Thursday, June 17, 2010

El Oro que es Oruro (Oruro, Golden Town)

Due to requests (and the fact that the weekend finally permitted me adequate time) I can now provide you with some visuals of the city in which I am living here in Bolivia.

Oruro is in the Altiplano, which is a narrow slip of flat land high in the Andes mountains. Here are some pictures from one of the highest points in town (a lighthouse built to commemorate the spot as where the current Bolivian flag was first flown.) This will likely become one of my favorite places as it is quiet and the air is clear of the constant vehicular exhaust caught in the streets below. Oruro is nestled against the eastern mountain range, but the western range isn’t far away as you can see here.

Because I’ve been asked to provide more images of my accommodations, here are a couple of pictures…

My two favorite places in town so far are the lighthouse, as I said before, and one of the central plazas where there are actually three fountains that run on Sundays. (It is the only place I have found respite from my constantly dry sinuses.) The beautiful thing about both of these spots are that there are flowers, which, given the cold and the dryness, are like treasures right now.

I have really enjoyed using my first weekend here to wander about town and learn more about the culture here. As always, there are some surprisingly beautiful views amidst the constant construction of a developing country.

I’m especially intrigued by religion here, especially the combination of Christianity with Andean religions. The patron of Oruro is “La Virgen de Socavon” (The Virgin of the Mineshaft) whose church is built over an abandoned mineshaft just west of the city center. Also worshipped within the mines, however, is “El Tio” (Uncle) who looks much like the Christian concept of the Devil and who is said to own all that is below the ground but will allow it to be taken safely by those miners who offer him libations and gifts (coca, burning cigarettes, and alcohol.)

Mining is what made Oruro rich in the colonial and republican eras, until the collapse of tin prices in 1985. Miners here have also had a lot to do with the liberation movements experienced in the Altiplano. There are dramatic monuments depicting their valor.

One of the things I’m loving most here is a cultural spirit much like that in Cuba, to enjoy and celebrate life despite hardships and to combine fun into as much of life as possible. This is the only context in which I can make sense of one structure I came across…a long concrete slide that is part of the grounds of the Church of the Virgin of Socavon.

People were having a lot of fun. I did not feel up to climbing all those stairs in order to try it for myself, but I will one of these days!

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