Santa Cruz Journal: July 27, 2015

The past few days we spent going outside of the city, visiting some small towns in the area. Above, the boys and our friend, Pablo are shown during a hike in the hills beyond the  town of El Turno. It is located to the west of Santa Cruz, in the foothills of the Andes. A perfect climate and amount of precipitation for plant growth. Absolutely beautiful! The boys were a bit scared hiking through some of the thicker forested areas that made me laugh. I kept joking we were going to stumble into a clandestine coca processing lab, which sadly, is a possibility in eastern Bolivia.

The government completed a paved road from Urubo to the village of Porongo. Previously, one needed to go towards La Guardia and then take a 3km unpaved road to go there. The main Porongo plaza above, was very tranquilo on a Friday afternoon. I fear that Santa Cruz will keep growing out to Porongo and it will lose its rustic charm.

We ran into a procession (above) celebrating the Day of La Paz, the legislative capitol of Bolivia. The parade was happening in El Torno, a small town here in the Santa Cruz department. It shows the incredible amount of internal immigration from the Andes to the eastern lowlands. Andean immigrants almost outnumber cambas (the people of the eastern lowlands) here. The girls above are wearing the traditional bowler hats of the chollas of La Paz. The short skirts are an homage to the long skirts of the chollas as well.

I snapped this cool photograph of my daughter Ocean and our dog Lulu on top of las dunas de Urubo. These are sand dunes similar to the more famous las lomas de arena in the south of Santa Cruz. There is a new housing development going up there. I don’t know who would want to buy land near shifting sand dunes? Anyway, the kids liked running around and exploring the area.

I have been impressed with the Bolivian wines! The city of Tarija is known as the wine growing region on the southern border of Bolivia with Argentina. They are known as the “vinos de altura” (wines of altitude) because the city is over 6,000 feet in elevation. I especially like Campos de Solano and Kohlberg. It would be a fantastic get-away to go on a wine sampling trip and some hiking there.

Santa Cruz Journal: July 22, 2015

It is nice being back in Santa Cruz this summer and I am enjoying getting reacquainted with the lifestyle here. One of my favorite dishes typical of the Santa Cruz region is majaoThe name comes from the Spanish word, majado or golpeado which means “pounded” in English. Cruzeños do not pronounce all of the syllables in many words, so majado becomes maja’o. The main component of this dish is beef, and it is fried and pulled (or shredded). Before it is mixed with rice, it is pounded with a wooden mortar and pestle. Included in the dish is platano (plantain) and a fried egg. The mixture of sweet plantain and salty beef/rice mixture is delicious and topped off with a runny, fried egg. It is one of my favorite oriental dishes, although probably not the most healthy. The origins of the dish come from Spain, as it is similar to another rice dish, paella. The Spanish settlers to the region probably used what was available here in land-locked tropics and used plantains, beef and eggs instead of seafood. The Valencian version of paella is also beef. There are many different recipes for majao that can be found on the internet.

We tried to visit one of my favorite places in the region, Las Lomas de Arena (Sand Dunes) which are huge sand dunes just south of the city. It is a really beautiful area and the shifting sand dunes prevent people from developing the area, thus there are many birds and plant life. We camped on top of the dunes when I lived here and had a wonderful evening. With the recent rains, the path to the dunes was impassable and we got stuck in the mud. Some construction workers pushed us out and so we turned around about a kilometer from the entrance. Typical of the region, one of the best tourist attractions is not accessible due to poor infrastructure. A paved road and promotion of the area would help bring more tourists to the city. We did get to drive by the infamous prison, Palma Sola. I think the “rehabilitation center” would be a misnomer. I wonder what Pope Francis thought about his recent visit to the prison.

Santa Cruz is a frontier town, although it is losing this quality as it is becoming more populated. There are so many large tropical trees in this fine city and surroundings. I hope that officials develop the city smartly and keep much of the lovely green vegetation and forests, but I do not have much hope for that.

Finally, we had a somewhat nice visit on Sunday night to the 24 of September Plaza. It is soothing to go to the city center and mingle with many people. In this age of the internet and people looking at their screens instead of each other, it was refreshing to people watch and enjoy the sense of community here. There still is a laid back vibe to Santa Cruz and it is one its best characteristics.

Chavez Family History – Severiano Chavez

This was one of the last photos taken of Severiano Chavez, the great grandfather of my children on Nadia’s side of the family. It was taken around 1965 at the finca Brasilia near Warnes, Bolivia. Behind Severiano is my father-in-law, Hermes, who was around 25 years old at the time and his sister, Graciela (around 30 years old). Severiano died in April of 1968.

Hermes told me a couple stories that I wanted to save for the family history I am building on my blog. The first takes place in around 1909. Severiano at age 26, left the ranch to go to Argentina to buy mules. He returned with 90 mules and went to the Pando department (an Amazonian state north of Santa Cruz) and traded the mules for rubber. He put the rubber in a boat and sent it to Manaus, Brazil where he sold the rubber for 4,500 libras de Queen Victoria in gold. This whole adventure took almost a year and he returned in 1910.

On the estancia there lived about 20 families, all part of the Perez family. They had fled another estancia where the patron was mean. They were not slaves, being paid a wage, and they were free to come and go, but they were at the mercy of land owner. They are referred to as peones, peons, which is a Spanish American agricultural worker. Severiano treated them well and there was a total of around 80 people. He even built a school for the children and hired a teacher. My father-in-law remembers going to school with them.

Hermes told me when the Chaco War started, the population of the workers increased with people fleeing from being drafted in the war. Severiano gave refuge and work to them. During the war years, he became richer because of the increased workers and he sold rice and corn to the army. Severiano later had a sugar cane production mill and made molasses to sell and make aguardiente, a distilled alcoholic beverage. Severiano bought a 1935 chevrolet 3-ton truck.

I will try to get more stories from Hermes while I am here on holiday in Bolivia.

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Impact Run

It was a special morning because many of our family members completed the 5 kilometer Impact Run. My nephew Sebastian completed his first 5 kilometer with his cousin Owen. I ran with my son Oliver, who at 10 years old, completed the course in around 34 minutes. Nadia ran ahead of all of us and finished with a very good time.

The run took place at the Villa Olympica, a large sports complex in the south part of the city. I used to live past it on the Avenida Santos Dumont when I first game to Bolivia in August of 1997, so I am familiar with the area. The complex has a nice running path and organizers (MO Competencias) made 3 kilometer and 5 kilometer courses.

Sebey ran his first 5 kilometer run! (photo above)

Money was raised for La Fundación Boliviana para el Desarrollo Social (FUNDESOC) The Bolivian Foundation for Social Development in English. The program was founded by the Hydrocarbon and Energy Chamber of Bolivia and its purpose is to assist petroleum and gas companies, like Repsol and Total,  in their government-mandated social development projects. Some of the work they do is provide fresh water for rural villages, treat drug and alcohol abuse, construct housing, and initiate businesses for the poor among other projects. Under Fundesoc for this run, Bridge 2 Life, Fabrica de Heroes, and Programa Sergio Andres

Pedro Pablo Chavez Bazan

This morning I asked my father-in-law, Hermes, what he remembered about his paternal grandparents. They are the maternal great, great, grandparents of my children.

The father of the father of Hermes was Pedro Pablo Chavez Balzan, who died around 1920 at age 60. (born approximately 1860). He was one of the original settlers of Santa Cruz. Hermes only remembers some of what his father told him about his grandfather because he died before Hermes was born. When Pedro Pablo Chavez arrived to the area, there were no owners of much of the land surrounding Santa Cruz so he went out and marked 2,000 hectares and made his claim with the provincial government. In those days, one went to the plaza in Montero (a nearby city) to find permanent workers (peones) to clear and work the land. 2,500 hectares is about 20 square kilometers which about 1/3 the size of Manhattan. That is a lot of land! All for free, which is amazing to think of today. Ah, to be the “first” European to get to a place. There are hardships that come with that, but those opportunities only come once in generations of families. The estancia was called La Redonda de Higerones (Around the Ficus Trees). 

He also had a house in the center of Santa Cruz. He had five children with two different women. Pedro Pablo is pictured above with Etelvina Justiniano de Chavez, the mother of Hermes’s father. (more on her in a later post)  For now, all they said was my wife Nadia has her eyes. Justiniano and Chavez are both common names today in Santa Cruz. I have not seen the Bazan surname, but it is of Spanish/Basque origin.

Their children are as follows:

Luis Chavez – He was a cattle trader who fell out with brother, when Pedro Pablo Chavez died, he sold part of his inheritance to a priest – the house downtown, which caused a rift between the brothers. 

Severiano Chavez – The great grandfather of my children and the father of Hermes. I previously blogged about him here, and I will be adding another blog post later  

Alicia – ended up blind and living in Brazil;

Bernardo Chavez– also a cattle trader;

Mariano Chavez– lived in the Beni; not sure what he did for a living or anything else about his life;

Kralovecs Compete for the Special Olympians

Nadia Finishes

This morning Nadia, Owen and I ran in a 6.5 kilometer race here in Santa Cruz. It was a charity event to raise money for the Santa Cruz Special Olympics delegation. The Special Olympics are taking place later this month in Los Angeles and the funds generated from this run will help defray the transportation costs for the athletes.

The run was very well organized! It started on time, there was an aerobics warm up, police were out in force to stop traffic, several water stops placed on the route and the race finished with a folkloric performance. Many of the special olympic athletes were at the race and it was a touching moment when one awarded Nadia her finishing medal and gave her a big hug. The race start and finish was in the southern part of the city, in the Plaza Blacutt. With a cool breeze and temperatures in the mid to high 70s, conditions were excellent.

It was rewarding to run with my son Owen and we finished the race in about 31 minutes. I’ll have to check the times online to get the exact timing. Nadia finished a couple minutes after us.

Distance running is new in Santa Cruz and it has become somewhat popular, especially with the upper class. There are events almost every weekend and I am sorry we won’t be here for the SC Marathon taking place in September.

Participating in the World Special Olympics will be a wonderful experience for them and I wish them best of luck!

Initial Views of Santa Cruz

In front of the Basilica Menor de San Lorenzo

Coming from ultra clean and organized Japan, it has been a shock to see large amounts of litter, garbage and rubble everywhere in the city. I forgot how dirty Bolivia can be and with the high winds the past couple of days, there is a constant flow of debris. It is nice to vacation in a place so different than what we are used to.

The street in front of the barbershop today.

The city continues to grow. I haven’t been across the Pirai River to the section called Urubo yet where most of the growth is occurring, but in the north part of the city where my father-in-law lives, there is lots of growth. New apartment buildings, malls, paved roads, etc everywhere! It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The metro area is now over 2 million people, which feels small compared to Osaka. :)

Enjoying spending time with Lulu, our family dog.

I forgot how cheap services are here and how time consuming it is to run errands. We have been improving the house for my father-in-law to make him more comfortable. Buying plants, getting the couches and chairs reupholstered, painting walls, fixing leaks, etc. We hope to be able to take out the bathtub and give him a walk-in shower so there is less risk of a fall.

Owen getting his haircut at El Tiluchi barber in the 7 Calles neighborhood of Santa Cruz.

Despite the growth, the city still has its small town charms. We took the kids down to the main plaza, 24 de Septiembre yesterday. The first revolt against the Spanish colonial government occurred on September 24, 1810. As with many Spanish cities, there is a central plaza and it was full of people. We have many memories of hanging out there going to the Victory Cafe. There used to be sloths in the trees in the plaza but they have been taken away.

Santa Cruz is the economic powerhouse of Bolivia

I haven’t heard much of autonomy movement on this visit. The president Evo Morales is firmly in control and has quashed much of the dissent of his rule. Santa Cruz is the economic capital of the country and the Cruceños have a different culture than the Andinos of La Paz and have resented the internal immigration to the city and tax money flowing out to La Paz. He has imposed harsh discrimination laws and jailed one of the alleged leaders of the breakaway movement. I think and I have wrote this before, that Santa Cruz is more like Asuncion than La Paz and should be a part of Paraguay. Being part of Bolivia brings some benefits and diversity, but it really is a Chaco/Guarani city. Too late now…

People moving from the Bolivian Andes seeking economic opportunities has caused divisions within the country.

There is a lot of poverty here and the lack of education in the majority of the citizens is quite evident. The lives of most Bolivians is stultifying boring, sitting in a market selling cloth, fruit, parking cars, etc. It is a sad fact that there is a lot of lost potential, especially in a country with many young people with energy and ideas.

A tough way to make a living- parking attendant on the streets of 7 Calles.

The weather is absolutely delicious the first week with cool, cloudy weather the beginning of the week and sunny skies with temperatures in the 80s this weekend. The climate and soils make growing stuff here very easy. It could be a tropical paradise with a bit of care. There are many nice parks near our house and the kids have been enjoying playing in many of them.