#potd – Huanchaco for sunsets, surf and pre-Inca cultures

#Huanchaco, a coastal town some 10km north-west of the large northern Peru city of #Trujillo, was unknown to us until we arrived there for a week, and a pretty decent place it turned out to be. In fact it was famous for several things – it’s sunsets and surf; the ancient fishing craft ‘caballitos de totora‘ on the beach; the second oldest catholic church in Peru built by the Spanish, as ever sitting on high ground and threatening the town & people below (nice views up there, didn’t go in of course); and its links to pre-Inca cultures in the region going back 2000+ years – Chan Chan the one time capital of the Chimu culture is located between Huanchaco and Trujillo.

We’d been a bit nervous coming up here to north Peru because of the devastating rains, flash floods & mudslides that had struck the region in mid-March. Across Peru over 200 died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The centre of Trujillo was flooded at least six times, a working class district (or shanty town) El Porvenir was almost washed away, and bridges across rivers on roads heading south were destroyed leaving the north coast cut off from Lima and the south – which wasn’t sorted until late April. We certainly didn’t want to be disaster tourists and nor did we want to get in the way! However research indicated things had improved, but just in case we opted to stay initially outside Trujillo in Huanchaco. Which turned out to be fine, whilst in Trujillo the most obvious hangover from the floods in the central area was the dried mud/dust and some remaining sandbags. Continue reading

Street Art in #Chile no.2 – La Serena’s murals and politics

A friendly middle-aged Chilean told us in #LaSerena (Chile – central coastal area), that when the US & UK backed military coup in Chile occurred on 11th September 1973, afterwards the dictatorship of General Pinochet “turned off the art”. All art & political slogans were cleared from walls across the country (and ‘art’ generally was repressed), and so it stayed for many years. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1990, from what we can see Chileans have been making up for lost time! Street art & painting remains technically illegal unless you have the permission of the ‘wall owner’, but given the number of individuals & small groups we’ve seen busy in the streets then it’s a law that’s about as ineffective as, say, the law banning cannabis in the UK. (See pics gallery below).
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#potd: Stations of the Gross – a Concrete Monstrosity

During Semana Santa (Easter Week) here in #Chile, south America, we’ve largely escaped the worst excesses of the catholic church’s hysteria, but we couldn’t escape this concrete monstrosity towering over #Coquimbo & the surrounding areas in central Chile.

Named the ‘Cross of the 3rd Millenium’, built for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of that mythical figure JC (no not Corbyn!), the colourless ugly grey concrete monstrosity stands an absurd 90m tall, and has been plonked on the highest point of the Coquimbo headland (where the old port town is located). Given the tendency for earthquakes in these parts it may not have been the most sensible place to put it, but the lives of the locals are no doubt of little concern to those who put it up.

station of the crass

Surrounded by a number of huge bells, and by depictions of the 12 so-called ‘Stations of the Cross’, this abomination stands perhaps as a testament to the Catholic church’s history of inquisition and complicity in the genocide of the indigenous peoples on south America. In Chile this includes the Mapuche people amongst others, who’ve been oppressed & hunted down for over 500 years – see news & solidarity (english) and more info (english & spanish). Continue reading

Clear skies and ancient history at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

view southeast from Quitor to San Pedro

Leaving aside the the iffy tourist scene in San Pedro de Atacama, there are three very good reasons for coming here – the clear skies day & night; it’s stunning geographical location; and some very ancient history dating back to the 9th century BC. The clear skies are there most days & nights, but especially at night – find a darker space to sit back and stare at the beautiful and clear array of stars, and indeed galaxies. To see the sky even better at night, we took a late evening tour with SpaceObs out to their site south of San Pedro, where there’s no ambient light, and had access to 12 telescopes of varying strengths – to see clearly things far away that we’ve never seen before. Recommended – see website!

entrance to Quitor site

We took in the local geography at the same time as the local history, by walking 4km from our hostel north alongside the Rio San Pedro (or Rio Grande), to the ‘El Pukara de Quitor’ (in Quechuan – the Fortress of Quitor, where Quitor is an ancient indigenous community – see wikipedia history in Spanish). The walk, and the views from the top of El Pukara and nearby viewing points, were breathtakingly beautiful on a clear sunny (very hot!) day – see pics below.

San Pedro, like all the villages & small towns in this region, sits beside a river or other water source (such as an oasis). Many are in river valleys, in San Pedro’s case between the mountainous Andes border between Chile/Bolivia (and Chile/Argentina) to the east, and a further mountain range (the Cordillera de Sal) to the near west. And so despite the heat & harshness of this remote desert region, there has been human habitation in these areas for a good 11,000 years – from hunter-gatherer groups, to herders and agricultural communities. And situated as it is on an ancient river, that feeds into the even larger Rio Loa – that travels from higher up in the Andes to the north, all the way to the Pacific sea (Chile’s longest river – info) – San Pedro is also on an ancient trade route dating back several thousand years.
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Into the mines of Cerro Rico in Potosi, Bolivia

Having once gone down the deep claustrophobic shaft of a British mine many years ago, we had no desire to enter the mines of Cerro Rico (rich mountain) overlooking #Potosi, the world famous mountain & onetime origin of the world’s largest silver deposits – now mostly extracted. For starters, in the place where upto 8 million indigenous worker-slaves & black African slaves are believed to have died/been killed by their Spanish masters, this seemed like the worst kind of tourism. But after a few days in Potosi you realise how much the mines define the city, so to better understand this complex relationship & history we signed up for a tour.

Not just any tour – we found an agency run by ex-miners (mostly retired through injury), whose guides were ex-miners, who luckily spoke decent English, and who donated money back to the working miners (see Big Deal Tours at Calle Bustillos #1092, corner with Calle Ayucucho). Providing safety equipment, a visit to a refining company (the process of extracting minerals from the mined rocks), views of cerro Rico, and a tour of a working mine. So we turned up in trepidation at 8.30am on 24 March in central Potosi, to join a tour with 3 other Europeans and 2 Spanish speakers. Continue reading

Hailstorm, floods and #MarParaBolivia in Potosi

We rolled into #Potosi in southern Bolivia on the afternoon of 22 March to be greeted with warm sun & blue skies. Some two hours later a 40 minute hailstorm caused chaos across the city, leading to floods in its lower areas and a city-wide power cut, and drenching our boots & a full set of clothes. Yet within two hours of the hail a march and rally was under way in the city centre in support of #MarParaBolivia (sea for Bolivia), with many schoolkids marching as they shivered. As did we.

Potosi sits in the south-western altiplano of Bolivia, and we reached it from Sucre with another stunning coach journey across country lasting about 4 hours. Potosi’s ‘new’ bus station is enormous, and appeared very underused. An old banger of a taxi took 3 of us into the city centre for just 15 bolivianos though.  At a height of some 4100m Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world, and one of the most tragic given its history under colonialism & after independence in 1826 – it’s gone from one of the richest & largest cities in the world during it’s silver boom in the 16th & 17th centuries, to one of the poorest & saddest places in Bolivia today, although it retains some pride in its turbulent history & capacity for rebellion. Continue reading

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.