Santa Cruz Viejo

This statue is one of the symbols of Santa Cruz. It’s called Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer).

Today Jade took me to the old center of the city, Santa Cruz Viejo–Old Santa Cruz. We try to do an excursion each day since we aren’t working yet and get some shopping/chores done, too. Today, we got a problem with my phone fixed (fingers crossed) and Jade got new glasses. We also walked the Plaza 24 de Septiembre, the center of the old town.

Located in the center of the “Casco Viejo” (old sector of the city), the Plaza 24 de Septiembre received its name in honor of the anniversary of the uprising that led to Santa Cruz´s independence from Spain. In the center of the plaza stands the statue of Ignacio Warnes, a local hero of the Independence War initiated in 1810.
The plaza was still decorated for Christmas.
Bordering the Plaza 24 de Septiembre is the Cathedral, el Club Social, the Municipal Cultural Center, and other buildings that maintain their colonial architecture and are considered part of the “historic patrimony” of Santa Cruz, a phrase that means cultural heritage. There’s not many old Spanish buildings left, however. Most were torn down before preserving the cultural heritage became important.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence. It’s possible to go to the top of one of the towers, but I wimped out. The humidity is 100% and temps were above 85F on this sunny afternoon. I’m getting lazy in my old age! Santa Cruz de la Sierra Cathedral, is the main Catholic church in the city.

I’ve found some day tours I want to take of the Santa Cruz area, but all are private tours. The price is the same for 1 person as for 5. There are some new teachers starting this year that I’ve not met yet. I’ll see if any of them want to split the cost of some tours. I’m particularly interested in the half-day, city tour to start with. Since we don’t work weekends, we can probably go on Saturdays. There are a couple of jungle/wildlife refuges in the area and there’s a tour of the Jesuit missions I’m interested in, too. Teachers report to the school next week, so I hope to meet some new friends.

Jade took me to a really great vegetarian restaurant. The food was great and prices reasonable. I ordered the Achojcha rellena (a stuffed vine fruit, similar to a gourd, common to the area). The cost was 22Bs (Bolivianos. Roughly 7Bs = 1US Dollar)
Here’s my meal. At the top is the Achojcha relleno. It’s stuffed with vegetables and tofu. Going clockwise: steamed broccoli; a tomato slice with mayo on top of shredded beets, lettuce & radish; steamed green beans and shredded carrots topped with sprouts; quinoa with veggies; and steamed squash (similar to pumpkin).
The drink is acerola juice. It tastes like a sweet and tart carrot juice. Tasty and very healthy.
More info on Achojcha
More info on Acerola
Another square in the downtown. This one has an artisans’ market on Sundays.
This is in my apartment. There’s been a LOT of rain. It’s a bad design for the condos, but the half-bath is located below street level and floods when rains are heavy. There was easily a foot of standing water for 2 days. All the two-story, floor plans in this condo association are the same, so I suspect everyone had the same issue. This room has flooded twice since I arrived a week ago. Based on the smell of the water, I’m never using that bathroom.

Getting settled in Bolivia

Here’s my new roomie, Jade. She’s a vegetarian, great cook and is starting her fourth year of teaching at the school. She’s been invaluable to me and it’s only my third day in country! What would I do without her? The kitchen is pretty well outfitted. There’s a four burner (propane) gas stove AND oven (there were no working ovens in Vietnam, Mexico or Peru!). Also a full sized fridge, and the water from the tap is potable (though a very high mineral content) and there’s even hot water. I’ve not seen potable or hot water from the sink outside of the USA!

My flight to Bolivia from The States was uneventful, but long and tiring. I arrived (very) late Tuesday, January 9th, 2018 and was extremely grateful to see Mariela and Jaclyn, from the school, there to greet me.  I talked with the director, Maria, by phone, as the ladies drove me to my new apartment. She promised to meet me the next day. However minutes later, she sent a text to Mariela saying I should “rest” and she’d call me. She didn’t call on Wednesday. We walked to the school on Thursday, but she didn’t come in that day. Or Friday. So I’ve not met her yet. Perhaps Monday? Schedules are very fluid here.

The landscaping at the condo community includes many exotic, tropical plants.

Information is fluid as well. My roommate is Jade and she’s 26 and from New Zealand (not 36, from London as promised. I’d only agreed to a roommate because I thought she was older, over thirty). She’s starting her fourth year of teaching here, so it’s difficult to imagine someone got “confused.” There’s a third roommate, Miguel, coming in a day or two. (I had not agreed to a third roommate, especially not a male.)

I’m hopeful that it will workout. In fact, Jade has been amazing–my room was ready, the kitchen stocked, she cooked for me, she helped me get cash, showed me around and she’s given me such a huge amount of information I won’t be able to remember it all. She walked me to the school on Thursday and introduced me to several people, is helping me understand the culture, schedule, paperwork. Her Spanish is amazing. I’m so jealous! Honestly, it would be difficult without her help.

This is fresh cacao fruit, the same plant that chocolate is made from. I bought it on our shopping trip!
We sliced open the cacao fruit. There’s not much flesh, but a small amount clings to the seeds. According to Jade, the fruit tastes like “a slimy lemon drop.” Unfortunately, this fruit was past its prime and didn’t taste so good.

I’ve learned that information/truth has different standards outside the USA. I’m learning to roll with it and pick my battles. So far, there are no deal breakers. It’s not what I expected and not exactly as promised, but so far it’s OK.

We got wifi today! Still working on a phone, though, which could happen Monday. Jade moved into the apartment shortly before me, so not everything is sorted.  The apartment is very good: full kitchen (mostly outfitted), a bathroom (mostly to myself), clothes washer and a small “garden” in back. In fact it’s a two-story, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house with a detached “maid’s” bedroom and full bath at the back of the house, behind the “garden.” It’s a gated condominium community with pool and (very small) exercise facility (though we still need to be given access to them). Seems very safe. It’s a 15 minute walk to the school I’ll be working at where I’ll teach 4th grade (called year 5, here). Teachers show up January 23, but classes don’t start until February 5, (all a week later than I’d been told). I will probably need to go to the school the week of the 15th, but I’m not sure because I have no information about orientation. In fact, I don’t know if there is an orientation. There are a couple (very small) restaurants and a decent sized grocery nearby, plus fruit and vegetable trucks come by on Saturdays. I’m well outside the city center, but there are buses (that I have to figure out) and taxis are not too pricey. I don’t have a car and doesn’t look like a bicycle would be worth the money–too much traffic.

The front of the condo. It’s a gated community, so most doors are not locked, just a latched screen door. Jade is in the kitchen (window to the left) baking.

I’m hopeful it will work out. I’d be more comfortable if I had more information, but experience tells me that these things usually sort themselves out. And, besides, I have an extra week to prepare, since classes start later than I’d been told. I have a copy of most of my textbooks (no Science book, nor teacher’s any manuals), so I’m reading the classroom materials now. Classes start at 7:30a, but end at 1:30p. In the past, teachers have been released shortly after. My contract says I have to stay until 3:30p, so that could be a new standard. If yes, that will be my class prep/grading time. If no, I’ll probably do that at home.

My bed. Notice the stack of textbooks I’m reading. That will keep me busy this weekend.
My bedroom has a great closet–a real asset in a small room. The window looks out over the back yard.
It’s a horrible photo of the back yard–called the garden–through my new window screen. So glad to even have screens–the bugs are serious here in this tropical climate. January is summer and highs have been in the mid-80’s F. The back wall leads to the “maid’s” bedroom(which we use as storage) and full bath (which will be Miguel’s), as well as a washing area. This includes a clothes washer, a luxury I’ve seldom had access to  in the last couple years.
Here’s the dining area, which is part of one large living room. The french doors lead to the back yard. We just had screen doors installed. Though they aren’t hung perfectly yet, the breeze to the front door is amazing.
Living room. We have no working TV and the AC in this room isn’t working (yet) either.

Here’s the clubhouse. The guys in the pool were grilling something that smelled amazing.
Here’s the pool with some handsome men (hombres guapos) using it. Look at those dark skies. It’s summer and the rainy season, though the rain is intermittent. Hope SOON to get access to this pool!
Through the locked glass doors is the exercise facility. Mostly a weight machine and some stationary bikes. I’d love a treadmill, but no dice. Hope to get a key to this soon, too.
The condos are all the same, except some are two story (shown) and the others are one story.

The Alabama Tour: Clarkson Covered Bridge

I have an affinity for covered bridges. My school bus drove through one every day. Now my niece rides the same bus and goes through the same bridge. Here’s a restored one near Cullman, which I saw on my Alabama Tour.

The park has lovely picnic spots and a working mill. If it hadn’t been raining, I’d have stopped for a longer stay.

 And as a bonus, there is a small Civil War museum just a few miles away, located on the sight of the Hogg Mountain battlefield. While the museum doesn’t have a lot outside of the location, the owner is quite a character. Come just for him.And this was just for fun. Notice the mail box. 

The Alabama Tour: Ave Maria Grotto

This stop on the Alabama Tour is a must for anyone coming through the area. It was also the place that inspired my Alabama tour. The miniatures are well done and the path is an easy, handicapped accessible one. It was pouring rain when I arrived, but the lovely ladies at the desk lent me a colorful umbrella for the walk. (I also received my first senior citizen discount to get in! Hey, a dollar is a dollar!)Saint Bernard Abbey, located near Cullman, Alabama, houses the Ave Maria Grotto.

There are also many other buildings at the complex, including a church and private school. According to Roadside Attractions:

Brother Joseph (formerly Michael Zoettl) was a Benedictine monk born in Bavaria, who spent decades turning cement and junk into a miniature city in Alabama. He was a little guy, less than five feet tall and under 100 pounds. At an early age he was injured in an accident that left him slightly hunchbacked, but luckily didn’t hurt his ability to bend over and build tiny things.

In 1911 he was put in charge of the powerhouse at Alabama’s Saint Bernard Abbey. He spent 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, pumping oil and watching gauges. It was lonely, mind-numbing work, even for a monk. So to pass the time, Brother Joseph built little rock grottoes around tiny religious statues. His superiors at the Abbey noticed, and began selling the grottos in the gift shop. Brother Joseph later said that he made over 5,000 of them before he quit counting.
He also made miniature replicas of simple Holy Land structures, and soon had enough for an outdoor village he called “Little Jerusalem.” Again his superiors noticed, and again they had bigger ideas. “I told Abbot Bernard I was getting old and could hardly do much any more,” Brother Joseph recalled in the official Ave Maria Grotto guidebook. “But he would not listen. So I started work and had plenty to do.”

The project this time was the Ave Maria Grotto, begun in 1932 in a four-acre abandoned quarry on the Abbey grounds. Brother Joseph, despite his acknowledged age and fatigue, would eventually fill it with tons of decorative rock and around 150 elaborate structures. The Grotto is not some holy shrine that got out of control. From the start, it was conceived as an over-the-top public attraction.
Brother Joseph was shy and could not travel, so he designed his buildings mostly from pictures on tourist post cards (We were once given a rare glimpse of his well-worn post card scrapbooks). Sometimes all he had was a front view, so those buildings resemble false-front saloons in a Wild West town. He worked on his little buildings in the powerhouse during the day, then set them in the Grotto in the evening or early morning, so he wouldn’t have to interact with people.
Using only basic hand tools, Brother Joseph would shape cement into a replica building, then give it some zing with marbles, seashells, cracked dinner plates, or bicycle reflectors. Tiny-but-majestic domes were fashioned from old birdcages and toilet tank floats. Biblical sights and Roman Catholic buildings came first — the Tower of Babel, St. Peter’s in Rome — but Brother Joseph later added secular curiosities such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and even the Mysterious Viking Tower of Rhode Island, which, according to an accompanying sign in the Grotto, was built by wayward 14th century Irish missionaries.

The little monk’s busy hands eventually turned the quarry walls into a solid architectural mass, as if a miniature biblical flood had picked up most of the world’s recognizable itty-bitty buildings and dumped them in the same hillside subdivision.
Ave Maria Grotto is one of those attractions where it’s difficult to take a bad picture. Visitors follow a winding trail down to the quarry floor and then a less forgiving path up and out to the gift shop. The elderly and the overweight don’t realize that they’re in for a real workout on a hot Alabama afternoon. Strung along the trail are some of Brother Joseph’s less-religious creations, such as a “Castle of the Fairies” with a subterranean dragon, a memorial to Abbey school graduates killed in World War II, and even a miniature reproduction of the infamous Saint Bernard powerhouse. On the way out, Brother Joseph’s work is augmented by additions from long-serving (1963-2014) Grotto handyman Leo Schwaiger, whose creations include a miniature Great Wall of China and a crosswalk for chipmunks.
Brother Joseph died in 1961, although he remains in the Grotto as a life-size bronze statue dedicated in 2009 (He stands next to one of his miniature buildings to show how tiny he was). Despite a lifetime of labor and frail health, Brother Joseph worked on Ave Maria Grotto until he was 80. As he says in the official guidebook, in what sounds like weary amazement, “I never dreamed I would get so old.”

Merry Christmas from Huntsville

I am spending about a month in the USA, mostly staying with my dear friend, Jeannie. If you’ve not visited the city, you should. Here are some photos of things we’ve enjoyed during my stay here.

The Huntsville Botanical Garden Festival of Lights:

The Tinsel Trail, Festival of Trees in downtown Huntsville

Other highlights include a stop at Lowe Mills, a repurposed former factory, now with many local artisans.

Jeannie and me (I’m wearing my cashmere wrap I bought in Nepal!)
Lowe Mills ART

We made another stop at Burritt on the Mountain.

The view from Burritt on the Mountain, Huntsville, in October 2017

We also LOVED the Huntsville Museum of Art with two special exhibits, including a Norman Rockwell exhibit and Cut up / Cut out. Both were fabulous.

One of the displays in the Cup up / Cut out presentation. Many were made of paper, but there was also wood, metal and even a tire!