The world´s largest Jesus
Trip Start Jun 27, 2007
22Trip End Sep 14, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
I arrived in Cochabamba at 5 am. Bolivian bus companies all seem to leave at exactly the same time, and are of the opinion that arriving so early in the morning that it is still dark is a sensible timetable. Luckily the hotel we were staying at sympathized with our plight (I am now travelling with two English guys: from Wiltshire and Somerset, and an Israeli) and let us in without charging us an extra night.
After a few hours sleep we woke up and headed out to find something to eat. Cochabamba, at 2500 metres above sea level, is considered to have the perfect climate. 'The city of eternal spring', the tourist brochures proclaim. Indeed it was fairly perfect: several days of dry, sunny, warm weather which put a smile on everyone's face. It is Bolivia's third largest city, with proud residents, and why not? It is a fantastic place. Off the well-trodden tourist trail due to a lack of sights and history, it makes up for it with the buzz of an exciting successful city, with an enormous student population, and the some of the friendliest people in Bolivia. It is a melting pot of old and new, indigenous and western, where businessmen in smart suits walk cheek to jowl with indigenous peasant women in their multi-coloured shawls, skirts, and top hats.
The main reason to come here, apart from the student lead nightlife, and the climate, is to see Jesus. The world's largest Jesus they claim. Up on one of the mountains overlooking the city is an enormous statue of Jesus, arms outstretched and embracing the city. Much like the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro and in many other Latin American cities and towns, but they claim this one is slightly bigger. We ascended the mountain, in taxi, of course, as we were feeling far too lazy, from where there were spectacular views over the city, the lake and the surrounding mountains. We then walked down and congratulated ourselves with a large lunch.
Cochabamba is known as the city at the centre of the Bolivian drug trade, perhaps that is why the tourists do not come. To the north lies the Chapare, a semi-tropical region of coca plantations where the powerful coca farmer unions have been fighting the DEA sent from the US to eradicate their plantations. Stories abound of the DEA committing atrocities in the name of drug eradication. What they of course ignore, is that coca has been harvested for centuries and is an important plant for medical, cultural, and gastronomic reasons. The economy of the region depends entirely on it. The DEA however sends its agents to destroy these farmer's livelihoods without any thought for what they might do instead to survive. Needless to say, the White House is not especially popular around here.
I met an Italian filmmaker who was doing a documentary on the coca plantations, the DEA, and the drug trade. Those who ratted to the DEA on the whereabouts of plantations were dealt with in the 'Chapare style' - the 'palo santo' (holy pole). The coca farmers would get hold of the informer and tie them upside down from a tree dangling over a termite nest. They would prize open his mouth so the termites could climb in and would then he would be eaten from the inside out. So much for US Aid.
After five days we decided it was time to move on and head back into the highlands to La Paz. The road would be paved I was promised, and I was inclined to believe them this time.