Mural 31 in Santa Maria de Fe, Paraguay

When I mentioned to my hosts in Asunción that I wanted to paint a mural in a rural location, there was no discussion about the second spot.  No, there was no loss of sleep in finding a village.  There wasn't even a second thought.  I would go directly to Santa Maria de Fe in the south of the country, without passing Go or collecting $200.  Ron and Tally had a friend who owned the hotel where I stayed.  They knew the people at the local museum and artisan workshop.  Their son ran the local internet café.  And, of course, they knew the senora directora of the local elementary school. Nope, there was nothing to consider.  I had complete fe . . . er, faith, that I would be in very good hands when I got on board the bus going south.

Of course, I was right.

My first impression upon finding myself in Santa Maria de Fe?  I was in paradise.  Of course, it didn't hurt that it had rained hard for at least an hour before I arrived.  The temperature dropped so far that it was downright chilly.  After ten days of heat lingering around 100 and comfort only while air conditioned, it was easy to understand why I liked the place so much.  But, there was so much more!

Santa Maria was stuffed full of history and charm.  The village was founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1647.  It was one of many missions for the indigenous people throughout the Spanish colonies.  The missions flourished until they were closed by royal decree in 1768.  That long, gruesome story is dealt with in the movie "The Mission".

The village still had remnants of this historic past.  Parts of the village square were lined with long colonial buildings that were once housing for the indigenous people.  They were built with adobe, so of course they had been restored.  The museum for the period, in one these actual buildings, documented the period and the park square contained one of the original mission crosses.  The church, destroyed in a fire in the 1800's, had the Guaraní carved stature of Mary that gave the village it's name.

Now, I mentioned the historic buildings around the square, but the actual park itself was simply magical.  As I walked around it, I was irresistibly lured into the center by the most unusual whistling sound I've ever heard.  The trees were alive, and crawling, with cicadas.  Now, I've heard cicadas before, but never anything like this.  I sat for a while on a bench just taking in the sound.  And, there was more to hear.  From inside nests in the tree tops, parrot chatter tried to match the cicadas.  They didn't stand a chance!

That little square had one more treasure.  Actually, it was much more than one.  A group of howler monkeys claimed it as their home.  I didn't see them on the first day.  I considered it a little tease and a dash of anticipation.  However, when I still didn't see them by day three, I was no longer teased and was certainly tired of anticipation.  Although my hosts assured me they were there, it wasn't happening. Not one furry tale.  No monkey business in the park.  And, certainly no satisfaction!  It was time.  Actually, as far as I was concerned, it was way past time.  So, Maria Gloria and Milciades took me out monkey hunting.

There are two secrets for locating monkeys.  First, you look for rattling in the tree tops.  There was no rattling in the park.  Not even a little wiggle!  (I felt smugly justified.)  But, Milciades spotted some movers and shakers in the tree tops just behind the museum.  But, for a truly successful monkey experience in Santa Maria de Fe, you also need a bag of bananas.  Yes, it's true.  Monkeys really love bananas.  If you wave a banana in the air, and shake it like you just don't care, the message is received. And, better than a field of dreams, is a grove of monkeys.  If you shake it, they will come.

Nothing's more fun than a barrel (or tree full) of monkeys

I have seen howler monkeys before in the rain forest of Costa Rica.  It was beautiful, but my camera wasn't powerful enough to get the photos I wanted.  Not a problem in Paraguay!  At least, it wasn't a problem in Santa Maria de Fe.  The howler monkeys were not afraid of people bearing bananas.  They climbed down from the tree tops to take the treat right out of my hand.  They used their very powerful tails to hang upside down and grab the not so forbidden fruit.  If you can't get satisfying photos when they are this close, you seriously need a better camera!  Unlike Mick, I got my satisfaction.

My hotel, tucked away in a corner of the square, was just across the street from my mural destination at Basic School No. 135.  Although the sound of "senora directora" stirs up a bit of fear in my heart, I liked this woman immediately.  And, she loved my art!  So, we were a match.

As always, I incorporated local things into the design and I can only get that on location.  The senora directora wanted children at play and studying.  I had to dig deeper for more information.  Little girls played by holding hands while running together.  They also liked clapping games.  For the boys in Santa Maria, it came down to soccer balls and spinning tops.  And, they were more than happy to later teach me how to spin one.  As for me and the mural design, I had to include the howler monkeys and historical buildings around the square.  No question about that!

The Internet found its way to Santa Maria de Fe just four years before my mural.  That was enough time to take over the little village with no chance at ever looking back.  It appeared that every adult I met had a cell phone and monitored their social media constantly. I personally saw more problems than solutions if you couldn't even sit with your friends, enjoying a friendly round of terere, without continually checking the phone.  However, there was one serious plus side to this situation.  The day before the painting, there were no volunteers except my two hosts, Maria Gloria and Milciades. And, for the first time with any of my murals (in rural Paraguay no less!) they turned to Facebook to get the word out.  All of their friends learned about the mural project with one little "send" message.  Yes, of course, it worked.  More than twenty volunteers showed up the next day!