Sucre, Bolivia Days 19-27 April 13-21
We arrived in Sucre after another overnight bus, which saved us on a hostel, the bus didnt allow much sunlight to see Bolivia. Once we arrived in Sucre we got a taxi to our Hostel the Quechua inn and unpacked. The Hostel was fantastic, it was run by, fittingly a quechua, one of the larger indigenous cultures, named Luis who was also an artist. He had essentially opened up his home and as a result it had a great kitchen, TV room and the rooms felt like a nicely maintained spare room. We got an ensuite for $4 a night, we stayed there for the entire time we were in Sucre, and met 20 or 30 different people who came and went as most did 2 week intensive Spanish courses. We met 2 french Canadian guys, Remy and Frank who were there for the first week or so and hung out with them most of the time. We relied on other peoples Spanish but were slowly getting better being able to understand and ask for directions and ordering food, Jonny was good at numbers for haggling. We didnt do a Spanish course, the thing to do in Sucre, as they were pricey, so instead looked into doing some treks in the nearby Andes.
Sucre used to be immensely rich as the mines in Potosi, produced almost 50,000 tons of Silver alone and far more Gold, Sucre was where most of the Spanish gold and Silver went through. As a result the whole city is a UNESCO world heritage site and feels very European, kind of like Bath. It had some of the best looking plazas and public buildings we had seen so far. The buildings are mostly uniform bleach white in colour and the main Plaza is really amazing, pictures uploaded with this post will do it justice. There are also a lot of universities in Sucre and its the old constituional capital, meaning itŽs a rich (by bolivian standards), educated city. Despite this education the city still pay overly enthusiatic people dressed up in Zebra outfits to help adults cross the road, this was still Bolivia after all. After the first day wandering around the city centre we went back to the hostel and asked about a good place for dinner. A Canadian girl we later trekked with recommended la Taverne a french restaraunt. The best Steak I ever had cost me $9, they didnt even bother giving you a steak knife, you didnt need it. It asked to fall apart under the weight of a butter knife. Sucre had been good to us the first few days, but we needed to get out and see some of the rugged hills and mountains you could see from the centre of town.
We decided to do a day horseback ride to see if they looked as good up close. Obviously they did, especially from the top of the biggest horse they had Otto, he didnt take any notice of my directions at first almost galloping off down a main road at the first and only roundabout we faced. By the end of the trip though we had a kind of understanding, I let him do what he want as long as he followed the rest of the group. The panaramics and views were stunning, you could see for miles of clear eucalyptus (weirdly) Forest and the first waves of imposing foothills of the Andes. There were 8 of us riding and 4 of which were experienced riders, we gallopped, a lot. Galloping on a horse that big is scary and I had new respect for those short irish men who hurl themselves over huge walls. Once you got the hang of it it was fun, Jonny unfortunately didnt and tried to pull the reins back on his horse while all the rest were galloping. It bucked and very nearly through him right off, he walked with his tail between his legs the rest of the way back.
We were impressed with what wed seen in the country and booked a 3 day trek the next day. We booked with Condor who had been recommended by someone in La Paz, all the money go back to the communities in these incredibly isolated, poor, well, not even a village just collections of shacks and livestock really. We set out at 5am after 4 days in Sucre and drove until 7 to the starting point 3000m up. I wasnt exactly well equipped I was wearing a regular shirt and shorts and trainers. Id left my waterproofs on Grannys spare bed, but Schakleton did Antarctica with Spam and not a lot else, so with a heavy sense of delusion I buckled my bag and we set off. It was warm and the sun intense, but the views were like nothing Id ever seen or imagined. The sheer space of it was staggering, huge, ridiculously scaled mountains that kind of ambled with no real apparent steepness to 4000 to 6000m took up half the view. The other was meandering river valleys and intense purple copper deposits, you could see the geometric shapes where the earths crust had crunched up like a carpet to form these mountains. I like the lake district but this was something completely different. The walk itself was steep as we desended towards the only road next to the nearby river, a probably 20 ft across river had carved this gigantic valley between 5 or 6 3-5000m behemoths. We had a light lunch around 1 that our guide, esteban also quechua, had to carry and prepare all our food all 3 days, which he took easily in his stride. I had not brought water and the 2 girls we were hiking with, one the canadian girl from the hostel, another an Aussie vet who loved trekking, had helped me out but I didnt want to ask for too much. At Lunch all I ate were cucumbers and tomatoes for there water and by the end of the day I felt drunk I was so dehydrated. We stumbled into the small village of Maragua around 6 and collapsed into bed. We ate dinner and chatted and were in bed by 10, we woke up at 630 the next day to start again.
It felt great to be out of cities and the sense of accomplishment at the end of each day was really what kept us going. It was dry, intense heat and a lot of walking down, then flat, then straight up vertical, the whole trip was well worth the 40 or so pounds we paid. We ran into some wild bulls on the second day as well as going to see dinosaur footprints preserved in stone, these were really cool as there were some big ones following a smaller set, so it must have been curtains for the smaller one, well eventually both thinking about it. The third day we went to a waterfall which was really nice and refreshing, as well as the scariest thing Ive ever encountered. A lot of the ridges have paths hugging them and then loose gravel usually for around a 100m or so before a dropoff. The last hour or so of the third day there was no 100m buffer, no safety net, but about 3 footwide of loose gravel and a sheer drop of about 500m on one side. I was shaking but got it done, it was the most scared IŽve ever been but undoutedly a rush, the girls breezed through it. The people who live there wear traditional dress and live in adobe huts, kids constantly run up to you selling bracelets and plastic bottles sculptures, I had no idea what they looked forward to or did other than farm. I guess the views and there culture kept them there but I was glad to see a town by the third day. Condor had built a sattelite dish for internet and a Library in the town which was great as people in this part of Bolivia, and as a whole have been ignored for centuries. The accomodation was great in all of the stops and our guide great despite speaking no english we had several broken conversations and a lot of the sciency things we could understand.
We got a 3 hour bus ride back to Sucre on the final day through the mountains on narrow dirt tracks with sheer edges in a bus that looked and felt (suspension wise) from the 60s. It was a local bus with families with pets presumably off to the big smoke to visit relatives, a cute puppy got stepped on, a lot. Stout, in both size and demeanor, indigenous ladies in traditional wear and men commuting. The air was heavy with the smell of Coca and horrifically off key wailing music. Around 10am on the way back to Sucre there was a temporary road block, an incredibly common happening in Bolivia, there was even a strike because the government wanted to make it illegal for bus drivers to be drunk.(http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1969708,00.html)
This meant we sat around for an hour waiting but more broadly meant we didnŽt visit Lake Titicaca and Copacabana on the way to La paz, which was rather annoying and was a common issue with other travellers. The city was under siege with no water or food in for weeks and horror stories of people arriving expecting lake swimming and floating islands and having to trek to Peru (2 or 3 days) to find a hostel. Im all for people standing up for themselves and corruption is endemic in Bolivia so I suppose its a lack of other options (or stuborness, laziness and corruptions in unions.) We arrived back in Sucre tired and ready for a fews days of lying around eating, drinking and smoking which we happily did.
We had stumbled across Boca Rica, a rum, which costed 15Bs (thats £1.50 of your Old English pound) it had made an impression on us and would do for the length of our time in Bolivia. We went out to the backpackers lodge most nights and ended up in a karaoke bar once or twice, this was full of weird dates where the men would serenade there lady with a cheesy love song, we drunkedly sang ACDC and Vanilla Ice and set a slightly different mood. We also went to the market most days and made lunch and dinner at the hostel to save money. Buying food from the market was fun and different while meals themselves were a big, fun communal affair at Quechua and we spoke with some of the more studiuous people at the hotel then.
The bombing of the Boston marathon had happened recently and one of the older guests was from Connecticut, so I asked him about it and he obviously thought it horrific. It turned out he was also from Sandy Hook, the town in Connecticut where a terrible shooting had happened. He had been travelling for a year and wasnt there but his insight was pretty disturbing, a small, nondescript town thrust into the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. A sidetrack I suppose but we had an interesting discussion about guns and the Americas, including South America, outlook on violence was very different to elsewhere.
Bolivia specifically has been destroyed by the war on drugs, wide spread violence and corruption is accepted by a people whose social and cultural structure, known as ayllu, in which the many work towards a big community pool which the elders enjoy most. This is perfect for crooked politicians and drug barons to exploit, this is something which is constantly in your face in South America. Huge mineral wealth and incredible senseless poverty usually based on wether your indigenous or Latin (White). The Coca leaf plays a number of roles in this viscous cycle. As a leaf it is a mild, widespread (%92 of Bolivian men chew it) stimulant like coffee that gives slight euphoria, makes you feel less hungry, and dumbs pain, its therefore the perfect fuel for slaves. This means Sucre, which is close to the mines where generations were worked to death fed mainly on Coca, was a huge market for the leaf. We bought some and tried it, it was something like drinking a coffee and then generally feeling a bit healthier (it is incredibly good for you nutritionally) but its bitter and a bit horrible like chewing tobacco.
Jimmy arrived after around a week and we took them immediately to La tavern for Dinner, which wasnt as good as the last spiritually good steak but still nice after days of eating market food. It was great to have some new blood and talk about what we had done so far, Jimmy got robbed. We showed them around Sucre for a few days while they got used to altitude and wandered around doing the same things we had been, familiarity was nice. They came from Buenos Aires and wanted to do Salar De Uyuni, the salt flats, we booked a bus and left for Uyuni after the best week or 10 days so far.
Daily budget $20