Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Jesuit Missions and Samaipata--vacation week

After five weeks of class, we all had the chance to visit the mission towns of Bolivia, in the lowlands of Eastern Bolivia (read, hot and semi-humid). It´s been a few weeks since the vacation, but I figured it´s about time to fill ya´ll in on what we did.

First: "It [the mission towns] name comes from the indigenous region of Bolivia where the Spanish Jesuits developed a large part of Evangelism during the Colonial Period, in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in 1992, was included in the list of the Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad (Patrimony of Humanity) by UNESCO. The major attractions of this region are its churches, architectural jewels guarded by different villages which still possess interesting cultural manifestations from the period of the Missions. The Missions represented the Christian voice in the middle of this savage world. This region remained hidden for nearly two centuries until the release of the movie "La Mission", which awoke interest in the region and made it internationally known (http://bolivia.gotolatin.com/eng/Attr/htm/Bolivia-Misiones.asp)." The Jesuits were expelled from these regions and much later the Fransicians came and claimed these mission towns, which are now run by this order. That´s just for a small piece of background information, it is by no means all of what these towns are about, but it´s a start.

The trip started bright and early as we took a quick flight into Santa Cruz, the semi-tropical and hip city of Bolivia. We hopped on an air-conditioned bus, which was slightly larger than a 15 passenger van, and headed for our first stop in San Javier, where we were welcomed with an amazing Baroque concert put on by the children of the town. I cannot even begin to describe the quality of this concert. When I think of children putting on a concert, I tend to think of a cute, amateur production, but there was nothing amateur about these kids in San Javier, it was like we were at the symphony. Not to mention the spectacular church we were in, which has been renovated and is beautiful. I forgot to mention the restaurant that we ate lunch at, had 2 toucans, which were quite a sight to see. I kept thinking to myself, where are the fruitloops when you need them? Next stop: Concepción-the city with the sweet hotel pool, it truly was like a lagoon and a giant reprieve from the cramped bus ride. This hotel also had an orchid garden, which was full of indegiindigenouses to Bolivia, incredibly beautiful. We didn´t see much in Concepción this time around as we quickly headed for San Ignacio. There, we once again saw the church with it´s beautiful wood carvings, but also celebrated mass there, to be greeted afterwards by a peace gathering. Everyone was waving white flags and repeating the prayer of Saint Francis of Asis. After the tour in San Ignacio, we headed for a loop around three other mission towns: San Miguel, San Rafael and Santa Ana. At each place it was like we were in another world. These towns are all incredibly small, but each has a distinct character. For example; the church in Santa Ana was so simple in comparassion to the other towns, it seemed more down to earth and humble. We also toured a wood carving factory if you will, where the local children go and learn how to restore the churches and also make jewlery boxes, crosses, and angels. These kids have amazing talent and I ended up buying myself a jewlery box. After that tour of the small pueblos, it was back to Concepción, again the pool (yes!). This was probably my favorite church becuase of the extensive work in remoldeling it. There has been much time and effort put into making this church a work of art. It was there that the stations of the cross have been repainted, making the crucifixion relevant to the lives of Bolivians. These painting depicted Bolivians crucifying Jesus, yet it also depicted how they are using slash and burn agriculture (which is destryoing the forests) in relation to the crucifiction. Simply fastinating. After our worldwind tour, we made a quick stop at Las Piedras (the rock formations) and headed back to Santa Cruz for the night.

A few of us decided to extend our stay in Santa Cruz and ended up heading to Samaipata, a semi-tropical region of Bolivia, full of archeological sights and things to see and do. We stayed there two wonderful nights in the cutest hostel and were able to see Las Cuevas, the waterfalls, which was a really fun hike to the top as we looked down into the pool of water. We also went to the national park, La Fuerte, which is a world heritage sight. "The archaeological site of Samaipata consists of two parts: the hill with its many carvings, believed to have been the ceremonial centre of the old town (14th–16th centuries), and the area to the south of the hill, which formed the administrative and residential district. The huge sculptured rock, dominating the town below, is a unique testimony to pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs, and has no parallel anywhere in the Americas (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/883)." We walked all around the giant carved rock, saw where they had their houses and where they offered sacrifices to the gods, truly an interesting experience. It was then back to Santa Cruz and back to Cochabamaba to start classes once again, but it was truly a wonderful week exploring the diverse country of Bolivia. It´s crazy to think Bolivia is home to the Andes mountains and also a jungle, pre-incan ruins (el Fuerte) and much more that I have yet to see. I better get a move on it, there´s not much time left here in Bolivia!

So, that was my vacation week from classes. It was weird to get back to my house and have my host family tell me how much they missed me, yet at the same time, I was ready to get back to the normal routine of going to school and improving my spanish skills. Overall, the more of Bolivia that I have gotten to know, the more I realize how fortunate I am to be here studying. Everyday I realize that I am so lucky to be here and so lucky to have a family who supports me not matter what. Basically I am a lucky girl, forunate in every way.

More to come, hopefully soon! :-) chao! Natalie