Ayata Stories and Tips


Ayata's Central Plaza Photo, Ayata, Bolivia

The entrance to the town was strange. There were many houses in an arrangement that became denser as we approached the central plaza; adobe was the main construction material at the outskirts while bricks were the preferred choice by the center. Once at the plaza the place still felt strange, though I couldn't define why; there was too much new data to analyze.

I was expecting to arrive at a Lutheran Church - but I couldn't see one. "This is the district," my host repeated without bothering to explain the meaning of his mantra. The central plaza was beautiful and well-kept, lush little gardens surrounded a circular central structure; it was a place for young lovers. A big Catholic Church was at one of its sides, some buses (the line to La Paz leaves almost daily) parked around it, two shops were selling snack to the inexistent crowds and an old building with the logo of the Lutheran national organization completed the picture. Less than five persons occupied the plaza and I attributed that to the siesta time. Reality here was so far from any other experience I have had that I couldn't comprehend what I was looking at.
We entered the Lutheran building and some brothers began unloading the food we had brought. Beyond a flimsy façade, the building opened into an unkept garden. The sheep grazing the grass were a good metaphor for a church; but I was used to less tangible allegories.

"I'm going for a walk," I said and for the next hour I explored the small town. I didn't see any persons beyond the central plaza, and walking slowly I recognized that many of the buildings we saw from the truck were just ruins. It was a ghost town.

Back at the building I addressed a local man. The communication turned out to be difficult. He said that the town was at the border between Aymara and Quechua speaking people; Spanish was their third language. Most women didn't speak it, and men commanded it only up to a basic level.

"Where is the church?" I asked and he looked confused. After some more carefully stated questions, I began to understand the local situation. Only few people lived in town. Until some fifty years ago it was where the "patrones" lived. Patrones were the ruling class who took advantage of the indigenous people work living around town for free. In fact, it was a slavery system; the pleasant plaza was an example of quasi-modern slaves work. A deep reform in the country ruled out this injustice way of living and the patrones left, mainly they moved to the big cities. Nowadays, the town was a purely administrative center; people lived in the small villages scattered around - where the churches were - and arrived at town only to carry out their businesses.

Around us, the women began transforming the products we brought into a meal. When I offered help, they giggled and looked away; real men were not supposed to help in the kitchen. But I was a "Choco" (a dark-haired Gringo) and capable thus of making any imaginable nonsense. Instead, I arranged my things in one of the rooms of the feeble structure and returned later to the garden to see - with the last rays of sunlight - as a lamb was being added to the food we brought. Soon after dinner I was sick and unable to be part of the planned activities in the next day and half.

In their place, I had the opportunity to take slow, delightful walks in the slopes surrounding the town and enjoy the awesome views of my own private Himalayas.

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