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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Saturday, 16 April 2011

April 16th: Tarija in Southern Bolivia

On April 16th 1976 I was in Tarija in Southern Bolivia.  It was Good Friday.

Tarija felt quite remote, a deep valley behind mountains.  I suppose there were buses, but I came in and left on trucks and the roads were all gravel or dirt.  Coming from Bermejo, on the Argentina border, we had begun in jungle and had a steep rise to real cold puna, with few people around, before descending after dark to the city at 6000 feet.  The truck had been friendly and quite full by the end, though many passengers didn't speak Castellano.   Leaving on Easter Monday and heading for Potosi, we climbed slowly out of the green valley up to the Cruz at Kilometre 40 and onto roads I'd been on before on the trip to Villazon.

This day was Good Friday and I was interested to see what there would be in the way of Easter festivities.  The day before in the late morning I caught a parade which included Hugo Banzer, the president, and the bishop, coming from the church and going round the square; then the parade of the townspeople began.  There had been another parade in the evening but these parades had seemed largely secular.  The Good Friday parade came about 5.30 in the evening, a Christ statue in a brown robe, Mary in black vestment and coffin, then two bands and the army, many people joining in the walk around.  It seemed pleasant and happy, informal.  Later as I was finishing eating in a street market, there was a second procession from the church on the hill, even less formal. A glass coffin lit by a car battery, hung with marigolds, and statue of Mary, many people, more ordinary people this time, some prayers and a little singing.  I sat in a cafe and the procession passed me.

On the Saturday with a friend I took a truck ride to San Lorenzo, a tiny colonial town nearby, to see if we could find more of the bags and other handicrafts I had seen in the market in Tarija.  The truck was very crowded so I could see little, but the Indian ladies were fun to watch in their flat cream or grey hats with a complicated flat grey bow.  San Lorenzo was actually very quiet and I didn't find the bags.  There was a pleasant bridge over a stream where we had lunch, then we walked through simple  rocky streets , with some attractive balconies and courtyards around the adobe.  Back in Tarija in the evening, everyone was drinking chicha, the Indian maize beer, straight from the gourd.  The town was busy until late.

Finally on Easter Sunday, I saw, from a distance, another small religious procession. By the evening the celebrations were secular again, with a big boxing match in the stadium, and a band and crowds of people in the plaza.

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