Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Sucre, Bolivia: Street Food, French Sugar and Back to School

Following a short 2 hour bus ride I was in Sucre. Without seeing a map or anything I walked as I normally do, except this time it didn't work so well. After walking around in circles for about 2 hours I saw a sign for a HI Hostel. After checking-in seeing a map I realised that I was actually walking around the suburban area and the city centre was not close to the bus stop or the hostel I eventually found.

Most people will say La Paz is the capital of Bolivia (it is the administrative capital, the seat of government and congress) but Sucre is the constitutional, judicial and official capital of Bolivia. Sucre is the 5 largest city with a population of about 250,000. It has also had 4 official names with Sucre being the most recent along with the unofficial nickname of The White City. Sucre is also French for sugar which lead to the Frenchies and I giving it a 6th name, Azúcar (Spanish, and also Arabic, for sugar).

After settling into my room it was time to say good bye to a pair of Jeans that I had sewed up about 20 times since buying cotton and needles in Uruguay. I always get my jeans altered so they are the exact length for me to wear with thongs (flip flops) so I held onto these way too long... I was definitely showing off more than just my accent in South America!

I got a year of travelling from these Calvin Kleins
The next day I wandered into the central market. This place is unbelievable. You can buy absolutely anything and get proper meals for under $2. My favourite is the square of juice stands all competing with each other. For less than $1 you choose which fruits to go into a blender with milk or water (always milk for me) then you sit down and drink it in a fancy glass... then you hand the glass back and they fill it up AGAIN! 2 incredibly fresh fruit smoothies for less than a buck became a morning ritual for me.

Afterwards I walked to the main square. While I was taking photos a Bolivian man approached me and started talking. One of the bad things that comes with travelling is you see a lot of scams and the majority of locals that approach in central places are generally after something. I was very cautious of my wallet and camera while expecting some sort of scam. 

He was actually a traveller himself from another Bolivian town and had a camera very similar to mine. He just wanted to talk about photography and explained a lot about the history. I hated assuming the worst of a good person but unfortunately the majority of the time it would be a scam... I even got to hear Quechua for the first time (a native language that is still widely spoken, Google Search allows you choose it as a default language).   

After my quick morning tour I met up with Alex and Becca, an American couple I met in Tilcara, Argentina, they were renting an awesome apartment for a month in the very centre of town for a ridiculous price. Every time I entered this apartment Becca would immediately make up a cocktails that would almost knock you off your feet.

This day became a long one. Alex and I had lunch at the central market before heading up to a cafe over looking the city for some beers. Alex is pretty cool guy and the 2nd person I met in South Am that used to work for Google. He and Becca had camped up most of South Am going through most of the same cities/towns as me.

We were thirsty after the long up hill hike.
While we were drinking Alex recognised one of his American classmates Sara (who became my Sucre running buddy) and her Austrian housemate Christoph (who became my classmate). 

Sara and Christoph invited us to join them at a bar for a screening of a Spanish movie. We took the scenic route down from the hill via the largest Fuzzball setup that I have seen. Each team was actually painted to match real teams.

We were finally at the Amsterdam bar for the movie También la lluvia (Even the Rain)... Watch this movie! In 2000 there were massive violent riots/protests in Cochabamba, Bolivia when the government tried to start charging some of the world's poorest people for rain water (a real event). The movie is about a film team from Spain and Mexico filming a Christopher Columbus conquest in this city when suddenly the riots breakout with their lead native actor being the ringleader (fictional). 

After the movie Sara was due to meet someone from Couchsurfing for the first time ever and was a bit worried about meeting a random from the internet. Since I'm a Couchsurfing veteran I said I would come along. We ended up a bar/restaurant of my future hostel with the Bolivian Couchsurfer, a Spanish girl he was hosting and a Bolivian in town from Cochabamba.

The Couchsurfing Gang!
The next morning (Friday) I changed hostels, met a lot of people at my new hostel, enrolled in my third language school and did some more exploring.

During my daily wandering I discovered the big park with a climbable Eiffel tower in the middle (no photo because young kids were always playing on it) and the old train station (no rail network in Bolivia anymore)... I also ran into 2 Frenchies, Hugo and Clovis, that I met in Tilcara and again in Potosi... I can't escape.

The Old Train Station

After returning to the hostel I discovered Papa Rellenas (potatoes stuffed with anything, generally meat or cheese) in a pasta sauce... So good! Soon after eating, Sara collected me for a late afternoon run around the big park. 

The altitude in Sucre is just over 2,800m, my lowest altitude in 2 weeks but still enough to kill me. This park (of death) became my regular running track. It was a 500m rectangle with 2 long sides on a slope and 2 curved short sides. Perfect for altitude training!

After the run I quickly showered and went to Sara's place. Sara, Christoph and I made our way to a hidden Italian restaurant. It is a house with a little sign, you ring the doorbell and the Italian owner/chef answers. We were joined by 2 others, 1 was my other future Dutch classmate (Suzanne). Alex and Becca also happened to have a booking as well, so did a few others from my hostel, and Rolando the CSer was there for a work function. 

I made a spontaneous decision to eat here and I knew half of this tiny little restaurant a random Bolivian city. This restaurant is number 5 on Tripadvisor and will set you back around $10 for a decent meal (This is the high end price in Bolivia).

After returning to the hostel it was party time, the drinking games began in the bar with my roommates, 3 young Americans that teach English in Chile and Patricia (Rolando's CSer). Patricia is from Asturias (the north west region of Spain) and speaks Spanish faster than my ears can listen. 

After dancing at the hostel I saw 3 girls eating Birthday cake so starting singing Happy Birthday to the birthday girl from Hong Kong. Patricia and I immediately had plates of cake in our hands. I soon found myself in a taxi with the girl from HK and the 2 Bolivian girls she was with on my way to Mitos (1 or 2 night clubs in Sucre).... My American roomies just happened to be there too... memory gone for the rest of that night.

The weekend involved drinks at Alex's and Becca's place, meeting many more people, my first visit to the non profit vegetarian Condor cafe, more drinks on the hill, meeting the Frenchies again, and getting very acquainted with Singani (the national spirit of Bolivia made from grapes) and Chuflay (the common Singani cocktail)... And brushing up on my Spanish before my first day of class.

Monday morning saw me up bright and early for a level exam and 1 on 1 Spanish discussion at my language school. My level was rated at the middle of intermediate. My class would be from 2-6pm for the week, 20 hours for a total cost of $100 US, half the price of Spain, Chile and Argentina.

I was surprised when my classmates were Christoph, Suzanne and an old(er) French lady, Myriam.

Classmates plus half of Christoph's younger Brother, Benny
The school held quite a few social events after class. Salsa dancing was the one I attended, and showed off my skills. There was also a ping pong table which occupied our 4pm break. Chris and his brother were literally ping pong champions in Austria that competed on a university team... I had played semi regular ping pong at hostels during my travels but I was hopeless against these 2.

The next couple of days involved more class, a Cacho competition (like Yahtzee but teams of 2), Sara and I finished somewhere in the middle. There was also a big dinner (3 course meal and a beer for 7 bucks) at Condor Cafe where I ran into Alexia (Frenchie from Tilcara and Potosi also), another monster breakfast at the cafe with a view, changing to my 3rd hostel (private for less money) and dinner at a steak place with Alex and Becca. 

Dinner at Condor Cafe

The steak place was out in the suburbs and crazy. You could order full or half steaks but little did we know that full was a whole cow and half was half of one... almost. We ordered 2 full sizes between us and a bottle of wine. Then all of these sides (included) covered the table in front of us. 2 plates of potatoes, 2 plates of some rice stuff and 2 plates of chilies and other things. Then out came 2 massive steaks, both over a foot long and thick. We tried our best but required doggy boxes to take half home... All of this for about $15 dollars each.

My $5 Breakfast (Eggs, bacon, salad, croissant, toast, jam, coffee, smoothie, yogurt, glass of fruit).

Some random drinking game, Becca and 2 guys from my 2nd hostel.

During the Cacho competition I met a German couple that were previously in Tupiza and set to go on the Tupiza to Uyuni tour but the guy was too ill in the morning they were due to leave. He was admitted to hospital wrongly diagnosed and recovered. He sent emails of his x-rays to his German doctor and was correctly diagnosed with Pulmonary Oedema with instructions to stay put until fully recovered. I informed him that if he fell ill 1 day later he would be a dead man.

While walking through the street I randomly ran into a Frenchie that cooked me dinner in Tupiza, my first Bolivian city... All of the Frenchies want some sugar.

I bought a hand made beanie for $4

We had a poker tournament scheduled at Alex's and Becca's later in the week, problem was we didn't have a poker set. We decided to into my last hostel to sneak out the poker set, borrowing of course. We had to stop late in the game for a 1am alcohol run... I love South Am and 24 hour convenience stores that sell alcohol.

The weekend was here an it was house party time at Barbara's place. Barbara was born in Bolivia with native parents but adopted by her German parents and grew up in Germany. She was here visiting her biological parents that only speak Spanish and she was a beginner at my school. She was also doing volunteer work for the community.

Barbara, Benny and I

Alex, Becca, Benny and I plus an arm and half a German guy
The night led to a bar before finally finishing at Mitos.

The next day was my last. Alex, Becca and I conquered the mountain behind Sucre. The hike was tough for me in the altitude even with running on most days. The peak was probably around 3,500m

The Beginning

3 quarters up

Becca & Alex

I had a fall being stupid on my way down.

A week after the fall
My last night involved attending a dinner for Suzanne's last night, there were about 20 of us. Then quite a few of us headed to a multi-story bar with different types of music on each floor. The live music was for me.

After 12 awesome nights in was time to say good bye. While walking to the bus stop I ran into another Frenchie, Alban, that I was hiking with 2 months earlier in Córdoba.

Next Stop La Paz!!!... The other Capital of Bolivia.

Lessons Learnt:
My first Spanish school that wasn't located in a world famous beach city was still just as awesome.
Sucre is a great city to study Spanish on a budget or for altitude training.
The market culture in Bolivia is awesome... but quite unhygienic.
You don't have to live somewhere long to feel like you know everyone or make awesome friends.
Singani and Chuflays are deadly.
Wine is the best value drink in Bolivia.

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