Havana Photography: Iglesia de Jesus de Miramar

Photo Journal: UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia – The Jesuit Missions.

Clearly, I haven’t had a lot of time lately to devote the deserved attention to our family’s travel blog. Shame on me! 😮 But really: we’re getting ready for an upcoming pack-out/home leave in the US/next country assignment – Brazil. All that, while still working as a full-time professional, around-the-clock mom, wife and friend! Well, will do my best from this point on! Here’s a ‘photo jounal’ of our week-long trip to the Department of Santa Cruz, including several worldly recognized cultural and ecological sites:

[Placeholder] Visiting the Jesuit Missions in Bolivia.

Trying to offer a bit of ‘catch up’ with our travel posts [before many more begin pilling up !] Our family still has a big trip planned before we depart Bolivia – somewhere around the school Easter break, but for now, let me share a bit of our visits to some of the Bolivian UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The first one refers to the Jesuit Missions [Misiones Jesuiticas] in Santa Cruz de La Sierra.
In a very near future, I’ll aim to tackle another heritage site: the wilderness and unique culture of Samaipata, also located in the Department of Santa Cruz.

The Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos are located in Santa Cruz department in eastern Bolivia. Six of these former missions (all now secular municipalities) collectively were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. Distinguished by a unique fusion of European and Amerindian cultural influences, the missions were founded as reductions or reducciones de indios by Jesuits in the 17th and 18th centuries to convert local tribes to Christianity.

Between 1696 and 1760, six ensembles of settlements of Christianized Indians, also called “reducciones” inspired by the 16th-century philosophers idea of an urban community, were founded by the Jesuits in a style that married Catholic architecture with local traditions.


The six that remain – San Francisco Javier, Concepción, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Rafael and San José – make up a living heritage on the former territory of the Chiquitos [Source: WHC UNESCO].


The interior region bordering Spanish and Portuguese territories in South America was largely unexplored at the end of the 17th century. Dispatched by the Spanish government at the time [towards the New World], Jesuits explored and founded 11 settlements in 76 years in the remote Chiquitania – then known as Chiquitos – on the frontier of Spanish America. Our family flew from our home, La Paz to Santa Cruz de La Sierra. From there, we drove some 1,500 km in order to visit most of the Jesuitic Missions still standing – only one was left unseen, due to been too far from our planned route – close to the Northeastern boarder with Brazil – the Jesuit Mission of San Jose.

They built templos with unique and distinct styles, which combined elements of native and European architecture. The indigenous inhabitants of the missions were taught European music as a means of conversion. Obviously, when we remember learning about the Jesuitic times in school, there’s the controversy around the Jesuits original goals – some would believe in a not-so-positive influence; others still remain faithful to the good-hearted intentions praised by the Spanishmen… I, for one, admire the work and teaching left here – and invite to continue the journey with us!

The missions were self-sufficient, with thriving economies, and virtually autonomous from the Spanish crown.

After the expulsion of the Jesuit order from Spanish territories in 1767, most Jesuit reductions in South America were abandoned and fell into ruins. The former Jesuit missions of Chiquitos are unique because these settlements and their associated culture have survived largely intact.

A large restoration project of the missionary churches began with the arrival of the former Swiss Jesuit and architect Hans Roth in 1972. Since 1990, these former Jesuit missions have experienced some measure of popularity, and have become a tourist destination. A popular biennial international musical festival put on by the nonprofit organization Asociación Pro Arte y Cultura, to be held this coming April 2014, along with other cultural activities within the mission towns, contribute to the popularity of these settlements.

Photography] Visiting the Inca Ruins in Samaipata, Bolivia.

Too much to share… incomparable images from a recent trip to the Bolivian department of Santa Cruz: Th Jesuit Missions, and the Inca/Pre-Colombian ruins of Samaipata… Once we’ve got some more time, we promise a much better display! For now, just leaving a few ‘placeholders’…

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Understanding the Bolivian Traditions: ‘Día de Todos los Santos’.



All text here [in bold], including the explanations, traditions, etc, may be found on the website: “Bolivia Bella”[http://www.boliviabella.com/bolivia-dia-de-los-muertos-day-of-the-dead-bolivian-holidays.html], except any ‘notes’ added by myself and/or inserted as comments. Thank you very much, Bolivia Bella! 😮

Dia de los Muertos (or Dia de los Difuntos) means Day of the Dead, which in the Catholic faith is also known as All Souls Day. In Bolivia it takes place on November 2 after the celebration of Todos Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st.

[Note: During the first week of November, we were fortunate enough to partake at a ‘Todos Santos’ ceremony at work, with a throughly explanation, even enjoying a nice meal [lentils & meat] at the end of the presentation!]

Prior to this day, both the public and the city governments begin preparing the cemeteries for this holiday. Usually the city governments begin cleaning and fumigating the cemeteries while individuals and families hire bricklayers and painters to repair and paint individual tombs and family niches.

On Dia de los Muertos indigenous customs mix with Christian (Catholic) religious beliefs. Families visit the tombs of their dead with a feast, which they prepare the night before. They spread out the feast in the form of a picnic, setting places for their dead relative at the “table” as they wait for the souls of the dead to “arrive”. If the dead person is a child, a white tablecloth is used. Black or dark cloth is used if the dead is an adult. The table is also adorned with candles and photos of the dead. Some believe the dead return to Earth to see if they are still being remembered by their families and friends.


Often families hire bands or take other forms of music with them. They also pay children to recite prays at the tombs. Many believe God takes pity on the prayers of children or the poor, more than on the prayers of those who are not in need. Families sometimes also sing or hire someone to sing.

Many people don’t take the feast to the cemetery. Instead, they spread out a feast at home and guests who visit are offered all the favorite foods of the dead.

Many believe death is not separated from life. So they await the dead to show themselves. It is said the dead arrive at noon, and depart at the same time the next day so at noon on the next day, another great feast is held because the dead need a lot of energy to return to their world. Anything out of the ordinary that takes place during the feast is taken as a sign that the dead have arrived (even the landing of a fly on food can be thus interpreted).


The dead are always present but on this particular day, they either come down from heaven to join their families, or rise to heaven. November is springtime and also planting season on Bolivia. The rainy season begins and gardens and trees begin to bloom.

In Western Bolivia, according to Andean indigenous beliefs, the “table” is usually set in three levels: the Alaxpacha (heaven), the Ak’apacha (earth), and the Mank’apacha (hell). The preferred foods of the dead are taken into account when preparing this feast and the foods are set out in a certain order respecting the ecological layers in which they are produced (sky, earth, underground) as indicated above.



Many of the Andean cultures belief in the importance of reciprocity. The living feed the dead, whose bones are drying under the November sun, and the dead intervene with the earth to ensure she provides rains, which begin in mid-November, and eventual harvests are abundant.


Before the arrival of the Spanish, the dead (who at the time were embalmed) were taken out of their tombs. Friends and family members would dance with them, walk them around the cemetery, eat a meal with them and then put them back in their tombs. When the Spanish arrived they forbade this ritual. So today, a family member often dresses up to look like a dead family member and appears at the family reunion at the grave. He or she takes part in the feast that has been prepared and asks how the family has been over the past year. Sometimes the “dead” person gives advice to the children.


When the day ends, the children take palm fronds and chase the person in the costume out of the cemetery just to be sure the soul of the real dead person doesn’t give in to the temptation of inhabiting their body in order to remain among the living.

Another important ritual is the baking of tantawawas which are sweet breads made into various different shapes. Some of the breads are shaped into babies (wawas) and faces are either decorated onto the breads or little clay heads and faces are baked into the bread. In addition, other breads are shaped like ladders (so the souls of the dead can climb up to heaven), stars, crosses, or angels with wings to help children and babies to rise to heaven.


Photo Project: 52 Bolivian Sundays [week 25, The Kallawaya Ceremony].

Inspired by last week’s photo challenge, and continuing our travel project “52 Bolivian Sundays”, this set of photos represent the begining of winter in Bolivia, and all the Celebrations associated with that.

The Kallawaya have been well known as traditional healers and medicine men for centuries, and come from the Cordillera Apolobamba near Charazani in the north of La Paz department.


Inspired by last week’s photo challenge, and continuing our travel project “52 Bolivian Sundays”, this set of photos represent the begining of winter in Bolivia, and all the Celebrations associated with that.

The Kallawaya have been well known as traditional healers and medicine men for centuries, and come from the Cordillera Apolobamba near Charazani in the north of La Paz department.

 The Kallawaya culture dates from the Pre-Inca period. It originated in the Charazani region (and surroundings of Curva, Chajaya, Inka, Chari, etc.), located in the northern part of the department of La Paz.

This practice is currently carried out itinerantly using plants, animals, minerals, etc., and is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage recognized by UNESCO.

The Kallawaya speak Quechua, Aymara, Spanish and and their own language where kallawaya means “initiate“.

 Their magical and medicinal lore is passed down from one generation to the next, and their therapies are based on rituals, ceremonies, massages, potions, etc., that are used in order to prevent, treat or cure physical or psychic ailments.

The kallawaya have a special Weltanschauung, so their psychotherapy works in three dimensions: symbolic, spiritual and animist. The latter awaits the return of the Ajayu (the soul or element that generates life).

Enjoy as you please, and thanks for stopping by! ♥ Original inspiration here ♥

Photo Journal: Alasitas, the Aymara Festival of Abundance.

Ekeko is a diminutive fellow with a jolly disposition. His happiness may have something to do with the material wealth overflowing in his arms. Miniature versions of dollar bills, euros, fancy cars, houses, and college diplomas can all be seen in the presence of Ekeko. In Bolivia, Ekeko is a character associated with abundance and prosperity, and he is the central figure in the Festival of Alasitas. This event is based in the city of La Paz, but can also be seen in other cities of Bolivia.

During the month of January, we were introduced to the popular Alasitas! Miniatures representing a wish one is seeking pursuing. It could be a house, a job, a diploma, a car, food for the pantry, a construction building or construction supplies…even money! [they actually had miniature copies of dollar, euro and peso/boliviano bills!].

The Alasitas is a 3-week long fair that, in La Paz, takes place beginning on the 24th of January. Everything is in miniature! This festival originally started when farmers prayed for a good crop so their harvest would be bountiful. Alasitas is an Aymara festival Bolivia celebrates in reverence of the indigenous “god of bounty” or “abundance” called the Ekeko.

Therefore, Alasitas has been called the Festival of Abundance.  Ekeko is a diminutive fellow with a jolly disposition. His happiness may have something to do with the material wealth overflowing in his arms. Miniature versions of dollar bills, euros, fancy cars, houses, and college diplomas can all be seen in the presence of Ekeko. This event is based in the city of La Paz, but can also be seen in other cities of Bolivia.

Old, young and children become excited to acquire bills, houses, vehicles, household items, college diplomas… The desire to buy some bills is so that one’s pockets aren’t empty during the year. In addition to shopping, there was some excitement to find those that in Aymara are called “YATIRIS,” which can be said to mean “PSYCHIC,” so that they can CHALLAR (bless) the purchased miniatures, which helps make these wishes into reality. The challa is an Andean ritual that sprinkle these items with a drink (alcohol or wine) and cover them with incense.

People would buy their ‘product of desire’ and have it blessed by a priest [at the church] or by a native yatiiri… Some people chose both options, why not? 😮

Miniatures for every taste and wish: your dream house, your car, passports, credit cards & suitcases for that long waited travel… or, maybe, that wonderful engagement ring…

For those ladies seeking marriage(!!), why not go for a blessed miniature of a Rooster?! That could guarantee not only a good mate for the seeking lady, but also, would ensure he could father many children! 😮 [for the unmarried men, there’s also a version, with Chicken, instead of the male bird…]


Having trouble finding a job? Getting your College Degree? Or… putting an end to a bad marriage? Find there miniatures of Work Contracts, College Diplomas and… a Divorce Certificate! 😮 [top left, kid’s hand, “compre aqui su sentencia de divorcio” = buy here your divorce agreement!]



What about you? What would be your ‘miniature of desire’? 😮

Thank you for reading, and lots of luck in 2013!