I Think I Met The Bolivian Energizer Bunnies



April is a month of much celebration in Bolivia and this year Bolivia began the month with an unexpected, unplanned celebration. On April 1st, Bolivia beat Argentina in the 2010 soccer play-offs 6-1. This is a historic win because Argentina has never been beat by such a large margin but it’s an especially significant win for Bolivia for several reasons that have … well … not much to do with soccer at all. Read my article here and see why Bolivians, one week later, are still joyously celebrating!

In Bolivia we’re also preparing to celebrate Día del Niño (National Children’s Day). This is observed every year on April 12th and this year, it just happens to also coincide with Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua) so we’ll be celebrating both on the same day. What a perfect day for an Easter egg hunt right? Well, it would be if we did Easter egg hunts, but that’s not a Bolivian tradition. In this predominantly Catholic country, everything begins on Palm Sunday and activities continue throughout the week with a lot of penitence, palm-waving and eating-of-fish going on. Read my page on Easter in Bolivia for more details on the activities that take place. Thursday the 9th businesses will shut down at midday and Friday is a holiday.

Bolivians and foreigners alike travel heavily during this week to partake of the many festivities. The most popular destinations are the Jesuit Missions, which prepare all year for this week. 500 years ago the Jesuits taught the various indigenous groups of the region (predominantly the Chiquitanos, Guarani, Guayoreos and Moxos) to fashion the instruments used in the baroque music of the period. They set up full music schools which are still functioning today! During Easter you can hear their amazing, ethereal orchestras and choirs playing and singing into the night in the middle of the jungle in towns such as San Javier and Concepción (the two most popular destinations) and as far north as the remote town of San Ignacio de Moxos, 93 kilometers from Trinidad, Beni.

Others choose to spend the 4-day weekend traveling with their families or taking other popular tours. Two such destinations are Noel Kempff National Parkand Tarija. Most tours to our national parks require at least 3-4 days so this is a perfect long weekend for that. And Tarija, Bolivia’s gorgeous flower capital and wine country is also popular because on the 15th Tarija also celebrates its Foundation day. Some choose to extend their holiday to include that. BoliviaBella’s top recommended tour operator in Santa Cruz is Ruta Verde Bolivia and in Tarija is Brujula Travel. If you’re in Bolivia and still haven’t decided what to do with yourself this weekend, take a look at their tour offerings:

With Children’s Day coming up on Sunday the 12th I put up a short page detailing what the typical festivities include. This year, I want to especially highlight what one organization is doing: the San Isidro Cultural and Sports Center of Santa Cruz, located between two of the poorest neighborhoods in Santa Cruz, is working hard to get street children off the streets, in addition to its many normal daily activities. The San Isidro soccer school has over 250 boys and girls through the age of 18 involved (they’re very good – the team even traveled to Germany to play in the World Street Soccer Cup two years ago) and this coming Sunday (Día del Niño) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. has planned festivities for kids from all around the area. They expect over 1000 kids to attend.

On March 31st I spent the afternoon at San Isidro and met with the organizers and some of the smiliest kids I know. I wrote the above article about San Isidro and I’d love for you to read it. These kids have some of the fewest advantages in life and yet because of their positive, strengthening experiences at San Isidro, are some of the liveliest, funniest, and smartest kids I’ve met. This experience really moved me and I’m happy to say I now have some great new young friends – they’re like the Energizer bunny only in Spanish!

You can help me raise funds for the San Isidro Cultural Center! Purchase this huge Bolivia poster and I'll donate 30% to San Isidro. All of the photos on it are my own and taken in various cities of Bolivia. To purchase this 14x22 inch poster click the image:

I’d also like to highlight another new friend I’ve made. Several weeks ago I got a message from a gentleman who lives in Cincinnati (I love when you guys write me). His name is Arril Bruun and his father, a Danish man who migrated to Santa Cruz Bolivia in 1908 was one of the many foreigners who settled this area of Bolivia. I was really surprised to hear from him because the Bruun family is well-known in Santa Cruz but I wasn't aware of their Danish background. Arril’s father helped build the towers on the Cathedral on our main city plaza, Plaza 24 de Septiembre, probably the best known of this city’s landmarks.

After much messaging back and forth and several phone calls, Arril agreed to write for BoliviaBella and this month gave us a really special gift – his memories. He sent in the history of the city of Santa Cruz for all of us to enjoy. What’s so special about it is that this is exactly what makes BoliviaBella so unique among websites about Bolivia – it’s all written in the first person and all – absolutely ALL the information it contains is completely first-hand and personally researched or shared. Thanks to Arril for this really great gift! Read about how Santa Cruz went from being a tiny forgotten frontier town of 3500 people just 100 years ago, to Bolivia’s largest city and the country’s economic engine, contributing nearly 40% of Bolivia’s gross national product today.

This is why I keep adding sections on the site where anyone can write for Bella. Check out our ”forums” here. Also, anyone can suggest and/or write about a new topic by sending in their thoughts through this page, and if you prefer to write in Spanish, Bolivia Positiva is our Spanish online magazine. I really encourage anyone and everyone to contribute so we can continue to grow and make Bella a truly top rate source for information on Bolivia. Hey, even if you’ve got something as short as a recipe, it’s truly welcome!

There are a couple more new feature stories on Bella that I’d like you to know about.

Last month, the sometimes highly criticized Santa Cruz Zoo got a facelift! This has actually been in planning for several years now – many of the animals need more space and new cages. This work is finally underway. The problem is, the zoo also acts as a sort of animal refuge. So many animals are taken from their natural habitats and sold on the streets, even protected species like macaws and toucans. It’s also a research zoo and has an agreement with the local state university for students to learn there. Its work really is important – Bolivia is home to the most biodiverse region on Earth and it’s an incredible responsibility for the second poorest nation in South America to keep up with cataloguing new species and protecting known ones. The zoo was created by Noel Kempff Mercado, the same nature-lover who established the Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens, and after whom the Noel Kempff Museum of Natural History and Noel Kempff National Park are named. You can read about the new plans for the zoo here.

Also, many of you have probably heard by now of the San Pedro Prison Tours in La Paz that have become so famous ever since a foreign ex-inmate wrote about them in his book “Marching Powder”. On March 26th there was a mutiny at the prison as a result of these completely illegal tours, to which droves of tourists were arriving. It became very obvious after some tourists posted a full video of it (and the illegal activities going on inside the prison) on YouTube as well. The media got involved, the government took action to stop them, the prisoners revolted, hundreds of police were sent in and teargassed everyone… Did you know that nearly 150 children and babies LIVE in the prison with their incarcerated parents? I used to visit the prisons in La Paz with my mom when I was a child. Read my article on what living in these prisons is really like.

These and other stories will now be featured and listed on a new Bolivia News Feature Stories page I’ve set up here. You can access this page anytime by clicking on this banner which is now permanently displayed on my English and Spanish home pages.

And finally, BoliviaBella now has a live video streaming “TV” which I had originally placed on the home page. However, since it uses Flash technology it was causing some readers with slow connections a bit of trouble as it made their pages load too slowly so I’ve now put a link on the home page which you can click on to open it up in a new window. It contains hours and hours of high quality music videos and documentaries about Bolivia and I’m adding to it continually. Take a look! It’s like watching TV while you browse the site.

I’ve also added it to my two new chat rooms – click here to enter the English chat room or here to enter the Spanish chat room. These have been set up for site visitors to meet online and share information about Bolivia. Although I try to answer every email I receive personally, this is not always possible so hopefully this will mean you can now find someone else online who has experience about Bolivia or has traveled in Bolivia so site visitors can help each other out. And don’t forget to check out my Message Board which is where I feature temporary stuff – like great deals on cheap flights, announcements I have to make, or anything else that is just generally useful but not of the permanent type of information I would typically add an entire page on.

Coming up on BoliviaBella - I recently interviewed KALAMARKA, one of Bolivia's best known Andean music groups - boy did they have a lot to say. This article will be posted online after Easter Sunday so check the Bolivia News Feature Page on Monday the 13th.

Coming up in May: Labor Day (May 1st) and Mothers Day (May 27th) in Bolivia.

Have a wonderful Easter weekend and don't forget April 22nd is EARTH DAY!

Earth Cinema Circle

Help Bella Raise Funds for Wanides.org

Wanides.org (Association of Washingtonians for Needy Bolivian Children) is a non-profit organization established by my aunt Margarita Hassenteufel and a group of Bolivian women who live in the Washington D.C. area. They raise funds every year to donate hospital equipment, clothing, and many other types of items to children's charities and children's hospitals in Bolivia. I just had to be a part of this somehow so I pledged to donate 20% of ALL sales made at Bella Store to Wanides. Visit their website for info. Check out all my Bolivia designs at Bella store here:

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Welcome to all our new subscribers!

We had a lot of new BELLA NEWS subscribers this month - welcome to the BoliviaBella online community. For those of you who don't yet know, "Bella" is actually an American living in Bolivia. She works as a professional translator and interpreter and also spends countless hours designing this site just for you! Find out who is Bella really??

As you can see, we've been very busy working super hard to grow and improve BoliviaBella.com and make it the number one English site on Bolivia. Parts of the site are also being translated into Spanish due to the large number of visitors we have from Spanish-speaking countries. We're always looking to improve - this site is FOR YOU so be sure to let us know what you want to see included on BoliviaBella.com - we're not on our way to NUMERO UNO for nothing - we're working very hard to get there!! Please direct your comments to webmaster "Bella". Tell Bella what you want!


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