Friday, November 23, 2012

My life in Sucre

A gardener in Sucre.

They say that Sucre is a place where you plan to spend a few days and end up spending a few months. I get that. I thought I'd stay in Sucre for a week for Spanish school and ended up staying two. I could stay longer, easily. Take tonight. My excellent Spanish school - Fenix Language School - offered a cooking class. It turned into a 23-person dinner party. Three students had birthdays this week, so there was surprise cake for them and a pinata. I met lots of great people and I'm sorry to be leaving them.
Me and Grover, my fantastic Spanish teacher.

Apparently, it's a Bolivian tradition to make the birthday boy/girl "kill the cake" by eating it without hands. Or so they told us... :)

Life in Sucre is easy. It is pleasant to walk around. It is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, so there are cultural events (an entire festival of them during my stay) and a good deal of history. Even the gringo bars have set up a sense of community - game nights, charity movie nights (often showing documentaries about the region), language exchange nights, and so on.

Hanging out in the Plaza 25 de Mayo.

I stayed at La Dulce Vita and it was phenomenal. It felt like I had a home, really. That's the thing about Sucre - it's just easy living here.

One of the incredible weavings at the Museum of Indigenous Art.
Saltenas! Pastries filled with chili. For breakfast.
When your hot chocolate needs a spoon (as at Cafe Mirador),
you know its good.

The entrance to the large Mercado Central. If you want to see a really big and less touristy mercado, try the Mercado Campesino. No joke.

The Bolivian declaration of independence was signed in this room. Thanks to my Spanish classes, I could even understand the guide (for the most part)!


But I want to see more of Bolivia, and so I am moving on. Espero que nos veamos otra vez, Sucre.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving under House Arrest

It is the Bolivian census today. That means that no one, in the entire country, is allowed outside of their residence without special permission so that the census takers can do their work. If the police find you in the street, they will arrest you, detain you for eight hours, and impose a fine. Rumors are that the fine is somewhere between $45 and $500 U.S. dollars. That is to say, ours is a full guesthouse today.
Our census taker came by around lunchtime.
Oh, I can't leave here today? Alright...
It is also an excellent day to cook myself Thanksgiving dinner one day early. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce that miraculously appeared in the supermarket (!), apple cider (or Api as they call it here), and a glass of wine. Not too shabby. I may get sweet potatoes for a round two tomorrow.
I always keep my camera with me, for exciting moments like spotting a can of cranberry sauce in the supermercado. And just as I had resigned myself to using cherry Jell-o as a substitute.
Lots of food, lounging in the sun, reading, movie watching, and good company. I certainly miss my family's Thanksgiving, but this is a good runner-up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Sat In A Dinosaur's Footprint!

This morning, I returned from a weekend trek through the rural areas outside of Sucre. Our friendly international group of 5 - me, a Slovakian living in Switzerland, a South African, an American volunteer guide, and a Bolivian guide - hiked on an Inca trail, over mountains and through canyons, under a waterfall, and past countless types and quantities of farm animals. We handed out coca leaves to the indigenous farmers (it is as good as money in the country), gave out fruit and candy to the children, and occasionally bought trinkets from both.

Getting started on day 1.

Traffic jam on the morning of day 2.   First came a man with cattle, then his daughter with sheep.

Traffic jam on day 2: First came a man with cattle; then his daughter with the sheep.

I learned a lot about the local culture and definitely got in some good training for next month's adventures. Oh, and did I mention that I saw fossilized dinosaur footprints? And one was so big I could fit my whole body in it? And that I did fit my whole body in it? Hoorah!

Baby dino tracks.

Me in a mama track.

The food we ate was pretty ridiculous. When I go backpacking, I am used to the mantra "ounces = pounds, pounds = pain." I am not used to this:

A choice of vinagarette, mayo, mustard, oregano, salt & pepper, and freshly-made salsa on my sandwich of fresh veggies and cheese = a lot of pain for the guide and a little pain for the rest of us.

Or this for breakfast:

Chocolate to melt in the oatmeal, along with bananas, apples, crackers, jelly, hot chocolate, coffee, and tea.

As delicious as it was, I don't usually eat a huge lunch and then hike 4 more hours without any more calories. They had nuts to snack on, but I wasn't interested. They also had hard-boiled eggs at lunch on the first day, but we all know what I think about eating eggs. As a result, my energy level dropped off pretty dramatically each afternoon. Good reminders for Machu Picchu.

I hope you enjoy this view - it nearly killed me.

A few complaints and oversights aside, it was an excellent trip. Our guide spoke Quechua, the local language, and was able to explain a lot about both the local way of life and how Condortrekkers helps out the communities. We ate lunch on the second day in the courtyard of one of the schools it supports. Children walk up to 2 hours each way each day to attend. Pretty incredible.

Hogs, too, are known to frequent the yard looking for our lunch leftovers.

The colors of sediment on the hike to our lodging for the second night, in Potolo, were also incredible. I felt like I was in New Zealand again, not because it looked like New Zealand but because it was once again something I'd never seen before.

Alright, enough chat. Here are the rest of my favorite photos of the trek!

On the walk into Marawa, where we slept on Day 1.

No words needed for the showdown on Day 1.

Our guide in a post-lunch waterfall chill-out.

Evening on Day 1.
Chickens in the potato patch on Day 2.

This fella wanted some dinner.


Morning on Day 3.

Hasta luego!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

La Recoleta in Sucre

Yesterday ... I was laid up in bed. I have never been more grateful to have had my own, quiet room in a nice guesthouse. Apart from Spanish class, I spent the day eating Ramen or cereal and reading up on the Petraeus scandal. (What the heck?) To think I had almost booked a dorm room in some party hostel!

But today, I had the energy to tackle a climb up the hill to La Recoleta, a monastery overlooking the city of Sucre. It was good training for next month's volcano climbing... (Must get on that.) There is a cafe at the lookout, and it was an excellent place to do my Spanish homework. School got out early today for the kids, so there were plenty of 10 year olds playing soccer on the mirador. Three chicas talked to me for a bit and even told me that I look young for a 30 year old! How nice.
That hill...
The mirador (lookout).
The cafe is just below, and I frequently had to retrieve their soccer ball.

Enjoying the view
The monastery

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bolivia: Sunday in Tarabuco

Sunday in Sucre - I was expecting to have little to do. So, I took a trip to Tarabuco, a town 60 km away that has a large Sunday market specializing in intricate textiles. I had read it was touristy, and yes, there are a lot of tourists. However, I still felt like I got to see a little bit of "actual" life in Tarabuco and the surrounding area, especially when I wandered away from the market and just walked around the town.

On the drive to Tarabuco, I got a sense of the environment and harsh living conditions here. Every riverbed was dry. Houses outside of the town are very basic. I saw fields being tilled with oxen; and the land has clearly been worked to its limit. We passed goats, sheep, cattle, hogs, and donkeys, all wandering around without fences, and I have no idea how they can be supported. It reinforced for me that I should try to spend my money while I am traveling in as responsible a way as possible.
Some donkeys (mules?) on the skirts of Tarabuco.
I watched a blacksmith at work on farming tools, saw kids hanging out by one of the schools, tried some delicious ice cream from one of the more popular vendors, and learned a bit about how much the local population really does not like the Spanish.
Trying to figure out if the ice cream was going to kill me or not. I decided to risk it - a long line of customers can't be too wrong - and it was delicious.
Yes, that is an indigenous person ripping the heart out of a Spanish soldier.
Environmental murals on the walls of one of the schools.

The people in Tarabuco were, again, very nice to me. The manager of the restaurant where I ate lunch with some travelers from Luxembourg spent a great deal of time explaining the way of life in Tarabuco and teaching us a few words of Quechua, the predominant indigenous language in the area. Those came in handy when we got the hard sell from some Tarabucenos who tried to get us to buy their trinkets by leaving them on the table and saying, "it's a gift" (that they would no doubt demand payment for in a few minutes) or putting things in my hair and saying, "how beautiful!" (There was no way I was buying anything, no matter how beautiful. I'm not carrying it around South America!) Later, one man even offered (jokingly) to sell me the kitten I was "aww"ing at.
Leaving Tarabuco, sans kitten or textiles.
It was a good way to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

La Paz, Bolivia: Armadillo Guitars, Bowler Hats, and Zebras

When the micro turned onto a dirt road, I really began to worry about missing my bus from La Paz to Sucre. The micro - a minivan-cum-city bus - had listed the bus station as a destination on one of the placards in its window. I saw us pass the bus station early on, but we were more than a block away, and I assumed the actual stop would be closer. Then the micro began to climb the steep roads to El Alto, the city above La Paz, and time ticked ever closer to my bus's departure. Sometime after it turned a corner onto the dirt road clinging to the side of the mountain - with La Paz no longer in view - I finally mustered the courage (or at least got over my embarrassment) to ask the driver if he was still going to the bus station. He looked back at me in the rearview mirror in disbelief. In unison, he and the remaining passengers said, "We already went to the bus station!" Whoops. Turns out, you must shout "Bajo, bajo!" when you want to get out. On the plus side, he thought it was hilarious, and he was very nice to this gringa in explaining the rules of a micro. I ended up with some excellent views of La Paz on the way back to the station, and I made my bus with time to spare. Extra-fortunately, it was the bus seat to end all bus seats.
Front-row center, extra comfy, and the seat folded flat into a bed!
A view of La Paz as we were pulling out of the station.

I spent 2 days in La Paz, which was enough for a good introduction but certainly not enough to give me any real insight Into the city. Here is what I know.
  • Every Paceno I met - not just those on the micro - was nice to me. I wasn't brave enough to ask for a photo of any of them.
  • Altitude matters. La Paz is HIGH. However, the locals are right: mate de coca works wonders for mild altitude sickness.
  • There are many interesting museums and attractions that I barely sampled. I saw three museums, and each was cool.
In the Bolivian musical instrument museum I found this beauty for Mike.
I found this beauty for Mike in the musical instrument museum.
One of my favorites from the modern / 20th century art museum.

  • The city runs on organized chaos that, as an outsider, I was slow to decipher (obviously). The streets are packed - packed! - with various forms of public transit: taxis, trufis, micros, and buses. They emit a ton of exhaust fumes and I had to seek refuge in my hotel room every few hours. (Reminded me of Hong Kong, actually.) There are stop lights and crossing lanes, but the traffic doesn't respect either of them. So much so that the La Paz government paid people to dress in zebra costumes and act as crossing guards on the main road through town yesterday.
This is what I learned the UK, and Bolivia, calls a "zebra crossing."

  • Finally, the bowler hat is alive and well in La Paz. Who can't love seeing that?
I thought there were more in this one, but see woman in yellow shawl on bottom right.

On to Sucre!

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