Having moved from place to place for the last few weeks we decided to make camp for a few days in Sucre. A few days turned into three weeks of Spanish lessons, football games and dancing in the streets. Sucre is only a day's bus ride from Uyuni, through yet more spectacular scenery. Whilst Uyuni was a dust bowl, Sucre has a wonderful feel to it. Blessed with some fantastic looking architecture. Wonderful friendly people and plenty of great cafes and bars.
We stayed at the KulturBerlin hostel for the first couple of nights. A party hostel at heart but with some quiet rooms at the back of the garden, the old folks section. Here we had the misfortune one morning to be joined by a backpacker who looked all of 12 years of age. He managed to slurp his way through every mouthful of breakfast. I'm told it's not the done thing to whack strangers across the head so we let him slurp away. His mother would be so proud.
After getting our bearings we checked in with Sucre Spanish School. We had heard that Sucre is a affordable location to learn Spanish. So we decided to sign up for two weeks of school, building on our classes in Buenos Aires. Julie ended up doing nearly three full weeks. Walking into reception we bumped into Trush (aka T Rex) our kiwi/pom friend we met in Tupiza.
The school specialised in one to one teaching. Julie's teacher Veronica, and mine Jorge. We had lessons during the week from 9.30am through to 12.30pm. Spending the afternoons wandering the town or in Julie's case doing three hours of homework.
If lessons were not enough, we thought a home stay would be a great way to practice our Spanish. We had a choice of two homes and opted for a house roughly 15 minutes walk from the school. The home of Judith, her mother, daughter Camille and the dogs Otto and Pato. Also Judith three sisters lived in adjoining houses. Lunch times often had four generations of the family around the table. This included three year old Lucas. At the end of the first week Trush moved in too.
As always with South America cities the main plaza was hive of activity. The first weekend saw some kind of military parade. Various regiments goose stepped their way around the plaza.
Just outside of town is a dinosaur park, Parque Cretacico, the three of us decided to pay a visit. Rather than jump on one of the many tourist's buses we opted for the much cheaper local bus. A fraction of the cost and double the experience. The bus wound its way through a huge local market. There didn't seem enough room for a bike let alone a minibus. Divine intervention prevailed and the sea of people parted. At one stage the driver stopped to watch some football on the TV in a store.
The entrance to Parque Cretacico is through the car park of a cement factory. The area was once a riverbed that dried trapping the footprints forever. Millions of years later the local cement company found the footprints whilst quarrying. The upward movement of the tectonic plates meant the dried river bed is now a sheer cliff face. There are over 5,000 footprints, from several species of dinosaur, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Ceratops and Titanosaurus. The park also has some fantastic life sized models of the dinosaurs that roamed this region.
Most weekends in Sucre are fiesta time. The middle Saturday of our stay was the biggest, loudest and longest. This fiesta is called 'The Folklorica'. Group after group of students paraded through the streets. Celebrating the various local industries and cultures. The parade started at 2.00pm with a representation of miners. Not long after Julie was dragged reluctantly into the throng of dancers to join in. At midnight the dancers were still filing through the streets to the plaza as thousands watched. They moved and grooved all day long to the same steady beat. We fell asleep to sound of fireworks erupting into the early morning.
The three of us once again journeyed out of town on the local bus. This time to the Sunday market at Tarbuco. Over 60 kilometres from Sucre this huge market is an attraction for the locals as well as tourists. Not only was there the normal tourist tat available by the bucket load. But you could buy everything from cocoa plants, livestock, stationary and food. We chanced our arm and bought lunch from some local ladies. Then sat and ate on the pavement as the world wandered by. On the return journey Julie and Trush started up a conversation with a local lady. This was the moment when Julie realised that all the Spanish lessons were starting to pay off.
All South Americans are passionate about football. Even more so during the Copa America (South America's mini World Cup). Held every four years, this year's tournament took place in Chile. Night after night was spent in the various bars in Sucre watching football. Our favourite bar, Cafe Florin, was jammed packed most evenings. Unfortunately for Bolivia, they were the recipients of a big smack down at the hands of Chile. The rowdy bar went deathly quiet as the commentator screamed "Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool" time and time again. The final score 5-0. Ouch.
The three amigos had one heavy night on the town. Downing three bottles of cheap red wine at La Quimba bar. Then heading to the Goblin Beer Bar for litre glasses of the local brew. Needless to say, things moved a little slower the next day.
The top part of town is called Recoleta. A small square where the local boys practise their football skills. There is a great little cafe with a laid back sun deck where you can watch the sun set over the city with an iced cold beer in your hand. If beer wasn't enough we made our way to Chocolate Para Ti for a delicious hot chocolate.
The architecture around the main plaza is stunning. There is the San Felipe School. For $3 you can wander around this beautiful building that was once a monastery. There’s a wonderful bird's eye view of the town and the courtyards from the roof. You can also climb up one of the bell towers for an even better view. There is the Casa del Libertad. This stunning building is the birthplace of Bolivia. Once called Upper Peru, the Treaty of Independence was signed in this building in 1825. Initially called Bolivar after the Simon Bolivar who helped free much of South America from the Spanish. The name later changing to Bolivia. The various exhibits tell the story of how the locals defeated the Spanish after many years of fighting. Including the story of Juana Azurduy a female freedom fighter. She lost her husband and four children to the Spanish. She fought many battles but died in poverty, forgotten until many years later.
All good things must come to an end and so our time in Surce was over. The taxi ride to airport in a car that had been modified from a right hand drive to a left. A gaping hole where the steering column once was. And a little bit of home as we realised the plane taking us to La Paz was an ex Kiwi aircraft. The tell tale sign being the little tag at the back of all the seats, Air New Zealand.
Sucre was another one of those places we could have happily stayed in much longer. We loved the laid back friendly nature of everybody we met. It felt like there wasn't a day that went by without something taking place in the plaza. The folk at the Spanish school were amazing. It was also great to be part of the school's fifth birthday, bubbles and lemon cake the order of the day. The market, shoe shine boys, the guys washing cars inside and out around the plaza. And joining in the passion for football almost every night. We will miss Sucre.
Next Stop, La Paz, the most dangerous road in the world and the Pope.
Stop the press.... We forgot to mention the zebras manning the zebra crossings. Most school days around the main plaza students in zebra onesies help the youngsters across the road. The guys and girls have a great time waving at the cars, hugging the small kids and high fiving the adults. What a great concept, every school in NZ & UK should have these guys.