Sucre, Bolivia: 23-27 February 2015

Sucre
23-27 February 2015

I spent a quiet and slightly aimless week in Sucre. It’s the official (constitutional) capital of Bolivia, but only the judicial branch of government is based here and I found the city quiet and relaxed. The buildings and streets are lovely, colonial. I read that Sucre was built to be a retreat for the wealthy people of Potosi – a sort of resort town.

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The first place Boris and I visit is the central market, which is deservedly famous. It’s housed in one enormous building with concrete partitions dividing the counters. On the perimeter are the fruit and vegetable stands, run by old ladies who all call me “mamita” and try to convince me to buy extra fruit. The day I leave on the bus one very savvy businesswoman almost convinces me that it’s a good idea to buy a watermelon to bring on the bus. But my favorite is the woman who sells eggplants – I can’t find them anywhere else – she gives me a little bit of basil for free when I buy tomatoes and onions to make a salsa.

Further in the market are the meat counters – all varieties of beef, pork, and chicken – these are the counters with the big concrete partitions. The meat portion of the market is strange and a little mazelike. Further in there are stalls selling flowers and cakes and even shampoo, and on the second level a row of restaurants selling typical Bolivian food for very cheap. Boris and I stop at one stall where a woman convinces us to try a spoonful of delicious beef stew. We agree to eat there and ask for plates of the stew (or at least, we think we do). In a few minutes she brings me a plate of some kind of rice and chicken soup, and Boris gets a slice of some kind of meat in a mysterious sauce. Neither of our plates look like the beef stew the lady convinced us to try before. We shrug and eat what’s in front of us. Maybe the stew comes later. (Eventually the meal is over and there was no stew, but it was a good meal anyway). I think this is kind of how it goes eating in restaurants in a foreign country. You smile and point at things and sometimes they ask you a question and you say yes even though you have no idea what the question was, and suddenly there’s something unidentifiable on your plate and you eat it anyway as it’s delicious, and when the bill comes your entire meal is $3 or $4 and you leave bewildered but happy. At least, that’s been my experience.

Boris signs up for Spanish lessons, which a lot of people do in Sucre where prices are cheap and there are many schools available. On Wednesday evening, the school where Boris takes classes organizes a trip to a local football game – Sucre’s team against a team from Brazil. I tag along – I’ve never been to a football game before – and we go as a group, meeting at the school to walk together en masse, 40 gringos looking probably a bit bewildered as we traverse Sucre at night. As we get close to the stadium we hear a crowd singing racously (I’m not able to make out much except “dale Sucre!”), waving flags with the Sucre colors and banging drums. They block a major road for several minutes. I’m amused that the police aren’t breaking up the parade – there are buses and cars stuck on the other side but no one really seems to care. A few men light colored flares and set off little fireworks. We follow them for a few blocks, then break off and enter the stadium through a side door. There’s a special section reserved for the official fans. We sit in the general crowd, buying popcorn from the ladies squeezing through the concrete bleachers. People wave colored balloons, sing, and whistle as the teams come onto the field to warm up. As a dancer and musician I can’t imagine being onstage to warm up, but I guess it’s different for sports – it’s not a rehearsed performance.

The game begins with fireworks over the stadium, and, I’m sorry to say, this is about the most interesting thing that happens. The teams can’t seem to keep control of the ball – someone is always kicking it out of bounds or losing control or accidentally kicking it to the other team. At the end of 90 minutes the score is 0-0, and since it’s just a regular game, there’s no overtime or penalty kicks.

On another afternoon I decide to give football another try and go with Boris to watch a football match at the pub Florin. It’s a team from the Netherlands versus Rome. I find this match more interesting, and the teams seem to play well. After a little while another Dutch guy joins us – a friend of Boris’ who lives in Sucre. We stay for a while after the game ends, drinking, then go to the central market for dinner. We find a spot upstairs and for 10 bolivianos each (around $1.50) a formidable-looking woman serves us each a giant plate of rice covered with a thin-cut portion of steak, a huge helping of french fries, a fried egg, and a sausage. It’s more food than I can hope to eat even with the alcohol munchies. We take our feast back to the house of Boris’ friend – actually an old building he’s bought in order to convert it into a bar. The rooms are huge and airy and filled with tables and chic couches the friend built himself. We stay up in the lounge long after our enormous feast is gone, drinking wine and rum and listening to hours of electronic music and talking into the night.

I spend time in Sucre cooking, writing, and generally relaxing. The day before I decide to leave, I meet a Swiss traveler named Roman who’s headed the same way I am, to the small town of Cochabamba, midway to La Paz. We decide to travel together, and the next afternoon I’m shaking Boris awake so I can say goodbye and heading out to Sucre’s small bus station where Roman and I hop on a night bus to Cochabamba.

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