Ah, Sucre... named for a badassBoivian general from the war for independence, but as sweet as you would assume given the name (sucre= sounds like sugar but does not actually translate to sugar (azucar) or sweet (dulce)). We felt REALLY lucky to get out of Uyuni when we did. The taxi drivers had organized a strike, which in Bolivia means that they shut down all the gas stations and create barricades on all roads into and out of town. Our bus left at 10pm, and the strike was scheduled to start at 12am. We escaped!
We arrived from the Salar de Uyuni very dirty, covered in salt dust, and after an eight hour Bolivian bus journey. These rides are particularly challenging because Bolivian buses may or may not have the following: heat, ventilation, seats that recline, bathrooms, stopping places every 4-6 hours for bathroom purposes, and/or paved roads on which to drive. This bus had semi-reclining seats and they stopped every three hours, which sounds good until you think through an overnight bus ride where they randomly throw on ALL the lights each time they stop. It is very disconcerting. Additionally many Bolivians travel with huge amounts of luggage, which they store in the isles along with their sleeping children. It creates a minefield of polite seat-leaping and excusing yourself for sitting in the laps of strangers in an attempt to not kick the baby.
We were welcomed warmly into the Hotel Santa Cecilia by the grandfatherly Oswaldo and lead into a very clean, warm private room at 5am. When a hotel lets you check inat 5am after an overnight bus it feels like winning the lottery. Instead of freezing and sitting in the lobby waiting for a restaurant to open (side note- Bolivians are not a morning people. They do not open businesses or restaurants or appear on the streets until generally after 8am. This has been true in every city we´ve visited, and been difficult for us as we generally arrive very early on the bus and wake up early in general.) we were able to shower and crawl into bed and sleep late.
When we emerged from the room it was clear our hosts had been waiting for us because they had a little welcome packet for us at check in. Oswaldo sat us down at his dining room table and marked all the best spots in the city for us on a map. We asked for food recommendations and he sent us to the best Salteña spots and chorizo restaurants in town with a "yum" as he patted his belly. We headed out into the blissfully warm morning, grabbed some super-ricosalteñas (meat-filled savory pastries available only in the mid-morning) and headed up to an overlook at the San Francisco church.
From there we headed to the Indigenous Textile Museum, one of the most fascinating museums I´ve been to here in South America. To say that weaving is important to the indigenous communities of Bolivia is a gross understatement. It is the foundation of their culture. Llamas and alpacas are among the only domesticated animals fromprecolumbian times, and children begin to learn to weave when they are toddlers. When you are sick, you wind threads backwards to try to ward off the illness. When you pray to the Virgin Mary, you create a weaving from sunup to sundown, finishing it to honor the virgin. When you make an offering to gods, you burn weavings. When you dance on feast days, your feet take the steps of the patterns you weave into your cloth. Textiles are perhaps my favorite art form, so I loved every bit of information in the museum. However, true to form we arrived at 12pm and they shut for siesta at 12:30, so we had to leave after a half hour. The bonus was that they made it clear our tickets were good forever, so we could come back as it was convenient.
We wandered down to the lovely main plaza, then further down to DonaNatys following Oswaldo's lunch recommendation. We ate delicious chorizo and had our fourth (!)(seriously, our forth) alcoholic beverage of the whole trip, splitting a black beer with lunch. It was delicious as promised. Salty spicy sausage with a very sweet beer hit the spot. Again, we were so happy to be warm and well fed! BUT... Blake began to feel under the weather again. He took a long nap while I returned to the textile museum and had my mind blown by the intricate and amazing weavings on display. We spent the next two days basically repeating this relaxing, wonderful pattern. Late rising, wandering out for a salteña (or three, they are very good), and checking out the city.
We were in Sucre for the 205th anniversary of La Paz, and to honor the day, the city, and the patron virgin of the city there were celebrations taking place in Parque Bolivar. In Bolivia marching bands seem to be a very big thing. We watched as several marching bands processed around the park. Each band is lead by a group of dancing fancy women. They have dance steps and their costumes range from sexy tight jeans and five inch heels with sparkly t-shirts to brightly colored versions of classic Bolivian dress in a skirt, blouse, long shawl and bowler hat. After the ladies come an honor guard of men, also dressed to the nines and fancy stepping. Then comes the band (always out of tune, very loud, heavy on the horns) dressed in matching suits. All of this is followed by a second honor guard, some wearing carnival masks, carrying scepters and spinning noise makers, and dancing with well-coordinatedcha-chaing.
We also visited the awesome Museode Ethnographia y Folklore (MUNEF) and enjoyed their exhibit of the intricate, storied, and amazing carnival masks. Some of the masks are funny, many are enormous, and most are completely freaky. I can only imagine how awesome it would be to see them in use during carnival or an indigenous celebration. We left Sucre reluctantly, having enjoyed it more than any other city we´ve been to in Bolivia. Warm, welcoming, and full of history.
Potosi is Sucre's sad cousin. The two cities are only three hours apart but could not have felt more different in tone and setting. I´ll begin with some background.
According to legend, in approximately 1552 an indigenous llama farmer lost one of his animals. Following the animal´s trail up a mountain, he settled down to camp for the evening and made himself a fire. Upon waking, he noticed that his fire circle had small streams of pure silver running from the rocks. He reported this to the newly arrived and powerful Spaniards, and a legend was born. The mines of Potosi´s Cerro Rico provided the Spanish with THREE HUNDRED YEARS worth of silver, unimaginable wealth, and funded their empire. Everywhere you go in South America they say that something valuable or creating weath "vale un Potosi", meaning that it is worth a Potosi.
We learned all this while touring the Casa de Las Monedas, which is one of the finest museums in all of the South America and surely the highlight of our time in Potosi. Our tour guide, the tiny Luis, walked us through the museum and explained the exhibits in English, which I always appreciate. The museum is housed in the old mint, dating back to the mid-sixteen-hundreds, which operated almost continuously until the 1960s making Spanish Reales and pesos until 1825 and then minting Bolivian dollars after Bolivian Independence. Petosi was so rich with silver and they minted so much money that the symbol of the Potosi mint - a P,T,S, and I superimposed over one another and printed on every Real made there eventually became the symbol of money EVERYWHERE - ´$´ being the S and I from the Potosi mint symbol. The Casa de Monedas was one of the highlights of our time in Potosi.
Most visitors to Potosi choose to go on a mine tour, because even through the silver ran out after nearly 300 years Cerro Rico is still full of valuable metals like tin, lead, and copper. Miners work in incredibly poor conditions, as cooperatives, and tourists flock to experience this depressing, difficult, dangerous way of life. Human suffering and enclosed spaces did not sound like something Blake and I wanted to pay to see, so we skipped this classic gringo trail experience. Instead we traveled to the "Ojo del Inca", a hot springs in the red rock canyon hills outside Potosi. While the water was lukewarm as opposed to hot, the pond is a perfect circle 22 meters deep set into lovely country. We went for a swim and returned in the afternoon for our tour of the Casa de Monedas.
On a side note, we again felt really lucky in our timing of our Uyuni trip. Both Sucre and Potosi were full of tourists trying in vain to schedule their Uyuni trips, only to be rebuffed and told it was not possible. People were paying for cabs and making elaborate plans to walk 10k through the blockades, not realizing that no tours could run because the gas stations were blocked. They did not believe us when we told them otherwise. Poor things.
We caught yet another overnight bus from Potosi to La Paz, in preparation for our next trekking adventure. This bus was interesting, as it was filled with women making their way with TONS of luggage which looked suspiciously like produce on its way to market. More on that in our next post...