Cochabamba and Cristo de la Concordia

Published: August 23rd 2011
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Villa Tunari to Cochabamba

We arrived for the second time in Cochabamba's seedy southern part of town. The area smells like a developing country, the streets laden with garbage and full of people. The streets in the southern part are not appealing in the least, the buildings almost universally appear to be in some state of decay.

Walking north the city changes quickly, the buildings began to appear cleaner and the litter lessened to nothing. We walked past the central plaza and the cathedral and checked into a huge hostel/hotel hybrid.

After much faffing about town, we sat in a huge American style (searching for the right word....) restaurant, Globos. The menu had a huge array of cakes, ice creams, elaborate drinks and eventually a huge selections of sandwiches. We ate well and there was cake left over. Watching Brazil miss every single one of their penalties was a glorious sight, perhaps England are not the only completely useless team at taking them. We had a chilled evening, taking a walk through one of the plazas where many cakes were being sold under pretty tealights, yes, the further north we walked in Cochabamba, the nicer and more modern the city looked.

On our only full day in Cochabamba we headed to the outskirts of town to see Cristo de la Concordia, Cochabamba's interpretation of Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue. We decided to walk the stairs up to the statue, despite warnings that the path up is frequented by muggers often. I'm not sure what the others reasons were for doing so, but I believe I was rebelling against the notion of an area becoming dangerous because of the presence of religion, it is not something that I want to accept.

I am not a religious person by any means, but I have always enjoyed the beauty that it can inspire, alas the Cristo de la Concordia is not included in the beauty that I have seen. It is a barmy statue, not to be insulting, but I found it wonderfully ridiculous. Cristo de la Concordia was based upon Rio's Christ the Redeemer, but there are several differences between the two.

I once wrote about Lumbini in Nepal, Buddha's birthplace. A large area there has been given for the development of Buddhist monasteries. International communities are invited and encouraged to participate, irregardless of what form of Buddhism (Theravadin, Mahayana or Vajrayana) they follow. I liked this idea of international recognition and unity but was a little disappointed when I saw the concept in reality. Even in religion international barriers breed pettiness and every new temple that was under construction at the time appeared as if they were being build in a silent competition with those already present. Opposite South Korea's monastery, China's new temple was being constructed - it was close to twice the size. Opposite Germany's impressive monastery was the new French funded monastery, colossal in comparison. I read this as a suggestion of, 'My beliefs are bigger and better than yours'. This would be pathetic enough if the monasteries were for of different religions, it seemed utterly pathetic that petty competition exists within the same. To me it almost seemed disrespectable.

Cristo de la Concordia is modelled on Rio's Christ the Redeemer, which was an original concept. The Redeemer stands at 30.1 metres tall, la Concordia stands a few metres taller, 34.2 metres. The Redeemer is beautiful in its simplicity, la Concordia has far more detail on Christ's beard and robes. The only reason I can see for this is petty competition. If you are openly copying a design, for what other reason is it necessary to make the statue bigger?

Cristo de la Concordia's extra detail took away the simplicity that to me permits Christ the Redeemer to be so symbolic, it is not necessary. The build is poorer also, with numerous visible cement lines from where the statue was cast. Could a smaller statue have had its money spent on a better construction?

I realise I probably sound harsh, I don't mean to, these are only observations and things that I have thought about a fair amount. I wrote earlier in this post that I loved this statue, not meaning to, but probably disrespectfully describing the statue as wonderfully barmy. How otherwise can you describe a tremendous statue of Jesus that has an entrance in the bottom of its robes, a huge staircase inside and view holes in the sleeves and across the torso? Yes, for a few Boliviano's, you can walk up the inside of Jesus and look at Cochabamba through a hole in his chest, magic!

The platform on which Cristo de la Concordia is built gives a fantastic view over Cochabamba. The city lies at 2500m, is relatively flat, although surrounded by beautiful snowed capped mountains. It is wonderful place to pass some time, sitting underneath the huge statue. It is so impressive that I can't say I felt a need to climb up Christ (an unusual phrase).

Continuing the competition, Cochabamba's Cristo de la Concordia is no longer the world's tallest Christ statue; the construction of Christ the King was completed last year in the small Polish town Świebodzin. This statue is a slight amount taller than la Concordia, although only if you include its crown, a strange technicality which I am sure will bother some until both statues are inevitably and definitively outdone.

That evening, Ciaran and I went to find some night-life. Not surprising being a Tuesday, it was hard work. We eventually and luckily stumbled upon a street that was home to a few bars. In one we met a couple of local girls and I had a fantastic time attempting to sustain a conversation with a girl who spoke no English with only my pidgeon Spanish. We ended up taking going to a relatively quiet club and she must have been drunk because she complemented my feeble attempt at salsa.

The following morning we visited the city market, a particularly huge one. We separated here, Mark and Sarah being very much on souvenir buying mode and me being interesting in finding strange things and some new boxer shorts. I found numerous innocuous items made from animals, including a cow hoof ashtray, before purchasing some fake brand name boxer shorts which pitifully claimed to have been made in Germany. I also left with a striped man-bag which I decided would be good at disguising my camera. It wasn't something I planned on buying, but I was offered a good price straight away and am always appreciative when this happens.

Considering different cultures and poverty levels it seems strange, but only a couple of times in South America so far have I had a price suggested to me that I thought too much. In India, or most other Asian countries I have visited, the correct price for anything will almost always be impossible to obtain and initial prices are often as much as 4-5 times more than a good is actually worth. Bolivian's as a general are very honest people also. All of us have had occasions where we began to walk away from a purchase without having taken all of our change. Every time the seller calls out so you return and claim the money owed. It's a nice feeling making a transaction here and whilst haggling does happen sometimes in markets, it is extremely pleasant to simple be able to buy something simple like a block of cheese without it taking five minutes and a feeling that you still haven't managed to get near the correct price.

We were taking a night bus to La Paz in the evening and we killed the remainder of the day sitting in the cities well kept plazas relaxing. Cochabamba has a nice vibe and is a pleasant, very liveable city, even if is not one that has been blessed with an abundance of things to do. It was a brief but good time.


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