Last Saturday we drove with friends over to the west side of Osaka Bay to see the lights of Kobe. We intended to go see the luminarie, a display of lights commemorating the victims of the Kobe earthquake of 1995. We did see them from the highway, but instead, ended up at the water front, pictured above. There is a nice mall, Mosaic, with many restaurants, cafes, and stores. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and then strolled along the pier to soak up the view. As you can see is the prominent, Kobe Port Tower. a 108-meter high tourist attraction built in 1963. To the right is a hotel and museum and further on is the port. Kobe historically was a port city and one of the few areas in Japan open to foreigners during their long period of isolation. The port dropped from the second busiest port in Japan to the fourth after the earthquake as it is today. We hope to see more of Kobe.
The other tower I wanted to highlight in the post is the Tower of Sun located in Expo Commemoration Park near our home in Mino. The park is on the site of a former world’s fair that took place in the summer of 1970. The tower was designed by Japanese artist Taro Okamoto. Two of the three original faces on the tower remain and represent the sun of past and future. The red lines represent thunder. In its over 40 years, it has been opened and closed and refurbished many times. At the time of the expo, it was encircled by a plaza building, but today it is long gone.
The park is huge, although really crowded on weekends. We have been there a couple of times and it is a good place to run, ride bikes (outside only) and they hold distance runs there often.
I write this in the Panama City “Tocumen” Airport as we are in transit on our way back to the USA. It was another great visit to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We were very lucky with the weather, with only 2 days of surazo, the rainy, cold fronts, coming into Santa Cruz from the south. They are common in the southern hemisphere winter, but we had mostly sunny skies and warm weather.
It was great to spend time with family and friends and their warm hospitality was well received by the Kralovec family. Special thanks goes to Nadia’s cousins, Christian, Sabine, Claudia, Patricia, and Gabriela for hosting us. Tia Ge Ge always has great food, and it was nice to see Tia Babi and Tio Mincho. I would also like to thank friends Gabriela and Pablo, Ximena and the “campeon” Leo, Roxana and my sister-in-law Marita, for spending time with us.
The city of Santa Cruz continues its rapid growth. In 1970, the year Nadia’s father, Hermes left for Germany, it had a population of around 100,000. When I lived there from 1997-99, the population was around 1 million. Today, in 2014, it is over 2 million. Most of the growth is coming from migration from the Andean cities of La Paz, Cochabomba and other places in Bolivia to Santa Cruz. It has the strongest economy in the country. Every year we come, there seems to be new buildings, roads, and businesses. This time we had a nice time at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is part of the new Ventura Mall (see photos). There were also new tall apartment and office buildings going up all over the city. This is good for my father-in-law’s scaffolding renting business. While we were there, his entire stock of scaffolds (andamios in Spanish) was rented. Rumor has it that some of this growth is coming from drug production and trafficking, but I don’t see the violence one sees in Colombia and Mexico. I doubt that significant sums are coming in, but I do see more Porsche and Hummers than I did before.
Much of Santa Cruz’s growth is across the River Pirai, the river that runs by the city. A bridge was put in several years ago and the area on the other side of the river, Urubo, has hundreds of new land developments, both big and small. Several of our friends have homes in the area and they are so much nicer than the other side of city. There is much more green space. Sadly, I see this side of river turning into the same, busy, scene as the old Santa Cruz. We spent a nice afternoon (see lead photo) in Urubo, at the Casa Del Camba Restaurant. “Camba” refers to the people of Santa Cruz and the eastern lowland region of Bolivia. As you can see from the photos, it is a beautiful, tropical garden setting and delicious food.
I really want to buy some land over there. I would prefer closer to the Amboro National Park as I have always wanted to own an “eco-hotel” bed and breakfast there. Nadia and I would like to have a nice retirement income like my father-in-law Hermes, some small business that brings in living allowance, but does not require a lot of work. The whole of Bolivian lowlands is really off the tourist track and is spectacularly beautiful. We are planning a trip next summer to head east out of Santa Cruz towards the Paraguay and Brazilian borders to visit the forests, savannas, and Christian missionary churches in the land of the Chiquitano Indians. Nadia’s family owns a big ranch outside of San Javier, which we visited when I lived there in 1998. The weather is great, although it is too hot and humid for some people, and easy living with affordable domestic help available. It is also good to be fluent in Spanish. I totally understand Latin American culture and can communicate freely. I forgot how nice it is to greet and say goodbye to friends with a kiss (females), and the Camba shake-bro hug – shake with men.
The negative points about Santa Cruz are the poverty, lack of education, and crime. Everyone lives behind large walls and security. Many of our friends have been victims of mugging or theft. It is not as bad as other Latin American countries, but it is a concern. There is a lot of corruption and incompetence in government. Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader of Bolivia, is doing a pretty good job, compared to past Bolivian presidents, but there is still a long way to go. One acquaintance of mine, a building contractor, was telling me of his work constructing government schools and other buildings for the government. He sees a lot of money wasted in corruptive practices. Articles in El Deber, the largest daily newspaper of Santa Cruz this week, had articles about the horrible water quality of Samaipata, a town near Amboro, the wasteful spending of natural gas revenues of the mayor of Villa Montes, the large number of children needing medical attention from attacks from stray dogs, and the sad plight of street children in the city. One evening we were playing soccer in the park in front of my father-in-law’s house, and the children from the local orphanage (hogar) came to play. It broke my heart to see the over 30 children, without sufficient parental care.
I have so much nostalgia for the city as it is where Nadia and I fell in love. Many streets and places bring back so many fond memories, that it will always have a special place in my heart. I hope to spend some more time there next summer. Viva Santa Cruz!
We can’t get enough of World Cup! It has really reignited my love of soccer. I always was attracted to the passion and pageantry surrounding the sport. This started back when I was in high school and longing to see the wider world. I remember watching the 1982 World Cup on tape delay on PBS, the only US network covering the cup. How things have changed 32 years later! In recent years I have been a bit down on soccer because of the lack of scoring, the dull passes back and forth, and most especially, the flopping or falling of the players attempting to get penalties.
But this World Cup has had goals galore and aggressive, attack-minded style of play. There still has been some of the usual suspects (Uruguay/Italia/Spain) of “weasel flopping” which is defined as a player falling purposely to deceive the referee in order to get a either a penalty kick or free kick. I regard this as worse than biting, and I don’t understand why FIFA doesn’t come down harder on floppers. I also think fans should voice their displeasure more on players that practice this. The games and characters have been so exciting, from the Netherlands destroying Spain, to Luiz Suarez’s biting attack, to the Team USA win against Ghana and near win against Portugal. I hope the knockout rounds are as entertaining as the group stage has been.
Soccer is king in Bolivia as it is in much of Latin America. They do not much have much success however in World Cups. I am not sure why because they have a population of 10.5 million which is decent size, but they just can’t seem to produce great players or teams. Neighboring Chile, 17.5 million, does much better on the world stage. In the photo above, Luiz, one of the neighbor kids joined us for a game.
It is nice to be back in the tropics (18 degrees south latitude) of Santa Cruz, Bolivia and seeing the lush vegetation, especially palm trees again! I have much nostalgia for this place because this is where Nadia and I fell in love! Seeing all of the places brings back specific memories of our courtship. The fall of 1997 until the spring of 1999 will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent a good portion of my life in Latin America (13 years in Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela) and as I get older, I like Latin America in only small doses. We come here to be with Nadia’s father, Hermes, who is a wonderful host and the best father-in-law one could ask for, so it always makes our trip enjoyable, not only for me and Nadia, but for our children to spend time with their beloved grandfather, as they affectionately call, Popa. I don’t think we would come here if it was not for him.
Santa Cruz is the richest city in Bolivia and the capital of the eastern lowlands section of the country. The people in this, and neighboring departments, are known as Cambas and it has a distinct culture and feel. It is more similar to the culture of Paraguay than the altiplano Bolivia, but slowly, the city is being taken over by Andino immigrants. I am always impressed with the rapid progress commercially and economically Santa Cruz is making. Every time we visit there are more businesses, highways, housing estates, especially on the other side of the River Pirai. The city has changed much since we last lived here 15 years ago.
Santa Cruz has a unique cuisine with its Amazonian/Chaco fruits and native dishes. I will be blogging on life here for the next week and a half and will be featuring several of these foods. The first is the most refreshing fruit juice I have tasted, Lima. The lima is a member of the citrus family but I am not sure what is the species or variety. As you can see in the photo below, it is yellow in color but looks and feels more like an orange than a lemon. It tastes like a moderately sweet laundry detergent. I know that sounds unpalatable, but it is truly refreshing and different. I would expect the acidic bite of a lemon or orange, but it is really smooth. On a hot day, there is not a better drink than an ice cold lima juice. The fruit juice is made from the peels in a blender. I am posting a video on Youtube. You can also eat the fruit itself and it has a more bland sweetness than detergent taste.
In trying to figure out the species, I did a quick search on the internet and my research is inconclusive. In the supermarket, there are several kinds of lemons/limes. That is another issue is the Spanish translation for both lemon and lime is limón. Some think that it is the Palestine Sweet Lime, but I would like for an expert to tell me.
Latin America has not changed with its sexist advertising, as you can see below in this advertisement at the local supermarket. Tomorrow is the Feast of San Juan, traditionally known as the coldest night of the year. San Juan is the patron saint of the nearby village of Porongo, and people in Santa Cruz celebrate the event with roasting hot dogs (salchicha). I will make a BBQ tomorrow night for the kids and we might even shoot off some fireworks. The sexually suggestive advertising does not offend me, but I would like to see a bit more intelligent and creative advertising than the same old woman ready to swallow a hot dog.
Finally, I went for a run this morning with Hermes’s dog, Lulu, We enjoyed the run, but I am disappointed in the design of cities here in Bolivia and throughout Latin America. They are not made for runners or bikers. The sidewalks in Santa Cruz are the responsibility of the individual land owners, not the city, so they are not uniform and have many elevations, making it impossible to ride a bike. It would also be dangerous to ride a bike with the amount of traffic and the disregard for traffic laws in many of the drivers here. There are no designated bike lanes or paths. There are many parks, however, they are self contained and more in the Spanish design of sitting on benches with semi-manicured gardens and very small walking loops around the park. There are many gorgeous mango trees that provide shade. As regular readers of my blog know, a big criteria I judge cities is in the quantity and quality of bike/running areas. Santa Cruz would be very low on that account.
It is really nice to be on holiday with the kids. We are totally into the World Cup, watching the games and then playing in the cancha in front of Popa’s house.
We all had a restful and joyous holiday, despite us being apart for most of it. The family stayed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, while I started my Ed.D. program at Lehigh University. Shown above is the family with Nadia’s father and the family nanny, Modesta. The kids had a wonderful time with their grandfather, affectionately known as “Popa” and getting to know their Bolivian and Spanish language heritage a bit more. My absence meant they were immersed in Spanish and a closer bond was formed with Popa. He is such a nice guy!
The kids especially enjoyed being with the family dog, Lulu. It really makes me want to get a dog for them! We will look into it this year. The kids spent a lot of time on the four-wheeler Popa had waiting for them, and they had swimming and soccer lessons and visits with relatives to keep them occupied. There was some bad weather that kept them indoors at times, but that didn’t stop them from having lots of fun anyway.
I did get a few days in Santa Cruz and ate all of my favorite foods (salteñas, achachairu, empanadas) and my beloved “bolo” of coca leaves. The city is fast becoming an Andino city, with immigration from La Paz, Potosi, Cochabomba, etc. is really drowning the traditional “Camba” (the people from the lowland Bolivian provinces) families. I really noticed spotting lighter-skinned Crucenos is getting quite rare. It is a bit sad that the city is growing so fast, it is losing it’s frontier charm. It would have been better for Paraguay to win the Chaco War (1930s) because the people and the city are more Paraguayan than Bolivian. There is an autonomous Camba movement that I wrote about extensively during my last visit in 2011, but it is really too late. My advice would be to go further east, but that too will eventually become “Bolivian” as well. The climate and economy are so much better than on the altiplano that immigration will always be an issue.
We are now almost adjusted to the jet lag here in Belgrade and I wanted to wrap up our holiday in Bolivia with one last blog post. Above are my three “angels” in last week’s family photo shoot.
It was great to see family and friends again. I would like to thank Popa, Aunt Silvia, Modesta, Horacio, and Alejandra for their hospitality for making our time in Santa Cruz so nice.
For example, Nadia is shown below getting measured for clothes. It is nice to have a relative who is a fashion designer! We both got tailored clothes for this year with Silvia’s label. It was like the tropical Savoy Road in London.
Bolivia is always an interesting place. The amazing growth (city doubles in population since we last lived there 10 years ago) and President Morales’s reign have certainly changed the city. I came to the conclusion that Santa Cruz is better off within Bolivia for the long run rather than going independent. I know that the Andean immigrants cause resentment, but it helps the Crucenos to have a bigger market to sell to and the diversity offered by the Andes, makes Bolivia a better nation. I don’t like the influence of the drug trafficking and I foresee more crime and violence coming to the city. Santa Cruz is a bit of a intellectual wasteland, but it has a beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, the way it looks, there is no planning with the development of Urubo across the river and what could have been a Coral Gables tropical bucolic paradise, will turn into a developing world garbage dump.
Despite the challenges, I still want to have retirement roots in the area however. Living is easy in Bolivia and it will serve our later years well to have a place there to call our own. Right now there is a “narco housing bubble” as I call it and we’ll have to wait to find a piece of land.
Last week our good friend Davicho of Foto Releive, took some family portraits. We did one session out in the new section of town, Urubo. It was a beautiful afternoon in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and the pictures came out great. We printed out a bunch for family. We are packing up today for the big trip back to Serbia.
We are in the final few days of our Bolivian holiday. The boys are pictured above digging into an ice cream. It is one of the many new restaurants here in Santa Cruz. The city has gained around 1 million people since we lived here, doubling in size. Amazing growth that the city is dealing with.
We’ve spent this week visiting friends. In the international teaching world, it is rare to see old friends, so it was good to see my former colleague Hudson T. He still teaches at the school here in Santa Cruz where I worked from 1997 to 1999. Hudson is doing very well with a nice family and beautiful home.
We also had a family photo shoot with our good friend David G. He is a professional photographer and owns three photo stores in the city. We went out to Urubo and took some outdoor shots. He wants to do more of these and is using us as a test case. I’ll be posting the photos and update the “About this blog” page with the updated family photo. “Davicho” also showed us his home in construction out there. Breathtakingly beautiful gated community and a stunning home! He has two children and is happily married and it is good to see him happy and successful. We had many good times together. We also went out last night with Nadia’s high school friend Gabriela and her husband and daughter for pasta.
That is a nice thing about Santa Cruz is that we have many friends and family here. I am mad that the narcotrafficking money in the city has raised real estate prices so much. It is not a good time to look for a retirement property, as I feel there is a huge market bubble. For example, I inquired about a new community out by David’s place in Urubo. For half an acre property, the land alone cost $132,000, which is totally out of whack in this developing nation. I think that with a change in government policy the flow of dollars will subside or there will be an economic crisis that will bring real estate prices back down to realistic levels. Prices for land and homes has doubled in the past few years.
One thing that hasn’t changed are the Mennonites are still in Bolivia. The photo above shows a Mennonite man with two women walking behind him on the far right of the picture. The Mennonites are a religious sect like the Amish, that believe in shunning modern technology and conveniences in order to concentrate on working on the farm and living according to the Bible. The Mennonites are originally Germans from coastal Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. They follow the teachings of Menno Simmons, whose big departure from the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the 1500’s was to believe in an adult baptism instead of child baptism. He believed that one should be able to choose his/her church when they reach an age of consent. There are about 1.5 million Mennonites worldwide and they have a wide range of living styles, but the colonies of up to 60,000 here in Bolivia live as “plain people” like the more famous Amish. The group originally came from Mexico via Canada and settled the fertile farmlands of the northern Santa Cruz Department. My father-in-law buys eggs from one of them. He speaks fluent Spanish as well as Old German. He was saying that the girls in the colony only get education up to grade 8 and the boys through to high school. I take the Christopher Hitchen’s approach to religion and feel sorry for them being brought up like that. If they are happy great, and I don’t know enough about their lifestyle to make a strong comment, but to have to walk around like that and not take advantage of humanity’s advances is so bad. I feel sorry for their limited life opportunities. They are fascinating however and I would love to get to learn more about them.
Saturday night Nadia and I went out with her father and aunt to the Chaplin Show here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The Chaplin Show is a live comedy theater. This weekend the “Chulupis del Caribe” (Cockroaches of the Caribbean) was playing. I was hoping for some smart, political and cultural satire, but what I got, was a show of inane, shallow, humor. The jokes were stale and vulgar. For example, “What makes a man happy? His four mistresses don’t meet each other.” The humor was definitely stupid, but the crowd was loving it. We left at the intermission. It was a fun night nonetheless, as we got to joke about how bad the comedy was. I would not recommend going to the Chaplin Show.
I had heard that some shows had a biting political satire. It would have been great to have a parody of the Morales government and the struggle of Bolivia to keep the Andean and Media Luna departments together. Instead, we got some old, tired, jokes about plastic surgery, infidelity, and sex. The show was named after their opening number. It was a video of end-of-the-world news coverage and the only survivors were the cockroaches. They did a couple of lame dance routines and then went to several skits. The skits were a nun and priest giving sex education class, a couple in a hotel room, etc. Dumb… The only good thing was it was great for my Spanish.
Friday night we went out to dinner at Michaelangelo’s Restaurant here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We had dinner here 14 years ago! It was the site of our first date in September of 1997. The restaurant is pretty much the same and Nadia is as beautiful as she was that night 14 years ago. I am a very lucky guy! I love her as much as I did then. The food was average but I didn’t care, it was fun to relive our courtship.
We also had a nice visit from our good friend, Dr. Kim Winter. She was living in Bolivia when we were here in 1997-1999 and we had many good times together. Kim was completing her doctoral biologcial research in a small village in the Bolivian Amazaon and she would come to the city for some R&R. She was also here for the birth of Owen and we also stayed at her house in Washington when I was taking a course there in 2005. She is doing very well with a new marriage and job with US Department of Forestry. Her husband Ronald is from Cochabomba (far left) and lives in Washington DC area. There is a big population of Bolivians in the DC area.