happening out there. The Dominican culture I could see was tailored around the tourists. Everything was safe and free from complications for us. There was a different person living in my body back then: I didn’t realise where I was nor that I was living in a bubble, protected and isolated by a colored wristband that would give me access to all the hotel facilities and make me forget the world around me. This is why I don’t keep many memories from my first time there.

  • Retracing tropical pasts

But I do keep a vivid memory of the first time when I realised that I wasn’t in my country, in Spain. We were driving across some sugarcane fields. Our open-top jeep stopped for us to admire the massive expansion of the reed beds. Suddenly, we found ourselves surrounded by swarms of kids begging for money, pens, or soap. Our guide told us we needed to go, we mounted back on the jeep, started the engine and drove off. As we looked back, undistinguished among a massive cloud of dirt and dust unleashed by the tires, we glimpsed the legion of kids running after us holding a pen in one hand, and a machete in the other. This image will stay with me forever. Machetes are used in the harvesting of sugarcane and kids are exploited as a means of cheap labour. Those kids didn’t realise how powerful they looked, their blades shining within that cloud of dirt. Only our European minds saw that.

  • Retracing tropical pasts

Years later, this very feeling of being a spectator to a different reality than the ones seen by the people around me was still there. There are landscapes my eyes just can’t understand. Situations I can’t see as real, or authentic, or truthful. Things occur at unpredictable times. Objects lie in improper places. Strange views continuously appear in front of me. I feel no order, no law, I felt that everything was rising out of the blue spontaneously, the good and the bad, the extreme beauty and the evil. (Continues)

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Olga de la Iglesia

Olga de la Iglesia

Olga de la Iglesia is a Barcelona-based photographer and art director whose work explores fashion through primary colours and shapes. Olga works both on commissioned and personal projects. She also writes, and from time to time, she paints and does collages.
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