Tag: Basilica

Finally Some Oxygen!!

Finally Some Oxygen!!

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia – April 6, 2019

Departing from La Paz, one must always wake up early.  Fortunately, when it is a domestic flight, it is not crazy early.  Our driver from Mujeres al Volante (Women at the Wheel) was right on time for our 05:00 pick up from home.

When we can, we use Mujeres al Volante to get us around La Paz.  As one can tell from the business name, it is an all-female taxi service.  We like that idea because it gives women a chance they might not otherwise have.  The service operates, in part, via WhatsApp.  After arranging for a pickup, the service sends a text message via WhatsApp with the name, photograph, and cellular phone number of the driver.  Additionally, one also receives a picture of the vehicle, including the license plate.  That allows for confirmation of the ride before getting in the car.

In our experience, each driver is very kind.  Each driver is also very conscientious and safe.  For example, this morning, our driver stopped at every red light.  That may not be all that unusual in La Paz; however, our driver remained stopped until the light turned green.  That is a bit unusual.  Several other drivers stopped or slowed, only to continue through the intersection.  Those few stops did not hamper our progress.  We quickly and safely made it to the airport at El Alto by 05:45.

It was quick and easy to check-in for our 07:30 Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) flight.  After clearing the security checkpoint, we sat at Uyu café.  We both had a coffee.  Leslie also had a toasted ham and cheese croissant.  She said it was unusually delicious, especially for airport food.

Cloudy conditions did not interfere with the air traffic.  We had no problems seeing our BOA airplane arrive at the jet bridge.  About 30-minutes after the aircraft arrived, we boarded.  Then, right on time, we pushed back from the gate at 07:30.

Our Bolivian Airlines jet approaches the boarding gate.

At roughly 4,115 meters (13,500 feet), there is not an abundance of oxygen.  The main runway at El Alto International Airport is 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) long.  It seemed our airplane used about 3,990 meters of the runway before finally lifting off the ground.  Even jet airplanes have trouble at that altitude.  Quite frankly, that is no doubt part of the reason for so many early morning flights.  As the air heats up during the day, the lifting capacity of the air diminishes.

La Paz nestles amongst the mountains and cliffs along the west side of the Andes.  Santa Cruz de la Sierra, our destination, is about 554 kilometers (344 miles) east and south of La Paz.  That meant our flight went directly over the Andes.  Seeing some of the highest peaks in Bolivia from the air is beautiful.  Two offered some breathtaking views that morning, Illimani (6,438 meters/21,122 feet) and Huayna Potosí (6,088 meters/19,974 feet).  Illimani is the second highest peak in Bolivia, Huayna Potosí is the fifth highest.

We landed at Viri Viri International Airport right on time, 08:35.  As soon as we deplaned, we both felt like Olympic athletes!  There was more oxygen than our bodies had encountered in quite some time!  We felt like we could jog to the hotel.  A mere 55-minutes later we arrived at the Marriott Hotel…via a van.

The reason for our oxygen “high” was because we were low.  In a little over one-hour, we transitioned from 4,115 meters to 416 meters (1,365 feet); about a 90-percent decrease in altitude!  We were as giddy as junior high school kids…well maybe not, but we sure felt great!

After brunch at the hotel, we got in a taxi and headed to the Cathedral of Santa Cruz.  Our driver let us out on the west side of the Central Plaza.  The beautifully landscaped plaza covers one city block, containing many sidewalks.  At the center of the square is a statue of Colonel Ignacio Warnes (1770-1816).  He famously liberated the city of Santa Cruz in about 1813.

A statue of Colonel Ignacio Warnes in the center of the Central Plaza.

From the moment we exited our taxi, we heard a band playing.  As we walked through the plaza, we headed toward the cathedral at the southeast corner of the square.  In formation and at the front of the cathedral, was the Banda Intercontinental Poopó (the Poopó Intercontinental Band).  The band hails from the Bolivian city of Oruro.  The group, formed in 1964, it is famously known for playing Bolivian folk music.  Every year the band performs during Carnaval in Oruro.

There were about 50 band members on the steps in front of the cathedral.  Their uniforms are distinct, each member wearing a red jacket with gold and yellow accents.  The jackets have the name of the band emblazoned diagonally across the chest.  Dazzling white slacks offset the red coats.  Each side of the pants also carries the name of the group.  The white shoes are like none I have ever seen.  To top it all off each member wears a brownish hardhat that carries the name of the band.

When we arrived, dozens and dozens of people surrounded the band, enjoying the music.  The first song we heard was the Bolivian national anthem.  After the anthem, they segued to a Bolivian folk song.  We listened and watched for several minutes before entering the cathedral.

The Poopó Band playing in front of the cathedral.
The band smartly lined up on the stairs.
The uniforms are very intricate.
The pants and shoes are pretty snappy too!

The Cathedral of Santa Cruz, completed in 1915, is also known as the Basílica Menor de San Lorenzo Martir (Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence Martyr).  St. Lawrence was a Spanish deacon martyred in Rome in 258.  Inside, the altar that is opposite the entry point immediately draws one’s attention.  The basilica is all brick and concrete except for the beautiful vaulted wooden ceilings.  These vaulted ceilings are over the central aisle as well as the two side aisles.

The main aisle inside the cathedral.

We opted to walk along the right-side aisle toward the front of the basilica.  A typical sight in a Catholic church is prayer candles.  However, I have never seen them done as they were in the basilica.  At strategic points, there are metal tables.  Each table is about two-feet by four-feet with upturned edges.  On the flat surface, worshipers place candles.  The melted wax gathers on the tabletop without harming anything else in the basilica.  In front of a crucifix and depictions of Mary and Joseph were two of these tables.  Off to one side of the display is a hinged door with a small slot.  Many worshipers place money in the slot while admiring the display.

A pan for prayer candles.
Jesus on the cross with Mary and Joseph below.

Further along the aisle is a wooden and glass display case.  Inside are depictions of Mary, Joseph, and a young Jesus.  I am not sure who the depicted person is on the left side of the display.  As with the crucifix display, another, albeit smaller, metal table for prayer candles sat in front of the display case.  A donation box was also available.

This case depicts Mary in the center and Jesus and Joseph on the right.
The prayer candles in front of the display.

The next display was a life-size statue, possibly depicting St. Lawrence.  Just beyond that statue, at the right side of the altar was a depiction of Mary.  While we were there, a woman stood in front of the figure the entire time.

A statue in the cathedral.
A woman standing in front of a depiction of Mary.

When crossing from one side of the basilica to the other, the enormous scale of the altar area is striking.  The height and depth make it an expansive space, yet it does seem inviting.  Because the Easter Season is approaching, purple draping is behind the altar and tabernacle.  That is a pleasing offset to the wood ceilings and the mainly white walls and columns.  It also makes the silver tabernacle visually pop from the space.

The base of the altar is unique.  It appears to be hand-carved wood bas relief.  The scene depicts Jesus among several Latinos.  The Latinos are in relatively modern looking clothing, not clothing from their native past.  Some of the men sport traditional hats.  The lone woman does not appear to have her head covered at all.  The painting of the bas relief helps bring the scene to life.

The purple draping in anticipation of Easter.
The crucifix above the tabernacle.
Detail of the crucifix.
A uniquely carved altar.

On the left side of the altar is a statue of Peter, complete with the keys to the Kingdom.

A statue honoring Peter.

Outside the small chapel is another depiction of Mary and one of Jesus.  Both have space for worshipers to place prayer candles.  The chapel is small and cozy.  The tabernacle is the focus of the chapel as it is in most Catholic churches.

A statue of Jesus.
Some prayer candles in front of a depiction of Mary.
The tabernacle in the chapel.
The prayer candles in front of the statue of Jesus.
Detail of the side of the cathedral.
Detail at the top of the column.

Leaving the chapel area, one encounters another bas relief.  This bas relief depicts the Holy Trinity.  It looks ancient.

A bas relief of the Holy Trinity.
A man and woman stop in front of the side crucifix.

We could hear the Poopó Band during our entire visit to the basilica.  When we emerged, we saw some dancers performing between the band and the group of onlookers.  At one point, a man from the crowd began dancing to the folk song played at that moment.

At the left is a man dancing to the music of the Poopó Band.
Dozens and dozens of people enjoying the band.
Three members of one of the dance groups.
The clock spire of the cathedral.

Departing the basilica area, we opted to walk along the east side of the Central Plaza.  Along the way, I spotted the “Barcelona” money exchange.  Because of our time in Spain, I just had to take a photograph.  We crossed the street and entered a tourist gift shop.  After much looking, we spotted a hand-carved depiction of the Holy Family.  Carved to appear like native Bolivians, both Mary and Joseph are unique.  Even though we have a lot of Nativity scenes already, we could not resist this opportunity.  The man that served us was very kind.  He also agreed to have his photograph made while he was wrapping our purchase.

The cathedral as seen from the Central Plaza.
Looking south toward the cathedral along 24 de Septiembre.
A money exchange store.
The man from whom we purchased the wooden set of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Next door was another tourist shop.  There we decided we had to have two Bolivian blankets.  Much like the other store, the woman serving us was kind and posed for a photograph.

The woman from whom we purchased our “cholita” blankets.

At this point, it was near noon.  We saw an Irish Pub on the second level of a shopping mall.  It had open windows overlooking the Central Plaza.  We decided that was the place to be.  We walked upstairs and ordered a couple of beers.  Since we had brunch at the hotel, we decided to snack on some French fries.  Just as noted above, our server was kind and posed for a photograph.  In return, she captured Leslie and me at our very best…

Our server at the Irish Pub.
The patrons at the Irish Pub.

From our vantage point above the plaza, we saw a lot.  I think one of the most interesting sights was the two chess tables set up at the side of the square, both occupied by chess players.  For the entire time we were in the area, the Poopó Band played.  They never took a break.  I am sure they were exhausted whenever they finally did stop playing.

White flowers in a tree across from the Irish Pub.
Three costumed girls walking through Central Plaza.
It sounds German, but it is made in Bolivia.
Chess games in the Central Plaza.
Thinking of the next move.
One of the local security people in the Central Plaza.
The clock spire of the cathedral.
A juice vendor in the Central Plaza.
Detail of the cross atop the cathedral spire.
The Santa Cruz municipal government building. The Bolivian flag is red, yellow, and green. The green and white flag is for Santa Cruz.
Two women talking in the Central Plaza.

After our refreshments, we called for our taxi and returned to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.

The two “cholita” blankets we bought in a store just off the Central Plaza.

Before we departed La Paz, our good friends Joe and Tia told us we needed to eat at the steakhouse, La Cabrera.  We made reservations there for our first night in Santa Cruz.  Prior to arriving at the steakhouse, we had a glass of wine in the lobby of the hotel.  Drinks complete, we got in our taxi and rode to the steakhouse.

The bar/restaurant at the Marriott.
A white wine.
And both wines.
Lighting in the lobby of the Marriott.
Lighting above the bar.

The recommendation of the steakhouse was spot-on!  The building is two-stories; however, once inside, one can see the steakhouse has three separate levels on which to dine.  Our table happened to be on the ground floor.  Once seated, the wait staff immediately greeted us and asked for our beverage preference.  Oddly enough, we selected a bottle of wine.  We had a bottle of Juan Cruz Tannat which was one of the most delicious wines I have experienced.

La Cabrera, a wonderful steakhouse.
Interior of the steakhouse.
My happy date for the evening.
The bottle of wine we enjoyed with dinner.

For our starter, we selected Provoleta al Orégano (grilled provolone cheese with oregano).  It was a superb way to begin our meal.  We each chose the half-portion Argentinian steak for our main course.  Brought to the table on a sizzling serving platter, it is almost like a fajita platter.  The server cut a portion for each of us and placed it on our plates.  About a dozen small ramekins containing a variety of sauces and dressings accompanied the steak.  A fresh green salad came was also part of the fare.  The steak, done to perfection, massaged the tongue with each bite.

I am glad we each ordered a half portion.  The steaks were huge!  Nearly the size of a dinner plate!  I do not know what we would have done with the leftovers if we each had ordered a full steak.  As it was, we could barely make it through what we had.  Based on the previous sentence, one may wonder just why we ordered dessert…because we could!

The dessert at the steakhouse.

Our dessert was some enormous chocolate concoction.  While it was good, it was not my favorite.  It may have lacked the real chocolate punch I expected.  I am sure part of the issue is that I am not a big dessert eater anyway.  Regardless, we both highly recommend La Cabrera.  It is worth the effort to get there.

On Sunday we walked from the hotel to the Ventura Mall.  The mall is an easy walk, only about one-half mile.  The first store we entered was Supermercado Tia.  WOW!  What a grocery store!  La Paz does not have that supermarket.  It seemed we were in a whole different country.

The store has an entry to the mall.  When we arrived, the mall was not yet open.  That meant we spent our time wandering through the store.  On the street side of the store was a small café.  We each had a coffee and watched the other shoppers walk through the store.  After our coffee, we joined the wanderers.  The store had everything under one giant roof.  We saw everything for which we usually shop.  That is different than the area where we live.  When we go shopping at home, it is not unusual to have to go to between two and four different stores to find everything we want.  We made some mental notes of what we wanted to get from the store when we walked back to the Marriott.

When we entered the mall, we saw a modern, glistening, three-story structure.  We strolled through every inch of the mall.  On the upper level is a large movie theater complex.  We almost went in to see a movie…almost.  We decided not to go in because we did not see a film that we found interesting.  So, we walked through a small hallway and discovered a large food court.  There were some vendors we did not recognize, but there were many we did know; Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, and Burger King, to name a few.

We had not eaten at Burger King for a long time, so we decided that day was the day.  We each ordered a flame-broiled Whopper, fries, and a drink.  Leslie found a place to sit while I waited for our meal.  That was when I noticed the flame broiling did not take place there.  That appears to have happened elsewhere.  A microwave heats the hamburger patties before placing them on the bun.  The Whopper was ok, but it was not what we were expecting.

Leaving the food court, we stopped at Supermercado Tia to buy a few things and then walked back to the hotel.  We spent the rest of the day lounging.

That evening, we had dinner at the hotel. At the entry to the restaurant, there is a large ametrine crystal, about 18 inches wide by 12 inches tall, a purple and white quartz only found in Bolivia, on display. I have no clue about the value of that piece. The stone contains both citrine and amethyst.

We had an excellent dinner topped off with Flor de Caña 18 rum…my kind of dessert!

A huge specimen of ametine at the Marriott.
An after-dinner drink of Flor de Caña 18.

On Monday, one of my tasks was to view the local Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office. APHIS is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture. It was at that office I saw the most unusual wall painting. In the corner of the front garden is a 3-D mural. It depicts the mission of APHIS. The mural focuses on animal husbandry and wildlife from the high mountains to the lowlands, including farming, and then on to the big cities. According to the locally employed staff member, the mural, completed by a local artist, cost only US$200 nearly 15-years ago. I am sure I will never see another wall like that one.

The 3-D mural at the APHIS facility.

Thursday morning, we boarded a plane to return to La Paz. The BOA Boeing 737 we boarded that morning was unusual. A sign at the front entry to the plan proudly announced, “Pope Francis flew in this aircraft from Quito to La Paz and from La Paz to Santa Cruz on July 8, 2015.”

Our plane waiting for us to board in Santa Cruz.
The fuselage of our plane.
This sign as we entered the airplane read, “Pope Francis flew in this aircraft from Quito to La Paz and from La Paz to Santa Cruz on July 8, 2015.”

The flight to La Paz was quick and uneventful.  Once we were on the ground, our bodies screamed that we seemed to have left a lot of oxygen behind!  Even though we were only absent from La Paz for five nights, our bodies had to reacclimate to the thin air of La Paz.  Regardless, it was good to be back home.  We like the weather in La Paz much more than Santa Cruz.  La Paz is cool and dry.  Santa Cruz is hot and humid.

A worker’s legs dangling through the trellis at the pool area.
A panorama of Santa Cruz, looking east from the swimming pool deck at the hotel.
A Great Day for the Dead

A Great Day for the Dead

La Paz, Bolivia – November 2, 2018

Today was the first time I ever saw Dia de los Muertos first-hand. I chose the La Paz Cementerio General for my visit. I was a little apprehensive because of the unknown and the fact that I was going by myself. Another reason for my apprehension was the odor. One of my work colleagues told me there was a foul odor at the cemetery because the tombs were not airtight. As an ex-cop, used to dealing with bodies that had, shall we say, “ripened,” I knew exactly what odor was being described. Spoiler alert – I did not encounter any noxious odors at the cemetery.

Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead) is a traditional holiday in many Latin American countries. It is a day for remembering a family’s dead; but, more importantly, it is a time of celebrating the family members return from the afterlife for a visit. To that end, there are many offerings to entice the family member to visit and then to ease their return to the afterlife. The visits occur between noon on November 2 and noon on November 3; however, those times are not rigid.

A family can expect visits at either the tomb or grave of their loved one or at the family’s own home.  In either location, family members place photographs and other items that the dearly departed loved during life.  Additionally, things the loved one liked to eat or drink are also laid out as offerings.  Those items can include bread, cookies, sweets, food, soup, soft drinks, beer, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.; virtually anything the loved one enjoyed.

The bread used for the Dia de los Muertos is interesting because of its many variations. One of the more popular shapes is the t’antawawa, an Aymara word meaning baby bread. A t’antawawa is in the approximate form of a baby’s body with a painted, ceramic face/head. They can range in size from tiny bread or cookies to nearly adult life-size. The food can also be in the shape of animals such as horses. Other bread shapes include the traditional dinner roll size, round loaves, ladders (to aid with travel to and from the afterlife), and crosses. It appears the maker’s imagination only limits the shape.

A work colleague shared with me that when setting up the offerings at home, their place of choice; they receive as many as 150 family members (living) throughout the holiday. That is a lot of people just to have drop by a home.

With that bit of preface, allow me to share my experience of Dia de los Muertos.

I walked out of my front door at 07:00. Green, Sky Blue, White, Orange, and Red. Those colors have nothing to do with the holiday nor are they colors I saw when I walked outside. Those colors just happened to be the five; that is correct, five, Teleferico lines I had to ride to get to the Cementario General.

While on the Orange Line of the Teleferico, I passed over the “illegal” cemetery, Cementerio la Llamita. I do not know if it is, in fact, an illegal cemetery. If it is unlawful, by deduction, that means that the regulations for burial are less strictly enforced. Therefore, it is such “illegal” cemeteries that may be the cause of my colleague’s comment regarding odor. I quickly tried to take a photograph, which is why the focus is not quite right.

A partial view of the “illegal” cemetery as seen from the Orange Line of the Teleferico.

At the end of the Orange Line, I changed to the Red Line. I only had one stop to go to be at the Cementerio General. I got off the Red Line and walked out of the Teleferico building. I noticed right across the street was an entrance to the cemetery. I do not believe that entrance is generally in use, just on select days. Approaching the gate, I saw a few small flower stands. Many cemetery visitors stopped to buy some flowers before entering.

A secondary entry to the Cementerio General (General Cemetery) in the northwest portion of La Paz.

The Cementerio General is the main, and quite large, cemetery in La Paz. The exterior wall of the cemetery is nearly 1.5 kilometers long (4,389 feet or 0.83 miles). That means the area covered by the cemetery is almost 10 hectares (24 acres). On the grounds, there are dozens and dozens of columbaria, some with as many as three levels. The “population” of the cemetery must be in the tens of thousands.

At the gate, Bolivian National Police searched the bags of everyone entering. As soon as I made it past that checkpoint, I faced multiple columbaria. At the end of the columbarium closest to me, I saw a mural with two painted skulls. Then I noticed that almost every columbarium had a painting at the end, even those with three levels. Much of the art was stunning. I did not photograph every mural, but I did capture a lot. At this point, the narrative will cease so the reader can view all of the paintings I captured. At the end of the mural photographs, the story continues.

My first view of the artwork on the end of a columbarium at the Cementerio General. The artist is Ñatinta, completed in 2017. The other name appears to be Llukutter.
A skull mural at the end of a cuartel (barrack) 53. This one is also by Ñatinta, completed in 2016. The other name appears to be S. Cuello.
The artist of this mural appears to be Tuer. The work appears to have been completed in 2018.
An intricate design surrounding a skull. This was done by Osek. It appears to have been completed in 2018.
Psychedelic skulls by Nando Pantoja and Angela in 2018.
A skull of a cholita by Pez Dani, probably 2018.
A collection of colorful flowers and plants, possibly by Tekaz. It was probably completed in 2018.
This work shows singers serenading at the tomb of a young man. Note the t’antawawa’s below the young man’s face. The style seems reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica. It is possibly by TViore in 2017.
A woman and a young child by an unknown artist.
Some of the largest artwork at the Cementerio General is logically located at the end of the three-story columbaria.
This cholita and skull appear to be done by JP Zdas.
This portrait is by Ricardo Akn in 2018.
She seems to be watching all those who approach.
This three-story piece is done by an unknown artist.
Another psychedelic skull by Ñatinta in 2017.
The banner reads, “no tears for the final rest.” At the very bottom, it reads, “for all of the saints who rest in La Paz.” The artist’s initials appear to be TZV.
Angels with skulls and barbed wire halos. The artist is unknown.
A young person with flowers. The artist is possibly Stfil.
An unusual design by Tekaz.
A stylistic skull surrounded by what appear to be cocoa leaves. The artist is Boos.
Flowers at the end of a columbarium by Ciclope.
A heart. The bottom reads, “the measure of life.” The artist is JP.
A skull at the end of a columbarium. The artist is Decoma.
A neon cholita. The artists are Huyllas and Natinta, done in 2018. The bottom left reads, “your voice will not be erased…my little soul.”
Another flower arrangement by Tekaz.
Some stylized coyotes. The artist is unknown because the name is partially obscured by the ladders.
Another view of the psychedelic skulls by Nando Pantoja and Angela in 2018.
Removing a mask by Mamo and Ñatinta from 2017.
Above this woman’s face are the words to a song often sung during the All Saints celebration. The artist is Willka in 2018.
Flowers growing from a bird held by a woman. The artist is Giova in 2018.
A skull with sunglasses and a hat. The word that continues from one columbarium to the other reads, “perpetual.” The artist is Ñatinta from 2016.
A child playing the violin. The artist is la Gabu.Z.
A zintangle woman? The artist is Nona.
A Bolivian astronaut skull. The artist is unknown.
A blue skull. The artist is Alme in 2018.
Birds and a stylized face. The artist is unknown.
A cholita skull complete with the traditional braids. The artist is BLK from 2015.
A cholita from 2017. The artist is unknown.
Three couples from 2016. The artist is unknown.
A contemporary view of children/teens from 2016. The artists are Bufón81 and Afta17.
A young person’s memories of La Paz from 2017. The artist is Bufón81.
Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The artist is unknown.
A stylized angel embracing a woman above a woman on a bed of skulls. The artist is unknown.
A landscape. The artist is unknown.
A blue skull and candles. The artist is unknown.
A mummy with an apple. The artist is unknown.

Some of the above photograph captions contain the word “cholita.” That deserves some explanation. Cholita refers to the women of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua tribes. In the not too distant past, cholita was a pejorative term. However, today, it has regained a particular popularity and resurgence in use. The cholitas are very distinctive with their bowler hats and long hair braids.

Looking down the aisles between the columbaria, I could see far into the distance. They seemed to go on forever. The columbaria here in La Paz look much different than those that one might see in the United States. In the U. S. each tomb is covered by an engraved headstone bearing the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. In the Cementerio General, each monument has a glass door, usually with a small padlock. Behind the glass is a void of some eight to ten inches before the masonry seal on the tomb. On the masonry seals are the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. Often the details include a photograph of the person. Filling the remainder of the void are offerings or representative items of things the person enjoyed in life. In some instances, there are metal holders on either side for vases of flowers.

Several very large columbaria vanish into the distance.
The inscription above this tomb reads “Dear Dad.” The offerings inside are things the deceased enjoyed; in this case, bread, cigarettes, Coca-Cola, and a clear beverage.
This father was obviously a huge Bolivar fan.  Bolivar is a professional footbol team in Bolivia.
A man on a ladder tending to the tomb of a loved one.

The tallest, single-story columbaria I saw contained tombs seven high. The visiting family must use ladders to reach the uppermost graves. With the aid of the ladder, family open the glass door, remove dead flowers and old offerings. Once clean, the family places new offerings into the tomb, and the glass door closed.

A view to the east from the Bolivian Police columbarium.
Several empty tombs at the Bolivian Police columbarium.
Looking to the west atop the Bolivian Police columbarium.
A unique cross placement on a columbaria.

There is an initial fee and then annual fees after that to place a loved one in a tomb at Cementerio General. If the annual fees are not paid, after about three years, the remains are removed, cremated, and dealt with by cemetery personnel.

I did see a few graves in the ground with headstones, but that was by far the exception, not the rule.  The columbaria were the norm within the Cementerio General.

I ultimately made my way to the main entrance of the cemetery. The church is there. The church was lovely inside, but it was not ornately decorated. Of particular note were the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and another area with a depiction of Jesus in the tomb.

View toward the altar of the church in the Cementerio General.
A statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in the church at the Cementario General.  The statue is known as the Viren de Copacabana.
A stained glass cross on the west side of the church at the Cementario General.
A depiction of Jesus in the tomb in the church in the Cementerio General.

Leaving the church, I saw a display containing many of the items that families might bring to the tombs of their loved ones. I was immediately drawn to the t’antawawas, probably because I had been given a t’antawawa cookie the day before by a work colleague. Those on display ranged from cookie-size to some made of bread that was approaching three-feet in length. At the exhibition, there was even a t’antawawa made in the shape of a horse. There were other bread designs, including one that reminded me of a colossal pretzel, bread crosses, and bread ladders. Huge onion plants partially framed the display. The families often use those, and large sugar cane stalks as decorations at the tombs.

A display of some typical items brought to the tombs of the departed in the Cementerio General.
The display of offerings is located just outside the church in the Cementerio General.
A detail of some of the offerings typically brought to the cemetery. Note the t’antawawas on either side of the cross. Also, note the t’antawawa in the shape of a horse in the upper left.
The offerings can also include beverages and food.

I sat down at a bench near the display. I stayed there for quite a while, watching the people streaming into the cemetery. Many of them stopped to view the exhibition, some even taking photographs as I did. Others merely walked on by, destined for the family tomb. While I sat there, I saw a couple of men dressed in medium blue clothing wearing hard hats. One, in particular, made frequent eye contact with me. It dawned on me that they were probably masons, available for hire by the families to make any needed repairs to tombs. I ultimately approached one of the men. He confirmed he was, in fact, a mason, waiting to be hired by an incoming family. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph. Unfortunately, I was not thinking, so I failed to get his name. Regardless, he was very nice.

Since this was at the main entry point, many people stopped to view the display of offerings.
People looking at the display.
Some people simply walked by the display without stopping to look.
The Bolivian Police checked all packages at the entry points to the Cementerio General.
This mason was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph. I neglected to ask his name.

After my rest on the bench, I continued walking through the cemetery.  I did find a large map of the grounds.  It is truly astonishing just how many columbaria are at the cemetery.

A map of the Cementerio General.

In the eastern portion of the cemetery, I noticed several tombs that had QR codes. If one captures the code with a smartphone, information about the person buried there is displayed. I did not do that, but I did come across two vast tombs that were obviously of revered Bolivians. The first was the tomb of Carlos Palenque Avilés, 1944 – 1997, a famous Bolivian singer and politician. The second large tomb was that of Germán Busch Becerra, 1903 – 1939, a military officer and ultimately a President of Bolivia.

The tomb of Carlos Palenque Avilés in the Cementerio General.
The tomb and monument to Germán Busch Becerra.
A mausoleum in the Cementerio General.
A columbarium with an angel statue in the Cementerio General.
These columbaria do not seem to be so crowded.
The columbarium at the rear reads, “Union Workers Welfare Society, founded on the first of May, 1909.
Two people carrying a ladder while the Teleferico moves nonstop overhead.
An art deco styled angel in the Cementerio General.
Stained glass crosses at a mausoleum In the Cementerio General.
The oldest tomb I saw in the Cementerio General. Note the QR code in the lower right.
A columbarium with high-ranking Bolivian army officers in the Cementerio General.
Various sizes of ladders propped up beside a columbarium in the Cementerio General.
Ladders are strategically placed throughout the Cementerio General.

I found a mausoleum dedicated to those that had fought in the Acre Campaigns.  That was a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil at the turn of the 20th Century.  Bolivia was the victor in the fighting.

The exterior of the columbarium for the Benefit Society of the Country for those in the Acre Campaigns.
The interior of the columbarium for the Benefit Society of the Country for those in the Acre Campaigns.
Stairs leading to more columbaria.
The columbaria seem to stretch on forever.
Ladders at the ready at the end of a columbarium.
A small, tiled columbarium.
The access alleys to the columbaria begin to fill up with people.
The sun coming over the edge of the roof of a columbarium seems to beckon one to heaven.
Looking through the ground floor level of a three-story columbarium.
The mausoleum of the Dr. Abigail Mendoza family.
The stained glass of Mary and Baby Jesus in the mausoleum of the Dr. Abigail Mendoza family.
Detail of the stained glass of Mary and Baby Jesus in the mausoleum of the Dr. Abigail Mendoza family.

In all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I never saw any sadness. I never saw any family members weeping. The Dia de los Muertos seemed to be more joyous than a sad occasion. I did find out that families can hire people to cry at the tomb. I did not personally witness that. However, I did see families that hired musicians to play and sing at the graves. One of the more noteworthy groups were about ten boys playing drums and Bolivian pan flutes. They did an excellent job and amassed quite a crowd of onlookers. I did come across another group of boys with drums, but they did not seem to be as polished. In fact, a woman walking by the group covered her ears.

A group of young boys performing at a tomb in the Cementerio General.
The group of boys performed in front of a tomb bedecked with offerings of bread, fruit, and drink.
One woman’s music is another woman’s noise.

During my walk, I stopped at one point when I saw a man and his young son.  The man was struggling with one of the ladders.  I asked him if he needed assistance.  He politely declined.

A man and his son renting a ladder.
A mausoleum in the Cementerio General.
One of the more narrow areas between columbaria.
There never seemed to be a shortage of ladders.
A young girl running around while musicians are playing in front of a tomb.
A woman taking a selfie atop the ladder in front of her loved one’s tomb.
Women working together to clean out a tomb in preparation for newly placed offerings.
The offerings consisted of bread, t’antawawas, onions, fruit, and a drink in a thermos.
Another of the endless aisles of columbaria.
A family preparing to go up the ladder with some offerings.

Strategically placed throughout the cemetery are sinks and water spigots. The visitors use these stations to clean items from their loved one’s tomb. Most often, the items cleaned are flower vases. Near each sink are rubbish bins in which the old flowers are placed. Workers come by periodically to police the area and take the rubbish to large 30-yard trash bins. In turn, those are removed from the cemetery by large trucks from the local trash service.

People washing vases while an employee collects the discarded flowers.
Discarded flowers were everywhere.
A man and a mason discussing needed repairs at a tomb.
Ladders at the ready.
A mason with his tools of the trade rounding the corner.
A woman waiting beside a ladder.
Walking to the tomb with offerings.
A woman walking with bags of offerings.
After all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I decided it was time to head home. I walked to the main entrance of the cemetery. Not far from there was an exit. As I stepped onto Avenida Baptista I noticed the street was closed for the holiday. There was a real carnival atmosphere. One of the first things I saw was an art deco building that reminded me of a building in Wellington, New Zealand (see the posting Wellington Museum).
This art deco style building is across the street from the Cementerio General.
Avenida Baptista on the front side of the Cementerio General.

There were a couple of zebras walking on the sidewalk. The zebras are people in costume. The La Paz Zebras were born as a way to help regulate traffic and avoid pedestrian/vehicle mishaps. The Zebras have been around since 2001. As I walked past, they both said buenas dias!

A rare sighting of two Zebras in front of the Cementerio General.

One of the streets heading off from Avenida Baptista had what seemed like dozens of stands of BBQ and other delicious smelling foods.  I wanted to try some, but I did not since Mr. E. Coli had just visited me.  While on that street, I ran into a shoe shiner.  Many of the shoe shiners keep their faces covered because they do not want their friends and family to know that is what they do to earn money.

Directly across from the main entrance to the cemetery is a small mall with nothing but flower shops. While I was there, it was doing a booming business.

A panorama of Avenida Baptista in front of the Cementerio General.
Two women walking toward the Cementerio General.
The young man in the light blue jacket is a shoe shiner.
Some flowers for sale across from some wonderful smelling BBQ.
The main entrance to the Cementerio General.
The church framed by the entry arch.
Part of the flower market directly across the street from the Cementerio General.
People walking by Rebecca’s Flower Shop.

I began walking east along Avenida Baptista. Luckily, it was all downhill, so I did not have to grapple with gravity very much. As I noted above, the street was closed to traffic. Instead of vehicles, the road was packed with vendors of every ilk; ladies’ lingerie, plasticware for children, handmade wooden items, DVDs, ice cream, fruit, etc. It was varied and noisy as some vendors shouted out what was available. Pedestrians choked the parts of the street that were not covered by vendors. I can only imagine the scene later in the day when it would no doubt be busier.

An interesting looking building on Avenida Baptista.
Selling colorful plasticware for children.
A woman selling watermelon slices.
A man and his ice cream cart.
A woman waiting to make an ice cream cone for the man and his daughter.
A cholita perusing the wares.
A girl in a red dress.
A cholita walking through the market.
A woman and a young girl in the market.
Strolling through the market.
A young woman donning her hat.

At the Garita de Lima park roundabout, I stopped to take in the sights.  That is where I saw the Evangelical Baptist Church and the Hospital La Paz.

Two artificial flower vendors at the street market.
View downhill from the roundabout at the Garita de Lima park on Avenida Baptista.
The Evangelical Baptist Church across from the Garita de Lima park on Avenida Baptista.

Departing the Garita de Lima park roundabout on Max Paredes, I saw something that very much reminded me of home, the kitchen gadget salesman. A man set up a portable table in the street. The edges of the tabletop held about four dozen oranges. In the middle of the table, there was a pile of different colored plastic gadgets. The salesman, speaking loudly and rapidly, demonstrated how one could insert the device into an orange and quickly obtain the juice. He had several people standing around watching his demonstration. I am not sure if he sold any to that crowd.

A juicing device salesman on Max Paredes.
The street market met vehicles just east of the Garita de Lima park on Max Paredes.
The mix of vehicles and pedestrians on Max Paredes. Note the van has the Cementerio General as one of its destinations.
It is tight quarters walking this section of Max Paredes.

Shortly after passing the kitchen gadget salesman, the street opened to traffic once again.  At that point of Max Paredes, there were still vendors; however, they were relegated to the sidewalk or curbside.  This area is where the food market begins.  It is set up in specific sections.  There are sections for vendors selling fruits, vegetables, cooking spices, lentils, fish, and meat.  There were even a couple of fabric vendors thrown in for good measure.  Between the vendors, pedestrians, and vehicles, one has to be careful while walking.

A vegetable stand on Max Paredes.
The vendor points and provides answers to a patron’s questions.
This woman was advertising in a loud voice what she had for sale.
Various cooking spices for sale.
A woman preparing a fish for a customer.
A woman at a meat stand along Max Paredes.
Another fish stand on Max Paredes.
Meat for the carnivore.
Yet more meat available near the Max Paredes roundabout.
Women selling lentils along Max Paredes.
Waiting for a customer.
The fruit section of the Max Paredes market.
A cholita walking through the fruit section.
All the bananas one could possibly want.
The vendor tried to entice the young girl with the dog to buy some bananas.
A cholita at a fruit stand on Max Paredes.
The fabric section of the market on Max Paredes.
One of the many Dodge buses operating in La Paz.
This bus is known as The Prince.
This bus is known as Crazy Boy.
The statue in the roundabout at Max Paredes.

After walking nearly a mile (1.3 kilometers), I found Sagarnaga, the street for which I had been searching. That street would take me to the Witches Market and the Basilica of San Francisco. I was quite happy that my walk from the cemetery to the Basilica was downhill.

In the Witches Market, I did a little shopping. I found several touristy items that I could not live without.

The point where Sagarnaga narrows.
The cobblestone Sagarnaga descends to the San Francisco Basilica.
An old building on Sagarnaga.
Sagarnaga continues downhill from the Witches Market.
Traffic and pedestrians share Linares.
A yarn covered light-pole in the Witches Market.
A taxi preparing to turn from Melchor Jimenez onto Linares in the Witches Market.
A newly completed mural on Melchor Jimenez in the Witches Market. The artist is Tikay Marsh Aner.
Searching for bargains in the Witches Market.
A llama mural in the Witches Market. The artists are Sebollin, Jonatan, Marbot, and Ahau Flamma.
A display of items for sale in the Witches Market.
A typical tourist shop in the Witches Market.
A mural in the Witches Market. The artist is unknown.

When I finished shopping, it was lunchtime. I was not that hungry, but I did want to sit down for a while. I found Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub. I asked the man that greeted me at the door if he had a cold beer. He said he did so I immediately sat down! I continued to talk to him as he came by my table intermittently. I discovered he was Tomas Luna, the owner. We had a pleasant conversation. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph.

While sitting at Luna’s, I received two unexpected “guests;” Hillary and Leslie. They called me. They were both anxious to hear about my Dia de los Muertos activities. I told them a little bit but added that they would have to wait for my blog to get the rest of the story.

An ice-cold Paceña cerveza at Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
Tomas Luna, the owner of Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
Unexpected guests while I was having my beer.
Tomas Luna, the owner of Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
The owner at the door to his restaurant, Tomas Luna.
San Francisco Basilica is visible in the distance.
Street-level view of a passing van.
Sagarnaga was virtually empty because of the holiday.
From Luna’s, it was just a few blocks down to the Basilica San Francisco. The last time I was there, it was after my CLO walking tour (see the Witches Market post). That time, the Basilica was not open. This time, to my surprise, it was open. I walked inside. Immediately I saw some huge signs. I thought they said that one could not take photographs during mass. A mass was in progress, but I could tell it was at the very end. I heard the priest give the final blessing, and the people responded.

Soon the people were walking to the back of the Basilica to exit. That is when I began taking photographs of the very elaborate and beautiful altar. After about four or five clicks, I suddenly found myself in the company of a Bolivian National Policeman. He was not amused. He said something in Spanish and pointed furtively to one of the signs. In my best Spanish, I tried to tell him I thought I could take photos when mass was over. The officer impatiently pointed at the sign again. I said I was very sorry and beat a hasty retreat to the exit.

The altar at San Francisco Basilica.
The altar at the San Francisco Basilica.
The choir loft at the rear of the San Francisco Basilica.

The last portion of my journey was several blocks downhill from the Basilica to the Light Blue line of the Teleferico.  Between that line and the Green line, I made it back to my neck of the woods and ultimately home.  I arrived at my house at about 14:00.

A mural at the Mercado Camacho near the Celeste Line of the Teleferico.

Next year, I will return to the cemetery.  I will probably go at a different time to see how that may change my experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed my day.

A skull along via 33. The artist appears to be Zamir. The brilliant color indicates it was completed in 2018.
Witches Market

Witches Market

La Paz, Bolivia – September 4, 2018

After ten days of living in La Paz, Bolivia at 11,180 feet (3,404 meters), it was time to bring my lungs on a walking tour of parts of the city.  The Community Liaison Officer (CLO) organized a walking tour on the Labor Day holiday.

About 20 people met at the U. S. Embassy to begin the adventure. A station on the light blue line of the Teleférico (Linea Celeste) was a little more than a block beyond the starting point. It took several gondolas to get the group to the end of the light blue line. Once at the end of the line, the group transferred to the orange line (Linea Naranja).

The orange line “flies” quite high above the never-ending city of La Paz. The views of the town are stunning. It is impressive to see just how many homes and businesses are packed into an area delimited by steep hills and cliffs. It seems one can look in any direction and see hundreds and hundreds of red brick structures clinging to any area of soil that seems as though it may support a structure. Some look rather doubtful, but that does not seem to deter the owners and builders.

The density of La Paz is like no city I have seen.
View from the orange line of the Teleferico.

In our direction of travel, the orange line drops passengers off near the old train depot.  While it is still known as the train depot, no trains originate from the depot.  For some reason, service was suspended years ago.  The only remnants today are the old building and a couple of train cars sitting on display on tracks that lead nowhere.

The orange line of the Teleferico deposits one near the La Paz train station, seen here in the background.

Departing the orange line terminus, the group walked along Avenida Buenos Aires.  In front of a building under construction, there were a half-dozen burros.  It is uncertain for what they were being used or whether there are others in the city.  These are the only burros I have personally seen here.

Burros at the side of Avenida Buenos Aires.

A few bends along the Avenida later, CLO announced we were at our first destination. The destination was not readily apparent. CLO pointed to a small opening off the side of the road and proclaimed, “There is the entry to Uyustus Market (Mercado Uyustus).” At first sight, it did not appear that it was an entry to anything. But, sure enough, once through the entrance, one found all sorts of shops on both sides of a tiny aisle. The aisle could not have been more than three feet wide. Regardless, it was open to travel in either direction. There were not many people in the market when we arrived. Several of the shops were not yet open. Some experienced people in the group said the aisle was very difficult to traverse when all the shops are open, and the market is packed.

The narrow slit between the white tarp and the yellow/orange shop is the entry to the Uyustus Market.

Walking through the market, one passes numerous shops. Some of the shops are no more than a stall about eight feet by eight feet (2.4 meters by 2.4 meters). One can buy shoes, backpacks, cosmetics, underwear, shirts, pants, electronics, household appliances, and more. Now and then there was a small opening between shops. Walking through those, one entered the ground floor of the buildings which line the street. That was entirely another maze of shops offering everything one can imagine. If an item cannot be found at Uyustus Market, it is not something one needs anyway.

A quarter-mile (434 meters) up the market road, thankfully at the end of the upward march, both my lungs began to complain about the 12,300-foot (3,749 meters) elevation. I was happy to stand still and search for available atoms of oxygen while my companions looked for bargains. Looking up, I saw the tangled mess that delivers power, cable TV, and telephone. I am not sure how one could decipher where to begin if one of the utilities stopped working at a nearby home.

Above the ground floor shops were another four or five floors of apartments. Probably 95 percent of the buildings appear to be unfinished. In other words, the exterior is frequently just red brick. The interiors are finished and undoubtedly livable. One Bolivian told me there is no sense in making the exterior walls “pretty.” They are outside.

View of the Uyustus Market.
This mannequin must have been five percent off…
Typical apartment homes above the ground level shops.
The main portion of Uyustus Market is quite crowded.

Soon it was time to walk back downhill toward Avenida Buenos Aires; hooray!!

In the middle of Calle Uyustus was a sleeping dog. Since this is a market street, the majority of the traffic is pedestrian. The dog was unfazed by any of the activities. On that note, there are thousands of dogs roaming throughout the city. Some are turned out by their owners for the day. Regardless, it makes walking dangerous. Not because of packs of dogs growling at passersby, but because of the “gifts” left behind by the dogs. Picking up dog feces does not appear to be in vogue in La Paz. Therefore, when walking, one has to be constantly aware lest one acquires an odorous gift on the bottom of one’s shoe.

Let sleeping dogs lie…

This situation reminded me of our time in Madrid. While living there, the city faced a similar problem of people not picking up after their dogs. The city’s campaign designed to turn the problem around was simple. They put up signs throughout the city that stated; bolsa caca. Loosely translated, it means to bag the crap! Maybe a similar campaign could gain traction in La Paz.

The other hazard when walking in La Paz is uneven terrain and holes. By rough terrain, it is not a reference to the broader terrain of the steep hills and cliffs; but, rather the sidewalks and streets. There is any number of trip hazards in every few yards or meters one travels. It is unsafe to walk and look about at the sights. It is much safer to pay attention to the path to ensure one does not encounter holes, unexpected curbs, sudden inclines or declines, and the occasional dog gift. If one wishes to see the sights, it is best to cease walking and then look.

Back on Avenida Buenos Aires, it is impressive to see the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Often the cars and the humans are separated by mere centimeters. Luckily, there were no mishaps spotted.

A Dodge bus on Avenida Buenos Aires.
A red Ford bus on Avenida Buenos Aires.
An approaching Dodge bus that was just not quite as fancy as the first.
A family of three on a moped on Avenida Buenos Aires.
Literally, a little old lady walking along Avenida Buenos Aires.
A Bolivian woman wearing the traditional bowler hat.
Some nuns in the back of a minivan.

On the way to the Witches Market, we walked through yet another market along Pasaje el Rosario. There were many shops open; however, it was not overly crowded with people. Interestingly, there are so many shops in the area. They seem to be sectioned off, for example, one area deals primarily in sewing and knitting supplies. Another area features mainly electronics and appliances while yet another deals in aquariums and aquarium supplies.

Another small market on Pasaje el Rosario.
There are many things in the market competing for one’s attention.
A Bolivian woman in a bowler tending to a shop in along Pasaje el Rosario.

We walked into another such area, the “Home Depot.” This street has every type of hardware or hardware related item one can imagine. There is a similar area near where I live. This particular street with the shops is a busy road. It is a one-way road. The vehicles have to negotiate with shoppers while being inconvenienced by a car stopping to take on a large load of something. That sets off the horns on the other vehicles for blocks.

A portion of the road, Isaac Tamayo, is the local “Home Depot” of this area of La Paz.

Not long after the “Home Depot,” we made it to Calle Sagarnaga. That meant we were very close to the Witches Market (Mercado de las Brujas). Finally, at the intersection of Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Linares, we found ourselves in the middle of the Witches Market. The market is so named because, in addition to selling the standard tourist fare, one can also buy many spells and potions. I did not buy any tourist items or medicines, preferring to defer my purchases until I return with Leslie and Lorraine. However, upon my return, I doubt any potions will find their way into my shopping bag.

View north along Calle Sagarnaga toward San Francisco Basilica.
The intersection of Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Linares.
Bolivian women tending a street shop in the Witches Market area of La Paz.
In the Witches Market, looking south along Calle Linares.
The entry to the inti-illimani shop in the Witches Market.
An entry point to another area of the Witches Market along Calle Melchor Jimenez.
A woman walking along Calle Linares.
One of the very colorful street displays found throughout the Witches Market.

About an hour of shopping later, the group met for lunch at a Cuban restaurant. I opted not to join the group. I had to return to San Miguel to go to the Tigo store.

I walked down Sagarnaga toward the San Francisco Basilica.  I would have liked to have gone in, but I had to keep my errand in mind.  Walking from the basilica to the Teleférico, I caught several glimpses of Mount Illimani.  That mountain is about 21,122 feet (6,438 meters) high.  It is visible from many of the higher points of La Paz; including from the Teleférico.

The main entrance to the San Francisco Basilica.
Mount Illimani in the distance.
Riding on the light blue (Linea Celeste) of the Teleferico, apparently destined to Mount Illimani.

I still had to settle my bill for cable and internet after the previous facility manager departed. I took the Teleférico back to the end of the green line. From there I taxied to Tigo. Once I paid my bill, I decided to walk home. As I walked, I passed a dentist’s office. It was apparent they were trying to use a clever combination of the words teeth and health. Unfortunately, in retrospect, maybe the “H” should have been lowercase… I’m just sayin’.

Maybe the “H” should have been lowercase too…
Even though the city is so dense, there is new construction nearly everywhere one looks.
Looking down and to the east along Calle Uyustus.
Near the top of Uyustus Market. The light pole seems to be a starting place for electrical, cable, and telephone spaghetti.
Walking back down to the main portion of Uyustus Market.
Nearly back to Avenida Buenos Aires.
Buses traveling up Max Paredes.
People mix freely, but cautiously, with the traffic.
A paint store at the intersection of Calle Sagarnaga and Avenida Illampu.
Pedestrians were able to cross the intersection.
Walking down Calle Sagarnaga to the north, toward the Witches Market.
A partial view of the Plaza Major de San Francisco. The traffic jam is on Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz.
The bell tower of the San Francisco Basilica.
Looking to the southeast beyond the Plaza del Obelisco, following Avenida Camacho, one can see Mount Illimani in the distance.
Pedestrians waiting to cross the street.
From a bridge on Calle Bueno, looking to the southeast along the light blue line of the Teleferico. Mount Illimani is covered with a few clouds.  Note the Batman and Wonder Woman restroom sign.
Marvelous La Paz.
The Marvelous La Paz sign is visible in the City Park.
The Linea Celeste drops in elevation to the point that one can no longer see Mount Illimani.
Departing the next to last station on the Teleferico Linea Celeste.
Preparing to pass under the bridge.
From the last station on the green line of the Teleferico looking back toward the northwest.
Back in the D.C. Area

Back in the D.C. Area

Washington, D. C. – December 8, 2014

My arrival back in the DC area was wet.

A rainy, wet return to Arlington.

During my stay, I worked at the headquarters of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). I worked there while I continued my agonizing wait for a visa so I could fulfill my assignment to Islamabad, Pakistan.
On one of the clear weekends, I decided I would walk about the Washington, D.C. area. Since my profession deals with buildings, I thought it appropriate to travel to the National Building Museum. I clambered aboard the Metro, disembarking at the Gallery Place – Chinatown Station. Once I was back on the ground level, I opted to stop at a Starbucks for a coffee and blueberry muffin. After my coffee, I had to take a photo of the Friendship Archway that marks Chinatown.

A group of people at the Starbucks in Chinatown at H and 7th Streets NW in Washington, D.C.
The Friendship Archway in Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

With the preliminaries out of the way, it was time to walk to the National Building Museum. Within a couple of blocks, I was at my destination.
From the outside, the building appears as an immense redbrick structure. There is not much ornamentation on the exterior. Once inside, the sheer scale of the interior space overpowers one. There are massive marble and gold painted columns throughout the atrium area. Apparently, in addition to being built for the United States Pension Bureau, the space lent itself to political gatherings.

Looking along the center of the atrium in the National Building Museum.
A view of the seemingly endless columns in the atrium area of the National Building Museum.
The fountain in the center of the atrium.
Workers setting up for a holiday choir performance.
A man and his family traversing a hallway on the upper level of the National Building Museum.
A strange device in this day and age… This payphone was tucked away near the toilets in the National Building Museum.
A sign commemorating the completion of the building to house the United States Pension Bureau. It is now home to the National Building Museum.

While the museum was nicely done, it was not one of my favorites. After buying my perquisite refrigerator magnet from the gift shop, I exited the museum to the south. I found myself facing the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. That was a bit of luck.
As an ex-cop, I have a special place in my heart for the police; especially those who have fallen on duty. I can still vividly recall sergeants reading accounts of fallen officers to us during squad meetings. That seems so far away now. Regardless, the memorial is understated but tastefully done. The names of the fallen are engraved on a curved marble knee-wall. Throughout the grounds are bronze statues of lions and lionesses watching over the names. Probably due to the time of year, there were many colorful wreaths placed throughout the memorial. The walls at the monument hold more than 21,000 names of fallen officers. It was a poignant reminder having a couple of police cars parked near the memorial.

A lion sculpture at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
The curved wall holds the names of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
The emblem in the center of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Another lioness sculpture watches over the names of the fallen, while, appropriately, a police car is parked nearby.
A lioness sculpture above the inscription, “In Valor There is Hope.”
A view of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The National Building Museum is in the background.
The memorial and the museum side by side.
Looking back at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
A lioness sculpture and wreathes at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Looking over the roof of patrol car 9510 to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Near the end of my visit, I noticed a sign for the National Law Enforcement Memorial Visitors Center and Store. The location of the store is 400 7th Street NW. That was about three blocks away. I walked there, collected some souvenirs, and continued on my way.
Perchance, I stumbled across the Navy Memorial. Since my son is now a sailor, that was a unique find. Across the street to the east is the memorial to the Great Army of the Republic.

As seen from across the street, the Navy Memorial is very unassuming.
The bronze sculpture of a seaman at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The compass rose at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The memorial to the Grand Army of the Republic is at the Indiana Plaza in Washington, D.C.

Across the street to the south is the National Archives Museum. As I crossed the road, I saw a couple trying to entice a squirrel just a bit closer so they could get a photograph. I am not sure if they were successful or not because I continued to the front of the building. It was the first time I had ever visited the museum. I was awestruck by the founding documents of the United States. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are all on display. It was genuinely fascinating to see them in person. I liked this museum much more than the National Building Museum.

A couple trying to entice a squirrel into a photo op.
A sculpture at the National Archives above the inscription, “Study the Past.”
The pediment on the south side of the Archives of the United States of America.
A sculpture at the south side of the Archives building. The inscription reads, “The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future.”

The following weekend I was back in Washington, D.C. Following a stunning sunrise, I returned to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Leslie, Hillary, Tyler, and I visited the Basilica in 2009 while we were stationed in the area for training with the Department of State. I found it every bit as impressive on this visit. That may be due in part to the Christmas decorations.

The stunning sunrise from my apartment. One can see an airplane on final approach to Reagan National Airport.
Stunning sunrise II.
Stunning sunrise III.

For those who have not visited the Basilica, it is difficult to get a sincere feeling for the scale and grandeur by merely looking at photographs. It is by far the largest church in which I have ever been. I shall cease the narrative now and try to let the pictures of this magnificent structure tell the story. The narration shall resume after the Basilica photographs.

The front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The rosette over the main door to the Basilica.
The southern face of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
A similar view of the Basilica.
The main dome of the Basilica is visible just beyond the front rosette.
The tomb of Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan (1857 – 1932) in the Founder’s Chapel. His is the only burial in the Basilica.
Dozens and dozens of donors to the Basilica are listed in Memorial Hall.
The mosaic behind the altar in the Mary, Queen of Missions Chapel.
Detail of the mosaic behind the altar in the Mary, Queen of Missions Chapel.
Our Lady of La Vang.
The Crypt Church on the lower level of the Basilica.
Women placing poinsettias in the Crypt Church.
Detail of the mosaic at Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu.
The stained glass door to the lower level sacristy.
A mosaic depiction of Joseph in the North Apse of the lower level.
The mosaic of Jesus in the North Apse is just behind the tabernacle.
Our Lady of Vailankanni.
The Schudi Organ in the Crypt Church on the lower level.
A man cleaning the floor in front of the Nativity scene in the Crypt Church.
Our Lady of Hope Chapel.
Detail of the Our Lady of Hope Chapel.
Pope John Paul II?
The Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel.
A painted crucifix.
The Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
A mosaic in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel.
Detail from behind the altar in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel.
Our Lady of Pompeii.
A sculpture of Mary and Jesus surrounded by Christmas trees.
The Mother of Divine Providence sculpture on the lower level.
Detail of the Mother of Divine Providence sculpture.
The Holy Family at Rest bronze. Note the stained glass reflection.
A sculpture of Saint Maria Goretti on the side of the pews in the upper church.
Part of the tour group listening to the guide while in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel.
Detail of the mosaic behind the altar in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel.
The painting behind the altar in the Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel.
The mosaic of Christ on the ceiling of the North Apse.
Detail of Christ on the ceiling in the North Apse.
Wider view of Christ on the ceiling of the North Apse.
The tour group marveling at the West Apse.
A small mosaic of fishes and loaves of bread.
A mosaic of Joseph with Jesus on the ceiling of the East Apse.
In the Founder’s Chapel with our tour guide.
In the Memorial Hall.
A sculpture of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Hall of American Saints.
Our Mother of Africa.
A bas relief in the Hall of Our Mother of Africa.
The guide providing information in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
Stained glass detail of Jesus in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
Stained glass detail of Mary and Jesus in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
A sculpture of Pope Saint Pius X.
The crucifix in the Founder’s Chapel.
Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel.
A mosaic of the Hail Mary prayer.
The Miraculous Medal Chapel.
Detail of a mosaic in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel.
A man praying at the Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel.
The Mother of Sorrows Chapel.
The Pieta in the Mother of Sorrows Chapel.
The Our Lady of Siluva Chapel.
Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel.
A woman at the Nativity scene on the upper level.
The Assumption mosaic near the sacristy.
The Immaculate Conception mosaic near the sacristy.
A Christmas tree under a stained glass window.
View into the sacristy.
Jesus carrying the cross mosaic.
Looking through the Baldachin Altar to the West Apse.
The stained glass to the right of the Jesus mosaic in the North Apse.
Looking through the Baldachin Altar to the organ at the rear of the upper church.
The Holy Family is in the mosaic on the left.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
The Triumph of the Lamb mosaic.
Detail of the Triumph of the Lamb mosaic.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Chapel.
Looking to the East Transept.
View to the rear of the upper church.
The bas relief of the Universal Call to Holiness.
The east side of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Back at work, since Tyler’s graduation from boot camp was finished, I began asking the OBO folks if they needed me to fulfill another TDY assignment for them. Initially, I did not get much traction. That said, I did hear talk in the bullpen area that an FM was needed in Sanaa, Yemen. I had zero desire to go there. I would have gone if I had been tasked; however, I had zero appetite for such a destination.
After a couple of days, I broached the question again. The answer I was given was, “What about Tallinn?”
“Where the hell is Tallinn,” I replied, “I have never heard of it.”
My OBO colleague shared with me that Tallinn is in Estonia. I was still not sure of the location, but I knew it was Eastern Europe. I said, “Sure, send me there!”
I discovered the embassy in Tallinn needed some assistance from an FM for several issues they faced. That embassy receives service from the FM in Helsinki, but they needed someone onsite. My colleague told them he would send me, but there was a caveat. I would only be in Tallinn until the issues were resolved or until I received my visa for Pakistan, whichever came first. The team in Tallinn agreed to that stipulation. So, I found that I would travel to Tallinn just after the New Year.