South America 5 Sucre

Geology

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 Plaza de Armas
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.
My horse Otto

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.

This for 300 of 360 degrees

This for 300 of 360 degrees

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.
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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
Buses $10

South America 4 La Paz

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La Paz, Bolivia Days 14-18 April 8-12 2013

We arrived in our second country of the trip Bolivia, early on a crisp bright morning at around 7am. The bus stop was very grand and different from the oversized bus stops in Peru and looked like something from 1920s France or switzerland. This type of look would be a recurring theme in La Paz, outdated, slightly grand buildings at its best and run down dilapidated concrete at it{s worse, all with a tinge of smog and poor maintenance. The journey had been overnight and long and I{d not got much sleep but we had gone past lake Titicaca which was welcome at 5 in the morning as the sun came up. We{d got taking to an older, cockney guy in the queue for immigration to Bolivia, he ran a shaolin monk MMA school back home and had a slightly unhinged nature to him. He told a good story though, mostly about other people messing him around or orgies at ancient Mexican ruins, and was friendly enough so he tagged along with us to our hostel, The Aventure Brew.

The bowl of La Paz

La Paz sits at 4000m above sea level and is the highest capital in the world. It sits in a huge bowl that means the views are amazing as flavellas and parks run all up the sides, it also means it is hell to walk around. The painfully old cars and buses were charming to look at (think Cuba) but spewed thick, black smoke as they struggled up hill with entirely too many people in them. Our hostel was up a steep incline, again, and every time we walked back to it was nackering, with huge dodge buses blasting smog and smoke out alongside, our unhinged friend naturally went for a jog around the city. The hostel was nice enough with good views at the bar 6 stories (!) up, we watched the man city man U game and slept until that evening. We were using La Paz as a base to do other things around Bolivia, the salt flats, Jungle, Sucre, and our volunteering in Coroico, the fact all these things were within a $7 bus journey was one of the many pluses of Bolivia. Peru is essentially one big desert with a bit of rainforest at the northeast and not a lot else geographically speaking. Bolivia is a mountain country with the most biodiverse nature reserve on earth, and the largest saltflats by a huge margin anywhere in the world, the Bolivianos is also 10 to the pound, we had found home for the forseeable future. Bolivia is also the first independent country in South America and is most proud, or even tolerable, of its indigenous communities, quechua, Inca hundreds of tribes. This was immediately evident at the border where everyone changed from modern western style clothes to brightly coloured traditional dresses and scarves complete with ridiculous bowler hats.

Top right Llama fetus

Top right Llama fetus


One of the main attractions in La Paz is the witches market a sort of traditional indigenous market for tourists, so we ate our free pancake breakfast and set off. It wasnt far and was full of the usual tourist tat, these alpacas fleeces everyone was wearing, little nik naks, “fossils” which were clearly carved rocks, and something not so usual, in dead Llama fetus. Id read about these and assumed they{d be crushed into a powder as a weird medicine, they were not, they were in fact fully, and not so fully, formed baby Llamas hung there smelling of formaldehyde. It was worth seeing I guess. The next few nights and days we took advantage of our free nightly homebrewed beer at the hostel and generally went out and got drunk, we met some Argentinian guys killing time until their flight at 7am. So we drank and beat them at table football until their flight. We met 2 english girls and a guy in our room, Charlotte, mike and Hannah as well as a plumber from Chichester, who was travelling with 6 surfboards surfing South America. We hung out with them around La Paz drinking and generally being merry for the next 3 days. Hangovers are brutal in La Paz due to the altitude, you breathe harder for less oxygen and dehydrate quicker, or so a drunk person told me, so we spent a good deal of our days sharing this pain with other travellers. Next we were off to more productive and rewarding Sucre, to meet up with Jimmy and his girlfriend Mariah a week later.
Daily budget $15
Buses $10

Che statue in La Paz