Hacienda Candelaria

Hacienda Candelaria

I think this was my first hacienda; the next one has a lot to live up to.

An earlier hacienda built by the Jesuits had fallen into disrepair and the land into disuse. A few owners bought and sold it over the years, including a rather colourful old rogue who made pressed counterfeit coins here, until the great-grandparents of the current dueña (owner), Doña Elizabet, bought the ‘estate’ and built this hacienda on land just behind. That was 150 years ago so she has roots here.

I guess it’s standard style – a big square of buildings around an inner quadrangle that’s about 50 metres square. The buildings all have their function: kitchen quarters, dining room, bedrooms, a chapel, storage rooms for the crops from the estate – currently maize, grain, potatoes and a whole range of vegetables – gourds, squashes, some I didn’t recognize so can’t name. Many of these are spread out to dry in the dark storage rooms; corn cobs ranging in colour from pale yellow/grey to rich rusty siena fill the floor of one of these rooms.  Around the outside of the hacienda are some pens for livestock. A family of goats, ma, pa and about 5 goatlets (I know it’s kids but goatlets sounds more, well, goaty) plus a couple of sheep – maybe only one now as there was a bit of Easter slaughter going on the morning we left and I swear it was one of the animals we fed the day before – puts a whole new cast on the last supper!

All the rooms are accessed via the quad and, along the two sides where the living quarters are located, a covered terrace gives shelter and shade, here and there the overgrowth of trailing plants and shrubs tended mainly with neglect these last years. The central quad must have been glorious. Half of it is laid to garden on two sides of a path that leads to a stone pool and fountain in the centre. On one side of the path, roses now grown leggy are mixed with other tall flowers that look like dahlias but aren’t, small trees, rambling shrubs and infilled with weeds. This is like a large-scale cottage garden gone wild. On the other side,what looks to have been a kitchen garden with herbs and small vegetables, now also invaded by the offspring of roses and an exuberance of weeds. This garden was a joy – abundant, fragrant and full of life in the warm sunshine. But it was also a little melancholy, its untamed nature a metaphor for the decline of the hacienda as a whole. Doña Elizabet has been careful to maintain the roofs of the hacienda but more than that would take massive investment and the future is uncertain.  Government land reform could see the estate simply taken away from her without compensation.

The other half of the quad reinforces this impression of past glory battered and threadbare, grandeur that can’t be recaptured, of a way of life that doesn’t exist any more. Old wood, bits that have broken away or collapsed, piled here and there. At the side opposite the main entrance to the quad is a raised terrace, uncovered and at its centre the door to a beautiful, simple chapel complete with bell tower. Inside the big wooden doors, high, white walls up to a ceiling that was renewed some years ago but again shows signs of decay. A long raised table at one end serves as the chancel and is covered with effigies and ornaments. Elizabet explained the meanings and origins of the many pieces, associations to the history of the hacienda, of the community and of her family. The chapel was a strange mixture of stark and idolatrous – the chancel heavy with symbols and adornments but the rest of the space, sparse, modest and with an ethereal simplicity that you don’t expect in Catholic chapels.

We had been warned that the accommodation was basic. We slept in a generously-sized twin-bedded room which was simple, quite cold but comfortable enough, more so when the electricity was restored about 6.30 pm. We arrived about 11.30 am to a power cut that only affected the hacienda and not the whole village. On reflection, candlelight might have been fun – after all, it was only ceiling lighting that was available in any case; there were no wall plugs for things like phone chargers or hairdryers, although the wires sticking out of the wall suggest that they may arrive one day – or that maybe they’ve gone…. Natasha dared me to ask for the wifi code – honestly! Naturally I resisted.

Lack of power had little effect on plans for making lunch in the original old kitchen. This can’t have changed much in 150 years, except maybe the presence of running water. It’s an amazing room with a huge open fire and old pans and utensils black with the patina of years of use and hanging on walls stained from as many years of condensed vapours and wood smoke. I loved that kitchen, watching Elizabet interacting with an ancient retainer, a woman who lives thereabouts and has worked on the estate all her totally deaf life – at least 80 years of age at a guess; watching her work with the woman who helps with the cooking, a local woman, maybe in her early forties, to whom she speaks in Quechua and who stands at the fire stirring pots of soup or potato, rice or vegetable, forever in her brimmed hat and her apron, a ready smile at us when we offered to help, but no words. I didn’t know if that was because we lacked a common language or because there are social rules about interacting with the guests of the dueña or with people of a different class. We were able to talk to her daughter, the delightful Carina, aged 12, and who spoke to us in a very giggly, smiley Spanish after she’d overcome her shyness;  maybe for children, the rules are relaxed.

I had felt guilty about being vegetarian and imposing my preferences on the rest – Elizabet, Jonny, our driver and, showing solidarity during my visit, the long-suffering, meat-free Natasha – until I discovered that the Catholic tradition of fasting before Easter applies only to meat. I think that’s a pretty lame approach to fasting myself but at least it meant they would have been climbing into the vegetables anyway…….. And what a feast of vegetables we had out on the terrace where elegant tasty salads accompanied warm dishes of corn on the cob, deep-fried cauliflower with some rice confected into something enticing, an amazingly powerful chilli dip that you add to your soup. Soup is part of almost every meal in Bolivia and this one was thick with vegetables and deep with flavour. And so, in the mid-afternoon, fed to beyond replete, we set out to visit the weavers of Candelaria…….