Archive | June, 2012

Something to write home about

8 Jun

Just after my one year anniversary in Paraguay, I finally had the opportunity to stop off in Trinidad, Paraguay to see the Jesuit ruins there. While my town has only a few buildings that survived from our Jesuit mission, Trinidad has a spectacular collection of ruins that give you a much better picture of how magnificent the reductions (Jesuit missions) must have been in their heyday.

Overview of Trinidad

This was truly the first place I’ve been in Paraguay that left me in awe. Fittingly, the ruins at Trinidad, as well as the ruins at the neighboring town of Jesús de Tavarangue, are currently the only UNESCO World Heritage sites in Paraguay.

I'm impressed

Trinidad is located in southern Paraguay in the department of Itapua. The mission was founded by the Jesuits in 1712 and grew to be a large and prosperous place, featuring the largest church of any of the Paraguayan missions. The Jesuits were expelled from South America in 1767, at which point the buildings at Trindad quickly deteriorated. Today, partial ruins of many of the buildings on the site give a very good sense of the grandeur and structure of the reductions.

Ruins

Our first visit to the mission was at night, when the ruins are lit in a dramatic fashion, music plays, and guides are available to share information about the site. It was a really interesting way to be introduced to the site, but there was not a lot of time to explore and see all the details that make the ruins special.

Columns at night

One really neat thing about Trinidad is that the stones used to construct it were quarried nearby, at Itá Cajón (box rock). This site is open for visitors, and we checked it out the next morning. The indios quarried all the stone from this area and moved it along a human chain back to the construction site. Impressive stuff.

Ita cajon

It’s a cool place to explore and climb around the quarry, as my friends Taylor and Julia illustrated.

Climbing at ita cajon

In tacky American-style, they gave me the chance to see what I would have looked like as a quarry worker. I’m a sucker for these things, though let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have cut it as a manual laborer.

Amy quarry worker

After visiting the quarry we returned to the ruins for a daytime visit. The majority of building on site are old houses of the native guaraní indians. These houses surround the church in a u-shape. Trindad’s indian houses are particularly striking because the site had an European architect who designed the buildings.

Indio house

In the center of the U stands the remains of the giant church, comparable in size and magnificence to many a church in Europe.

church

It features a beautiful carved pulpit.

pulpit

And the baptismal font is also impressive.

baptismal font

Additionally, there are lovely embellishments in the stone almost everywhere you look.

column top

arch

corner

window

There are also remains of many statues, now headless. The heads were cut off by treasure hunters after the demise of the mission. The stories claimed the Jesuits stored gold and riches inside the statues (they didn’t).

headless statue

It was sad to see all the headless statues, but cool to see shelves full of heads (though seriously, I’m pretty sure these aren’t all actually from the headless statues).

heads on shelves

There is a cool crypt in the middle of the church where they used to bury the Jesuit priests.

crypt

We might have been a little silly while visiting…

in the crypt

We might also have tried to fill in for some of the missing statues…

Taylor as statue

Beside the church was a little courtyard lined with all sorts of functional rooms, like the school, workshops and Jesuits’ living quarters.

courtyard

There is a lovely tree in the center of this courtyard, which Julia (who lives in Trinidad) loves.

Julia and her tree

The site also features the ruins of an older church, and a neighboring tower, which you can climb.

tower

It’s a steep climb up a staircase, which is probably more accurately described as a glorified ladder.

girls on ladder

ladder

The view out the window on the landing (looking out at the old church) is rather lovely.

out the window

After being distracted by many picture-taking opportunities, I did eventually make it to the top.

amy on stairs

The views of the site from the tower were a nice way to wind down our visit. We  took the opportunity to snap a group shot using the self-timer on my camera.

group shot

After descending the tower, we wandered our way to the exit.

girls walking

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Trinidad, and hope to explore more when I return with my friend Jamie in August. I highly reccomend a stop at Trinidad to anyone who finds themselves in Paraguay or Northern Argentina. Check out my whole photo set from Trinidad on flickr.

Special thanks to Julia, for putting us up, being awesome in general, and giving us such a great tour of her town.

Julia thumbs up

Also special thanks to Taylor for being badass, good company, and a great photo model.

taylor glasses

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Winter is coming…

4 Jun

I’ve officially been in Paraguay for one year! My life has become so ordinary to me, that it seems odd to write blog posts about it for you. However, with winter on the horizon, I thought I’d re-cap my fall:

After ending summer with an awesome visit to Uruguay, I jumped back into work, teaching an entrepreneurship class at the local agricultural college. I had 6 students complete the 3-month class, and 2 groups of students completed plans to start their own businesses.

Additionally, I’m serving on a national committee who is putting together a  national business plan competition in August. I’m hoping one of the groups from my entrepreneurship class can put on a strong showing at the competition, and hopefully win some some funds to start their business.

I also started working on another national project, called Ahecha Paraguay. Ahecha is a participatory photography project that encourages youth to be creative and share their perspective through the guided use of cameras. I’ll be participating in the project in September, but in the meanwhile, I’m serving as their marketing and communications coordinator. In that capacity, I re-designed and re-launched their blog (www.ahechaparaguay.blogspot.com) and created a new Facebook page for the project (www.Facebook.com/ahechaparaguay). Check them out! Here’s an example of one of the cool photos that participants have taken (The Cathedral by Two Wheels by Marcelo Canete):

Catedral en dos ruedas

Despite having no plans to work with teenagers, I found myself as an advisor to a newly-formed youth group in my community (started by the youth I brought to the national leadership camp during the summer). I also actually found myself enjoying this. I helped the group work on self-esteem, leadership, communication and project planning. They just completed their first big project, a dental health talk for kids at the local soup kitchen, and they are diligently working to do more in the community. I feel like a mom saying this, but I’m super proud of them.

Youth group doing dental health talk

I spent a lot of time at another soup kitchen in the community, teaching English, life skills and creativity to a group of kids that I am really starting to adore. We had some special days, including a big International Migratory Bird Day celebration, where we all made bird masks (check out all the photos).

Group of kids with bird masks

I also went into a local school on World Book Day to read to kids (Where the Wild Things Are). It was a huge hit, and I will spinning this off into a regular reading club and a reading camp come July.

I brought a local contact to a national library workshop, and we came back really motivated to start more projects at our library, including a web site that we are currently building.

Library workshop attendees

On the cultural front, I survived my first Holy Week (Semana Santa) In Paraguay. During this time I learned how to make the traditional Paraguayan bread, chipa. My best bud in Paraguay managed to make 4 chipas for each one I completed. I won’t be going into the chipa-making business anytime soon. To burn off the chipa calories, I climbed our big hill again (another popular Holy Week activity).

Amy with oven for chipa

I also got to check out the Paraguayan Independence Day parade in my community (and learned that Holy Week is generally a way bigger deal than Independence Day).

Independence Day Parade

I capped the fall off with a one year in Paraguay celebration with my fellow volunteers at a beautiful nature reserve, San Rafael, in the south of Paraguay (this trip, as well as finding a great birdwatching spot on Asunción Bay, finally put me over the 70 mark on my Paraguay bird list). I then finally got to see the impressive Jesuit ruins at Trinidad. All in all a great end to the season.

G 36 at San Rafael

Now the temperature has dropped, I have a vacation on the horizon (Peru!), and lots of fun projects waiting for me when I get back. Bring it on winter!