Guanacaste: Life Portraits

Children dance to celebrate the start of the corridas

There is a Chinese proverb that says that a book is like a garden carried in the pocket. One assumes this refers to what the end-user, aka, the reader, should feel.  For me, publishing the photo book Guanacaste: Life Portraits, was like a garden bursting from infinite pockets of the mind.

The book, without it or me knowing, was in the making for years.  Thousands of images, of myriad slices of life, were recorded in digital bytes.  These images were the seeds that would grow the beauteous gardens.  The photographs sometimes started out as chores, as when I would drive for hours in the thick of Guanacaste’s heat to find a tilapia farm to photograph, or when I would leave the house in darkness, drive across swollen creeks and bump along roads that had been washed away by torrential downpours, just to catch a glimpse of the Olive Ridley turtles’ arrival at Ostional.

Olive Ridley turtles return to the sea after nesting on the beach

But therein lies the beauty of both photography and Guanacaste:  life unfolds in surprising and unimaginable ways, and where fish fry did not make the book, that tiring assignment gave me the image of a man charging the plains atop a white horse with roseate birds flying above him.  That sublime moment became the first photograph in my book.  And my arrival at Ostional in the luminous dawn, coincided with the arribada of thousands of Olive Ridleys, and the unexpected birthing of baby turtles.  Those miraculous moments—the end and the beginning of a cycle repeated over millennia—are some of the gardens tended into the pages of my book.

A rider charges across the plains to scare the birds away from the fish-breeding lagoons

One by one, the images were captured becoming parts of the whole:  the sabanero riding his bike (instead of a horse) into a cloud of dust, colored gold by the afternoon sun;  men nicknamed ‘crocodile hunters’ hoisting a live crocodile in triumph; a girl of dark, mesmerizing beauty, flicking her long braided hair in step to the rhythm inherited from Spanish, Indian and Black ancestors; a mammoth of a bull suspended above a fallen rider with the grace of a feather;  and a man well into his eighties whose face is creased like a dried lake bed.

Villagers raise their trophey in triumph after a full day's hunting

Each photograph, witnessed with a sense of wonder, conjures up a land of deep cultural roots and astonishing natural beauty.  Each photograph was a personal garden in the making; I didn’t only take an image of a religious procession in Santa Cruz—I too walked alongside the effigy of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, stepping into the history of a province where a legacy of faith keeps its people united since the 16th Century.  I didn’t only photograph yet another corrida in a little town called Cañafístula—I attended the festivities to celebrate 100 years of the Hacienda La Pinta, where many of the fiercest bulls where born, and where it’s owner, Martin Vallejo Arrieta still rues the fracturing of the land by roads and cars.

Bullrider Angel Mendez tries to protect himself from the bull's charge

And then, there is the magic of unspoiled nature, as surprising to the human eye, as to the camera:  schools of mullets leaping into the air like flashes of silver above the blue ocean, a humpback whale frolicking with its offspring in the waters near the shore, the downpours of the tropics falling like heavy wet snow on the humps of cattle, and the Guanacaste sunsets, each one unique and more intriguing than the last.

All these experiences satisfy the soul, filling one’s pockets with the white fragrant flowers of the frangipani trees, the soulful music of the marimba and a bird’s eye view of pristine beaches and untouched estuaries.

The book Guanacaste: Life Portraits contains many a garden, and through the support of Sugar Beach Hotel, the book has reached many an audience.

–Zoraida Diaz

To find out how you can purchase a copy of Guanacaste: Life Portraits by Zoraida Diaz please contact or access the Live Chat on our home page.