Sunday, November 23, 2008

Santa Cruz and San Ignacio de Moxos

17 November.

Arrived yesterday morning the 16th exhausted from the flights overnight. Fr. Enrique Jorda, the Bolivian province socius, met me at the airport at Santa Cruz de la Sierra and brought me to the Jesuit Residence La Merced, near the center of the city. Temperature in the upper 70s and very humid. After a late breakfast I took a nap, joining the community for drinks (their custom on Sundays) at 12:30 followed by dinner. After another post dinner nap, I met briefly with Fr. Rene Cardoso, the provincial. There are four scholastics in the community here, who invited me and the provincial for a visit to the river, which is actually a collection of outdoor eating places and the river itself. Sort of a popular park. We had coffee and a collection of rice, platano and egg dishes.

I began taking Malarone for malaria prevention last night. So far no ill effects.

This morning went with Fr. Xavier Velasco to IRFA, Instituto Radiofonico Fe y Alegria, to visit their offices and installations. It is a popular education program based on a combination of radio transmissions, texts, and weekly meetings with master teachers. It serves both the urban area and the more remote rural areas, in several languages.

Returning for dinner, and after a siesta, I went with Fr. Mauricio Bacillat, SJ, the director of the Archdiocesan social service department PASOC. He spent a lot of time explaining their organization and programs. I then met with Sr. Aidete Vicensi, mscs (Scalabrini sister), who has been working for years on migration issues in Bolivia, both emigrants and immigrants. I had met her five years earlier at a meeting of CELAM in Bogota

On the 18th I had an early departure scheduled to go from Santa Cruz to Trinidad, but there was a delay of more than an hour and a half as the plane was held up to accommodate the arrival of the district prefect who was scheduled to be on that flight. Several passengers missed their connections and had their travel plans dramatically changed by this inconvenience. Fortunately, I was not one of them. In Trinidad Enrique and I were met by Antonio, who is the director of the music school in Mojos. After we picked up Raquel, his wife, we went one to 2 ½ hour trip to San Ignacio in Mojos. After a short time on the paved section of the road the entire rest of the trip was dirt road. There were two river crossings on pontoons and I was sure to take pictures.

San Ignacio de Mojos itself is in the middle of nowhere, in the sweltering heat. It was one of the original Jesuit reductions among the Arawak Indians who were there. The Bolivian Province of the Society of Jesus was invited back to San Ignacio in 1984, not so much out of historical interest but because of the need that the bishop expressed to have Jesuits work with the social and religious needs of the people. Since then, the church has been restored, and a Fe y Alegría school, medical center, a student residence and a technical Institute have all been built. My companion for this part of the trip was Fr. Enrique Jordá, a Catalan, who went there as pastor of San Ignacio in 1984 and stayed for 20 years. When I asked him what were some of the big changes in those years he said that there are a lot fewer snakes now and it is a lot easier to get around. He said in his early years he figured that he walked and canoed about 1800 kilometers a year. He would be on the trail for two months at a time visiting the remote villages and settlements among the people. He still has a remarkable amount of energy and of course everyone in the region knows him. Since it had been some time since he has been back in the region, everywhere we went people on the street greeted him with great affection.

One of the most recent and spectacular achievements has been in the area of cultural preservation and development. Attached to the church is a remarkable museum of religious artifacts and silver work preserved from the original missions. Every year on the feast of St. Ignatius and for Holy Week people, from all around to watch and participate in the religious festivals. There is also a museum which focused Susan on the culture and life of the indigenous people in the region. I have a copy of an incredibly vivid and informative video they have produced on the biodiversity of the region. The restoration and preservation of written music is an ongoing project at the Museum. The people themselves have preserved and copied the partitas written here in the 17th century. Most of the copyists were illiterate themselves, but knew how to read music and copy it. In addition, the creation of a world-famous music school is a sight to behold. They have a beautiful concert hall and students from the region, all of them indigenous are trained in baroque and other kinds of music. I was present for a rehearsal the last evening I was there and seeing these kids sing and play was truly a moving experience. They were preparing for a concert they´re going to give in La Paz and they have given concerts in several cities of Europe.

On the 20th of November I got up at 4 a.m. in the dark, since there is no electricity between midnight and eight o´clock in the morning in the whole town. By flashlight I packed and got ready for departure back to Trinidad. The return trip in the beginning was quite harrowing since it had been raining for a little while in the morning and the dirt road and changed to extremely slippery mud. Fortunately about a quarter of the way back the rain stopped and the road got drier. The wildlife we saw on the way was extraordinary. Storks in great variety, tropical birds of all sorts, and water buffalo were just a few of the species that I saw on the way. My companions for this part of the trip were Fr. Enrique and Brother Juan, who was also going to the airport to take a flight to Cochabamba later in the evening. We got to the bishop´s residence in Trinidad in time for breakfast and a little rest. We agreed to go to a seafood restaurant about a half mile away and to take a taxi to get there. Taking a taxi in Trinidad is an adventure since it means sitting on the back of a motorcycle while the driver takes you where you need to go. After a meal of fried fish, plantain, and rice, we walked back into the center of town.

When it was time to leave for the airport about five o´clock in the afternoon it meant another taxi ride, this time balancing not only passenger but also luggage for a trip of about 2 miles. And don´t even mention helmet laws! I was quite happy to land in the airport lounge. The flight from Trinidad to La Paz was relatively short, only about 45 minutes. But it was a world away. When I landed in La Paz the temperature had dropped about 40° and I could barely breathe because of the altitude. So here I am, taking malaria medicine at 12,000 feet altitude.


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