Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Lily for Sean

In memory of Sean Tiernan
I don't have hundreds of 'followers' and each one I have is someone I have come to know through various groups. When I learned today that a fellow photographer passed I was saddened on many levels. Sean Tiernan lived in the UK, wrote a blog, was interested in Reiki and gave his very best all the time. Because I was not a close friend, there is much I did not know, and never will, about someone who never gave up. I will miss his creative perspective, his commitment to life and the smiles he sent across the miles. This photo is the only way I know to memorialize Sean, who was kind enough to be a follower (to help me with Google+), and to give thanks for his life and the gifts he used well while here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting Away - Ubate/Sutatausa (Part 4)

Lake Fuquene on the way south to Ubate/Sutatausa
Sutatausa Church
The trip from Chiquinquirá to Ubate and then to Sutatausa should have taken a shorter time than it did. For reasons I could not comprehend, the driver was not driving as fast as the conditions would allow and so it took quite awhile to cover the kilometers.

By the time we arrived at the church it was beginning to get cloudy and while we were there it absolutely poured buckets.

The reason for coming here at all is that this church is the 'indoctrination' church, an early church used by the Catholics to encourage people, most particularly the natives, to join up. Located about a hour north of Bogota, this early church was settled by the Franciscans and Spaniards. The initial view of the church is one of marvel that the people of the late 1600's could produce such an edifice. But finding out the deeper and more sinister aspect of the methods of encouraging people to join this religion left me feeling very sad indeed.

Interior of the church; secret room is off to the right.
Part of the design of capturing the people when conquering their lands is maintaining control. But with limited troops, the Spaniards in the late 1500's and early 1600's used the Franciscan friars to encourage people to become indoctrinated as Catholics using that religion to control the population. What is more than a little horrible about this 'encouragement' is the realization that if someone said 'No, I don't think so," they were candidates for a visit to a room where they could be convinced. Underneath one of the side altars of this church there is a very small room. (You can see a very small door, like that of one for a cupboard, to the right of the fellow's head in the picture of the side altar below.) My guess is that most of the indigenous peoples were pretty small in stature, so the space didn't need to be very large. But it was too large for me to go inside. And that's just as well, because what if I couldn't have gotten out again?
Barely visible, there is a small latching door at right of guy's head.
It was literally a torture chamber to convince individuals to become Catholics. Not much bigger than an average bathroom and a good deal shorter in height, it houses an ancient wooden rack to pull a person's body parts apart. It has a very small window with bars on it, about the size of someone's head - certainly not large enough, even squeezing sideways to escape. Frankly all you'd have to do is show it to me and I'm such a coward, I'd join right up. And perhaps that was enough for plenty of others, too. The priests could have had someone in there screaming their head off, and even if they weren't doing anything to him/her, that would have gotten the rumors going and anyone for miles around would have probably made the decision to become a Catholic.
Original frescoes on main wall of church were recently uncovered.
My Spanish is rotten, I admit. But when I was hearing the others in the group talking about this, I thought I was really mis-interpeting everything. We walked around and looked at the ancient frescoes painted on the walls which have only recently been uncovered. We went to the church's museum to see all the old paintings of apostles and such like, robes, candle holders, communion cups and plates, and some other antiques of the early period of this church. Then the 'best' was saved for last. Anyone who wanted to could go into this room - if they could fit.

One of the members of our group was small enough and had a camera and did take a photo, but she hasn't sent it to me yet. If/when she does, I will post it. (She was able to get out and return home with us, in case you were wondering.)

Don Pedro, in red cap, points out our location on map.
I don't want to end this journey on such a sombre note, so here are some other shots taken during the weekend that didn't have any particular place to fit except to show you some interesting looking people, places or things. The woman in costume is wearing the traditional comunero garb of a black dress, white blouse with embroidered colored flowers, black shawl and the hat with a black band and red ties on her black pigtails.

The group is standing on a bas-relief map of Colombia at the Nacional University College in Velez and our leader, who was the inspiration for doing a "Route of the Comuneros," is Don Pedro, an historian from Bogota and Barichara. He is wearing the red cap and pointing out where we are at present in the Andes.

Rider needs help dismounting; horse may be pleased.
This was the shot in Puene Nacional that caused my anxiety to rise as I realized that most of the men riding were probably also drinking. This fellow trying to dismount in the first photo had been riding around and perhaps someone told him to get off or he tried to on his own. But clearly he wasn't able to manage and yet a short while later (see him trying to put his foot in the stirrup?) he tried to get on someone else's horse that was left standing. (The metal railing I mentioned that gave away can be seen in the upper left hand portion of the second photo.)

'Borracho' means drunk and this fellow was...
A street in Chiquinquirá on a Sunday.
The last shot was taken as we were driving out of Chiquinquirá and I just pointed the camera as we passed a street or two... just to show what the edges of the city look like. There is a similarity to Mexico in that the houses and shops are brightly colored. But at least from what I saw from the van, the streets looked pretty clean and there was less trash piled up than what I have observed in other Colombian cities and villages.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour with me, although 'enjoy' is hardly the word to use for that last church visit. Right now I am working on a new oil painting and so my next trip is as yet unknown.
I have a few ideas up my sleeve for some other postings, and I look forward to your comments on this one.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Getting Away - Chiquinquirá - (Part 3)

Not to show me off, but to give some perspective of the scale of the church.
We had to get up early to go from Puente Nacional to Chiquinquirá. That meant no breakfast for me, which made me a little grumpy. Not even a cup of tea to start. Harumph!

Chiquinquirá is to Colombia what Rome is to Italy, but the Catholics will probably get upset with my comparison because Chiquinquirá is hardly akin to the Vatican. Still, it is where the faithful come from all over Colombia - and elsewhere - to seek an audience (and hopefully a miracle for them) with the artifact housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary de Chiquinquirá that represents the Virgin de Chiquinquirá, the title of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of Colombia. It has been stated that the first of the Virgin's miracles occurred in this city long ago.
Turning around from where I was standing, looking south.

At 8,435 feet above sea level Chiquinquirá is about two hours north of Bogotá, in the department (state) of Boyacá.As you can see from my ruaná, I am dressing for the chill. Although the sun was out for part of the day, that elevation really requires (at least as far as I'm concerned) several layers. Other hardy folks took the sun to mean warmth and were dressed in less, but I suspect they are more local than I am.

Near here we had a nice breakfast with hot chocolate.
The plaza surrounding the church is enormous. I didn't actually walk all around it, but it is larger than anything I have seen to date in Colombia.

The featured artifact is a canvas painted with natural colors from the soil and vegetable juices showing the Virgin between St. Anthony of Padua and St. Andrew the apostle. This was created by Alonso de Narvaez, a Spanish artist in Tunja at the request of Don Antonio de Santana back in 1586. The present Basilica was started in 1801 and took 120 years to complete, modeled after the great churches Europe with 15 internal chapels representing the 15 houses of the Rosary.

The painting, hard to see in the interior shot (below) of the Basilica, is surrounded by bright yellow satin curtains as part of the huge altar. It is about 30 feet above the altar, making it easy to recognize, if not clearly discern, as one approaches from the back of the church.

Interior shot of the altar in Basilica de Chiquinquirá.
As we arrived, the church was filling up with the Sunday faithful and hopeful. I was a bit awestruck by the numbers of people who were literally on their knees making their way from the back of the church up to the altar, probably about 350 feet on a marble floor. Although it was not a festival day or the memorial day of the Virgin, the church filled up quickly. I wish I could have spoken to someone about the organ. It was magnificent to hear it; it sounded as if it probably had as many pipes as St. Bart's in New York.

The distance from the painting made it hard to get a very clear shot without a tripod.

The reliquary of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Basilica de Chiquinquirá.

We stayed long enough to see the beginning of the mass, but the schedule for getting to the oldest church was tight, and we had to leave before it was over. I really wanted to hear some more of that wonderful music from the organ, so I was dragged from the church being advised the bus was waiting, only to find out we had to wait for the driver, who (it seemed) was appreciating the church, if not the music, as well.

Chiquinquirá is a wonderful place to buy guitars, really good ones for Tiple or other kinds of music, and if I'd had more time I would have enjoyed shopping at more of the tiendas around the plaza. The city is named after the tribe of indigenous peoples who lived here first long ago. They fought with other tribes and were successful - history is, after all, written by the winners.

Getting help to get the van rolling.....
As a side note, it turned out that the bus that was hired was not exactly the best. The only way it could be started was if it was on a downhill slope so it could be jump-started. The first discovery of this essential fact was when the driver was unable to park it on a slope in Puente Nacional and the men of our group, plus a few from the street, were encouraged to give it a push... I tried to tell the women sitting inside they should get out to make it easier for the men, but they simply shrugged their shoulders. In Chiquinquirá we utilized some of the Army youth to push it uphill so it could roll downhill and .... start.

Our next stop would be Ubate and Sutatausa, but because that is a very special place with lots of history and information, I am going to save that for the final part of this journey "Getting Away - Ubate/Sutatausa (Part Four)" and I hope you will come back to read that portion.
A very nice specimen of Equus near Chiquinquirá.
 We returned to  Puente Nacional from Chiquinquirá and Sutatausa, just in time to see over 600 horsemen and women (collectively called ‘cabilleros’) ride around the central park as a culmination to all the feria activities.

With each lap around the park, the group in the lead increased the speed.
At first I was excited to see so many lovely horses in one place - this is the area where the Paso Fino breed is featured, I am told - but then I found myself having a real sense of anxiety with that much horseflesh, knowing the mind of the horse, being triggered by some random event causing chaos of huge proportions.
Young horse and young rider - no judge on style & form.

But it wasn’t the horses that caused a problem. It was a man, either leaning on or being pushed up against a metal railing about 10 feet above the street, who fell to the ground almost at my feet when the railing gave way. 

My immediate reaction was to give aid, but not speaking enough Spanish, I was afraid I would only add to the crisis. Instead I became a human barrier, keeping others not directly related to the man or to the emergency personnel away from him. He was unconscious for at least three minutes and his wife had her hands full trying to keep some drunk from attempting to pull off his shoes – WTF? – and keeping other well-meaning, but obviously inexperienced people from trying to move him in other ways. As he came to, he was able to get up on his own and refused medical aid. But I could see the huge lump developing on his right temple and I sincerely hoped – and intended – that he did go to the hospital because that was a serious fall and he did have a head injury. Unlikely we will know the outcome.

After a long day of many sights and sounds, I was ready to go to bed, but we still had a long drive back to Barichara. And my intentions to have the rain stay away long enough to enjoy certain events was delivered, so I was grateful on many counts for this "Getting Away" weekend.

NEXT: The final installment with the portion of the trip to Ubate/Sutatausa - Please come back!

Getting Away - Vélez (Part 2)

Built in 1929, this church is embedded into
the Andes mountainside in Vélez.
Tucked up in the middle portion of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes, Vélez sits at approximately 6725 feet. It was the second city in the "kingdom of Granada" and was discovered and founded by Captain Martin Galeano on September 14, 1539.  (As an aside, I wonder how accurate these dates are because back then the Captain did not have an iPod or other technical device to record things, and fighting off the indigenous tribes as well as the locals had to make getting pen to paper a little bit tough.)

The places we did not see in this charming city were: 1) the caves where the aboriginal folks hid out from the Spanish, reputed to have underground waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites as well as fossilized remains of a chief; and 2) the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snow, unique because it has an entrance on the side and it was the first church built here in 1560. Obviously this means another trip to try and see these antiquities.

Interior view of the church in Vélez.
Outside entrance view of College - photo by Isabel
But we did get a rather extensive tour of the National University College which was originally a Franciscan convent, established in 1549 and quite obviously of Spanish architecture. It was the idea and inspiration of General Francisco dePaula Santander to turn it into an educationally purposed place in 1824 and was fully approved as such by the Ministry of National Education in 1937. It was declared a national monument in 1973 under the government of Misael Pastrana Borrero. Although a huge building, covering more than two city blocks in both directions, the upkeep is lacking and I advised our guide that in one classroom the ceiling was showing evidence of black mold, "Muy peligroso!" I said. Not exactly helpful in a learning place.
My shot of interior courtyard of National College - immense!
I found some historical information about Vélez that indicated there was a road from here to the Rio Magdalena which served as a way to transfer goods between the city and onto ships headed downriver and off to Spain. According to this report, Vélez was suffering during the first 30 years from attrition as neither troops nor commoners were particularly delighted with the surroundings. But the discovery of gold in Pamplona circa 1560 created a new interest in living near a city and also closer to the river.

The statue of a huge guitar arm representing the influence of Tiple here and the guabina music have led to festivals that offer more of the same throughout the year. Since the 16th Century, Veleñas goods have been finding favor in and out of the city... here you can find both agricultural and crafts products in abundance. The fine art of turning sugar cane into sugar was mastered here enough so that Velenas preserves were, and still are, among some of the best. Baked goods, candy,  cheese, hams, canvas and sandals, along with leather goods including saddles are still sold extensively. Horse and mule breeding are among the top economic agricultural products.But the pressure for agricultural lands grew through the 17th century and so, like much of Colombia, it was learned too late that old growth trees are a greater function than just wood to burn or build with - the relatively new awareness of trees serving to anchor the steep hillsides is coming to Vélez as well.
Privately owned former home of First Colombian Pres. Parra
We visited the house of the First President of Colombia, Aquileo Parra, now owned by someone else. There is a house here in Barichara where it is claimed he was born but the provenance of that tale is uncertain; although he was born here, it's just not certain it was that particular house. At any rate, he was only President for two years (1876-78), but he was the first - Colombia's George Washington - and the first and only one from Santander. I could not say that the Vélez homestead reminded me of Mount Vernon, except that it has a magnificent view of much of the state of Santander.

The view from Parra's house today may be similar to 1876.
Our group in front of Parra's casa- Photo by Ana Elisa G.
We also visited the building that was once the business operations for the bocadillo and hat sales that Don Parra was famous for manufacturing. It was only five or six city blocks from his home on the hill, but what a climb after work!

Another short stop was to see an orchid farm. It is right across the street from the National University College tucked inside an old house, not dissimilar from Parra's workplace above. Everywhere you looked there were orchids of all shapes, sizes and colors. Many of which will only survive in the Vélez climate.

I really wanted this one but it is a local one.
Perhaps a familiar orchid to many... the one I chose.

Isabel's photo of this one was better than mine.
The fellow who was growing them said, "They need love and water, treat it like one of your children". Some of the group said they were a lot of work, but I was willing to try and gave myself a gift of one. As I am writing this, I can see it blooming with four (!!!) new flowers, so at the moment I am being a good Orchid mom.

COMING UP NEXT: Getting Away to Chiquinquirá - Please come back and enjoy more travels through Colombia!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Getting Away - Puente Nactional (Part 1)

Some members of our group in costume.

Following the 'Route of the Comuneros" our group made it's first stop in Puente Nacional, named for being the “National Bridge” where the first fight between the commoners (Comuneros) and the Spanish crown took place on May 8, 1781. In the state of Santander there were no shots fired and no blood was spilt (unless someone fell down from being drunk that day). So 231 years later, the people of Colombia dressed up in period costumes for both sides – the communeros and the aristocracy – and celebrated the success of that day and all the days that followed to bring them to where the city is today. This feat brought the people of Colombia their independence on  August 7, 1819.

Comunera & Aristocrat
Puente Nacional is also recognized as a great ecotourist stop at approximately 5300 feet in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes with over 680 beds and the ability to feed 2,000 people daily. While the hotel (Hotel Colombia El Dorado) we stayed at was clean and moderately comfortable, I cannot possibly imagine their restaurant being able to keep up with more than 20 people since our food was less than stellar in both timing and quality, a minor hiccup in our trip. Agriculture and growing of livestock seem to be the primary economic activities of the region, but to be honest I didn't have time to talk to anyone about this aspect of the area.

Dancers are rehearsing as we arrive in Puente Nacional.
Promoted across the country as the biggest ‘Feria’ in Colombia, a celebration of the First Comunera Victoria, (Primera Victoria Comunera) there were indeed visitors from Bogota, three hours to the south, and also from Bucaramanga, four hours to the north and plenty of other places as well judging from the license plates on the parked cars. Surely most of the 5,600 local townspeople and a good portion of the over 12,000 rural residents were also crammed into the town square to enjoy the activities. Almost everyone was wearing the Comunero costume of black skirt or pants, white blouse and a sombrero and some added the red necktie.

Meat hanging and other samples awaiting your pleasure.
We arrived on Saturday, May 5, about 9:30 a.m. after getting up at ‘screech o’clock’ to be on the bus by 6 a.m. If we had not stopped for a much-needed breakfast, we could have arrived even earlier in time to hear the Marching Band going through the streets at 4 a.m., attending the Rosary Mass at 5 a.m. and then joined in watching the students of numerous educational institutions parade past to the Lelio Olarte park where the formal ceremony began at 9 a.m. with the singing of the various hymns of Colombia – the national song, the state song and the city song. The park was named for the composer, Lelio Olarte Brown, born December 4, 1882 responsible for creating “Guabina, Guabina” well known throughout Santander, if not the rest of the world.
Technical college theatrical group in park plaza; city offices in background.
The Comuneros call for freedom from the foppish
fellow in the blue coat to the left (photo) threatening
more violent actions which never transpired - then or now.
 However, we did arrive in time to see the impressive theatrical presentation of the Comuneros and the Indigenous tribes facing off due to the conflicts caused by the Spaniard arrival along with the various religious leaders, the aristocracy and the troops wanting to control the lands and the people. The fervor of the Comuneros came across easily in today’s youth as the actors of the past.

Along with this energetic presentation, there were examples of old equipment for sugar cane production, leather making, forging metal, making coffee and brandy, pulling sisal for weaving and samples of various foods along with pottery and numerous other crafts for sale.
The Indigenous tribes wanted their lands back, but they
had to settle for not being under Spanish rule.

We left after lunch for a trip to Velez, which will be the subject of the next entry.

After our return from Velez that night, we all decided to get a snack before the Tiple (guitars with 12 strings playing a particular type of music) concert. While it was a nice concert and some lovely music, the day’s activities had worn me out and I was not alone in my desire to find a place to stretch out. Most of the group retired for the night and I didn’t have much time to read before my eyes were closing, even though the bed was only slightly softer than the floor.

NEXT: Velez – the first place in the world to give women the right to vote!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting Away on Another Journey

Rainy season & derumbas - scary road conditions.
I barely got back to Barichara when it was time for my birthday and a trip planned to celebrate. The trip was with a small group driving south in the state of Santander to Puente Nacional for their fiesta, a visit to Vélez, and a short tour of Chiquinquirá (the city where the cathedral for the Virgin of Chiquinquira is located) then an even shorter tour - after a longer drive - to see one of the very first churches in Colombia in Ubate/Sutatausa, located in the state of Cundinamarca, making it about an hour north of Bogotá.

There is a lot of information to share and I took over 400 photos (I won't bore you with all of them here; you'll have to come for tea!) and so I think I will divide it up by location so you can enjoy it all at a slower pace than I did. This will mean several blogs in sequence instead of attempting to post it all in one. I will title the series "Getting Away" with Puente Nacional as Part One, Vélez as Part Two, Chiquinqierá as Part Three and Ubate/Sutatausa as Part Four.
Colombian girls are reputed to be very pretty...
Today I will just share some unrelated aspects of the trip which managed to get lumped together by virtue of driving in Colombia. The first aspect is that when one is traveling with a group, there is a kind of team and leadership dynamic that develops. The one who organized the trip is looked to for information, the driver of the bussetta (small van) is supposed to be responsive to the organizer and since seats are not assigned, and yelling "I get the window seat!" in Spanish has no effect whatsoever, it certainly pays to arrive on time. It was frustrating to try and get photos on the way, and the driver was not inclined to stop - ever - for something as silly as a photo op.

It's cold enough in Vélez for irises to grow well.
The second aspect is that it is important to realize that Colombia is divided up into six regions: Caribe (everything from the northernmost tip near Venezuela down to Caretgena on the Carribean Ocean), Andina (Andes - the interior portion bordered by the Rio Magdelena over to Venezuela), Cafetera (the coffee region from the other side of the Rio Magdelena over to the Pacific from Cali north), and Suroccidente, (a large region from Cali south on the Pacific to the border with Equador and over to the beginning of the flatlands at the base of the Andes on the eastern side), Llanos (plains and grass lands from the base of the Andes to the west and over to the Venezuelan border) and last, the Amazonia (that portion through which the Amazon River runs in the southernmost part of the country.)

I explored some of the Caribe region in 2009, live in the Andina region and still have four regions left to explore. The most recent trip was confined to the Andina region. This meant changes in elevation from 5,000 feet (where I live in Barichara) up to approximately 9,000 feet to Velez and back down to the valley of Laguna Fúquene (a lake shared with both the states of Boyaca and Curdinamarca) where the first church was established, which brought us down to about 2000 feet of elevation.

No way to know what happened to the driver.
Finally, the third aspect is that driving in Colombia is not like other parts of the world where two and three-lane highways are the norm. Colombian drivers make every one-lane highway into a two-lane by passing on curves and other apparently illegal conditions, depending on the truckers to let them pass and other drivers to slow down when approaching. Traffic delays are common, and so are road closures due to bridges or roads being washed out. Sometimes the travel is all good. Other times it is very bad - for someone.

We had mixed conditions of rain, sun and clouds. As the photos will show, most of the time we were able to enjoy sunshine. But this is the rainy season, so it is no surprise when the clouds become unglued and end up in our laps. I am grateful our trip was only delayed by a few events and none of them included us.