Saturday, October 3, 2009
Saved by Sucre
Despite our exhausting day previously, sleeping in was not as easy as we hoped. The owners of La Posada were lovely but their rooms had the thinnest mattresses ever. This was particularly disappointing since we were off on a night bus to Sucre tonight and had been warned that even the first class buses weren’t that comfortable. The owners’ good nature unfortunately didn’t extend to the hotel bill and we had to pay for a half day to keep our bags in the room (and ourselves out of the cold) until the bus left that evening. They had however reserved our bus tickets for us so left the hostal for a bit to pick them up. We also got a good look at the town in the sunlight. There was a small church, a shady square lined with balconied buildings and, oddly enough, a phone both shaped like a parrot. That was it. So we stopped in at a surprisingly fast internet café to confirm our reservations, and check out where to renew our visa. It was hard to believe but we’d already been in Bolivia three weeks and had just 10 days until our visas were set to expire so there was a chance we’d need more time to see everything on our list. With that done we decided to catch an early dinner at the dutch café we’d just found in town. Dinner was tasty and a change from the soup and chicken/fish and rice we’d had a lot of lately but it took a bit longer than we expected so we had to rush back to the hostel to grab our bags. Luckily the owners gave us a lift to the café on the highway where we were to catch our bus. They even gave us a goodbye hug and wished us well on our travels. Nice people shame about the mattresses.
The owner of the café had warned us that the bus was always late but we didn’t know how late it would be. Waiting gave us plenty of time to empty our bladders multiple times, especially since we’d also been warned that there was no toilet on the bus and we had a 15 hour ride ahead of us. As the minutes passed, other buses pulled up and stopped but none were ours. Finally 1.5 hours after we arrived a bus slowed down. It appeared to be the right company but it didn’t stop so Adrian went to flag it down while I confirmed with the guy at the café that it was the right one. The waiter nodded “si, si” and told us to hurry. Meanwhile the ayudante was calling at us to hurry up but he was stopped 600 metres down the dark highway and our packs were heavy. I got to the bus and they shoved my pack down below but made Adrian take his on the dark bus where it blocked the aisle and trapped his leg. Oh well, at least the bus was warm (I had been scared it wasn’t going to be heated) even if it wasn’t very comfortable. At the next town the bus stopped for a leisurely dinner break where all the passengers but us got off, stumbling over Adrian’s pack and giving us a bunch of dirty looks. It was a good thing we didn’t stop for dinner as I’m sure the other passengers would have told the cook to spit in our food. Then the bus began the painfully slow trek through the mountains. Don’t get me wrong, slow was good for safety, it’s just that it was bad for comfort.
At sunrise, the bus was supposed to be close to our destination. I lifted my eye mask and saw nothing but road and mountain. The bus stopped and most of the passengers began filing off. It was a pee break. But there were no washrooms, just a narrow road and a sheer drop off to the valley below. That didn’t stop anyone. The indigenous women in their voluminous skirts were able to discreetly squat in the road while the men whipped it out wherever were. I had neither option available to me so I just crossed my legs and hoped we’d get to Sucre soon.
It was another 3 hours before we pulled into the city, only 3 hours late. And not a moment too soon. I ran off the bus to use the terminal toilet before Adrian and I grabbed a taxi to our hostel. After roughing it for the last week, the La Dolce Vita hostel really was the sweet life. Not only were the French/Swiss couple, Olivier and Jacki, in charge lovely, they really went above and beyond. On check in they sat us down with a map and went into great detail to explain what we could see and do, where we could eat or buy groceries. There was so much to do – more than we had thought – and we had only booked two nights. Unfortunately, the hostel was very popular and they were booked solid. So we would just have to try and squeeze the town sights all in, in our limited time. Although we were totally tired, we took quick showers and helped ourselves to the free oatmeal another guest had left behind before heading out to see the city.
Sucre is the capital of Bolivia. As is La Paz and as is Santa Cruz. You see, despite being a tiny country with no resources, Bolivia is capital-rich. There’s Las Paz, the geographical capital, Santa Cruz, the business capital and Sucre, the official capital. And now we’d visited all three. Out of the three I have to declare the winner Sucre even though I think it has the least pull. Everywhere we looked were old colonial buildings and none of the ugly modern concrete we’d seen everywhere else. The main square was lined with some of the prettiest ones and we stopped to just enjoy the view and indulge in some more fresh squeezed orange juice. But the rest of the streets were just as nice.
We walked to the textile museum which both the owners of La Dolce Vita and some folks in Samaipata was well worth it. Textile museum. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Well that what Adrian (and admittedly me too) thought but with so many a thumbs up he was convinced to at least give it a look. The museum was still closed for lunch when we got there but a woman let us in and told us to help ourselves to some coca tea. We paid our entrance and she told us we could start walking around when we were done. Unfortunately before disappearing she didn’t give us a ticket or inform her co-workers who arrived a few minutes later to open up. It took a while to explain and convince them that we’d already paid and even then I’m not sure they were convinced. But they reluctantly gave us tickets and a English-translation book of everything on display.
It was soon clear that textile museum was a bit of a misnomer. The museum was more like a living ethnographic foundation that supported the preservation of two main indigenous groups, it just happened to explain and support them through their textiles. The textiles weren’t just pretty fabrics but a way of passing down the history and customs of the local groups. And as we looked at the pretty fabrics we learned about them too. The different colour combinations symbolized different stages of life and time periods. For example green was death. While the different patterns went into detail – the who, what, where, etc. The foundation kept the traditions alive and gave the weavers a way to support themselves financially while simultaneouly supporting their culture. And it was successful. In fact it was so successful that the men of the communities insisted on learning the craft so they could make so money too. But in order to keep their machismo intact they only did the most complex and special fabrics. And it was the women who provided the demonstrations. Too bad that the fabrics on sale in the shop were way out of our price range. It was really interesting and well worth it and just the right size for our sleep-deprived brains. Even Adrian thoroughly enjoyed it, and he meant it. Sucre was making up for sleepy Samaipata and the icky bus ride it took to get here.