November 2010

The city we left behind

We changed an independent and multifaceted city for another way of life, full of tangles of cables and traffic chaos

Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones
Antropológicas UMSS

It’s a city full of trees (chillijchis, willows, and molles), surrounded by the countryside and rivers. Due to the many springs that this city has its climate is humid, some of the puddles and lakes are qhochis, Cuellar, Alalay, Coña Coña. Cochabamba has a great agricultural history; not only because of the land itself, but because it comes from thousands of years of traditions. The land is organized by the fields and the fields are part of the land.

During the first half of the XX century this city began to try to advance towards the age of modernity, it started to expand itself by building squares such as, the Plaza Principal, Plaza Colón, Plaza de Cala Cala, La Recoleta and Plazuela Constitución. From these small crossroad there were streets and avenues that were dislodging and making way for them selves through the grove in order to connect the country sides of Cala Cala, Queru Queru, Tupuraya, Sarco that surrounded the city.

A city that has the structural aptitudes to connect the dispersed rural areas and that paradoxically had stimulated the autonomy of other minor localities such as Quillacollo, Sacaba, Tiquipaya, El Paso, Tarata, Cliza, Punata. It has the gift to attract attention but it chooses to disperse everything for the centre of the city.

Cala Cala was separated from the city by the exhausted Rocha riverbed

Cochabamba contains many cities within it. For this reason, writers and travelers of the nineteenth century described Cochabamba in other ways. Nataniel Aguirre presents this city in his novel Juan de la Rosa as follows: "The Queen of those valleys, the city of Cochabamba, was extended to the end of the valley of its name. Oropeza valley was at the foot of the chain of hills that separated this valley from Sacaba’s valley. One of their neighborhoods to the south was located between the graceful hills of Alalay and San Sabastian, to the west, the cliffs of Rocha, to the north and to the east there were crops and gardens. Red roofs of many houses raised their white towers, among the tall columns of the Castile willows and, on the tops of the most beautiful Indian willows and fruit-trees. The lush garden of Cala cala spread out in front of the city. Cala Cala was separated from the city by the exhausted Rocha riverbed with the endless deviations that distributed their fertile waters until they arrived near the foot of the mountain by the Taquiña stream. In Cala Cala, forests of eternal green rose two or three huge tops of tenth-centenary ceibas".

Benjamin Blanco described Cochabamba in his book XXX, at the beginning of the twentieth century, as follows: "Cochabamba is a very Spanish city for its buildings, traditions, people, ideas, everything continues as usual, despite Cochabamba’s sons frequent pilgrimage to foreign countries. Cochabamba is the first university in the country and, the intellectual life of their young is so notorious that at night in the streets and the squares no other conversation than those conversations caused by the discussions of the classroom can be heard. Cochabamba’s society is demanding, sober and correct; in Cochabamba family gatherings are simple and lively".

That city we left behind was agricultural, surrounded by countryside, where people had a strong belief in trees, and had an agricultural pace.

But one day, Cochabamba came to be discredited, deforested, destroyed, bare, dismantled and crushed. It was filled with new imagery, new projects, new perceptions, and new ways to build the city.

It was at that moment that we left this ancient city and changed it to a city that honors cutting trees down, demolishes heritage, lacks planning for future growth, allows agricultural land to be seized and illegaly subdivided, as well as neighborhoods without basic services. Even worse, it is a city which has become proud of being disproportinate, improvisational, dismantling, exclusive, lawlessness, chaotic, messy, and unclean.

If there are two images that symbolize the city we now live in, they are the tangles of cables connecting each household, and the chaotic traffic -with all its noisy and polluting components- that are just other ways to build and occupy this town called Cochabamba.

Remembering the Past

The history of Cochabamba has as many changing faces as the varied crowd of men and women: white, mixed-race and indigenous people, who contributed to forge it. However, it shows historical constants of long time, which form part of the past, but which old pictures have an incredible echo nowadays, as if they have their photographs taken today; and as if we would live in a perpetual history of the present.

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