From La Clementina to La Mama Grande

Text by Karla

Photos by Ivan, Caro and Karla

During the last blue moon in August, fifteen foot flames ate up our home.  What is left of the hundred-year-old hacienda house named La Clementina, still sits on the edge of the Cañón del Chiche. At the bottom of it, the river with the same name snakes through muscular Andean mountains. Two months after the fire, I finally find the courage to write about it, my heart beating at the level of my throat.

I miss it. I probably always will.



The natives of America call it grandfather fire, because it’s wise and older than humanity itself.  The grandfather filled up its lungs with air and decided to ignite with one blazing blow all of our physical memories. In twenty minutes, it all turned to dust. Years of collecting masks, cups, heart shaped rocks, postcards, spears, sea shells, journals, drawings, movies, magnets, poison darts, feathers, ponchos, blow guns, photo books, coins, skulls, dead insects, saints, devils, photos…  I guess we liked collecting. All of a sudden, you become clean of everything. You feel like you were given a blank canvas, like a new born baby. And you feel sad and glad.



You would think the worse part about the fire was losing your “stuff.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t. There was deeper damage that went beyond what is replaceable with a trip to the mall. It started creeping on us slowly.  We ignored it and went on with life. We found a new home, bought new clothes and logged into our facebook accounts. But it just wasn’t the same. We were pissed and depressed. To the point of wanting to scream, escape, break up, or sleep… just sleep.  I lost a lot of my archive.. so I didn’t feel like shooting.. ever. We were living inside a dark, burnt-down dimension. The foundations of our relationship had been shaken. And we didn’t feel like asking for help, we just mourned in silence.



Recently, I went to La Clementina to visit my ex neighbors who have become like family to us. The house was clean of all our stuff, no debris, just house again. I walked through all the familiar rooms trying to find our smell. It wasn’t there anymore. Just cold empty rooms. There was a huge hole were our bed had been. The wind sang to me of old times that were no more. As the night fell, we built our own fire in the garden and sat under the avatar-looking tree. I looked across the garden at the dark and silent house. Through the broken windows you could see the ghosts of all times sliding from one room to another. I decided I didn’t want to live inside the burnt house with them anymore. I asked the moon for clarity.


I feel like I can finally move forward. Our new home was named after a grandmother, La Mama Grande. Its small and cozy and reminds me of a womb. Its a good place to heal and with it new neighbors have come and the bonds are getting strong. Our cats are finally home with us again (they went wild and almost left us for the canyon) and they seem peacefully content in their space. Today we leave to shoot a story we have been working on for some time. It feels good. A day at a time as they say. Good thing your house only burns down once in a blue moon. :)


17 Responses

  1. Jim McNay

    Karla – Sorry to hear about the loss of your home. It looks like it was a lovely place. I can only imagine how you will miss it.

    Thanks for writing about this and for posting the pictures.

    Jim McNay

  2. Dr. Froedrick

    Wow. Its so devasted. so sad. everything burned. Except that neighborhood kid.

  3. Daniel von Wetter

    Karla, the way you write about the whole experience is so sad yet so beautiful as well. I commend you on coming through the fire to see the light (pun intended:)!!).

  4. Diego Villarroel E.

    Ufff !! buenas fotos, incendio devastador, libros y fotos consumidas, fuerte…

  5. manuela botero

    Karla: qué heavy, y que poética tu forma de entenderlo. Esta es una historia gráfica con mucha fuerza. Toda mi solidaridad. Manuela

    • Gracias Manuela por tomarte el tiempo de leer y de responder.. A los años!! Ojalá podamos vernos algún rato, para acordarnos de las cabezas reducidas.. jeje que miedo! Un abrazote.

  6. Victor Gachet

    Karlita hijita querida: Con Michelle hemos visto y leido lo que resumes de una situacion que estuvo fuera de control; esta en nuestras mentes, ademas documentado de manera objetiva, el resultado fisico del desastre, pero gracias a tu caracter, a mirar siempre adelante , continuaras dando el afecto y el calor a las personas que te amamos, que admiramos la incesante denuncia grafica de los grupos sociales marginados. Te queremos mucho.

  7. Eduardo

    Karlita, con la cara al viento, lo trágico se volvió un poema en estas fotos. Un abrazo para Ivan También

  8. It is amazing how resilient we–human beings are. I remember the day we got the call. Karla and I were in the middle of one of our sister-to-sister talks. All I could think of was of “the right” thing to say or do to take her pain away. There was nothing. There were feelings, thoughts, and the shock of how in a few hours, Karla and Ivan’s lives had changed without a plan, without an invitation. After a few hours, I surrendered. After having had my share of running away from uncomfortable feelings for many years, I finally understand that pain and loss are simply part of our journey in this life. There is just no way around them-they are life! If you pretend you don’t hurt or you have some magical way to protect yourself, sooner or later “darkness” will creep up into your life. Then and only then you will understandand that there is no point in running away anymore. Hopefully, you will give yourself permission to accept and why not embrace darkness or painful feelings. Life is like the ocean: sometimes tranquil and beautiful and sometimes turbulent and scary. The more you choose to open up your heart and mind, the more you will experrience both. I love you KK.

    • It was nice to just lay in bed with you.. and then in the grass outside with Bella and Bri.. and then doing a circle with all the girls. All those memories will always be with me <3

  9. Juan Carlos Gachet

    La experiencia de la Clementina tiene que perderse en el pasado de alguna manera, sometimes we can not control things of this nature. Your description is deep and graphic…just like a ghost, it was there for a certain time and suddenly it is not anymore. I feel sorry for you and Ivan, but the material things are recoverable. You should be glad that nothing happened to you or your husband. I’m glad you were far away in the States, and thanks for dropping by in Tenneesee to visit Michelle and cousin Juan Carlos.
    Ahora si, bienvenida sea la Mama Grande keeping your head up looking to the front and future, you got Ivan, family and friends who will be looking after you no matter what. You got a promising career ahead of you and that talent will take you anywhere you want to be. Good luck Karlita.

    Dr. Juan Gachet

  10. andres estrella

    dios puso en tus manos un gran don ….prima lograste hacer de este desastre un arte fuerzas prima estamos contigo

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