On Saturday 2nd November, I was invited to visit the neighbouring town of Puerto Quijarro in Bolivia to witness the rituals of ´Dia de los Muertos´. This day of remembrance is known in the Catholic tradition as All Souls Day but Central and South America celebrates it as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Starting the day before, families prepare a feast for their loved ones who have died. This includes their favourite food, drink and fruits. On the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, families visit the graves and spread out the feast like a picnic, using the tomb as the table, leaving a place setting complete with a plate of food, drink and empty chair for the deceased, while waiting for the souls to arrive. The popular belief is that the deceased spirits or souls will arrive at noon and depart at the same time next day. White tablecloths are used if the deceased is a child and darker colours for adults. Graves are adorned with bread (tantawawas) made into various shapes. The baking of tantawawas or bread babies in blankets, is another significant part of this tradition that brings communities and families together days before for giant bread-making occasion. Sometimes a ceramic mask may adorn the tantawawa to honour the soul of the deceased child or baby. I was saddened and surprised to discover the high percentage of infant deaths evident at this cemetery in Puerto Quijarro. Speaking with a Bolivian colleague earlier that day, I learned that Dia de los Muertos is actually a mix of Bolivian culture with Catholic beliefs and that the tradition of baking tantawawas is not only indigenous to Bolivians of the Andes region but can be seen in Ecuador and Peru. Walking from grave to grave to witness how each family honoured their loved ones, I noticed large numbers of children going from grave to grave, stopping to say a prayer, usually an Ave Maria. I discovered later that children are encouraged to recite prayers at the graves and are rewarded with bags of sweets and pastries.
Finally, it was my turn to go to the Pantanal. I had missed two opportunities earlier in the year due primarily to my fractured tibia and ankle bone which rendered the journey unsafe and impractical. So wait I did, patiently while other volunteers ventured out to see the largest wetlands in the world. Yes, my time had come and I was ready to see if the Pantanal lived up to its reputation. And it did, offering so much more. I must confess that it is not for the tame at heart or those who go green at long. boat journeys.
But then you may consider that to be a small price to pay when compared to spotting an alligator or two, catching a piranha for dinner, discovering birds so large you may think of Pterodactylus, and if you are lucky enough you might even get to see an anaconda. In a nutshell, that is the Pantanal´s wild side.
But there is more, the human element. I was so blessed to have spent two nights with a local farming family whose pace and quality of life inspired me anew and resonated with my contemplative side which longs for a slower pace of life, simplicity and periods of solitude. On arriving, I had joked about sleeping in a ´hede´ and to my surprised at bedtime, our hosts produced a hammock so I could sleep under the most magnificent starry sky I have ever seen. While I consider myself to be a huge fan of nature, without doubt, the highlight, actually that should be pluralised, the highlights of my experience in the Pantanal was the time spent with the farming community – playing guitar late into the night accompanying the host on the concertina, while throwing back rounds of local pinga and capirinhas: sitting around the fire at 5.30 next morning sharing in the communal cup of hot herbal mate tea; joining in and providing music at the baptismal mass celebration of six babies; receiving the sacrament of reconciliation in this Garden of Eden; being in fellowship with several other farming families who traveled for hours to join us in the mass celebration and festa.
I must admit that living this close to the Bolivian border had set my imagination alight with endless possibilities of taking a few side trips and exploring what that country had to offer. So when the offer came to visit the nearby town of Puerto Suarez to do a bit of shopping (I had been told this is a much cheaper option than Corumbá), I jumped at the chance. I even dressed for the occasion instead of the weather which was a big mistake upon reflection as the day turned out to be another scorcher. On my shopping list, a belt to hold up all my trousers and skirts which are now two sizes too small, some toiletries and a backpack (muchila).
Our mini-adventure began with the 10 minute journey to border control where we witnessed heavily armed police and crowded queues of people trying to get into the immigration control office to enter Brazil. Once we crossed without too much fuss, paid our toll charge on the Bolivian side, my first impressions did a head long collision with my imagined thoughts of Bolivia. It was so dry and dusty that we had to wind up our windows despite the sweltering heat.
But thank God, this did not last too long. We meandered through the town and made our way on to a single carriageway, Camino a Santiago de Chiquitos, that provided beautiful vistas of the Pantanal. The Bolivian portion is about 10% of the total area of the Pantanal and only 350 metres above sea level but it has a high concentration of flora and fauna.
I was grateful for the mini-stops we made at the eco-tourism viewing gallery, one of the town’s unique churches with its hand-carved doors illustrating the main stories in the bible, and of course the super mercado where all the prices were in Bolivianos and we had to divide by three convert the prices to $Reais. I will let the photos help with the story. Enjoy!
- La tarea (geoamericanista.wordpress.com)
At the end of school holidays in early February, the older youth from CAIJ were treated to a fabulous day- out at the military recreation centre, located a short distance from the Corumbá – Bolivia border.
The day started with an evaluation/reflection exercise on their experience as young leaders and ways they could improve. This was then followed by some team building games, churrascarias for lunch, a fun afternoon in the swimming pool, some football, volleyball and hanging out in the shade. If ever you are in Corumbá, then this is a great place to visit for rest and relaxation, and of course, to cool down when the temperatures are soaring above 35 degrees Celsius.
- The Sky is Everywhere (lovewondering.wordpress.com)
- Resurecting an Old Idea – Will you help me? (talktodiana.wordpress.com)
- Four Reasons, Four Sons, For Goodness’ Sake – We Need Young Volunteers! (jvnblog.com)
- Jackie Ostfeld: Employing Youth to Protect Our Natural Heritage: Win-Win Solutions in Tough Economic Times (huffingtonpost.com)
- Young jobless total falls slightly (bbc.co.uk)
- In Kenya’s election, jobs are the most pressing issue for young people | Andrew Green (guardian.co.uk)