Sucre, Bolivia: Too Damned Cute
December 9, 2013 | By Mitch & Jewels |
Sucre is among the most enchanting little cities we have seen. We thoroughly enjoyed 9 days of chilling out and feeling a sense of “home.”
Sucre Is Too Damned Cute… Just some of the reasons:
The town of Sucre is really lovely… The weather is perfect – tank tops by day, strong sun at 3000m, big puffy clouds, long sleeve shirts at night. We had one day where it rained for maybe 20 minutes (literally ONE gray cloud in a lovely sunshower), and one day where it was overcast and a bit cooler.
It’s a sweet little university town with clean streets, stop lights, sidewalk garbage cans (some with recycling!), and pretty white-washed buildings. While there are plenty of tourists who come here (loads of hostels and several Spanish schools), we have not felt like it’s a “tourist town.” I’m not sure if many of the tourists are actually from elsewhere in Bolivia or what, but we have run into very few foreigners outside of the hotel, Spanish school, and a few of the restaurants. And, more importantly… for most of our time here, there were zebra crossing guards at some of the intersections (no, really). Some had Santa hats, some had little flowers in their hair, but they were all very enthusiastic zebra crossing guards. We’re not sure why they were here, or why they stopped being here, but it was pretty adorable.
One of the Churches (or congregations) has a marching band, with adorable little children flag bearers – we have seen them take to the streets twice. They were quite good (about a thousand times better than the little military band we heard in Copacabana), and traffic actually pauses behind them until they round a corner and the cars can move past them.
The town has been preparing for Christmas, so earlier in the week we watched them putting up the nativity scene in the central plaza along with some of the other Christmas decorations. After dark, the plaza is super lit up for Christmas and becomes a mini-festival, including loads of kids and families out enjoying. There are even people selling cotton candy and inflatable plastic animals! We saw a couple of circus performers (actually a husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend team, with their baby in a stroller in the back) who were busking. They were decent jugglers with not much stage presence; they got a huge but very unenthusiastic (and un-tipping) crowd. There was also a group of teenage breakdancers that were playing around and fun to watch.
There are several chocolate shops, pastry shops, and ice cream shops around. Our favorite ice cream bars (about $0.50 USD each, with coconut ice cream and a chocolate shell) come from Mibombon chocolate shop near the main plaza, but there is a fancier place (twice the price) that sells you ice cream cones with little meringue mushrooms on top! Too cute. Also to note, while saltenas (these amazingly delicious empanada-type things with meats and sauces and veggies and such) seem like an anytime-during-the-day food, they are only sold during the mornings at specialized saltenerias (Patio was recommended to us and we haven’t tried anywhere else, afraid that it just won’t compare). Why they don’t have them during the afternoons is beyond us.
On one of our walks, we discovered a little street party. We also stumbled upon little festivals for kids in the main park (Parque Bolivar), which seems to happen regularly, either during this season or all the time. And, incredibly, the whole playground at the park is dinosaur-themed. Dinosaur-themed slides, swings, see-saws, etc. This whole region gets excited about dinosaurs (per the footprints), so there are a few adorably dinosaur-themed things around… the playground, a phone booth we passed on the bus, etc.
One afternoon while sitting in the park to read, two large dogs came over and plopped down right underneath our bench. It was nice company, and very endearing that they growled each time other animals came near. There don’t seem to be that many stray animals here (really, anywhere in Bolivia or Peru on this trip so far) – mostly just pets who are allowed to wander freely, which means that they are pleasant, healthy, and well-fed. When we got up to leave, we noticed that a couple had brought their two white bunnies out to enjoy the grass in the park. Why? Because the whole town is adorable.
The market is clean, friendly, and some items have prices on them so you don’t feel incredibly ripped off for being a gringo. It’s one of the cleaner markets we have been to, even the meat areas seemed relatively hygienic (although they did have a few partial cow-heads on display for some reason, as well as one splayed smaller mammal, perhaps a dog). The cow-heads didn’t add to the adorable-ness of Sucre, but are worth a mention. On our last day in Sucre, we decided to splurge on a chirimoya. It was about $3 USD (incredibly expensive), but absolutely worthwhile! Living in NYC, you almost forget what chirimoya tastes like. So delicious!
Also worth mentioning… we had read about people trying to give gringos change in fake bills. It’s true. At the Todo Pan Panaderia (bread shop), where they have incredible French breads, they gave us a fake Bs 20 bill (about $3 USD), which we only discovered was fake when other vendors refused to accept it later on. We went back and made a big fuss, and they actually exchanged the bill – which is far more honorable than expected, and made us feel awful about yelling at them. But, major kudos to the owner of the panaderia. Because of how honorable she was (and how good the bread is), we decided to keep going back… but only with exact change.
We also ended up discovering that Sony has an authorized repair shop in Sucre, which was quite exciting… particularly considering that while changing lenses on the camera, a little droplet of water got inside (don’t ask…) and we needed to pay effectively $26 USD for them to clean the droplet.
Aside from all that adorableness and otherwise, we have really just been enjoying how super chill and enjoyable this town is, as well as our incredible hostel and the wonderful kitchen facilities (more on the hostel below). Mitch has been fighting some stomach issues and sinus headaches (99% better now), so we have spent much of the week chilling out. Plus, we have been enjoying our quasi-geriatric travel schedule of going to sleep at around 10pm and waking up at 6:30am!
Our Sucre Experience
Pretty much, every day this week, we woke up and made ourselves breakfast, went to Spanish classes from 8:30 – 12:30. Then we would come back to the hostel to have lunch (usually we made leftovers from the night before) before going out for an afternoon activity or a walk around town (which usually involved getting ice cream). Then we would stop by the market, practice a little yoga in our room, and make dinner, before either going for a walk, watching a movie, or just reading our books. Home cooking 3 meals a day was a great treat – we absolutely loved being able to do that and are going to prioritize finding hostels with kitchens going forward.
Spanish Classes at Me Gusta
We took a week of Spanish classes (4 hours a day, so 20 hours total) at Me Gusta, a well-reviewed Spanish school around the corner from our hostel. The classes were really useful. Mitch ended up getting paired for semi-private classes with a Dutch girl named Karin, and his teacher Jhosmar, was great – super fun and he learned a lot. (He’s actually speaking some Spanish now!!) My classes were a bit more interesting. I had two days with Yhamyle and then three days with Abel. My level was more intermediate so it seemed that they weren’t sure what to do with me, but all said, I got 2 days of solid review of all bazillion indicative tenses of Spanish verbs, 2 days of solid focus on the subjunctive (so hard for English speakers!), some new vocabulary, and a lot of good practice. It’s a little annoying since they are so careful about how you pay by the hour, but every day they start a few minutes late, end a few minutes early, and you have about a 15 minute break (in the middle of the 4-hour block). But, all in all, a totally worthwhile experience.
We went to the Museo Nacional de Etnografia y Folklore (MUSEF), which was phenomenal. The 2 exhibition rooms were really well laid out and curated (the downstairs one shockingly so for South America), full of information and really well presented. The staff was awesome, and even talked us through a whole section. The exhibits were amazing. One exhibit was on a group that has lived (and still does) in high altitude salt plains since pre-Incan times with many of the same customs. The other exhibit is on masks used in ceremony and Carnaval across Bolivia – it included some stellar designs that would make any costume enthusiast drool. Oh, and the museum is free.
We also went to the Parque Cretacico, or the Dinosaur Park, which is super tacky but kind of fun in its own way. Owned (I think?) by the local cement plant, it’s a totally weird commercial enterprise. You can see dinosaur footprints making their way up a huge rock wall (they are EVERYWHERE; the rock apparently used to be a lake bed and dinosaurs traversed it regularly at some point in ancient history). They also have life-sized, very detailed sculptures of dinosaurs, with little rock-camouflaged speakers making dinosaur noises. You can catch a Dino-Bus from the main plaza; it takes you directly there and back (half hour each direction) and gives you an hour to explore (more than sufficient). The whole thing (transportation and entrance) cost a total of $15 USD for both of us. You need to pay about $1 extra if you want to take photos, and if you don’t bring your own binoculars (we did), you can pay a little bit extra to use the built-in ones they have.
Recoleta and Mirador
We went for a walk to the Mirador and the Recoleta Museum. It’s maybe a ten-minute walk from the center, but the views over the city are pretty great – the colors of the sky and the sun reflecting on the clouds were lovely, despite it being our most overcast day here.
The Museum (about $2 USD) took about a half hour and was interesting and strange, but totally worth the experience. It’s a Franciscan monastery (8 monks live there now) that dates back to 1601, with lots of bizarre artifacts, including arrows from Bolivian natives that were gifted in thanks for their conversion to Catholicism, a coffin that was used for temporary housing and viewing of dead monks until 1967 (at which point they started to use regular coffins), a collection of old and new Bolivian and Argentinian coins/bills, as well as a wide range of creepy religious paintings by anonymous painters. One is a huge mural of a Japanese massacre by crucifixion in the late 1500s of Franciscan monks and Japanese-Catholic converts. We also got to see the choir area of the church, where there are really interesting wooden carvings on all of the seats and above the chairs of the monks killed during the Japanese massacre; apparently this area is still used regularly by the monks in residence. The gardens included a lovely rose garden, a flock of parakeets (coincidentally there during our visit), lemon and orange trees with fragrant blossoms, and a 1,000-year-old cedar tree with historical and spiritual significance.
Sucre Hostels… And the Joy of La Dolce Vita
After we arrived on the overnight bus from La Paz, we began a search for hostels. As it turns out, Sucre hostels are either pretty mediocre or pretty expensive, especially once we decided we required a kitchen. It’s apparently the one city where it really is useful to make a reservation in advance! We ended up staying 2 nights at Wasi Masi, then 7 nights at La Dolce Vita.
Wasi Masi Hostel Review
The Wasi Masi hostel is totally sufficient. We paid $17 USD for a private room with a private bathroom. The bed was effectively a futon mattress on the floor, and there was just enough space for our stuff to be comfortably next to our bed. It was adequately clean and totally fine. There is a nice little courtyard area with some lovely touches, although there were so many smokers we didn’t spend much time in the courtyard. There was a kitchen, although it was tiny and less than ideal, and apparently their book exchange requires that you leave 2 books to take 1 (thankfully, they let me exchange 1:1). All in all, it was a totally adequate place to stay, but we were happy to have the opportunity to upgrade for the rest of our stay in Sucre.
La Dolce Vita Guesthouse Review
We were really pleased that a room opened up in this gem of a guesthouse. We ended up paying $22 USD per night for our room, although they do have a variety of cheaper rooms (none of the cheaper ones were open on our arrival). That said, we think our room, Chuquisaca, may be the best. The hostel has an incredible kitchen that is very well stocked with cooking supplies, a beautiful deck area (we love that our room opens right up to the deck), a beautiful courtyard, and a comfortable TV/sitting room. Our room itself is perfect – a huge/comfortable bed, a couch and coffee table, shelving, enough floor space for two yoga mats, really cool artwork, and a nice bathroom. The owners, a French-Swiss couple, are really lovely and have a very welcoming attitude to their guests, who are all given a front door key so it can really be treated more like a home and less like a hotel. We are sad that we have to leave this place!