Let me paint some quick vignettes:
Cochabamba is a great old colonial city and as with any colonial city there has to be at least one beautiful church or cloister. We visited the Cloister of Santa Teresa in the heart of the city, a wealthy colonial cloister built in the late 17th century by the Carmelite order. The cloister is a beautiful example of the Spanish style of the inner courtyard with a two-story building looking inwards to the inner garden. The entirety of the cloister is very large, strange since it only help around 27 nuns. This particular cloister was the home of the orders of the black veil and white veils, orders which demand a large dowery to enter. But the remainders of the baroque furniture, gold leafed and such spoke to the wealth of this cloister.
To me, what makes this place so interesting was the art work hidden behind those think cloister walls which close out the world. Ariel, our guide, pointed out the religious paintings of the native artists housed there. Hidden in plain sight of many of the paintings were evidence of the continued Incan identity. The background in a painting of a bloodied crucified Christ there is a sun and a moon in the sky. Incan deities. The Christ himself is dressed in the skirt of a Cochabamban cholita.
To get to know the region, you’ve got to get out into the countryside. Our guide took us on a great ride towards pueblitos through the campos past houses with white flags out announcing fresh chicha. We ended up in a dry riverbed in a place that claims to be a pueblo, but in fact I never saw it.
We walked up a the rocky river bed to meet Wilber Ccuna, a Quechua potter/artist. What a delight to meet this unique artist! When we arrived in Wilber’s adobe home/workshop he was perched on a handmade pottery wheel with a seat that he slide off and on so that he could sit high at his table and run the wheel with his foot. Wilber told us about the environmentally friendly (without lead paint)pottery he designed. He took great care to explain to us in Spanish how he was committed to continuing the traditions of his forefathers in the traditions and styles of the Inca. This was evidenced in his house through the symmetry of his home – doors and windows which looked like they belonged at an archeological site.
His finishing room was full of completed pottery and pots ready to be painted. As I perused his selection I was started to be faced down by and mug with a giant penis. There was a matching female mug, anatomically correct. Ah, sex pots. Wilber was continuing the Moche (the pre-Inca culture) tradition of pottery dedicated to fertility.
It’s great to see the tradition continued!
Lastly, I’ll make a comment about the smell of Cochabamba. Sometimes it smells like traffic. Sometimes it smells like baking bread or roasting meats, but a common smell is the olor de sewer gas. Even from my bathroom. Ick.