Trans-Chiquitano

A Bolivian Passenger Train Between Santa Cruz and Quijarro

As I sit here in L.A. in the middle of a heat wave—and getting no younger in the process—a new vacation trip emerges from the depths of my mind. I have already written about the 17th and 18th century Jesuit missions in South America. The anti-clerical Voltaire in his Candide appeared to be impressed by the enlightened rule of the Jesuits who controlled Paraguay.

You can find out even more by reading the forgotten classic history by R. B. Cunninghame Graham entitled A Vanished Arcadia: Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay 1607 to 1767.

Back then, before the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) and the Chaco War (1932-1935), Paraguay included territory which now belongs to Argentina (Misiones Province) and Bolivia (Santa Cruz Province). There are ruins of Jesuit communities in all three countries.

This set my mind to thinking. There is a famous train route called the Trans-Chiquitano—still in existence as of a year or two ago—between Santa Cruz, Bolivia and Quijarro, just before the border with Brazil. Midway between the two termini and somewhat to the north are the ruins of Jesuit missions. I was thinking of touring the missions in Bolivia, then busing from Corumbá, Brazil (just across the border from Quijarro, Bolivia) to Asunción, Paraguay. There I could hook up with a tour to the Jesuit missions east of Asunción (if such a tour exists). Thereafter, it is a short up across the border to Argentina, where there are well-organized tours of the Jesuit missions such as San Ignacio Mini. From there, it is an easy bus ride to Buenos Aires, from which I can return to the States.

It would be a wild trip, with a long, comfortable train ride and easy stays in Santa Cruz and Buenos Aires. Asunción is a different story, but still quite doable.

 

At the Santa Barbara Zoo and Mission

Meerkat on Guard at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Today I rented a car to take Martine and me to Santa Barbara. My 1994 Nissan Pathfinder has a brake warning light and ABS warning light, requiring me to take it into the shop on Monday. (Even without the warning lights, I would have rented a car. It would be far cheaper than towing the Nissan great distances.)

It doesn’t take long to “do” the SB Zoo, which at 30 acres merits about two hours, more if you want to sit down and take in the atmosphere. It is only a few hundred yards from Cabrillo Beach, which makes it all the better. And today was a relatively cool day.

After the zoo, we had some extra time, so we revisited the Santa Barbara Mission—founded in 1789 by Padre Fermín Lasuén, who took over the entire chain of twenty-one missions for Padre Junípero Serra after the latter’s death. I know that the Spanish missions were involved in the suppression of the local Indian tribes, yet remain as so many islands of peace dotting the California landscape.

The Santa Barbara Franciscan Mission

As we were touring the mission’s museum, one of the old Franciscan padres introduced himself to us. He looked frail, probably in his eighties, but was friendly. We toured the old church and the adjoining small cemetery as well. According to a sign in the cemetery, there are some 800 Chumash Indians buried there, not to mention the Spanish conquistadors and subsequent American settlers and their families.

On the way home, we decided to skip the coastal route (there was serious construction on Route 1 in Santa Monica) and the even more crowded U.S. 101 in favor of Route 126 through Santa Paula and Fillmore. It added perhaps ten miles to our trip, but it was more restful driving through all that farm country. Plus, we stopped at Cornejo’s fruit stand near Fillmore to buy some white peaches and plums.

Islands of Peace

The Church at Mission Santa Barbara

The Church at Mission Santa Barbara with Martine in the Foreground

The California Missions are probably the state’s best claim to a rich history going back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I find it nothing less than amazing that most if not all of Franciscan Father Junipero Serra’s missions are still in existence, after all the earthquakes, fires, and other disasters to which California is prone.

Mission Santa Barbara is one of four missions dedicated to converting and regimenting the Chumash Indians of the area (the others are La Purisima in Lompoc, Santa Ynez in Solvang, and San Buenaventura in Ventura). Although Father Serra was declared beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988, there are still unresolved issues regarding mistreatment of the Indians. Each of the missions also contained Spanish military barracks for troops enforcing the political dictates of the Spanish Viceroys. So it is not uncommon to find stories where the Indians were both helped and repressed by the Missions and their dual religious and political functions.

Chumash Painting of St. Francis

Chumash Painting of St. Francis

Whatever really happened at these missions, today they are, collectively, a cultural treasure—islands of peace dotted along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. I have visited perhaps ten of them so far and hope to see the rest of them eventually.

Martine and I visited Mission Santa Barbara (for the third or fourth time) on Saturday during our recent trip to the area.