We arrived in Sucre, Bolivia about a week ago now. Our first impressions were a little worrisome–we showed up at 5:00 am at a filthy bus station with broken down buses.
We split a taxi with our Swedish friend, and the driver charged us 15 Bolivianos per person from the terminal to near city center, which now we learned is close to double a fair price. Oh well. We were carrying luggage and it was still dark out. Jordan and I planned to work at a hostel in Sucre, and we showed up a few days early due to bus schedules and the election day.
Sucre, with a population of near 300,000, is the capital of Bolivia. Everyone knows La Paz, which houses most of the government buildings, but Sucre is the official capital. Because of its colonial architecture, its nickname is the White City. At 9,000 feet above sea level, it took us several days to adjust to the oxygen. We had no other symptoms of altitude sickness because of our Uyuni trip, but it did take a while to stop huffing and puffing after half a block walking.
Sucre’s city center is primarily made of white buildings built between 1538, when the city was founded by the Spanish, to the ealy 1700s. Their main plaza has many trees and flowers in the grass, something I find very attractive. Although Bolivia is known for being a poor country (and it is cheap for travelers), I haven’t seen much abject poverty, at least in cities. The median standard of living is obviously much lower than in the States, but in the cities I haven’t seen a lot of tin shacks with dirt floors and people out of work. I think the current president (the first indigenous president, not mestizo) has worked hard to improve the quality of life among other indigenous tribes in Bolivia, who also are usually the poorest.
Sucre was founded to be near the silver mines. Because of its proximity it was wealthy in the past. Education centers sprung up in the region, which made it a perfect place to debate the region‘s liberty. Sucre’s motto is “Where Bolivia was born,” for the political elite of the region did indeed declare it a sovereign country (separate not only from Spain, but also Argentina and Peru) and create the capital in Sucre.
Now Sucre is a bustling town always filled with backpackers. It is the prettiest city in Bolivia and choc full of language schools. I can‘t count the number of hostels and Spanish schools in the area. There are even a couple of Quechua language schools, too. I think I’ll stick with Spanish, though the idea of learning an indigenous language does sound interesting. Bolivia probably has the most fully indigenous people groups of all of South America, and the most common language among them is Quechua. You can easily tell the indigenous people from the others because of their short stature and the women’s tradition dress.
Fun fact: In Star Wars IV: A New Hope, a character speaks to Han Solo in Quechua. Supposedly the person in charge of linguistics was told to come up with a language, and he balked, saying there were plenty of wonderful real languages than few have ever heard of, suc has Quechua. So he used a simplified version of that instead.
Sucre, more than most cities in Bolivia, has a thriving arts culture. We attended a Barroque festival of music during Holy Week at the Casa de Libertad. They brought in musicians from all around the country, and played a variety of famous composers (Bach and Vivaldi–two of my favorites!) and music the Jesuits composed in Sucre during the Barroque period. That was very interesting. We listened to compositions written in the 1600s by Jesuit priests and teachers in Casa de Libertad, which originally was a university in the 17th century.
We plan to stay in Sucre for a month, working at a hostel in the night and morning, and spending the afternoons in Spanish lessons or visitng the city. So far, this place looks like a great break. There are interesting sites just outside of town and with a wealth of tutors and teachers, Spanish lessons run cheap (35 to 50 B per hour). The only problem is that internet tends to be bad here. In fact, we were told, “The internet is bad here. Welcome to Bolivia.” But we will manage with runs to internet cafes and searching out the best times of night for wifi. All of our planning and communication with home is done via internet, so it‘s a little important to us.
We‘ve been in town a week so far and have been very pleased with the area. If you’re visiting Bolivia, Sucre should be high on your list