Friday, June 15, 2007

New York and Santa Cruz

I spent several days in the US. As usual during my periodic visits, most of my time was taken up by various appointments, buying things, catching up with mail and administrative matters, and maintaining contact with friends and family.

The highlight of the trip was the two nights Jim and I spent on the Hudson River Valley. We stayed at the River Hill Bed and Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located on a bluff with a prime view of the river. We could see it both from the settee in our bedroom as well as from the wraparound porch, where we sipped English tea and juice.

We headed into New Paltz, a small college town, to try some Thai food and to see Knocked Up (a very funny film). We twice visited the local dairy barn. And best of all, we spent an afternoon hiking at Minnewaska State Park. The entire area is full of cliffs, which provide a beautiful backdrop, as well as heaven for avid climbers. We followed a path without much elevation, but which took us into isolated, brilliantly green woods for several hours. Eventually, we reached a remote lake, a lonely mirror of blue amidst the wilderness. We were treated to beautiful views from cliffside perches, enjoyed the carpet of fluorescent green ferns that lined parts of the trail, and were treated to sightings of birds, rabbit, and even a close-up of a cottontail deer.

When I returned to Santa Cruz, it was freezing and I had to adjust to the reality of it being winter here. Returning home after the all night flight, I changed into sweats and a sweater and climbed into bed under my comforter. My alarm clock thermometer said it was 16 degrees Celsius in the room.

Warmer weather had since returned with a comfortable sunshine and periodic breezes. Everyone is waiting for the next cold spell, which can arrive any day and last anywhere from a few days to a week. It makes it hard to figure out how to dress here and I’ve gotten better at layering.

I can’t say I’ve done too much exciting since I’ve been back, mainly focusing on my work. I did attend a jazz concert at the French-German cultural center one evening. The band was led by an American from Missouri, who has been living in Bolivia since 1991. During that time, he has held a variety of arts-related positions. It seemed a bit out of place, to see Bolivians playing jazz. In the same way it’s strange to see the local Indian youth playing violins, cellos and operatic music in the Chiquitano churches. But it’s as beautiful as it is strange and I enjoyed it.

I’ll share a couple of things from the local paper, El Deber, that I find interesting:

60-70% (it’s either 60 or 70, but I threw out the paper before cutting out the article) of all Bolivians girls aged 13 to 16 have been victims of sexual abuse or assault. And in this in a country where they don’t have a right to get an abortion.

Since January of this year, in the city of Santa Cruz alone, there have been 1,593 registered auto accidents, of which 512 were caused by drunk drivers. Just last weekend (from Friday through Sunday) there were 81 accidents and at least 6 deaths, with 51 (63%) of the accidents caused by drunk drivers.

Santa Cruz now has at least 1,5 million residents.

Santa Cruz has the highest average salaries in Bolivia, followed by Cochabamba, Sucre and La Paz. The average salary in Santa Cruz is 2,406 bolivianos, or $306. I think this may be inflated by the high income disparities though. I’d like to know what the median is.

I just finished an interesting and well-written book, Whispering in the Giant’s Ear by William Powers, which recounts his two years working on an environmental project in this region. He gives a good overview of the events that led to Evo Morales becoming the first Indian President in South America. I also learned how important road blockages were to his eventual victory and I can now see that the current government would not actively prevent people from blocking the roads, given their own use of that method. The book speaks of the distinction between the camba (eastern, more Europeanized) and collya (native Indian, from inland areas of Bolivia) cultures. I appreciated the insights he gave into the collyas. Santa Cruz is the camba center and I think the opinions I hear come predominantly from the camba perspective.

Overall, I’m feeling more comfortable in Santa Cruz. I was without a cell phone for a week and had to take taxis off street. After almost three months, nothing terrible has happened, besides the street robbery by children. This is allowing me to lower my guard a little, to feel a little more comfortable.

Mark is coming to visit for the first time next weekend. I have only three days to introduce him to Bolivia, but I’m excited nonetheless.

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