Archive | August, 2011

Celebrating Santa Rosa

31 Aug

I arrived in Santa Rosa a few weeks before their Fiesta Patronal (patron saint festival). As you may have guessed, their patron saint is Santa Rosa. She is the first Catholic saint from the Americas.

Santa Rosa statue

She was born in Lima, Peru in 1586 and was evidently very pious (to a seemingly ridiculous degree). I sort of dig her though, as it appears she was a vegetarian (I’m going to have to use that next time someone here asks me why I’m a vegetarian). I’m kinda vague on her miracles and what not, but she was beatified in 1668. The actual Fiesta Patronal is August 30th of every year, but they celebrate for 9 days leading up to that day.

It was a pretty crazy week, and I only attended half of the events they had going on. The city is certainly setting me up to be bored by comparison in the coming weeks.

The festivities kicked off a week ago with the rosary and mass in the evening, followed by a “cultural moment” after mass. They then host this evening rosary/mass/moment event every night until the Fiesta Patronal. The cultural moments range from dance performances to little historical notes. The church was packed with people each night.

There were a bunch of random events all week. The Cultural Center hosted a book talk with local author Camilo Cantero, who wrote a book about influential people from Misiones, our department, including a number of Rosenos (people from Santa Rosa). There were also sports tournaments and a question and answer competition between students (kind of like a spelling or geography bee, but with science and health questions).

A little mini-carnival came to town for the week.

fun fair set up

I didn’t have a death wish, so I avoided trying out any of the shady-looking carnival rides.

They also hosted two rodeo events, a horse race and an asado (grilled meat meal), which I avoided due to crowds/general lack of interest (the former two) and meat-centeredness (the latter).

One night they hosted a artistic festival with dance groups and musical performers from Santa Rosa and surrounding cities. This was particularly cool, as it meant I got to see all the different traditional dances of Paraguay. Though scheduled start time was 8 pm, it didn’t start until well after 9 and didn’t end until midnight. I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to “Hora Paraguaya.”

 

Another day they had a big San Fermín festival, which included a big parade of horses down our main street.

San Fermin  parade

I’m evidently enough of a novelty that one of the guys on horse back stopped to let me get a photo with his horse (taken by his friend, on another horse).

Dude on horse takes my picture

Another night the local youth orchestra played in the church after mass, which despite an awful sound system, was rather nice.

youth orchestra in the church

On the weekend local organizations put booths together for a little mini-fair in the plaza. It was really fun to wander around and talk to people at this event. I met a lot of curious students, including one who is from New York and inexplicably living in Paraguay.

Feria en la plaza

Everything culminated on the 30th with a procession of Santa Rosa (the statue) around Santa Rosa (the city).

procession

Basically the whole town gets together in the plaza and follows the statue around the main part of town in a big procession, while a band plays and someone says the rosary over a loudspeaker. Curious.

procession

The procession ends back in the plaza, where they host a big mass outdoors (the church isn’t big enough to hold everyone). Then they host an asado and at night they have a big dinner show with musical performances (again opted out due to meat-centeredness).

Meat

All in all a really great week to experience Paraguayan culture and traditions and to meet random new people.

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Bienvenidos a Santa Rosa

17 Aug

So I’ve officially been in Santa Rosa for over a week, so I though I’d give you all a mini-history lesson and a brief tour of the town I’ll be living in for the next two years.

edge of town

Santa Rosa de Lima was founded in 1698 by a Jesuit priest by the name of Jacobo Ranzonier. He lived in the nearby Santa María de Fe, in one of the Jesuit Reductions. The Reductions were essentially big villages of indigenous people centered around a square that housed a church. They provided the indigenous people protection from Portuguese and Spanish slavers. Father Ranzonier started a new Reduction in Santa Rosa de Lima, which prospered for many years, until the Jesuits were kicked out of the country in the late 1700s.

Today a few ruins of the reductions survive including:

The stone belltower (which you can evidently climb to the top of). They are currently doing work on the church, so this whole area is construction-y at the moment.

The Capilla de Loreto, currently a museum that some cool painted murals from the 1700s and lovely statues carved in wood by the indians.

Capilla de Loreto

The Acerca, or house of the indians, one of the only existing examples of the houses that the indians lived in.

Acerca

The town has about 8000 inhabitants, and is surrounded by farms and cattle ranches. They produce sugar cane, soy, rice, cotton and a ton of other items in the surrounding areas. We’re located about 240 km from Asuncion, and 130 km from Encarnación (where I’d head if I was making for Argentina).

It’s a cute town set up on a big grid, which I’ve slowly been walking to get a sense of the whole thing. The town center is a nice plaza called Mariscal Estigarribia. The church and Jesuit ruins ring the plaza, and there are two fountains and a statue in square itself.

plaza

Fountain

The town also has some other pretty plazas, currently filled with blooming pink lapacho trees (national tree of Paraguay).

Lapacho tree

I am supposed to be working with the Center for Cultural and Tourism, which is essentially a really chuchi (fancy) library/computer lab.

Centro Cultural

Inside Cultural Center

It’s located right next to the Municipality, which used to be painted bright red (when the Colorado party was in power) but is now a nice white shade.

Muni

On the outskirts of town there is an Agricultural University that is totally rad. Looks like a great site for birding, plus the staff and students are really nice and want to work with me.

Facultad

In the countryside around the town there are some big hills that you can climb to get pretty views of the surrounding countryside. I have yet to do this, but once I figure out how to get out to them, it’s on. They also have some streams and a river nearby, but the current state of the roads makes getting to these places challenging.

Like most places I’ve visited in Paraguay, there are animals all around…

Cow chillin

Along with half-built or long-abandoned houses.

abandoned house

You can see all my photos of Santa Rosa on Flickr. I’ll be adding many more over the next two years.

I’m a volunteer?

11 Aug

So as of last Friday, I’m officially a Peace Corps volunteer. I am going to be living in Santa Rosa, Misiones for the next 2 years, potentially working for the Center for Culture and Tourism and the local agricultural college. I found out my site a few weeks ago at a ceremony at our training center. I was the last person to get my site assignment, which I guess is perfect as I was probably the least anxious about the whole thing. I’m slowly realizing not to worry about things I don’t have control over. It was pretty cool seeing where everyone else in my group would be living and hearing what they might be doing. Plus, some really rad people are just down the highway a few hours.

 

After site assignments we visited our sites for a few days then finished up with training before swear-in. This was the first year they had the swear-in ceremony in Guarambare, our training town, instead of Asuncion. That meant our host families got to come to watch, which was fun. We swore-in in Spanish, which was pretty comical, and English, which went much smoother. I didn’t really feel any different after I became an “official” volunteer. The highlight of the ceremony for me was the cake: chocolate, with coffee flavored yummy-ness and dulce de leche as filling.

Family and me at swear-in

After the ceremony we all headed off to Asuncion to get our phones, modems and get situated for a weekend-of-fun. Our only mandate was be in our sites by Tuesday. I ended up staying at the Black Cat Hostel, which is a super rad place right in the heart of downtown. I will definitely be staying there any time I’m back in Asuncion. I was the only volunteer from my group there, but the place was filled with volunteers from other sectors, which was super cool. A bunch of them ran in the Asuncion marathon on Sunday. Talking to them got me motivated to start running in the hopes of doing a half marathon next summer (US) winter (here).

Black Cat Hostel

Our group got together for fancy dinners Friday and Saturday nights and I kind of did my own thing the rest of the weekend. I hit up the botanical garden and zoo on Saturday along with Parque Nu Guasu. I actually really liked the botanic garden/zoo. I’d really call it more of a big city park than a botanic garden but it was a nice place to sit down with a book or explore. Plus, there were loads of birds there. I’m definitely bringing my binoculars the next time I go. The zoo is actually pretty good too. It focuses mostly on native species, which I appreciated. The highlights were staring at the carpincho (capybara), seeing a tapir swimming, and finding the escapee monkey that lives on the grounds.

Free monkey

I read a book in the plaza on Sunday, then headed off to the bus terminal for the 4 ½ hour bus ride to my site. Now I’m here in Santa Rosa, trying to figure out what being a volunteer is actually about.