I was introduced to Santa Maria through Margaret’s columns in The Tablet. So arriving there with my husband for the first time five years ago I felt I already knew the place and the people.
This was our first trip to South America. We travelled by road from Brazil, a long journey, but one that gave us a chance to survey the landscape and the people. First impressions were of blue sky, bright sun and red earth. People are poor but look healthy, a tribute to the lush vegetation and their skills in working the land. They are proud people and are pleased to welcome visitors.
We stayed a week in the Santa Maria hotel. Comfortable, relaxing and so very reasonable. Where else could you get five star service at these prices? We ate all our meals there, wonderful traditional dishes, served to us by our gracious and smiling young hosts. We relaxed in the library, listening to wonderful Paraguayan harp music. And we took advantage of many of the services offered. We visited some of the ancient Jesuit sites, saw their sculptures and artefacts in the local museum, learned the history of the people and their suffering under previous governments. We were entertained by singers, guitarists, dancers. I took an English lesson and learned a few words of Guarani.
But the highlight was meeting the people of Santa Maria, including those of two young women, Sonia and Maria Gloria, whom we had received into our own home previously. I spent an afternoon sewing with the women the Women’s Sewing Cooperative. We don’t share the same language but women together can always find lots to talk and to laugh about (particularly my poor efforts!). We went into the country garden of the man who grows herbs and makes potions. He gave me something for my hay fever. People have so little and yet give so much. It made us a little ashamed of our plentifulness and how we still moan.
When I am feeling stressed I take a mental journey. I see myself, lying on the hotel’s hammock, in the warm silence, trees wafting in a slight breeze. I am smiling, knowing I will return.