What’s this – a Chapel in our garden!?

Well not actually our garden of course, but in our ‘casa colonial hostel’ (colonial era house hostel) near the centre of #Cochabamba there was a chapel tucked away in the otherwise luscious green garden! During our stay we did not see anyone using it, but it was clearly well maintained, even if it must have originally been built many centuries before. From over the garden wall we could also hear regular bouts of singing etc from the church virtually next door.

Perhaps given the history of south America we shouldn’t have been so surprised. We’ve commented before about the extensive & ongoing domination of catholicism in Peru going back nearly 500 years, and the reasons for this. In Bolivia it is much the same (Bolivia was once called Alto Peru, or Upper Peru, by the Spanish) – colonial era churches, monasteries & schools continue to dominate the former colonial centres of cities & towns. Whilst as often as not very large crosses or figures of (the white) Christ are prominent on the hills overlooking urban centres.

Cochabamba’s own ‘White Christ’ looks down from on high

‘we are praying for you’ – evangelists in Cochambamba’s centre










It is not just the old-school catholics that are present either. We have been surprised to note just how many evangelical style new churches we’ve come across in Bolivia. They may not utilise the levels of oppression used by the colonial catholics, instead they often offer varying levels of social support such as food kitchens (echos of the new poverty back in the UK), but their aim remains the same – to civilise and ‘to save’ the the local population.

Back in Cusco, Peru, we’d become aware of how many evangelical missionaries were still coming into Peru & Bolivia to save souls etc, having had the misfortune, and shock, to overhear some of their planning sessions in one location. It is clear that whilst old-style colonialism may have ended, it has been replaced by equally insidious forms that go hand in hand with the continued economic exploitation of the region & attempts to ‘control’ it. The local people still have some way to go to truly free themselves from over 500 years of misery & subjugation.


#potd: Back to La Paz – art, culture, social struggle and edge!

mujeres_justiciaReturning to La Paz in Bolivia the other day felt a little like meeting an old friend again, we felt instantly at ease. As we wandered the streets for the first few hours back in this amazing yet crazy city, we sensed once again it’s uniqueness, it’s peoples confidence, and a vibrancy on the streets that was missing in Peru. In our first few hours we saw more street art in La Paz than we’d seen in 10 weeks in Peru, much of it with a clear social message – like this piece ‘Mujeres en busca de justicia’ (Women looking for justice) by the radical feminists of Mujeres Creando – still going strong three years on we are pleased to see, on a wall outside their building (see their website – the article ‘vivir bien como disfraz‘ pulls no punches).

Cusco airport at 6am brrr

Cusco airport at 6am brrr

We’ve been here only once before, for just 12 days back in March 2014 (see blogposts), and have wanted to return ever since to learn & understand more, fingers crossed we will have longer this time. We flew in this time to La Paz’s airport up on the altiplano (over 4000m), in it’s sister city of El Alto, the sun was out and the views stunning as we landed, and experienced for the first time driving over the ‘edge’ down into the valley bowl where La Paz is, some 500m below.

view south down Cusco valley from our last hostel

view south down Cusco valley from our last hostel

We’d been back in Cusco (Peru) for a final few days after visiting Arequipa, but not only was Cusco windy, cool & wet, but we’d both picked up our first stomach bug of the trip, meaning we couldn’t stray too far from a loo for several days. This was a bit of a letdown as we’d hoped to revisit a few people & places, and end our time in Peru on a higher note. Indeed departure day summed up those last few days – damp, misty & cloudy.

But hey it could have been worse, we could have been freezing our bits off back in the UK, watching the British Prime Minister gladhand the monsters currently in power in the USA & Turkey. Yuk!

Huge nativity scene burns at Cusco NYE celebrations

nativityfireA nativity scene the size of a small house burnt in Cusco’s main plaza last night, just minutes into 2017, as celebrations & fireworks exploded all around. Given the volume & size of fireworks exploding in the plaza, the fire was no real surprise. No doubt Peru’s political/catholic establishment will pray this is not a portent of things to come in 2017. See film of fire and film of midnight in the plaza (both utube) and news report (in spanish). Continue reading

Cusco, Peru goes Yellow for NYE 2017

nye_prepSo here we are in Cusco, Peru, the ‘navel of the world’ in the eyes of some, observing the build up to the NYE2017 celebrations in 12 hours time. Cusco is, we read, the top destination for Peruvians when it comes to celebrating NYE, and one of the top 10 worldwide. In Cusco the colour of NYE is Yellow, and the markets are filled with yellow items – knickers & pants, bras, ties, hats, confetti, tinsel and much more. Wearing yellow, especially underwear, is supposed to bring you luck for the coming year. Green underwear might bring you money, and red underwear helps bring you love. Our underwear will remain black!

intiSo why yellow? It’s in honour of the sun, a much worshipped entity or deity in these parts, not least as a result of one or more of the Inca creation myths, in which the sun god Inti is the second most important god after the creator god Viracocha. The myth goes that Inti married the moon goddess Quilla, and they gave birth to the first two Inca, one of whom was Manco Capac (1st Inca ruler, who possibly married his sister) ensuring the Inca could claim divinity & the right to rule thereafter.
Virtually all religions/cultures have creation myths, christians have the Virgin Mary & baby Jesus
. Inca myth info here and here.
Continue reading

A Critical Mass in Cusco Peru

cmcusco_30decComing up at 7pm tonight Cusco time, on 30 December, we’re delighted to see there is a local Critical Mass bikeride. Cusco sure needs events like this, as it’s streets are distinctly unfriendly to bicycles. Many roads are very uneven, but worst of all is the density of traffic in the often very narrow streets combined with a rather ambiguous attitude to traffic lights & rights of way. Plus the heavy pollution at street level. We don’t think we’ve seen a single bike lane here yet!

The flyer translates as: ‘Celebrate the culture of the bicycle and reclaim the right of cyclists to share the streets with the rest of the vehicles.’ CM’s will continue the last Friday of every month.

Unfortunately for us, not only are we in Spanish classes until 6.30pm some distance away from the start, but we have no access to bicycles. We’ll see…

Continua la huelga indefinida en el Poder Judicial, Peru

huelga_cuscoThe indefinite strike by workers in Peru’s Poder Judicial (courts system) continues nationwide, despite increasing pressure from their bosses (article in Spanish). The strike by workers in the FNTPJP union started back on the 22 November (see past blog article) and remains solid. It’s having a significant impact on the court systems – which are in any case slow, and according to many fairly corrupt – and continues to attract media attention.

Here in Cusco strikers banners adorn the front of the Court buildings in Avenida del Sol (very central Cusco), and protests/strike rallies are held in the street outside – in the pic above there were some 100 people involved. This seems to be one of numerous small scale struggles that we have observed going on in Cusco, others have focused on issues such as education (and lack of it), gentrification & tourist developments trashing local communities & historic buildings, and water (again the lack of it generally, nevermind any drinkable water source!).