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Chapels of Curahuara and Sajama

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Contra Cross

downloadReading Bill Meara’s account of his experiences with the Central America wars of the 1980’s I came across a great line.  He says a “crusty old SF (Special Forces) sergeant told him they were players in a “Low Intensity, High Per Diem War.”  What a great phrase for the Central American wars, and, for that matter, for a number of other conflicts.  Unfortunately, more recent wars have tended to be high intensity, and high per diem has been afforded to only a select few.

Starting Up Again

Last July 4th

Last July 4th

So . . . it was a bit of a surprise to end up in Washington again after 20 years.  Not that I hadn’t known that I would have to return to work here eventually, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon.  That said, I’ve always liked aspects of Washington and the region around it, and this is an opportunity to explore the area again.  The abrupt change put a damper on my ability to blog, but I’m back again, and excited about picking up where I left off.  I think I’ve gathered up some interesting material about Washington and the surrounding region that I can share, but I also have material left over from Kyrgyzstan and Bolivia that I never got up, so there is a lot I can do.

Qilqata Chapel

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Back on the Patacamaya-Tambo Quemado road, you arrive at the Qilqata Chapel (sometimes Kelcata) only about seven miles from the turnoff to Curahuara de Carangas.  The chapel is only a third of a mile off the road and is plainly visible on your left. Qilqata is a cute little chapel with a walled courtyard and one bell tower.  It is one of the 11 chapels restored/preserved with funding from the U.S. Embassy.

Interior of the chapel, before and after restoration

Interior of the chapel, before and after restoration

I just realized that I don’t have any really good photos of the chapel after restoration.  I’ll put up a photo someone else took, but you’ll have to overlook the lens distortion that has the chapel, and especially the bell tower, almost falling over backwards.

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Although a map hardly seems necessary given the simplicity of the trip, here’s a small, simple map that give an idea of where things are:

Kellkata

Qilqata was the site of the Wilancha, the spectacular Aymara ceremony for blessing the work that was done to restore all these chapels.  The post of the Wilancha also contains a number of photos of the chapel and the area around it.

The Chapel at Quilviri

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All decked out for its completion ceremony.

Only about 2.5 miles south of the road to Curahuara de Carangas, the Chapel at Quilviri is a lovely example of colonial-era religious architecture.  In it’s simplicity and beauty, and with it’s twin bell towers, this chapel is similar to the Santa Barbara chapel in Curahuara de Carangas.  However, its location on the altiplano away from town gives it a completely different feel.  It has a large processional courtyard in front and rock formations behind.  Inside, it is simplicity, itself.  The statue of Christ (the chapel is dedicated to the Lord of Patience) will probably not be there, as it is stored in Curahuara, a sensible precaution, given all that has been stolen from the altiplano churches.

Interior of the chapel, decorated for the completion of its restoration

Interior of the chapel, decorated for the completion of its restoration

Quilviri is one of the 11 chapels restored with funding from the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation from 2010 to 2012.

Getting There

Getting to the chapel is simple, but the road conditions vary and it may be inaccessible by vehicle in the rainy season.  From Curahuara, take the road back towards the Patacamaya-Tambo Quemado road.  Only half a mile from the central plaza, on the outskirts of town, take a left.  Coming from the other direction, the turnoff (to the right) will be some 2.5 miles from the turn you took towards Curahuara.  After turning off onto the dirt road, keep right at a fork you will come across at about one mile.

Quilviri Map

You can download the GPS file for Quilviri here.

Tatyana dancing with the local people at the completion ceremony.

Tatyana dancing with the local people at the completion ceremony.

Curahuara de Carangas, the Sistine Chapel of the Altiplano, and Santa Barbara

Part of the mural depicting the last judgement

Part of the mural depicting the last judgement

Curahuara de Carangas is the largest town in the area, and host to two churches, one of them renowned as the Sistine Chapel of the Altiplano for its spectacular murals.  It is also one of your few choices for provisions and accommodations in this area of the altiplano.  Curahuara was a population center long before the Spanish arrived in Bolivia.  Many believe that the final battle of the Inca conquest of the Aymara Señorios, or mini-states, took place at the mountain fortress, Pucara Monterani, only one kilometer from Curahuara.  During colonial times the town hosted a royal tax collection office intended to control the traffic in silver, much of which passed along the ancient route to the coast.

Traditional local leaders, or "jilakatanaka" in Aymara, at the main door of the chapel, which is painted in renaissance style.

Traditional local leaders, or “jilakatanaka” in Aymara, at the main door of the chapel, which is painted in renaissance style.

Nonetheless, until the construction of the bridge over the Desaguadero River some ten years ago, Curahuara was relatively isolated, despite its proximity to La Paz and Oruro.  For weeks or more at a time the whole area would be cut off due to the flooding of the river.  That made the town a useful place for placing dissidents in internal exile, and Curahuara served as a high-security prison for political prisoners in the 1950’s.  At present, Curahuara hosts a regiment of mountain troops who take advantage of the rugged and rocky terrain in the area to practice their skills.

Whatever else you may see in the area, and even if you are just driving straight through to the Chilean border, do not fail to stop in Curahuara to see the chapel, known officially as the “Iglesia de Santiago de Carangas” or Church of James of Carangas.  It is one of the most important cultural sites in Bolivia.  You would also be very well served to obtain Padre Gabriel Antequera’s book, Capilla Sixtina del Altiplano Boliviano, which provides a thorough description, focusing on an analysis of the murals, and many photos of the chapel (in Spanish only).  For a shorter English-language description of the church, its history, and the surrounding area (and much more), see Ambassador Philipp Schauer’s excellent Guía turística de/Tour guide of Iglesias Rurales: La Paz y Oruro

A view of the Chapel of Curahuara de Carangas.  The bell tower was completed later and is separate from the chapel.

A view of the Chapel of Curahuara de Carangas. The bell tower was completed later and is separate from the chapel.

The construction of the chapel began in the late 16th century, and was completed in 1608. It was built by a local cacique (as was very common) by the name of Baltasar Cachagas and by Gonzalo Larama, his deputy.  The portraits of the two leaders are located behind one of the altars.  The chapel is an adobe building with a straw roof and a separate bell tower. It’s a beautiful church, but what really sets it apart are the murals that decorate almost all of the interior wall space.  Much of the mural art is the oldest to be found in Bolivia.  The chapel was restored with financing from Germany a few years back and, though some of the murals have been damaged and cannot be fully restored, it is nonetheless in beautiful condition.

Detail of the mural of the final judgement, my favorite.  This is hell, in case you couldn't tell.

Detail of the mural of the final judgement, my favorite. This is hell, in case you couldn’t tell.

The murals were painted by indigenous masters under the guidance of the priests and were intended for educational and missionary purposes, as well as for decoration. The murals appear to cover all the basic doctrine of the Catholic Church. What’s most fascinating to me is the mix of Catholicism and the preexisting indigenous beliefs – the syncretism – represented in many of the murals.  The chapel is dedicated to James (Santiago in Spanish), who corresponds to Illapa, the Aymara God of thunder, lighting, rain, hail, snow and wind.  Padre Gabriel can give you a great tour and tell you what saints correspond to which of the Aymara Gods.

Santa Barbara, after restoration

Santa Barbara, after restoration

Santa Barbara

If you need evidence that Curahuara de Carangas is more than your average altiplano town, here it is: there are TWO beautiful colonial-era chapels in Curahuara.  I haven’t seen another small town with two.  And Santa Barbara may be smaller and humbler, but it is still a beautiful little chapel.  Santa Barbara was built in the late colonial period (1885-90) of stone on the hillside overlooking Curahuara.  With its two bell towers and whitewashed walls, and given its location, it is quite attractive today.  Just 18 months ago, however, the area surrounding the church was scattered with garbage and the churchyard itself was put to use as a restroom.  The building itself was crumbling.

Santa Barbara, before restoration

Santa Barbara, before restoration

According to Philipp Schauer, there are some 50 colonial-era capillas in the area around Curahuara and running to the Chilean border.  From my observation, most of them are ruined or in the process of falling back to the dust from which they were built.  In 2010, the U.S. Embassy began a series of projects under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation intended to preserve 11 of these chapels.  Santa Barbara was in the second of the two tranches of chapels to be repaired and preserved.

Tatyana and Aliciya entering the church grounds before preservation.

Tatyana and Aliciya entering the church grounds before preservation.

The gate and church, pre-preservation

The gate and church, pre-preservation

For the re-opening of the church, when it was finished, the locals put together a procession

For the re-opening of the church, when it was finished, the locals put together a procession.  Here we see a mix of the troops from the Mountain Regiment based in Curahuara and local leaders.

Mountain troops carried the image of Santiago, in full military regalia, to the church for the ceremony.

Mountain troops carried the image of Santiago, in full military regalia, to the church for the ceremony.

Mitch, Aruna, Philipp Schauer, and Tatyana, together with the Bishop of Oruro and Padre Gabriel Antequera at the ceremony for the completion of the preservation work.

Mitch, Aruna, Philipp Schauer, and Tatyana, together with the Bishop of Oruro and Padre Gabriel Antequera at the ceremony for the completion of the preservation work.

Tatyana handed out some school materials to the kids.

Tatyana handed out some school materials to the kids.

Inside the chapel

Inside the chapel

Other Things to Look For

The Curahuara de Carangas area has other attractions besides its churches.  I’m told that some of the best rock climbing to be had in Bolivia is in the area.  On a clear day, the view from Pukara Monterani is said to be spectacular.  Pultuma cave reportedly houses rock paintings of llamas.  There are also chulpas, painted in white and gray, some 10 miles from Curahuara on the road to Totora.  There are limited directions to these sites in Schauer’s book.

Getting to Curahuara is no challenge at all.  The left turn is marked very clearly on the road out to Tambo Quemado from Patacamaya, some 11 miles beyond Huchusuma Chapel.

Bolivian Metal in the New York Times

NYT photo of Armadura making a music video in La Paz

NYT photo of Armadura making a music video in La Paz (click to see it all)

This has got to be a first!  The New York Times with a whole article devoted to Bolivian metal and Bolivian metal fusion.  Give it a read!  And don’t miss the reference to U.S. Embassy La Paz.  The article is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/world/americas/headbanging-in-bolivia-to-the-flutes-of-yore.html?pagewanted=all.

Rosapata and Lirqu

 

Interior of the Rosapata Chapel

Interior of the Rosapata Chapel

Rosapata and Lerqu make a great side trip on your way to Curahuara de Carangas.  The two chapels are small and humble, but each is beautiful in its own way.  Also, the landscape is spectacular.  That said, this is not a trip to take in your nice sedan, and it is going to take you two hours plus.  Also, the road is often impassible in the rainy season.  Still, with a good 4×4 and a dry road, this is definitely a worthwhile trip.

Scenery on the way to Rosapata

Scenery on the way to Rosapata

To reach the Rosapata and Lerqu loop road, turn right onto the unmarked dirt track some 8.5 miles from the Huchusuma turnoff.  Almost a mile from the turn you will ford a small river.  This is probably impassible after rain, as is much of the road, but in dry season does not present a problem.  After climbing out of the stream, you reach a fork in the road.  The right fork takes you to Rosapata, while the left goes to Lerqu.  Either will serve you fine, as you will loop around and return to this fork after seeing both churches.  That said, I will describe the trip to Rosapata, first and then on around to Lerqu and back.

Map to Rosapata & Lerqu

Map to Rosapata & Lerqu (click to expand)

The right fork follows the river for a short ways and then turns off to the left along the side of large bofedales (high-altitude wetlands) which are used by the locals to pasture their llamas and alpacas.  After passing the small village of Pacotani and then veering again to the left, you come again, after another six miles, to a fork in the road.  Again, take the right to reach Rosapata.  You’ll return to this fork and take the left to reach Lerqu after visiting Rosapata.  You climb up on the right side of a small gorge and then turn right around another bofedal.  The scenery is beautiful all along the trip.  Some two miles further you will find a pair of gates across the road.  They are not locked and you can pass through them easily, but please remember to always leave gates in cattle country as you found them – either open or closed.  The fences here keep the llama herds of different herders apart, something which can be very important for the locals.

Rosapata Chapel

Rosapata Chapel

Just another mile, and you will be seeing the Rosapata Chapel on the side of the hill above the road.  There are a few houses near the chapel, but mostly it serves a community spread out over the surrounding altiplano.  Walter Condori has the key, and his mom lives in the house at the bottom of the hill, closest to the chapel, but he is most often found in Curahuara de Carangas, so if you want to get inside, you probably need to call ahead to make arrangements. The walk up the hill to the chapel is short, only about 0.2 miles, but a bit steep, as you climb up some 150 feet of altitude.  The views from the hill are nice, though.  There is also a “stations of the cross” walk to the hills above.  As with many of the “stations of the cross” in the region, the high points on which the crosses are erected are generally believed to have been holy sites long before the Spanish brought Catholicism to Bolivia. The Rosapata Chapel is dedicated to the Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of Candelaria), though the feast day is celebrated on August 2, as opposed to the usual feast days for the Virgin of February 2 and August 15.

Ruins near the chapel

Ruins near the chapel

To the side of the chapel are the ruins of a village, with homes made of stone.  The locals dream of turning these remains into a small community albergue for tourists. Services are held by Padre Gabriel Antequera, who lives in Curahuara, every other Friday, and are followed by an optapi, or traditional Bolivian picnic, and often some common work maintaining the chapel or the area thereabout.

Repair of the Two Churches

Both of these chapels were repaired with funding from the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation of the U.S. Government.  The project was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and carried out in 2011.  For a little more information on the project, which in total has repaired and preserved 11 colonial-era chapels on the Altiplano, see Preserving Colonial Churches.

Lerqu

Lerqu Chapel

Lerqu Chapel

Lirqu is spelled in many ways, trading the “qu” (pronounced “co” as in “cope”)  for the more standard Spanish spellings of that sound, “ko” or “co” and more often than not, trading the “i” for an “e.”  It is the location of a small village and another attractive chapel.  It is closer to the road than Rosapata, but probably still not reachable in vehicle during the rainy season. Although the construction of these two chapels is similar, the placement of the bell tower next to the chapel, rather than on the perimeter wall as in Rosapata, gives it a different look altogether.  Also, Lirqu sports a fully restored stone patio at the front of the church, which is quite attractive.  Lirqu is dedicated to “El Señor de la Cruz,” and the relevant feast day is May 3.

Interior of the Lirqu Chapel

Interior of the Lirqu Chapel

Getting There

From Rosapata, you backtrack three miles to the fork previously mentioned.  Here you take the sharp right that puts you on the other fork.  You drive up the left side of the small gorge this time, and turn toward the left (south) when you come to the top.  About seven miles from the turn you pass through another gate, and after another half mile, come to another fork, and take the right, again.     You will see the chapel about now, since it is just half a mile up this spur at the top of the small village.

Spectacular Scenery everywhere

Spectacular Scenery everywhere

Getting Back

Getting back to the main road is easier, as you have almost completed the loop at this point.  Backtrack the half mile to where you turned right towards Lerqu, and instead of turning, pass by the turn and continue on, roughly northwest, for about three miles to the first of the forks in the road and the ford across the river.  From there, continue almost a mile on the road you took to the ford, and you are back to the main highway.

Click here for the .gdb file with the data for the trip.

Trekking Around Zongo

Small unnamed lake in the Zongo area

Small unnamed lake in the Zongo area

The area around Zongo, with many isolated mountain valleys, lakes, and ruins, including of several Inca roads, seems like a great place for exploring.  I’ve been hiking in the area, but haven’t been able to devote to it the time it deserves.  Jorge Pinto and a group from the Club de Excursionismo Andinismo y Camping (Club for Excursions, Mountaineering and Camping) have made a good start at exploring the area.  Jorge has given me permission to put up his excellent writeup on their explorations, together with directions and maps (in Spanish).  He will also provide a gps file soon.  Thanks, Jorge!

Huchusuma Chapel

Huchusuma Chapel, with Tata Sajama and the twin Payachata volcanoes, Pomerape and Parinacota

Huchusuma Chapel, with Tata Sajama and the twin Payachata volcanoes, Pomerape and Parinacota in the distance

Huchusuma Chapel is the first of the Curahuara-area chapels on our route.  In fact, in the area of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama there are more than 50 chapels, most of which were constructed in the colonial era.  Some are mere ruins, at this point, while others are beautifully constructed and maintained.  Huchusuma Chapel is one of 11 chapels which have been preserved by the U.S. Embassy with funding from the U.S. Department of State Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

Huchusuma is dedicated to the Virgen de los Remedios and was constructed in the 17th century.  Sitting alone on an altiplano desert with it’s asymitrical white towers and the towering white Sajama, Pomerape and Parinacota volcanoes in the distance behind it, Huchusuma is certainly photogenic.  It is visible from the road and only a couple of minutes off the road.

Inside, Huchusuma chapel is adorned simply, but attractively

Inside, Huchusuma chapel is adorned simply, but attractively

This is the bell tower as it stood two years ago, before being repaired

This is the bell tower as it stood two years ago, before being repaired

Here is the small .gdb file covering the short turnoff to Huchusuma.

Here is the tower after repair

Here is the tower after repair

Cooperativas de mujeres del Municipio Caquiaviri se benefician con una donación productiva

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–       El programa revaloriza la participación de las mujeres en el marco de un Municipio Productivo y Libre de Violencia

El domingo 24 de noviembre el proyecto “Fortalecimiento de Microempresas de Costura para Incrementar los Ingresos de Mujeres Indígenas Rurales en Bolivia” dará inicio a las actividades de dos cooperativas de costura con la participación de más de 80 mujeres de la comunidad de Caquiaviri en el departamento de La Paz.

Se trata de un programa de desarrollo económico financiado por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos de la Oficina para Asuntos Mundiales de la Mujer, del Departamento de Estado. El proyecto tendrá una duración de 18 meses, con un financiamiento de un poco más de $us 59,000. Con estos recursos se crearán dos cooperativas de costura para beneficiar a ocho comunidades del municipio de Caquiaviri.

El domingo 24 de noviembre las cooperativas abrirán adicionalmente una tienda en Caquiaviri para mostrar y vender sus mercancías.

La inauguración de la tienda también coincide con la celebración de la campaña 16 Días de Activismo contra la Violencia de Género, una iniciativa internacional para crear conciencia sobre la violencia en razón de género como una cuestión de derechos humanos a nivel local, nacional, regional e internacional. Los “16 Días de Activismo contra la Violencia de Género” es un evento anual que se inicia el 25 de noviembre, Día Internacional para la Eliminación de la Violencia contra la Mujer y termina el 10 de diciembre, Día de los Derechos Humanos.

En el acto de inauguración de la red del Municipio Productivo participarán, entre otros, el Presidente del Concejo Municipal de Caquiaviri, Germán Choque; la Presidenta de la Asociación de Microempresas de Costura y Artesanía de Caquiaviri (AMICAR), María Pesas; la Presidenta de la Asociación de Microempresas en Artesanías de Villa Anta (AMIART), Filomena Mamani; el Honorable Alcalde de Caquiaviri, Edwin Churqui y el Encargado de Negocios de la Embajada de EEUU en Bolivia, Larry Memmott.