statcounter

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

New York Times article: In the Mountains of Bolivia, by Michael Benanav

Below is a New York Times article on Bolivia, perhaps the best every published in that paper on Bolivia, we look forward to more like this. It is by Michael Benanav, published on  23 March 2016, titled  "In the Mountains of Bolivia: Encounters with Magic."

 
With a face as creased as a walnut shell and a smile as gleeful as it was toothless, 98-year-old Augustina Lamagril welcomed us into the small shop inside her adobe home. Rickety wooden shelves were stocked with sardines, cigarettes, beer, soda, kitchen utensils, light bulbs and other household goods. Beneath posters of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, two metal-framed beds were heaped with blankets. From the ceiling — rice sacks that had been stapled together — the corpses of hummingbirds dangled from strings, drying.
In addition to being one of the few storekeepers in the village of Chaunaca, Augustina is one of the most highly regarded curanderas, or traditional healers, in the Cordillera de los Frailes, a serrated sub-range of the Andes in south-central Bolivia. Despite her remote location, the ill and the injured make their way to her door, traveling for hours or even days to get there. The dead birds were part of her natural pharmacy.
My girlfriend, Kelly; our 9-year-old son, Luke; and I, along with our guide and translator, Rogelio Mamani, were invited to sit on low stools. As a black and white cat padded around our feet, Augustina explained the uses of the plants and animal parts that she kept around the house. Speaking in Quechua, she said aloe was good for throat problems; rosemary could heal bones; rue was prescribed “when the wind makes you sick.” She held out an enamel pot half-full with beige powder — a combination of black corn, barley, wild herbs, frog and owl parts and bat blood. “Three drops of bat blood,” she said, “can cure heart problems.”
None of us required treatment, so we left the shop with bottles of water, a wool hat knit by Augustina, and a sense that we’d been very lucky to have had this encounter with a master of the old ways.
Chaunaca is on a well-established trekking route through the Cordillera de los Frailes, a jumbled geologic mass that rises just west of Sucre, Bolivia’s official capital, best known for its whitewashed Spanish colonial neighborhoods and universities. Though the edge of the mountains can be reached from the city in about an hour, the villages within them feel worlds away.
The scenery would have been enough to draw me to the cordillera, with its upthrust layers of multicolored sedimentary rock set around a crater that’s encircled by rugged river canyons. But I was equally intrigued by the indigenous Jalq’a people who live there and who are known for intricate weavings that represent a fantastical underworld filled with spirits and mythical animals. In the same way that a place like Varanasi exudes a distinctly Hindu aura, and Cairo is palpably Islamic, I wondered how it would feel to be in a place where the culture is strongly associated with strange, subterranean dreamscapes.welcomed us into the small shop inside her adobe home. Rickety wooden shelves were stocked with sardines, cigarettes, beer, soda, kitchen utensils, light bulbs and other household goods. Beneath posters of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, two metal-framed beds were heaped with blankets. From the ceiling — rice sacks that had been stapled together — the corpses of hummingbirds dangled from strings, drying.
In addition to being one of the few storekeepers in the village of Chaunaca, Augustina is one of the most highly regarded curanderas, or traditional healers, in the Cordillera de los Frailes, a serrated sub-range of the Andes in south-central Bolivia. Despite her remote location, the ill and the injured make their way to her door, traveling for hours or even days to get there. The dead birds were part of her natural pharmacy.
My girlfriend, Kelly; our 9-year-old son, Luke; and I, along with our guide and translator, Rogelio Mamani, were invited to sit on low stools. As a black and white cat padded around our feet, Augustina explained the uses of the plants and animal parts that she kept around the house. Speaking in Quechua, she said aloe was good for throat problems; rosemary could heal bones; rue was prescribed “when the wind makes you sick.” She held out an enamel pot half-full with beige powder — a combination of black corn, barley, wild herbs, frog and owl parts and bat blood. “Three drops of bat blood,” she said, “can cure heart problems.”
None of us required treatment, so we left the shop with bottles of water, a wool hat knit by Augustina, and a sense that we’d been very lucky to have had this encounter with a master of the old ways.
The scenery would have been enough to draw me to the cordillera, with its upthrust layers of multicolored sedimentary rock set around a crater that’s encircled by rugged river canyons. But I was equally intrigued by the indigenous Jalq’a people who live there and who are known for intricate weavings that represent a fantastical underworld filled with spirits and mythical animals. In the same way that a place like Varanasi exudes a distinctly Hindu aura, and Cairo is palpably Islamic, I wondered how it would feel to be in a place where the culture is strongly associated with strange, subterranean dreamscapes.
 
Though I’ve trekked alone in remote regions around the world, I decided to go into the cordillera with a guide. If I hoped to talk to local people, I would need help from someone fluent in Quechua, the area’s native language. Additionally, I had heard that some Jalq’a were extremely reluctant to be photographed (I met one French couple who had stones thrown at them when they aimed their cameras at people), and I figured I would have a better chance of shooting pictures without upsetting anyone if I was accompanied by a guide who had local connections. It also sounded as if walking the entire route with a backpack would be a daunting prospect for a 9-year-old, so I wanted vehicle support.
When I asked around about trekking companies in Sucre, travelers and locals alike pointed me in the same direction: Condor Trekkers. Their guides were reputed to be top-notch, and the company’s profits support projects in the cordillera communities. To me, this meant that not only would my money be helping the villagers, but that the guides were likely to have positive relationships with them.
I found the Condor Trekkers office inside the Condor Cafe, a restaurant run by the by the same nonprofit that is a magnet for travelers to Sucre, thanks to its cheap and delicious vegetarian food. There, I met the director, Alan Flores. After he described the standard two-, three- and four-day treks that Condor offers, we decided that none of them were right for us. With typical days involving eight or nine hours of strenuous hiking, Alan agreed that it would be no fun for my son. Additionally, I wanted to add an extra day to the four-day itinerary, so we could stay two nights in one place.
Alan said it would be no problem — just a bit more expensive — to be accompanied by a vehicle, reducing our hiking to about three or four hours a day and eliminating the need to carry our backpacks.
In early November, Rogelio met us at our hostel in Sucre, along with our driver, Luis Ibarra, known as Lucho, who was behind the wheel of a green Mitsubishi Montero. Rogelio was born in a village in the cordillera, and is Jalq’a himself. He was studying tourism, English and French in Sucre, and was Condor’s most experienced guide, having been with the company since it started in 2008.
Before we hit the trail, we stopped at a roadside stand to pick up bags of coca leaves. A mild natural stimulant that’s normally chewed or brewed as tea, and from which cocaine is derived, it’s considered to be a gift from the Inca sun god, Inti, and is the essential social currency of the region. “With coca, anything is possible,” Rogelio said.
 
We turned off the highway and followed a dirt road into the mountains, through pungent groves of pine and eucalyptus, until we reached a place called Chataquila, where a church sits atop the eastern ridge of the cordillera, at 11,800 feet above sea level. It was there, in 1781, that Tomas Katari, the leader of an indigenous rebellion against Spanish rule, was executed, adding to the spiritual and emotional potency of an important place of pilgrimage.
From there, we began hiking into the heart of the cordillera, down the so-called Inca Trail, which is believed to have been built about 550 years ago (though may be much older) and was used during pre-Hispanic times for communication and trade. Paved with smooth stones, it descends some 2,300 feet, switchbacking down rocky slopes speckled with cactuses and shrubby trees, into the Rio Ravelo canyon. Skies were sunny, and temperatures were in the upper 70s.
In two hours, we reached Chaunaca. A patchwork of fields — some blanketed with purple potato flowers, others sprouting young corn stalks, and many barren and brown, waiting to be planted — terraced the hills and spread out on a plateau that overlooked the river about 25 feet below. Most of the villagers were campesinos, working small family plots, perhaps keeping goats and sheep along with rabbits, guinea pigs and cows.
After lunch at a nearby waterfall and an exploration of the grounds of a magnificently derelict adobe hacienda once owned by the 26th president of Bolivia, Gregorio Pacheco, we checked on a new project that Condor Trekkers was funding. Three men were trying to hoist one end of a black polyethylene pipe from the riverbank up to the plateau. Their goal was to span the canyon with a drinking water line that would run from the main village to households across the gorge. “The families over there haul their water from the river, and sometimes it makes them sick,” said Benigno Romero, one of the workers, who also happened to be Chaunaca’s mayor.
Condor bought the materials and the village supplied volunteer labor; other crews would dig a trench to the village’s main well and lay the pipe to the homes that needed water. Mr. Romero explained that being mayor was also an unpaid position, and that he saw it as a privilege. Jalq’a people, he said, work together for the good of the whole, and would not expect payment for doing so. It was just part of life.
 
We spent the night in a community-run tourist cabana, several of which have been built in villages in the cordillera. All are variations on a theme: whitewashed stone walls, ceilings of wood and bamboo, liberal amounts of dust and dirt, and bathrooms with a variety of plumbing problems, but comfortable enough, and equipped with simple kitchens. Rogelio proved to be an enthusiastic and talented cook, improvising recipes around pasta, potatoes or quinoa.
Continue reading the main story
The next day, a combination of hiking and driving brought us to the village of Potolo, set in an undulating, Martian-red landscape at the base of a sharply hewed massif. One of the largest towns in the cordillera, Potolo is well-known for the weavings that women produce there.
Jalq’a weavings, called axsus, are made from sheep wool dyed black and red. In fact, the word Jalq’a means “two colors,” in reference to this distinctive palette. Few details are known about the evolution of Jalq’a weaving over the ages, but it’s clear that it was first used to decorate clothing before the idea of making tapestries took hold in the 1990s, when a Sucre-based nonprofit called Anthropologists of the Southern Andes (ASUR) began a program to revitalize Jalq’a textile traditions, which were on the verge of disappearing. It’s also known that, over the last few centuries, ancient geometric patterns were supplanted by representations of a psychedelic spiritual underworld called Ukhu Pacha.
Swirling chaotically across the tapestries, animals with wildly exaggerated features are shown alongside mythical creatures called khurus, which include hunchback dragons and griffin-like bird-things. Within larger animals, smaller animals — called uñas, or offspring — are woven, but earthly laws of biology don’t apply: Condors can give birth to cats, monsters can give birth to men.
According to the anthropologist Veronica Cereceda, the founder of ASUR, the Jalq’a believe that Ukhu Pacha is the locus of the world’s primordial creative energy, “a space of constant gestation of life,” which may stay in the underworld, or emerge into the surface world (Kay Pacha) or the sky (Janaq Pacha).
The ruler of Ukhu Pacha, who is often woven into the axsus, is a powerful spirit called Saxra or Supay. Often equated with the devil because of the location of his realm, Saxra is not evil, though he does have demonic aspects, derived in part from the fusion of Catholic ideas of hell with ancient Andean beliefs. If Saxra goes unappeased, he may kidnap people and bring them down to the underworld or cause mining accidents or other disasters. If the proper offerings are made — typically coca, liquor and cigarettes — Saxra can show people where to find silver and gold.
 
Though the underworld is a ubiquitous feature of the indigenous Andean cosmovision, the Jalq’a are the only people in Bolivia who depict it in their art. I was curious to talk to some of the weavers, so Rogelio led us to the homes of a few, including Juliana Choque, who looked to be about 30. She set her simple loom up against the wall of her adobe courtyard and began weaving finely spun yarn through the strands of the warp, adding to an axsu that was nearly finished. Ukha Pacha was taking shape before our eyes, and the effect was magical.
Juliana said that she had been taught to weave when she was 9 by her mother, who had learned her craft in workshops organized by ASUR in the early 1990s. While the motifs she works with are traditional, each design is unique, a product of her imagination.
Like other weavers I spoke with on the trip, Juliana said that, for her, weaving is not a spiritual act, it’s a purely artistic, and economic, one. There’s little doubt that the resurgence in Jalq’a weaving in recent decades owes much to the money that women earn from it.
If you’re interested in buying any weavings, as we did from Juliana (paying 900 Bolivianos — about $132 — for a medium-size piece), visit shops in Sucre before heading to the cordillera, to get a sense of what high-quality work and fair prices look like. A nonprofit cooperative of indigenous weavers called Inca Pallay runs a shop a block off Sucre’s main plaza, offering Jalq’a axsus and other regional textiles, as does the shop at ASUR’s excellent Museo de Arte Indigena.
It wasn’t hard to picture dinosaurs in the surrealistic setting that we were trekking through, with its layers of purple and green rock and oddly shaped boulders that seemed to have fallen from the sky. Even a khuru wouldn’t have seemed out of place, and the Jalq’as say that they may be seen when one is alone in a mountain mist, or in the crepuscular light of dusk or dawn.
 
To reach Maragua, a small farming community, we climbed to the top of a ridge, then dropped down into a bowl-like crater formed by an unusual combination of geologic uplift and erosion. Garnet-colored earth covers the floor of the crater, which is ringed by pale chartreuse walls with arched tops that resemble a series of massive flower petals — imagine a giant greenish-yellow daisy with a dark red center.
Since we had planned our extra day for Maragua, we had time to explore and visit with locals, including a self-taught historian named Crispin Ventura. In the modest museum that he runs in an adobe shed, he explained that since Maragua is set inside a crater, it’s thought to have a special association with the underworld, and he told tales of people who’d had encounters with Saxra and the khurus. With these legends fresh in my mind, it was easy to imagine that a nearby cave, the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), which looks like an open, toothy mouth, might actually swallow anyone foolish enough to sleep there.
Rogelio also introduced us to the more earthly side of life in Maragua. We had breakfast at the home of Victoria Cruz, who taught Luke how to make buñuelos — Bolivian doughnuts — over a fire in a soot-covered, chimney-less room.
Later, we helped a family plant its potato crop. Following a pair of bullocks that pulled a wooden plow, a couple of the women dropped seed potatoes in the furrows, which the rest of us covered with manure. Though they had never worked their fields with foreign travelers, we quickly settled into a comfortable rapport and, as soon as Rogelio told them that he would bring them prints of my pictures, they were happy to be photographed.
We took several breaks to reload our cheeks with coca and to drink chicha, sprinkling fermented corn alcohol over the ground as an offering to Pachamama. It seemed as if our gifts had been received: A pregnant spider scurrying over a freshly planted row was seen as a sign of fertility, and an omen of a good harvest.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ramphastos toucans of Bolivia


Ramphastos Toucans are the largest of the toucan family, related to the Asian/African hornbills, along with woodpeckers, barbets, jacamars and kingfishers.
These toucans are tropical and subtropical near passerine birds from Mexico, and Central and South America, which are brightly marked and have enormous, often colourful, bills.
This genus has a size ranging from 42 to 61 centimetres (17 to 24 in) in length. All have black wings, tails and thighs, but the colour of the remaining plumage depends on the exact species involved. All the species are basically fruit-eating, but will take insects and other small prey. They are arboreal and nest in tree holes laying 2–4 white eggs. They are essentially resident birds, but may take part in minor, local movements (e.g., to lower altitudes in the winter
). 

There are 7 species in this genus, 4 of which are Bolivian:

Channel-billed ToucanRamphastos vitellinus
Green-billed ToucanRamphastos dicolorus
White-throated ToucanRamphastos tucanus
Toco ToucanRamphastos toco

In the case of the Channel-billed and the White-throated, supspp. are recognised as follows:

Channel-billed ToucanRamphastos vitellinus
        Citron-throated Toucan, Ramphastos (vitellinus) citreolaemus.
        Ariel Toucan, Ramphastos (vitellinus) ariel
        Yellow-ridged Toucan, Ramphastos (vitellinus/ariel) culminatus

White-throated ToucanRamphastos tucanus
         Red-billed Toucan, Ramphastos (tucanus) tucanus
         Cuvier's Toucan, Ramphastos (tucanus) cuvieri

The Bolivian subspp. of the Channel-billed is the R. vitellinus culminatus, called the Yellow-ridged Toucan, a short video of which may be seen here:

http://ibc.lynxeds.com/video/channel-billed-toucan-ramphastos-vitellinus/yellow-ridged-toucan-perched-showing-all-kind-head

The Bolivian subspp. of the White-throated Toucan is the R. tucanus tucanus, called the Red-billed.

Toucans are not  hard to see, some are tame and kept as pets. In Santa Cruz, one of the hostels - Residencia Bolivar, keeps Toco Toucans which can get quite playful with the residents.

In addition to Ramphastos Toucans, Bolivia also has toucanets and aracaris, with a total of well over a dozen in the toucan family, mostly in the departamentos of Santa  Cruz, Beni, Pando, Oruro, Chuquisaca, La Paz and Cochabamba. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New York Times on Bolivia; journalism or malicious gossip?

For years we have passed information to the New York Times and other papers. They have ignored it, even when a Bolivian consul offered his house to a NYT journalist and offered to set up an interview with Evo Morales. A press reception in the Bolivian consulate in New York, on 30 June, 2010, was ignored by the NYT, the NY Post and the NY Daily News. A short cab or subway ride away from their offices, or a ten minute walk for any able bodied journalists, was too much to undertake.

Even when Bolivian officials visited this city and spoke at major institutions, such as Colombia University, the journalists here took no note. Morales too spoke, at a convenient midtown location, and they were nowhere to be seen.

Bolivia, twice the size of France, or Texas, with its great diversity ethnically and geographically, has great opportunity for any real journalist. Recently, much of this has been positive, with the great increases in minimum wage, education and living conditions, the creation of more infrastructure and tourism, etc.

But none of this reaches the pages of the New York Times. I seldom get a google alert on my email; but recently it has been a constant stream of alerts about NYT pieces on Bolivia; all hit pieces.

Here is a sampling:
17 Feb  (AP)  "6 Dead of Asphyxiation in Bolivian Protest"
19 Feb  (Editorial Board)  "Three Terms is Enough for Morales"
21 Feb  (AP)  "Ballot Question on Morales Re-election in Trouble"
22 Feb  (Nicholas Casey)  "Polls Show Bolivian Leader Losing Vote"
25 Feb  (Nicholas Casey)  "Morales Concedes Defeat"
27 Feb  (Nicholas Casey)  "Former Lover in Jail"

There is a great irony of all this coming from a town where the former mayor had three terms, and wanted more; Michael Bloomberg. He is a pressman, but there was no such hit campaign against his seeking re-election in the NYT. The public voted for term limits for him and for Morales, as they did with Roosevelt. But somehow the NYT makes this
seem like something terrible is happening in Bolivia, and specifically with Morales' administration, and probes into his personal  life, what with claims of a son who passed away but now there is someone claiming the son is alive and a former girlfriend whom he broke up with. No one is sure what is happening, but busybodies are spending their time consumed with it.

I thought such kind of reporting was in the National Enquirer, along with Elvis sightings and UFOs.




Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Singani 63 rocks in New York

Bolivian grapes are a well-kept secret; the French import a millions bottles of Bolivian wines every year, and none of it reaches New York. Years did we try in vain to find a bottle of any Bolivian spirits. Then Hollywood producer Steven Soderbergh, after imbibing a brandy made with Muscat grapes, liked it so much that he got an import certificate  and began selling the award winning Singani 63.
I tracked down a bottle at Park Avenue Liquor Shop ( www.parkaveliquor.com ), which is actually located on Madison Avenue (after having actually been on Park Avenue for decades). Next I  took it to some friends at Amigos de Bolivia, and they, with more experience than me in mixology, came up with a murky mahogany coloured concoctions, which we have yet to name.
We hope to have some more mixing parties for this wonderful brandy, along with some catas de vino for yet more Bolivian wines. New Yorkers have been sorely deprived over the years and it is time to remedy that situation. Let's hope we don't have to go to France to track down some bottles.

INGREDIENTS: 
[1] 2 oz Singani 63
[2] 1 oz Creme de Cassis 
[3] 1 oz Pineapple Juice 
[4] .5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
  
Add four ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into lowball glass.
Garnish with pineapple chunk.

INGREDIENTS: 
[1] 2 oz Singani 63 
[2] 1 oz Valhalla Liqueur
[3] 1 oz Pineapple Juice 
[4] .5 oz Fresh Lime Juice

Add four ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into lowball glass.
Garnish with sprig of mint.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Write up of the Bolivian Day Parade in Jersey City

Yesterday the Bolivian Independence Day Parade took place in Jersey City, and some members of Amigos de Bolivia crossed the Hudson to check it out.  One was so impressed he took the time to learn to take pictures with his smart phone, and in an hour had amassed 200, which we plan to put up as soon as we learn to transfer from phone to blog...and believe me, you will see a wealth of colour like no carnival, so next time you think of going to Rio, just wait till August and take the PATH train to Jersey City.


There were dozens of bands each with dancers in elaborate native costume, Andean rythms vibrating from Uhauls all the way from Hamilton Park to City Hall. Many of these groups had come from other states, including New York and Virginia, where small enclaves of the Bolivian community exist almost unnoticed by America as a whole.


Bolivians tend to work hard and not get into trouble, most are very family oriented and so the Bolivian community keeps together, flying under the radar screen; few people even remember that Jaime Escalante and Raquel Welch were Bolivians. It could be a suggestion to promote more culture and tourism at the parades, Bolivia is a country with little crime and great wildlife from harpy eagles to orchids, and a whole range of products that it exports without getting the proper credit for (Brazil nuts, for instance, come mostly from Bolivia, not Brazil...).


The parade was enjoyable, but sadly at the end there were no cookouts with seviche and parillas as there have been in previous years. Also absent were any tables selling any CDs of the music, so I noted some of the bands and will be contacting them soon to buy CDs etc.


Today in Manhattan there is another parade, one which I passed on the way to the library midtown, and while it has many more adherents, it will in no way come near what we saw in Jersey. But hopefully we will not have to cross the river to see it; Manhattan is host to a great number of parades and it would benefit greatly from having a Bolivian parade in the future, along, with I hope, la comida boliviana.


VIVA BOLIVIA!



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bolivian Parade in Jersey City 2015

Bolivian Parade

August 8 @ 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm

| Free
 
 
Facebook0Twitter0RedditLinkedIn0Google+Email
The 12th annual Bolivian Parade will lite up Jersey City as the colorfully costumed marchers make their way from Hamilton Park traveling down Jersey Ave., turning at Newark Ave., then onto Grove St. and ending in front of City Hall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Feast of the Great Power

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivia's mix of Roman Catholic and indigenous traditions are on display across La Paz as thousands of costumed dancers perform during the annual feast of the Great Power, a raucous street party that celebrates a rendering of Jesus Christ with native features and outstretched arms.
Brass bands marched and onlookers cheered over the weekend as the dancers performed elaborate routines in their quest for prizes.
The gathering of faithful fun-seekers traces its origins to a religious painting from the 17th century that depicts the Christian savior — El Senor del Gran Poder, or The Lord of the Great Power — with indigenous Andean features.
Religious believers began parading the image through poor neighborhoods in the upper reaches of Bolivia's capital in the 1930s. The quiet, candle-lit processions eventually morphed into a full-blown dance festival that spilled into the wealthier valley below.
Today, the weeklong celebration is the city's largest festival and a major showcase of Andean folklore. It has become so big that Bolivia is offering the Carnival-like event as a candidate for recognition by UNESCO.
The 62 dance troupes that began performing last weekend reflect Bolivia's mix of traditions. Women in traditional bowler heats pounded down the street alongside people dressed as conquistadors, men prancing in brightly colored ponchos, and dancers with painted faces performing ceremonial Inca steps. The most prestigious troupes boast foreign diplomats and local politicians as members.
As many as 20,000 performers prepare for months, practicing moves, searching for flashy jewelry and embroidering elaborate outfits worth as much as $20,000 apiece. After the festival begins, hired bodyguards watch over the dancers to prevent robberies.
The individual troupes are often financed by a single leader. This year, Jose Gabriel Nina sponsored a group of men who wore giant masks and heavy handmade suits covered in pearly beads. They paraded down the street performing a traditional dance that is supposed to evoke the slaves who toiled in Andean mines under Spanish masters.
"The Lord of Great Power has given me blessings. I've spared no expense here because this is an act of faith," Nina said.
In the poor neighborhood where the festival was born, street vendors compete for attention, offering food as well as herbs, potions and llama fetuses to be used as offerings to the Pachamama, a pre-Colombian native Earth mother figure revered in Bolivia.
The festival rumbles on until Sunday.