A much more agreeable coach journey ��" a mere 3 hours and on paved roads too ��" took us to Sucre, much lower in elevation and noticeably warmer than the heights of Potosi. We liked Sucre instantly, a far cry from Uyuni and Potosi. Admittedly the weather helped, but the buildings were no more than three storeys high throughout the city and almost totally white. Sucre is actually the capital of Bolivia, as far as administration and Politics is concerned, but the de-facto capital is La Paz. Hotel indepencia was lovely, set around a courtyard with huge rooms (ours particularly) and less than one block from the very pleasant Plaza de Armas.
We had lunch in the Gringo haunt of the Joyride cafe, a great little place but undoubtedly set up for hard-selling mountain-biking and horse-riding tours.
Tonight we’d be celebrating my birthday properly, ie. I’d be out. Pirate costume was to be the theme so we had loads of fun in the markets, testing my improving Spanish (Bolivia was far easier than Chile ��" I actually understood some of it), haggling over bandanas, chains, earrings and toy swords and hooks from the kids stall. Back at the hotel we bought a truck-load of booze and ordered some Pizza before getting attacked with the lip-liner for some make-shift tattoos and scars.
At around 11pm it was time for the ‘traditional’ South American custom of shoving the birthday boy’s face into a gooey cake.
I’m still not convinced it was all that customary, but it tasted pretty good. We were headed back to the Joyride, and just before we went in Chad, Michelle and Sarah pulled the biggest bag of fireworks I’ve ever seen out and we had an impromptu pyrotechnic display. The thing was, this was right outside the bar, less than 20 metres from the main square in Bolivia’s capital city. Imagine that anywhere else? It was a good forty minutes before we’d oohed and ahhed our way through the booty, and time for some more beers. The Joyride was packed and a good mix between travellers and locals, all of whom keen to know why we looked like a camp version of Pirates of the Caribbean. We were kicked out of the Joyride at 2am, something to do with the festival of San Juan (we weren’t the only ones with fireworks either), and were told that all the clubs would be closed. Chad used some resourcefulness to find the very strange and a touch seedy ‘Bulldog’ bar, where we danced the night away.
The locals were friendly, indulging me in broken, drunken Spanish chatting away about music (recurring themes include Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Sheffield’s finest ��" Def Leppard) and football (‘eey, you from Eeengland, I like Manchester united’ - yawn) and the four lads from the other GAP group bought me some pretty nasty shots before virtualy passing out on a table. That was supposed to be my party trick. Meanwhile, the girls had taken over the dance floor and the DJ was putty in their hands, as were the Peruvian students. The rest of the night is a blur of Take That and Five...
Tuesday started late for obvious reasons and after lunch most of the group were going to a local boys orphanage. We stopped to buy them a footall, other toys, pencils and books. I wasn’t really prepared for what it was like and have to say it was pretty heart-wrenching.
The complex could house about 80 kids of all ages, but currently had around 40. They were certainly pleased to have some company and we chatted to them and their carer (just one permanent, two part-time and some other volunteers ��" Doctor and Psychiatrist) and had a walk about. The hardest part was seeing the threadbare rooms, some of which until recently didn’t have glass in the windows. Very upsetting. What they needed most (apart from a new football ��" the old one was like a stiff pillow-case) were fruits and dried milk; government funding was so low that they hadn’t had it for at least a month. So we all decided to chip in a little extra and head to the market the next day.
That evening, rather guiltily after an emotionally draining day, Frank and I headed to the Plaza de Armas for dinner.
We stumbled across a fantastic restaurant overlooking the square. I fell in love with Pique a lo Macho that night, a spicy Bolivian speciality. It was beef, sausage, egg and rice, served on a bed of chips and was amazing. The nice thing about eating in Bolivia is that no mater where you are, the food is always good and very cheap, with a main course usually costing no more than £3, more often than not, less.
After an early night I was up with the lark for breakfast and a city tour on Wednesday. Em, on the other hand, was bed-ridden with an upset stomach. Sucre was a very wealthy city in colonial times and the playground for the guys who became filthy-rich from the mines of Potosi. It was also a very popular student area with a very prestigious university. After a more in-depth look aroud the Plaza de Armas we were taken around an indigenoius arts museum, a lookout spot for a city-scape and a look through the Bolivian ‘Champs Elysees’.
Some crazy romantic built an ‘Arc de Triomphe’ and even a mini (and far more phallic) Eiffel Tower surrounded by a huge park all for his girlfriend. Then we picked up some supplies and went back the orphanage to drop it off, and on to the girls orphanage to leave some for them too. I don’t mind admitting that it brought a tear to my eye seeing how grateful and excited these kids were for things I’ve pretty much taken for granted my entire life.
Back in Sucre and having checked on Em, I went for lunch in the marketplace.
Taking the upstairs ‘food hall’ (a very generous description) on face value would have instantly given you a stomach bug. The grubby concrete was interspersed every few metres with a concrete stall and a cook (remember the housewife from the Tom and Jerry cartoons whose upper body you never see? Well imagine the top half and you’re there) cooking exactly the same as every other stall in huge woks. For a pound though, the food tasted great.
Fully sated, it was back to the hotel to pack up once more for a night bus that would take us to La Paz, the half way point of our South American journey...