Christmas News 2013

ABC of South America

Phil at Agua de Oro, Argentina

Agua de Oro (Golden Water), in the countryside north of Córdoba, Argentina

Photo fiesta

In Bolivia I took on the self-appointed rôle of team photographer, sometimes to the inconvenience of the other members, and added a huge number of photos to those I had taken in Argentina and Chile. A lot of the Bolivia photos ended up on our team blog but there are plenty on this site too. So here on separate pages are selections of photos from:

Córdoba where Tommy took us to many beauty spots in the surrounding area

Iguazú, scene of the mighty waterfalls

Buenos Aires where we stayed in a historic district

Santiago for a lightning tour of the city centre

La Paz with its amazing mountain scenery

Tarija, small and beautiful

Santa Cruz, huge and varied

Early in July we arrived in Buenos Aires to begin our first visit to this great continent. After 2 weeks in Argentina, 3 weeks in Bolivia and an overnight stop in Chile we returned to Europe with battered suitcases (thanks, baggage handlers!), an assortment of souvenirs, thousands of photos and a jumble of wonderful memories.

Airports

We endured numerous security checks, waited for check-in desks to open, queued for immigration and customs, grudgingly surrendered two bananas on entry to Chile, pushed through a huge crowd who had booked with a grounded airline, strained to hear Spanish-only announcements, wondered whether we could believe the information on the departure screens, juggled our hand luggage and hoped no-one would weigh it, fought the altitude-induced dizziness on arrival in La Paz, and - on 12 separate occasions - eventually boarded aircraft. Top travel tip: take the bus, as we did on an overnight trip in Argentina... It's cheaper, more comfortable and and you keep moving!

Snow-covered Illimani viewed from a street in central La Paz

Illimani, Bolivia's second highest mountain, viewed from the centre of La Paz

Andes

Our first view of this massive wall of mountains was from the air on our way to Santiago, Chile. From the city, they formed a distant backdrop. That was nothing compared to the view from La Paz, Bolivia, where the Andes encircle the entire city.

Children, royal

We were in Buenos Aires when the Royal Baby appeared and were struck by the remarkable restraint with which the people of Argentina received the news. Did the British media cover the event at all?

Children, non-royal

The churches we visited in Bolivia work hard to reach out to children, especially those from poorer backgrounds. We found them to be polite, helpful and attentive, and it was wonderful to meet these young people. Some of them now know a little more about washing and hygiene thanks to a health education lesson that Miriam helped to deliver.

Wooden signs advertising a beer festival

The cerveza (beer) flows freely at Villa General Belgrano, Argentina

Horses tethered next to a woodland path

La Cumbrecita is set in wooded mountains

Food and drink

We were wonderfully well looked after, first by Miriam's cousins in Argentina and then by members of the churches we visited in Bolivia. A particular highlight was to be introduced to the asado, a very meaty South American barbecue. The Spanish lessons didn't end there: an empanada is rather like a Cornish pasty and available with a variety of fillings, and parilla means a type of grill restaurant plentiful in Buenos Aires.

We were treated to a luxury afternoon tea on an estate in the hills outside Córdoba and were introduced to some top-quality wine. Later we discovered that Bolivia, too, produces excellent wine.

Germans

There's a Bierkeller here, you can buy Stollen there, they celebrate Oktoberfest... this is the outrageous fake Alpine kitsch of Villa General Belgrano, a mountain village resort near Córdoba. On the other side of a valley, La Cumbrecita is just as Germanic but far more refined. For some years this was the home of Miriam's Aunt Gustel and the cousins we were visiting; Gustel's husband had helped to build it.

Money

Bolivian currency exchange offices are legally required to have an armed guard stationed at the entrance. We never found out why.

Street sign with road names Peru and Mexico

City navigation made simple: The house numbers increment by 100 for every block further away from the city centre, so you always know your co-ordinates within the grid. The roads in this area of Buenos Aires are named after countries

Navigation

We left Britain at the height of the summer heatwave and were plunged into the Argentine winter... which is actually the dry season, and the weather was mainly mild and sunny. We soon got used to the midday sun being in the north and used its position, plus the wonderfully logical grid system of street numbering, to navigate our way on foot around the outskirts of Córdoba.

Night-time brought more novelties as I got my first ever view of the southern stars (unfortunately, always hindered by street lights). I learned how to find the South Pole and noticed the shift in position when we moved north to Bolivia.

Children playing around the statue in the centre of Plaza San Martín, Córdoba, Argentina

...and its base is an especially good place to play

The imposing statue in the centre of Plaza San Martín, Córdoba, Argentina

The statue in the centre of Plaza San Martín, Córdoba, Argentina is especially imposing...

Squares, main

Take a city centre block that is free of buildings; put a cathedral and some government offices alongside it, mount a statue of a liberator on a horse in the middle, add paths, benches and maybe some trees, and you have the makings of a typical central square in a Latin American city. These large, traffic-free areas are ideal places to stroll, sit down, paint, run market stalls, take photos, feed the birds, play, admire the public art, protest or, as we did in La Paz, see the President.

A restaurant built on a large jetty over the lake

We stopped here for breakfast on our day trip to Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Water

At La Cumbrecita, Argentina, families played on the rocks at the foot of a small waterfall. In the countryside outside Tarija, Bolivia, our party discovered an equally beautiful setting at the end of a strenuous walk along a river valley. On a day trip from La Paz, we marvelled at the impossibly blue water of Lake Titicaca. A viewpoint at Tres Fronteras gave us a commanding view of the rivers Paraná and Iguazú which separate Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Then just a short distance upriver... immense, awe-inspiring, thunderous: pick your own word to describe the waterfalls at Iguazú - truly among the wonders of the world.

Brummies in Bolivia

Using a cardboard and paper model of a mouth and teeth to teach about dental hygiene

Miriam helps deliver a health education lesson to children in La Paz, with visual aids

Towards the end of 2012 a group in Christ Church started to think, pray and plan about a trip to deepen our growing links with the Anglican Church in Bolivia. Soon the dates were fixed and we formed our own plans to visit Argentina as well.

We already had 2 weeks' experience of South America by the time of our joyful reunion in La Paz with the rest of the party, newly arrived from Birmingham. Many of the good things of Argentina were here too: generous hospitality, amazing scenery, the asado... and also human needs of all kinds, which the churches we visited are working hard to meet. It was a privilege to get to know them and to share in just a small part of what they are doing in this often overlooked country.

We ran a team blog called Brummies in Bolivia to keep in touch with our supporters in Birmingham and other parts of the world. It now serves as a record of our visit and its extraordinary outcomes.

The next generation: Life in London

Adrian receives his Master's degree at Queen Mary, University of London: we're getting used to these occasions now

Adrian shakes hands as he receives his Master's degree at the graduation ceremony at Queen Mary, University of London

Adrian completed his Master's degree and has now started on a PhD. He and Sumaya are living in North London, not far from... Martin, who has moved into a studio flat as he continues his course at UEL (University of East London).

The three of them kindly house-sat for us for most of the time we were in South America.

Miriam travels light

Sitting around a restaurant table

Lunch with Pedro (left), Carmen and Tommy in a restaurant at Jesús Maria, Argentina

I decided to retire at the end of March this year, in order to give myself time to brush up on Spanish and prepare for the big trip to South America.

I was given a lovely send off, and had asked for a Kindle as a leaving present, which also came with a nice case. This was to save us taking lots of books, so even my Bible was in electronic format. People wrote some very complimentary remarks on my enormous card. I was very sad to go, as this last 12 years have been the best job I have ever had.

It was lovely to spend lots of time with Tommy, Pedro and Carmen in Argentina. The day in La Cumbrecita, a village built in German style, founded by three of my great uncles was a treat.

Half-marathon man

Phil running along Pershore Road in Selly Park
Phil presented with a framed picture

My third go at the Great Birmingham Run brought me a slower time than in previous years but it was still a wonderful experience to be among the thousands of other runners. The crowds turned out in force in our area and there was also huge support in the final stretch along Broad Street.

I raised more money than ever before for Amani Children's Home, Tanzania, which a youth group from Christ Church had visited in the summer. I was presented with a framed picture made by the children when the charity's Director visited Christ Church a few weeks later (photo on right).

The full story of the race is here.

Left: Passing Christ Church in Selly Park, just past the half way point of the race

Love Stirchley

Dressing up in red coats, hats etc

In February I took part in Love Stirchley, a hyper-local arts festival running over the long weekend starting on Valentine's Day. For the opening number, a group of us processed around the streets singing Tina Turner's song "What's Love Got To Do With It". Although the previous weeks had been freezing cold the weather became much milder for those few days.

Perversely, an outdoor performance due to be given by Miriam's choir in the spring had to be cancelled when another arts festival was buried in a heavy snowfall.

It's been very encouraging to see a resurgence in community activity in an area that has long been perceived to be in decline. A tangible sign of hope is the Stirchley Baths project, which will see this historic building - closed and derelict for a quarter of a century - restored as a community centre following a successful campaign for funding.

There are more photos taken in and around Stirchley here.

Right: Getting dressed ready for the opening number of Love Stirchley

The year in photos

It's a rather large collection this year. You can start here and follow the links. There are also links to many of the photo pages in the articles above.