How to piss off historians

I don’t really care too much for archaeological sites and museum full of excavated relics. In all fairness, it’s probably ignorance, although I also think it’s a lot to do with the lack of interactivity. I like to do stuff, not just see things.

But I was staying two and a half hours from Santa Cruz in the little Bolivian town of Samaipata where their top attraction was the nearby historical site of El Fuerte (The Fortress). To bypass the whole shebang would be wrong.

But first: a trip to the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Antropológicas in Samaipata itself where I paid 50Bs. (US$7.29 / £4.50) for joint entry to the museum and the site.

The curator unlocked door after door for me to reveal rooms full of cased cultural artefacts dating from 200-1550AD. Fragrance burners, double handled bowls with faces, drinking vessels used for rituals and a host of ornaments didn’t hold my attention for long. I’m sorry. I really tried to study the pieces, read the accompanying plaques, appreciate the handiwork but overall it was only marginally more interesting than I anticipated.

Am I really just a product of the push buttons, flashy lights and visuals generation? Or is that too easy a cop-out? I want to be interested, I want to discover, I want to learn. So why wasn’t I in love with this experience?

The film screening, again to a solo audience of me, was thankfully subtitled (any curious information in the museum was written in Spanish where I could just about pick out the odd comment but missed the flow of discussion and full meaning).

The film was actually pretty interesting, outlining El Fuerte’s strategic position between Asunción, Paraguay and Lima, Peru, and talking through the different occupations of the site from the Chané people of the Amazonian time through to the Incas and the invading Spaniards.

But it was still a lot of watching and listening and I wanted to be doing.

(Okay, I confess. In truth I was glad to gain a basic understanding before seeing the actual ruins. And actually, I only wish that I’d had a guide with me to translate and retell the stories of the various museum pieces).

I hoped, then, that the site itself would inspire some history love in me. Positioned 8km east of Samaipata, UNESCO certainly thinks El Fuerte is worth the hype having awarded it with World Heritage Site status back in 1998.

Time to get strapped into well-worn walking shoes, hike the rugged hill and find out why the place is so popular.


Filed under bolivia, culture, museums, south america

3 responses to “How to piss off historians

  1. Pingback: Exploring El Fuerte (and why it’s worth paying for a guide) | travelola

  2. I’ve pondered the same thing. And I’m inconsistent, some days I want to spend time in museums and balk at being rushed, more often I can’t wait to do something more thrilling and interactive. But, and I know this is obvious, what I need is a real human context to get me going. If I read a book, a historical novel or account of someone’s experiences, it can bring a place to life. I make a point of trying to line up my travel-reading with books (even pulp fiction) set in that country. It’s great, you’re used to delving into an imagined place, then you put the book down and are (mostly) right there. Films do the same for me, and it’s almost disproportional. I’ve been to a lot of the States but never Illinois. But I can’t wait to go, mostly to see the school and other locations from The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! Sad, some buildings borrowed for a film set, nothing to see. But I feel like I’ve been there. The Sharpe novels are going to be the basis for much of my route and destinations when I travel to India, or southern Europe, and naturally they’ll be coming along for company. And yes I did read “The Beach” the first time on my coming-of-age post-6th form backpacking trip to SE Asia. And finding “Off the Rails in Phnomh Penh” in a Chiang Mai bookshop was my sole inspiration for visiting Cambodia back in the 90s before it became an essential part of the gringo (sorry, FARANG) trail. Escaping to where you are… I can’t recommend it enough! Does this count as a comment or a sub-blog?

    • hahaha yep, you’re pretty much there with your own blog post! Good points though.

      I agree about loving to read books or watch films as a prelude to travelling, although I’m less interested in the guide books… and for some reason my South American reading has been very limited. Having now left La Paz, I’m only one chapter into Marching Powder. Nothing like retrospect.

      I would love some more recommendations for good South American and Central American books, and also fiction/non-fiction books on Australia and Australian culture (heading back there soon). Any ideas anyone?

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