Monday, 11 August 2014

Sucre - sweet as bru!

We roll into Sucre at a typically inconvenient time, having spent yet another wild Saturday night on an overnight bus, and the bus driver decides to break with tradition by not bothering with any silly bus terminals, oh no. It's 4am so of course everyone just wants to be dumped at the side of the road.

This must be a regular occurrence as the taxi drivers are upon us before we've managed to claim our bags. A polite young chap quietly asks us "taxi?" - and as we begin to explain our intended destination, a much less polite brute barges through him and shouts "TAXI!?" in our faces. Yes, but not from you, as we return the favour by walking straight through him to our original guy.

Back home, I can't imagine a taxi driver not knowing where something was, especially when you have the full name and address. In Bolivia, it's entirely normal for taxi drivers to say "yes, yes!" and then as they speed along the streets, ask several times where it is you're going. Our young friend fares slightly better, he's clearly never heard of the hostel, but he does at least know the street, and even better, understands the numbers so within a few minutes he's triumphantly parked up outside, jumped out and rung the bell for us. And how much for this early morning show of service? 5 Bolivianos, or less than 50p.

As with arrivals in other places in Bolivia, we're clearly chancing our luck by asking if our beds are available yet... they aren't, but - here's a twin private room that you can sleep in for a few hours until your actual room has been vacated and cleaned. What?! We're liking this place already!

Part of our first day in Sucre was spent trying to sort out a trek out to see some dinosaur footprints. The Lonely Planet favourite is a place called JoyRide, but after 15 minutes sat there while 3 members of staff dealt with 1 transaction, we were losing patience. Partly because we were going to the coffee shop upstairs as soon as this was finished, partly because it was just really tedious to watch 3 guys fawning over the cash collection process. Finally, it was our turn to be served, and when we told them which trek we wanted to do, in 2 days time, we were told that they didn't have anyone else for that trek at that time, but would we want to do this other one, which they went on to explain would basically involve dicking around on bikes for a day. "But does it go to the dinosaur prints?" well... no...

We left without booking anything, to "have a think about it", which went something like "that sounded shit" / "yep", and then headed for coffee... which by contrast was superb. We still needed to get that dinosaur trek booked in though, so on our hostels recommendation went to Condortrekkers, who operate a number of community projects in and around the villages that they visit on the treks. They didn't have anyone else booked in, but took our details, wrote us up on the big whiteboard and promised to let us know if/when they got the extra person required to make the trek happen. The next morning we had an email to say that it was ON - isn't that how it should be done?

The afternoon was spent cruising around Sucre, taking in some of the sites until we ended up at Bolivar Park. It turns out that today is a Sunday and the park life is in full swing. There's go-karts and horses buzzing round the outer pathways, table football competitions on the go, little kids painting pictures on tiny easels, bouncy castles, people selling popcorn, candy floss, ice creams, and pizzas - a real hub of locals having fun. We were having a great time, partaking in all of the above, except the bouncy castles and painting - we were told we were too big for them.

In the middle of the park is a "mini Eiffel Tower". They claim to have bought some of the left over metal work from the real one, and constructed this replica (in the loosest sense of the word) right here in Bolivia. Sounds legit...

There is a pretty epic children's dinosaur play park next to the park and CP is in heaven, trying to play on everything, but predictably being told to get off because she is am adult and this is a childrens playground.

We also get to witness what appears to be a teenage mating ritual. As the evening draws in, and area of the park begins to fill with teenage girls dressed up in a modern twist on the traditional clothing, their hair done into plats. Meanwhile the boys are strolling around in groups, doing their best to look cool, dressed up in their best American style attire, hanging around the girls but pretending to ignore them. It's reassuring to see kids behaving like kids even though their lives are wildly different to those in more developed countries.

Back at the hostel, and as we get stuck in to a lovely bottle of wine that we brought with us from Tarija, it's time to reveal the Secret Squirrel business that I'd been working on... my travels are being cut short to go home to start a new job (which I'm very excited about!), however this does mean that I'll be bidding farewell to CP at the end of August, while she continues to Fiji, New Zealand, Bali, and Australia. While in Aus, Carly's brother Chris will be getting married. We'd discussed this before and come to the conclusion that it just wouldn't be possible for me to be there - new job, hard to take time off, too far to travel for too short a period of time, it would cost too much... any number of reasons why I can't be there.



... I will go to the ball! My new job is awesome and have allowed me the time off, I've managed to book flights such that I maximise my time in Sydney (all 6 days of it!) and still get home again with minimal disruption, and what's the point in having a great new job if you can't enjoy the rewards? Besides, it's a family wedding and it's important to me that I can be there, and if I wasn't, then I wouldn't see any of Carly's family before our own wedding in October next year. In short, I'm so excited to be going, and happy that the secret has been revealed and we can plan our time there together. And clearly, CP is pretty excited too...ridiculously so!

Next day we make plans to go on a free walking tour of the city. Sucre is known as the "white city" because of the many whitewashed buildings which hide sprawling interior courtyards, and it has a rich history tied to the mining success of Potosi, as it rose to prominence as an attractive retreat for wealthy and influential figures connected with the silver mines. Sucre's town centre was impressive enough to be declared a UNESCO site in 1991 so this should be good, and the walking tour is run in conjunction with Condortrekkers so we have high hopes. 

The tour begins well, as we arrive with an Oreo frappe... essentially the coffee shop blends up a packet of Oreos, some ice, and throws in a shot of coffee. The result is a diabetes inducing sugar frenzy. Pretty quickly it's clear that Oreo magic aside, the tour will not be living up to expectations. 

Our 2 guides appear to have only the vaguest knowledge of the city, and having opted not to split our huge group in two, there's 30+ people shuffling along listening to fun facts like "this is the market... here local people can buy food, like meat, and cheese... it's nice." Fascinating. I want to leave, and I'm pretty gutted when I see some people managing to sneak off seemingly unnoticed.

We do learn that Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia (La Paz is the political capital, and President Evo Morales is massively unpopular in Sucre, as the old wealth and power of the city is threatened by his political policies), and the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1825. Aside from that, it's famous for its chocolate. Beyond that, I'm struggling to remember anything of note from the tour, although there were a few decent views...

Other highlights are a statue of some guy, a friend of Simon Bolivar. Someone asks what he did... "He was his friend, he helped him." Oh right, well that explains it then! We later find out that this random guy was in fact Mariscal Jose Antonio Sucre, the first president of Bolivia, so rather more than just one of his mates.

After 2 hours the pain is over and we arrive back at the Condortrekkers office. If we were booking our trek based on the walking tour, we'd be going elsewhere, but we discretely check whether they will be our guides tomorrow and thankfully they will not!

We spend the afternoon exploring the city by ourselves, including shopping in the markets (for food like meat, and cheese... it's nice) for a BBQ at the hostel later, and generally find out far more about Sucre than we did from our hapless guides. Our charitable donations also went up a notch, as we progressed from buying snacks from the neediest looking vendors to a heartwarming moment when CP spotted a grandpa aged gent sat on some steps with 2 kids, counting out coins, and decided to run back to give them 20 Bolivianos (£2). The reactions of all 3 were priceless, as we looked back to see them all hugging each other. Ahhhhh.

The next two days are our Condortrekkers trip to the dinosaur footprints which merits a blog entry of it's own, but we both really enjoyed our time in Sucre (walking tour aside!) - a beautiful city with a rich cultural history which while it caters for tourists well, it's by no means overrun, so a worthwhile stop on our tour of Bolivia.

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