Even though we had already spent more time in Bolivia than we had anticipated, we decided to spend a week in Sucre and take more Spanish classes. We both felt that we had improved quite a bit since our first class in Otavalo, so this time, we wanted to focus more on our conversational skills, which are still quite halting at best.
We had gotten a recommendation for a nonprofit Spanish school and a great hostel (Thanks awesome family from New Zealand!), so we set ourselves up to spend some time learning, volunteering, and exploring.
We attended Fenix Spanish School, and we would both would highly recommend it. We took four hours of classes everyday and we loved our teachers (Tatiana and Grover). They were patient, funny, and did a great job of individualizing lessons for us. Each day, the four hours just flew by (at least they did for Kristen as she could easily spend all day learning new words and conjugations).
The entire staff was very welcoming and friendly. One of the other teachers led a cooking class one night. We practiced conversing in Spanish (and tried to sneak in a little English) while learning to cook quinoa with meat and veggies. Kristen got the unfortunate task of chopping about 20 onions. Her Spanish practice was definitely limited as she had to fight back the tears, but the meal turned out to be delicious!
We also wanted to volunteer in a local school, but due to the fact a lot of people were on vacation, this was a bit trickier to coordinate. Finally on Wednesday, we were taken to a hospital which has a special wing for pre-teens and teens with special needs. For three days, we spent the mornings hanging out with the kids there.
On Friday, our last day with the kids, we were told that we were going on a field trip. This instantly filled Kristen with nerves, because as a teacher, she knows that field trips are not as much fun for the adults as they are for the kids. We were told we were going to visit a farm, and we combined with the group of younger students and piled in to a bus that was probably not meant to hold that many people.
Imagine our surprise when we pulled in to a military base. We weren’t exactly sure how we had messed up that translation so much, but were redeemed when we saw that this base did actually have a farm that we visited. Well, if you count one sheep, 5 pigs, 3 rabbits, and some lettuce as a farm. We walked around the base with the kids and they highlight came when the military band began to play and many of the kids started dancing. It was a blast.
At times working with the kids was a bit hectic, but we settled in nicely and enjoyed the week. At the end of our week there, we both wished we could have spent more time with the kids. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to return on day.
On our last evening in Sucre, the teachers invited us to come play Wally/Wallyball, a Bolivian version of volleyball. In this version, it is played on a racquetball court, and you play off the walls and roof, and can use your hands, feet, head, or whatever to play. It’s easy to learn, quite the workout, and actually a ton of fun to play. (Google it if you’re interested in seeing it in action.)
This is probably the most fun Kristen has ever had playing a group sport. Why? Because she could hit the ball any which way she wanted and didn’t have to worry about it flying way out-of-bounds. Even with her minimal skills, as long as she prevented it from hitting the ground, one of the better members of her team could make it in to a workable play.
Once, she wasn’t paying enough attention and the serve hit her smack in the face! Luckily, two of her local teammates were quick to respond and get it over the net.
The two hours went by in a crazy fury, and we were exhausted and sweaty at the end of it, but it was an absolute blast.
While spending so much time in Sucre we started to feel a little like locals. We were able to find some amazing meals while we were there, and we enjoyed the nice architecture that is found around the city.
A little known fact is that Sucre is actually the capital of Bolivia (not La Paz like most people assume). Unfortunately for Sucre, all the country’s administration offices and the Presidential Palace have been moved to La Paz, causing a little tension between the two cities. Regardless, the city has a lot of personality along with nice old buildings and churches.
As with any nice city in South America, there is a great town square. This town square always seamed to be busy with people enjoying the shade on park benches. You need to be careful this time of year however, as the kids like to keep water balloons at the ready to celebrate the arrival of Carnival. (FYI: Nailing a Gringo with a water balloon is worth double bonus points, but luckily, we made it out without getting wet.)
This town had several nice parks and even one with a Eiffel Tower replica. Our Spanish teachers told us that a man built this park for his wife in the early 1900’s, because she loved Paris so much.
We were lucky enough (at least Kristen thinks so) to see a dance performance next to the plaza. Actually, it looked more like they were shooting a commercial, and it was entertaining to watch them do take after take with camera men running around.
Not to be out done by these dancers, on another day, we stumbled upon a parade. They were all dressed in local garb, and singing and dancing, but the funniest thing is that most of them also had a beer in hand to fuel them for the long walk.
Like most parades in South America, we were not sure what it was for, but it was fun to watch.
We could have easily stayed in Sucre for years, and we will surly return one day, but the salt flats were calling our names, so we continued on.
On our way to Tupiza, we stopped in Potosi for a few days to take in the history and eat some soup.
Potosi is the highest city in the world at 13,418 feet. Now for you fact checkers out there, there are communities/towns higher, but they are not actually cities. Another grand claim based on pure semantics, but we’ll take it. Regardless of its ranking, one thing is for sure, you will be struggling for your breath the entire time you’re here.
This area also has a rich, but dark, history with silver mining. At one point in time, Potosi was one of the largest cities in the world and produced more silver than anywhere else. The mines have terribly poor work conditions, and their 300 year history, some 3 million slave workers have perished here. There are tours you can take of the working mines, but we opted not to breathe in the toxic fumes.
Because this has historically been such a wealthy city, Potosi has an insane number of churches. For a city of 160,000 people, 86 churches seems a bit excessive. There appears to be one on every corner, and they all are works of art.
Potosi is also known for a delicious soup called kala purca. The soup alone is worth the trip because it is so tasty with its thick broth, bits of meat, and great vegetables. It is also famous because before they serve it to you, they drop a hot lava rock in to the bowl, causing it to steam up like a volcano.
The lava rock was successful at keeping the soup nice and hot, and if you weren’t careful, it was also effective at removing the first three layers of skin from your mouth.
Potosi was a good short pit stop on our trip to Tupiza, but it was nice to leave and head down to somewhere where it was a little easier to breathe.
On to Tupiza and the start of our four-day trip to Bolivia’s star attraction, Salar de Uyuni.