(l) Overlooking the courtyard of Catedral de Virgen de Guadalupe in Sucre, Bolivia
With time to kill I set out to explore Sucre. Staying in immaculately clean accommodations, the Colonial Real Hotel is is just 4 blocks from the Plaza Principal and the heart of Sucre’s bustling but tranquil government and business district. This central district is punctuated by a swash of colonial buildings. Most everything is white or whitewashed and the city is incredibly clean by South American standards. Everything is walking distance for me. And for me I have an incurable appetite for spending hours walking around South American (or any third world) markets.
These colorful and kinetic meeting and shopping places provide locals with virtually anything they need: produce, fruit, meat, household supplies, freshly squeezed juices and quick “counter” meals. Though usually housed in large open air structures or buildings with elevated roofs to provide for ventilation, there are parts of every market where certain pungent aromas may be offensive to some. The market in Sucre is surprisingly clean. The seemingly endless vendors are packed close together and more or less clustered by product. That is, walking through one section and yours eyes will be feasted on raw meat and large animal parts hanging from hooks or sprawled out on counter tops. Butchers wield bloody knifes and don leather aprons while tender Bolivian woman colorful fashioned in traditional layered skirts neatly finished with the traditional “somebreros” resting precariously on top of their heads with braided pony tails framing round faces and big brown eyes.
Always quick with a smile and greeting many of the vendors are quick conversationalists armed with the usual questions: Where are you from? How long will I be in Bolivia? What do I think of their country? One vegetable vendor on the upper floor gave me the okay to take her picture. Soon the adjacent vendor wanted to know why I wasn’t taking her picture. So as the camera snapped away a passing customer offered to shoot the ubiquitous shot with me and the Bolivian woman. Before I knew it the woman grabbed her hat and propped it atop of my head. Never to fall into the trap of paying people for the privilege of taking their picture, I felt compelled to purchase something. I grabbed a small ripe specimen from the top of a large pyramid of tomatoes and asked how much? After some joking and quoting ridiculous amounts of Bolivians, the woman told me it was a gift from her — for taking her picture. This was highly unusual. Typically indigenous or otherwise, people want to be paid for their photo. It’s a bad habit, but important to ask before blatantly snapping photos. Otherwise you could fall into a deep hole and be surrounded with ill will. In fact, while filming the battery magnate of Potosi, an adjacent shoe repair man mistakingly thought I was shooting pictures of his shop and his wife. His aggressive verbal attack was a bit alarming at first. I explained my plight and he withdrew.
It’s a fact of life as a traveler or a gringo in South America: expect to be solicited for everything. Compared to other cities, Sucre is tame. But walking through the plaza I soon was offered a shoe shine, hard candies, newspapers and asked for money. One boy was persistent, as most are. I told him I couldn’t read his newspaper in Spanish. Others, I explained I needed to save my money to buy a battery. Still others I simply offered marketing consultations on how to better solicit products and services. This tongue and cheek advice is always received with a smile. I teach them a few English words and help them practice. I soon had an ad-hoc school in the plaza of four young boys aged 7-12. After my lesson and rather than purchase their goods, I took them to a nearby ice cream stand and let them choose whatever they wanted. Not that these boys needed an coaching to get them smile, but with ice cream in hand they simply glowed.
As for the new battery for Doc, thanks to my brother a new battery should arrive by DHL by the end of the week. This means a few more days in Sucre which isn’t a bad thing. As for Jeremiah, he left Brazil nearly three weeks ago. He made his way south through Paraguay then into Northern Argentina and into Bolivia. On his way to Sucre he stopped in Potosi and connected with two of the medical staff who had helped me in Tica Tica in January. The doctor, Silvia is now working as a nurse for a boarding school outside Potosi and Moises received his doctoral credentials and plans to move to La Paz for work.
Jeremiah arrived her late last night. A bit weathered and worn. I haven’t seen him since the day he left me in Daniel Braccamante Hospital in Potosi a couple days before my evacuation. We’re discussing traveling together through Bolivia and perhaps beyond. A cheerful reunion over cold beers and perhaps the
best meal I’ve had on this entire trip — and that includes the first ‘leg’ — at a Churrasqueria called El Chaqueno. For those travelers to Bolivia who stumble on this site, do yourself a favor and go way off the beaten track of downtown Sucre and find El Chaqueno. it’s on Avenida Rene Barrientos 749 in the Barrio Petrolero. Well worth the trek. For $4 each we had a huge prime steak, two large 1L Huari beers, amazing potatoes, salad and rice cooked with a tad of cheese. Delicious.
I’m planning on borrowing Jeremiah’s battery and making another trip to Potosi tomorrow. This way I can get the bike in Sucre and have a chance to do basic maintenance and repair a few odds and ends. When the battery arrives I’ll be ready to tackle Bolivia — and the Salar de Uyuni.
note: click photos for larger images!