La Paz Bolivia
Camino de la Muerte
Santa Cruz Bolivia
Back Home in California
Greetings from Sucre Bolivia:
Also known as La Plata, Charcas and Ciudad Blanca (White City), Sucre could well be a Sister City for any number of Southern California towns with all its old whitewashed colonial buildings hiding cavernous courtyards, numerous airy plazas, modern well dressed residents and affluent tourists. While it is a World Heritage site, it could also be the poster city for for a campaign to focus attention on the huge gulf between the rich and poor in the country. But, as it is the epicenter for a raging war of words over the proper location for the country's national capital that must take center stage in any discussion of Sucre. Front page articles appear everyday in the Spanish language newspaper left at my door here in the hotel. International news media also cover this hot story almost everyday. Posters around town urge the adoption of new legislation making Sucre the lone consolidated location for the national capital. Graffiti suggests civil war is in the air. Local people I meet do not seem at all concerned; possibly putting on a happy face for the naive tourist.
I have written a lot about all the indigenous beggars in Bolivian cities, but Sucre is unique... perhaps because of the stark contrast between the obviously well off, overly generous residents and the presence of so many many beggars. Earlier I described one beggar I watched in Cochabamba who succeeded perhaps once for every four requested handouts. Here, the odds are better with locals rarely refusing to drop a coin or two into the outstretched hand or hat. Tourists behavior resembles what I saw in other Bolivian cities, but locals appear to be much more generous. One English speaking Bolivian doctor I met at breakfast the other day suggested many of the beggars were from Potosi, known for its large population of indigenous people living in poverty.
Sucre is not far from Cochabamba as the crow flies, but crows don't fly that route. My AeroSur flight backtracked through Santa Cruz adding three and a half hours to the scheduled trip. There are buses, but everyone says the roads are so bad it is a very uncomfortable trip and all buses travel the route at night, something I try to avoid.
So, back to Santa Cruz for a connecting flight to Sucre, there only to discover no one could confirm the existence of my flight. Finally, an AeroSur employee told me the flight wasn't listed on the Departure Board there at the international airport because being a domestic flight it left from the military airport south of the city, some twenty miles distant. Suspiciously irritated I asked the airport information staff to confirm this unhappy information and sure enough according to their list of flights, changing airports would be required for the Sucre flight. Fortunately I had three hours before the currently listed departure time and a city bus leaves every half hour connecting the two airports.
When I reached the military airport thirty minutes later I found the AeroSur counter deserted and no departure listing for any flights to anywhere! To make matters worse, the lone attendant at the airport information desk spoke no English and seemed unwilling to tolerate my nervous attempts in Spanish to learn from where, if anywhere my Sucre flight would leave. Finally, another airport staff member was reluctantly summoned. He did speak adequate English and made several phone calls to AeroSur and learned correctly the flight would definitely leave from the main international ViruViru airport as I had originally assumed.
Really irritated and back on the bus for the half hour return trip I now had less than an hour to make the scheduled departure time of 16:00. The departure board display problems, poorly informed staff plus seat mix ups on two other previous AeroSur flights should have prepared me for more problems with this amateur airline. At the ViruViru Airport I cornered a AeroSur supervisor and told him of the troublesome mix-up. He apologized, issued me a food voucher in appeasement and then sheepishly noted the aircraft had other problems that would delay the flight another couple hours. The original published departure time would have given me two hours of daylight for my initial hotel search in Sucre. As it turned out, I made it into town at dusk with minutes of fading daylight to scout the central business district.
The spirits that watch over me decided I had endured enough torment and provided two separate helpful store keepers who guided me immediately to what seems to be the one of the best hotels in the city's center, an elegant old colonial lodge right on the central Plaza 25 de Mayo. Despite its age, everything works in the four star Capital Plaza Hotel and immerses guests in a turn of the century ambiance. Actually, all the extravagant space in my $35 suite is awkward. Things are so spread out you need to put on your hiking boots to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Polished oiled walnut floors, crystal chandeliers and perfectly restored antique furniture throughout the hotel create a realistically opulent atmosphere of earlier times. The obscure street entrance to the hotel is easy to miss as it is just one of many nondescript doorways along the sidewalk. Inside marble and wood lead into a large skylight covered flagstone courtyard with fountains and planters. My suite of rooms look out onto the courtyard. That bargain room rate is not unusual here. Other comparable four and five star hotels showed me rooms with rates ranging from $18 to $50. As the altitude is over 9000 feet above sea level, hotels provide guests with coca leaf tea as they did in La Paz.
The crowds in the area around the central plaza that first evening made walking an obstacle course with one pedestrian collision after another. For some reason thousands of students were scurrying this way and that obliviously nudging anyone who might be in their way. In following days I discovered school teachers regularly bring their classes into the capital city as a learning exercise... and to be honest it is an excellent open air history classroom. This is a happening town, possibly because it is still the judicial capital of the country, something the people in La Paz vociferously resent at the moment.
On four of the seven days I spent in Sucre there have been energetic parades complete with noisy music and fireworks. Apparently it is all connected with the celebration of the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Drums and pipes, feet tambourines and a ram's horn all conspire to fill the air with throbbing sounds that rattle your bones (YouTube video). The Saturday fiesta activities provided non-stop celebrations with group after group marching and dancing their way around the central plaza. All roads around the plaza square shut down to accommodate the frenetic commotions. Near the end of the parade route each group stopped to venerate a large elaborate painting of the saint. The intensity of the frenzy built through the week, climaxing Saturday night with a fireworks extravaganza into the wee hours. So loud were some of the midnight explosions, I wondered if the brittle negotiations between the people of La Paz and Sucre over where the capital should be located might have finally erupted into a rumored civil war.
I took way
too many photos during this week long visit to Sucre. As a few
more discriminating readers have urged me to be more selective,
I have divided the full avalanche into three groups and then
selected a few of the better shots for a highlights album
In a day or
two I'll leave for the previously rich and
historically important mining town of
Potosi some three hours distant by bus and 4000 meters above
sea level... gasp! As I am experiencing minor altitude sickness
at a mere 2800 meters here in Sucre, 4000 meters could well
prove a challenge. The mystery will be solved soon.
In a day or two I'll leave for the previously rich and historically important mining town of Potosi some three hours distant by bus and 4000 meters above sea level... gasp! As I am experiencing minor altitude sickness at a mere 2800 meters here in Sucre, 4000 meters could well prove a challenge. The mystery will be solved soon.
Fred L Bellomy