A Travellerspoint blog

Pueblos Unidos

sunny 30 °C

While my clothes are drying on the laundry line after having washed my dusty pants about 5 times, it is definitely time to sit down and write about my visit to Pueblos Unidos. This is a community up in the north of the Santa Cruz department, on the border of the Guarayos and Obispo Santistevan province. José and I left on Thursday afternoon and arrived in a town called san Pedro a couple of hours before sundown, so we decided to stay the night there and then continue up to Peta Grande the next day. The next morning however, the bus to Canandoa (from where we would take another bus to Peta Grande) arrived an hour early and though Jose and I did hear a bus honking, we didn’t really connect the dots at that point and therefore missed our bus… The next bus would leave late in the afternoon and we wanted to arrive in Pueblos Unidos while the sun was still up so we decided to hitchhike… After a couple of hours a guy, with a big van and his wife, daughter and granddaughter in the back, said he would take us to Canandoa, but that he had to fix a couple of things really quick there in San Pedro… “just a couple of minutes….”

We had already found out before that Bolivians have a very own perception of time and distance but for some reason we keep thinking that when they mean five minutes it actually is going to be five minutes, maybe 10 to 15… but five minutes sometimes actually means hours and after having taken care of his business, the guy concluded that it was past noon and that it would be smart to have lunch first… So Jose and I said goodbye and took a moto-taxi. The driver of the moto-taxi had already offered us a good deal earlier and in the end we decided to accept it. After a couple of hours of bumpy, dusty motorcycle ride, our legs and behinds were sore and we decided not to go all the way up to Peta Grande in one go, so we stayed the night in Canandoa. Finding a place to stay there was interesting, since it was quite a small town with no hostels or anything of the kind. We ended up staying at the local medical post, where two beds were ready for us, surrounded by IVs and syringes. The beds were obviously clean and we were especially happy that it was insect free. All of this was more than we actually expected to be sleeping on that night and we would have been content with a lot less, so it was a pleasant surprise. The local school teacher gave us the authorization to be able to stay there and he asked if we would like to address the school children about what we were doing there and where we were from. We managed to change that plan a little bit luckily, since neither of us is good at public speaking at all, although it would have been cool to be able to say that we did it, wouldn’t it…? chickens, I know...

The next morning at dawn, two moto taxi drivers we had met the evening before, picked us up for the last stretch to Pueblos Unidos (PU). Peta Grande was the last reasonably sized town before PU, so we stopped there for breakfast and repeated the usual conversation we have had a million times in the past months, a couple of times more. We arrived in PU around 10 AM. The motorcycles left us on the shore of the Rio Grande, which is the natural border between Guarayos and Obispo Santistevan. An incredibly shy and giggly girl crossed us over to PU, where we were greeted by a couple of kids. We asked the first man we ran into if he knew if and where we would be able to stay the night and if we could ask a couple of people some questions. Since the community has had quite a turbulent history and has had to deal with violent attacks a couple of times, we weren’t surprised the reception was a bit cold and that we weren’t trusted at first. The head of the community was out in the field when we arrived, and the man that was left in charge was clearly uncomfortable with that task. He showed us where we could possibly stay the night and asked us to stay there until the real director was back so he could give his final authorization. We sat on our porch and greeted people passing by, a couple of who came to introduce themselves.

Before our meeting with the community’s dirigentes, Jose and I played a game of football/soccer with about 30 kids. It was absolute chaos and Jose and I were exhausted afterwards, but it was great fun. A couple of kids followed us around everywhere and a few really won me over. In the evenings the community sat around the only tv in the village, watching a telenovela and a movie until about 22:00. All kids would sit on the floor up front, mesmerized by the TV and the grownups on chairs behind them. Now and then a boy would punch the one next to him (and gees, did they hit each other hard sometimes) but it was really quite a heartwarming scene.

Our neighbors became our best friends and I was actually quite sad we had to leave after 2 days. This is definitely a kind of project I would like to repeat. The village was more developed than I had expected it to be and although they had some problems that needed solutions, there is definitely hope for these people. I’d love to go back in a couple of years to see what they made of their plans.

The ride back was just as humpybumpy, though we took a bus from Canandoa to Montero, which was a little more comfortable than the motorcycle-option (but less fun obviously).

While I am writing this it is starting to sink in that it may possibly be my last blog from Bolivia, since I will be flying back in a couple of days…… Time really does fly, but this time I am not as sad, since I am sure I will be back.

Un abrazo.

Posted by Evita 10:56 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Día de la Patría

just another episode from the Bolivian soap

semi-overcast 27 °C

Lately, I have been busy with not much other than my investigation, which is advancing steadily. I am now working on it with my Dutch friend, Jose, and it is great to brainstorm with her and to be able to complain to someone once in a while, when frustrations get in our way. Although I am still fascinated by my topic, my days aren’t filled with the kind of exciting stuff I can write about on a daily basis, so that’s why I have been writing less frequently.

The last couple of days have been interesting though. The sixth of August is Bolivia’s Independence Day, or Dia de la Patria. In Santa Cruz this obviously has a different feeling than in other cities, but the national anthem was sung proudly nonetheless and the red, yellow and green flag was omnipresent. Jose and I watched the parade at the plaza and soon discovered that aside from the flags and the national army being there, it was all really about honoring departmental organizations and businesses.

Santa Cruz’ prefect, Ruben Costas, went ahead in the parade and was applauded by the public, as were successful civil and social organizations, like the ones focusing on providing meals for school children or wheelchairs for disabled people. Jose was especially amazed by the fact that cruceño organizations like the local telephone company were represented as well. They were applauded for nothing other than being Camba companies, making the Cruceño autonomy plea possible, I guess. Nobody spoke a word about the joy of being free and independent. Bolivia’s greatest merit seemed to be the fact that it encloses the city of Santa Cruz and it’s rural areas.

Even a festive day like Dia de la Patria, has been turned into a political statement day. Jose compared it to days like valentine’s day, or mother’s day in Holland/Europe, where the initial topics of love and affection, have been placed on a secondary level, and commercial motivations are what keeps them alive. But who cares, right? A day off is a day off. :)

On this day, Evo thought it would be a good idea to visit Sucre, where he has little credit due to some police killings after a riot recently. His mission was to reconcile with the Sucreños and take a step towards unifying the country once more. The crowd in Sucre however, never gave him a chance. They started chanting anti-Evo songs and yelling that he was not welcome there. The police declared they could not guarantee his safety as the crowd grew louder, causing him to flee the scene before speaking a word.

Was he too optimistic in thinking he could charm his way through so much resistance? Did he not know the extent of the opposition he would be facing there? Did he really come to reconcile? Was the angry crowd summoned by Morales’ political opponents? As always, there are more questions than answers…

With his body still pumping with adrenaline and anger, Evo gave a rash press conference and pointed his finger at the Sucreño press, saying that this orchestrated madness just made their town look bad and that it didn’t harm him in any way, that he would most likely be reelected in December and that he would come back in the near future. The prime minister, Alvaro Garcia Linera, then gave an reckless speech of his own, making things even worse… All the officials that were interviewed afterwards only added to the insanity, using extremely strong language and creating an atmosphere that, in my opinion, is potentially dangerous.

And even though the day had started with calls for unity and newspapers honoring their homeland in different ways, just the day before Evo Morales had surprised us all with one of his incredibly unwise remarks. He had made a statement, proposing the Wiphala to be present beside the national flag on Independence Day in all departments. The Wiphala is a colorful, checkered flag that represents the indigenous peoples of the country, although it is mostly used in the Andes region and hardly ever by lowland Indians. In recent times, this flag has become a symbol of the governing MAS-party. You would assume he is aware of the tensions in his own country and that he would know such a remark would spark protests in this part of the country, but for some reason he just keeps presenting his opponents with easy reasons to hate him even more…

And when people are already accusing you of wanting to take everything away from the middle and upper classes and bringing the indigenous population on top in dictatorial fashion, why would you bring something up like the wiphala? The atmosphere was just settling down a bit, after he had upset the Cambas last month by saying they should change their departmental anthem. He said it was offensive to the nation because it included a line, honoring the Spanish heritage. According to him the colonial heritage was a painful one and should not be honored in an anthem… Since the percentage of Spanish descendants in this part of the country is relatively high though, such a line does not seem out of place and it really isn’t that offensive at all. The Dutch National Anthem also includes lines on our German and Spanish connections, even though we have had painful encounters in the past with these very same countries as well. And the second world war was a lot more recent than anything the Spaniards ever did to Bolivia. So Morales’ remark sparked inevitable and foreseeable new protests and the departmental government hung an enormous Cruceño flag on a building at the central plaza, saying “Our anthem is sacred”.

It’s almost as if people are addicted to drama. Too many telenovelas. Or are those soaps really art imitating life…?

I could go on and one about this, but I think I will just stop right here. I’ll try to make my next blog a more optimistic one…

Seeya later.

Posted by Evita 10:16 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Memory lane

Cochabamba & La Paz

sunny 25 °C

My initial plan was to work on my investigation untill beginning of august at least, and then head to La Paz en Cochabamba to visit all the buddies from the 20th century. However, my supervisor sent me an email advising me to reconsider my case in Guarayos, and since he is kind of right, I decided to go to Cbba and La Paz now and then work hard the last 5 weeks.

So last wednesday I took the bus from Sta Cruz to Cochabamba, overnight. I arrived in Cbba at six in the morning and strolled to the city center to find a hostel. I found a nice little place, took a small nap and a shower and then headed into town. I went up to the Cristo de la Concordia by cable car, which didn´t exist when I used to live there, and is a great improvement. The whole town seemed to have developed alot and it was GREAT walking through it´s streets and remembering things from my childhood every time I turned a corner. I also visited some museums, making my first 2 days in Cochabamba more cultural than my entire stay in Santa Cruz, which doesn´t really have much to offer in that aspect... I also went to Quillacollo and the pilgrimage place of Urkupiña. Cochabamba has a special place in my heart, definitely...

After a couple of days of lovely weather and food in Cochabamba, I went to La Paz, which celebrates it´s 200 year independence this year and has organized all sort of festivities. There was a big parade with folkloric dance, la entrada Universitaria, which I enjoyed to the fullest. I took more than 400 pictures and still felt the rythm of the drums in my chest when I was laying in my bed that night.

I stayed in the house of doña Estela, one of the sweetest ladies on this planet. She was our empleada during the 6 years that we lived in La Paz, and allthough her job was to clean our house, she became part of our family, as did her children. It was great seeing them again and laughing at the crazy things they remembered I did as a kid and all the sweet memories.

I just arrived from the 17 hour bus drive back from La Paz to Sta Cruz and there are so many small details I enjoyed that I would love to share with you guys, if only I could just stick my finger in the USB drive, and upload it all... but my brain just isn´t functioning right now, and the different languages on my harddrive are starting to mess with my brain, so I´m keeping it a little shorter than normal. I´m sure many of you don´t mind, and those of you that are interested can ask me about it on another occasion.

Time is flying by and I will have to work hard the next couple of weeks to be able to head back with the information I need to write a decent thesis. I have already collected all sorts of impressions but I could study the situation for many months more, because there is still so much to understand.

In December there will be elections here, which will be crucial for the future of this country. Obviously, elections always are, but in this case even more so.

OK guys, I´m turning the lights down low and closing my eyes for a while...

Posted by Evita 08:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Ascencion de Guarayos

semi-overcast 27 °C

Ascencion de Guarayos is the capital of a province called Guarayos, where indigenous people live called Guarayos who speak a language called Guarayo. That part is pretty simple. The first conversation I had after dropping my bags at the hotel, demonstrated how complex this place really is though.

I arrived in the evening after a 5,5 hour drive from Santa Cruz and was happy to find a place where they made good anticucho, a meal I remember being one of my favorites, but hadn´t eaten in 13 years. I loved the meal but was especially intrigued by the conversations I had while eating it.

A guy stepped over to my table and started the usual conversation: where are you from, oh holland... How interesting, I have a relative/friend there, what are you doing here, what´s your name, are you single, etc... The guy had a logging company (main source of income around here, for as long as it lasts) and exported his wood to all over the world. Then, a group of ladies arrived, who looked too fancy to be wanting to sit on a street corner on plastic chairs eating grilled cow heart, but they did so nonetheless... The guy I was talking to, knew them and introduced me to one of the ladies, who happened to work with foreign students. She had some girls from Austria in her house in Sta Cruz at this moment, who were also here for their thesis investigation, just like me, and she offered to help me with anything if I ever needed it, so that was a pleasant surprise.
Then, we started discussing the situation in the Guarayos region and one of the ladies reacted quite strongly and I soon discovered why. She was a large landowner, who lived in Santa Cruz and was visiting her property with some of her girlfriends. She asked me my name and said, "Eva.... like Eva Braun?"

I was kind of put off by her question, since I was used to getting semi-funny remarks from Bolivians ("If you´re Eva then my name must be Adam", etc), refering to my biblical counterpart, and never to Adolf Hitler´s wife. The lady then told me her father was from Germany and that he had bought the property when he came to Bolivia about 60 years ago... This info, together with her previous remark, allowed me to understand what kind of (cliche) person I was dealing with... Her friends were a little more nuanced but she kept on assuring me that Evo Morales is gay and that that just shows you how rotten the man must be deep down inside. No moral, no dignity, pure evil. Very interesting...

The next day I visited a lady who was also originally from Sta Cruz, but strongly supported the campesino-community (which consists of Guarayos, but also of many Kolla migrants) and held meetings and rallies at her residence. She also had a little shack in her backyard from where radio programs where broadcasted. She recieved anonymous threats on a regular basis and her radio station had been looted a couple of days before my arrival. The more I found out, the more confusing it all got. It seems to be everyone against everyone here. She said I should go talk to COPNAG, the organization that represents the Guarayos, but that I should go to the office across the street from the market. There was also another office beside the hospital, but that was "the other COPNAG".

Apparently the large landowners don´t work together on anything because nobody really gets along or wishes to work together. The small farmers are divided between longtime locals and migrants, who all have different ideas about how the land should be worked. Loggers were divided between the environmentally friendlier ones and the ones that just want to maximize their profits. And the one group that I thought would be pretty much on the same page, the Guarayo people themselves, were represented by this COPNAG, which split in two a couple of years ago... just about when Evo Morales came to power. I won´t ellaborate on the whole history of the situation, but I´m sure you understand my slight desperation as I dig further into the issue...

The next day, while checking my email at the local internet cafe, a redheaded American and two British sat at the computers beside me and started complaining about how slow their computers were, even though they had asked the lady at the counter to give them the fastest one. I told them that there was really no such thing as fast computers here and that it was just a matter of patience. The Americano looked startled and told me he didn´t expect to find someone who spoke English there. I told him he should learn another language if he didn´t want to be understood but he assured me that he hadn´t run into english speakers for a while... Apparently there is a wildlife sanctuary about 15 km from Ascencion, where 30 to 40 (!) volunteers from all over the world work with big cats and monkeys. They worked there as well, and had come into town to check the interwebz, which they didn´t have access to from the sanctuary. Their accomodation didn´t even have electricity.

The dude said he had been travelling for about 8 months but was going back to the States next week. I asked him how his journey had been and to my complete surprise, the guy told me he hadn´t really enjoyed it!!! He loved the landscapes and everything, but hated the way the people were treating it, how they treated their kids, the flora and the fauna. He had met very few nice Bolivians, though he admitted it was actually something he could apply to all of South America. He said he had lost all respect for the people and was glad to go back home............. I was completely baffled and thought about this conversation for a long time, before I could fall sleep....... I kind of.... slightly.... maybe.... understand what he means.... I mean, sure, I see skinny dogs on the streets, dirty kids with no shoes on, birds in small cages, horses with bad hooves and heavy loads on their backs and streets full of garbage.... but still... I still can not not enjoy being here....

pff.... confusion.... ... ...

Posted by Evita 13:08 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Pork chops and pop concerts


semi-overcast 20 °C

After having lost my previous blog entry due to a connection problem, I kind of lost inspiration to rewrite it, but since some small but fun things have happened that I think are worth sharing, I will force myself to rewrite it.

First of all I wanted to tell you about my new home. As I wrote in my previous blog, I am now living with doña Nancy and don Mario, a couple that rents out about 5 bedrooms to Bolivian students upstairs and 3 downstairs, which is where my room also is situated. All rooms face the central patio, where people can wash and dry their clothes, play with the dog, or just chill. Next to the front gate, in a room that was presumably once built as the garage, is doña Nancy’s grocery shop. This room is divided in two areas by a big cabinet with shelves. The front part, facing the street, is obviously where clients from the neighborhood come in to buy their groceries and catch up on the latest gossip, which doña Nancy meticulously keeps track of. The area behind the cabinet is a common area where the other tenants, many of who have found a second mom in doña Nancy, sit down after school and keep her company for a while, before heading up to their rooms.

Since I don’t really have that much stuff with me and don’t have my own tableware, pots and pans, doña Nancy takes special care of me. The fact that I am foreign also makes me an interesting object to have in the shop, so she can brag to her neighbors and clients about how she took me in and saved me from the dangerous outside world… In the mornings she calls my name into the patio and yells that there is water ready in the thermos. I then shuffle over to the common area and drink tea and eat whatever she presents me, while watching Chapulin Colorado, or another program from the Chespirito-series. Don Mario and her go to the market every morning at 5:30 to buy bread, empanadas and tasty stuff like cuñapé and salty rice bread.

Don Mario is a really endearing guy, who has been driving a taxi all his life but now put it for sale and is working on the paperwork to retire. He looks younger than he really is and I wonder if he’s really ready to stop working, but he told me he wants to be close to his Nancy a little more, so she’s not alone all day…. How sweet is that…? In a way he reminds me of Richard, from Keeping up Appearances, you know? The husband of the bucket woman, aka Mrs. Bouquet? He’s a pretty smart guy too, the only Camba, up till now that I have been able to discuss politics with, without having to bite my tongue (too much). Doña Nancy usually asks me a question about how this and that works in Europe, but I always see her attention fade after about 2 sentences (mostly because that’s when the commercials finish and it’s time to refocus on the telenovela), so I try to keep my answers short and simple with her.

When everyone else is out, the dog keeps her company; a sweet little cocker spaniel named Linda. And last but not least, there is Piquito. Piquito lives in a kitchen cupboard and I didn’t know he existed until one day I wanted to make some tea for myself and was looking for the kettle. I opened the cupboard and was greeted (which was more like attacked) by a little green parakeet. The little door doesn’t completely cover the entrance of the cupboard, so he can hop in and out as he pleases and sometimes he walks over to the shop to get something to eat and the rest of the time he just hangs out in the kitchen. His wings have been clipped and I kind of feel sorry for the little fellow, even though pet birds kind of scare me, but I sit down in the kitchen with him once in a while, when I’m waiting for the water to boil, and share my tangerines with him.

Last weekend Doña Nancy invited me to come to her grandson’s first communion and asked me if I could help her bake the cake, which of course wasn’t a problem, though she has a way of saying things that doesn’t really leave you with an alternative… :P It was a nice way of getting to know the other people in the house, who she had also “invited” to help her out. Sunday morning we all crammed ourselves into Don Mario’s old taxi and drove over to the church, where a bunch of white gowned kids were posing for the cameras, with their hands folded. As the godparents of the grandson in question, Doña Nancy and Don Mario, were special guests.

The church ceremony was conducted by the funniest priest I have seen in my life. He was a guy from Japanese descent, and though his Spanish was ok, he still had a Japanese rhythm in his speech, which at times made the sermon sound like an Asian action movie. Though I thought it was hilarious, everyone else seemed to think it was quite normal, so I tried to keep my giggles down as best as I could… After having soaked up a healthy portion of praise-the-lords and Amens, it was time to celebrate. Family and friends all came over to the house, where a tremendous amount of meat was ready to be prepared on the BBQ and eaten, along with the salads and cake we had made earlier. Hallelujah! Hail to the best pork chops ever…. After lunch, we helped clean up a bit and all went back to our rooms, though a couple of doña Nancy’s friends stayed up until the early hours, sipping an interesting mix of red wine and coca cola and giggling at anything that moved.

Another interesting thing that happened to me was Marc Anthony’s concert, last week. All the newspapers have been writing about it for weeks and everyone was super excited about it, so I reckoned it was sold out the minute ticket sales opened… So Thursday afternoon, when I was having lunch, I saw the waitresses watching Marc Anthony videos on YouTube and I asked them if they were going to the concert. They told me they were and after a short conversation they said I should definitely come and that I should go get a ticket immediately so we could go together… And that’s what I did! It was a madhouse at the stadium and the concert was great. I’m not even a fan of his music but everything is different when you see an artist perform live, and you get to feel the intense atmosphere. Loved it.

And oyah, I also got some work done. :P I spoke with a guy from an organization called CIPCA, which is a 10 minute walk from where I live. When I called, the guy, Ramiro Valle Mandepora, told me he would have time until 12:00 but when I arrived (at 10:45) he said he unexpectedly had a meeting in 10 minutes, but that he would have time after 12:00, that he wouldn’t be going out to lunch and that we could talk then. So I went down to their library and sat there for a while, until Don Ramiro invited me into his office. The people he had had a meeting with had brought him a bag of coca leaves as a token of their appreciation and if I ever see him again I think I might bring a little something as well because he was very helpful. He talked for an hour and a half and promised me he would send me an email if he had any information that he thought could be useful for me. He also told me a bit about his own background, which was quite impressive. If I would have known more about him before the interview, I probably would’ve asked him different things, but my brain was sated with all the info he had just given me so I didn’t dare ask him any more. Maybe next time.

My main focus now is to organize my next trip out of town and into the campo. I have decided the region of Guarayos up north and el Chaco further down in the department, will be my main areas of focus, and I hope I can find an organization to take me there sometime next week. There are some things in the pipeline and I will let you know when I know what the destination is going to be exactly.

That’s all I’ve got for now. This blog is nothing like the one I wrote last time but it pretty much says it all. Un abrazo.

Posted by Evita 14:56 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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