Published: August 26th 2009April 22nd 2009
At the fantastic Museo de Arte Indigena, textiles by Jalq'a women
Entirely figurative and almost always only black and red in colour, they depict a primordial chaos filled with strange animals
I really shouldn't complain considering that ALL the buses I've taken in Bolivia have been far better than any I had the pleasure of 'experiencing' in Africa or India. I mean in Bolivia I've not been on one where it seems everyone but me is puking (some into a receptacle, others not...), I've not sat next to a young girl with diarrhoea and a bus driver who refuses to stop for her (I'll let your imagination do the rest with that one....) and hey, I've even had a whole seat to myself! But you see Argentina and Chile have spoilt me. These days I'm used to smooth roads and 'semi-cama' buses - fold out leg rests, seats that recline so far you can almost convince yourself you were in a bed, empty buses that mean as a billy no mates I nearly always have two seats to myself, on board toilets that work, drinks and meals (well, a cheese and ham sandwich which isn't so appealing to us veggies) etc etc. So when a straight forward 10 hour overnight bus ride turned into a 23 hour marathon effort thanks to a strike, the associated road block and inevitable detour along roads
that were 1 part gravel, 3 parts pot hole I had a sense of humour failure, finally loosing my temper completely when the bus driver attempted to fleece us for more money to line his own pockets with. Grrr. In my defence I didn't crack until the 21st hour and that's only about the 3rd time in a year of travel but more on that later!!
My first Bolivian bus experience, the night bus from La Paz to Sucre, wasn't too bad and anyway that's how I met Marika, an Australian girl I ended up travelling with for the next few weeks - we bonded over the rather dire state of the toilets at our rest stop.... no words were needed, just an exchanged look did the job!!! :0P And they even had the cheek to charge for using them - trust me they should have been paying us! Personally I find bus stations the worst places for getting ripped off or robbed, especially when you've just arrived on a overnight bus, exhausted and slightly disorientated. Here in Sucre though it seemed that wouldn't be a problem because they'd recently employed special tourist police whose job it seemed was
to get you safely off the bus, give you their safety 'beware of and what to do when' leaflet and bundle you into a taxi to your hotel at something approaching the normal (rather than grossly inflated gringo) fare. Easy! Don't get me wrong, Sucre is one of the safest places I've been to, but I was mildly bemused at being shepherded round by this sweet little old policeman. Needless to say neither of us had booked anywhere to stay but we ended up in a fantastic hostel that someone had recommended to Marika - La Dolce Vita - where we had a huge room and en-suite bathroom (i.e. mega luxury) and spent lots of time chilling in the sunshine on the patio. Yes it was a hard time. Oddly enough I later discovered that only a week before Ann and Gordon had stayed in the same hostel, in the same room..... spooky.
I loved Sucre. As much as La Paz had been frenetic, Sucre was calm, a colonial town full of low rise whitewashed buildings, peaceful streets, plazas and churches but yet with a modern feel. Or perhaps that should be a young feel for Sucre is a
university town, founded in 1624 the university here is one of the oldest in the New World. Young people in western clothes were everywhere, with jeans and tshirts quite the norm rather than the traditional Cholita garb so common on the streets of La Paz. There were also the cafes (complete with great coffee, at last!!) and other student hang outs you'd expect of a university town, but best of all - chocolate shops! Now I'd never thought of Bolivia as a chocolate producing/loving nation, and to be fair perhaps its because I'd been missing it that I thought it was so great, but just wow! There were a few different gourmet chocolate shops, one in particular called Para Ti where we spent hours deliberating between more truffles (which usually won) or something new. Not strictly normal backpacker fare but we went back every day, once even returning a second, or was that third?!?, time on the same day!!!
We passed a relaxed few days in Sucre, enjoying the blue skies, lower altitude (it's only 2,750m here so no headaches for me) and visiting some of the excellent museums. First was the Museo de Arte Indigena which we returned
to a second time it was that good! Set up to revive the traditional weaving designs and techniques that were being lost the museum is dedicated to the distinctive weaving of two different local Quechua-speaking indigenous groups - the Jalq'a, who number about 26,000 and live in the mountains west of Sucre, and the Tarabuceños, a more numerous group who live around the town of Tarabuco to the east. The weaving of the Jalq'a tends to be strictly red and black affairs, whilst those of the Tarabuceño are a rainbow of colours showing domestic scenes from every day life. We watched on fascinated as a Jalq'a woman and Tarabuco lady demonstrated their skills, trying to work out how they made it seem such a simple movement yet produced such complex pieces of tapestry. There are more examples of the different styles on display, showing how they've evolved over time, as well as exhibits on non-weaving village activities... celebrations involving singing, dancing and bizarre musical instruments featured highly. We also went to the excellent ethnographic museum where the signs were all in Spanish but actually it didn't matter because the displays really spoke for themselves - masks used in festivals around
the country, large, always colourful, textured, sometimes creepy, sometimes funny, simple or intricate. And the curator who also only spoke Spanish but was the most enthusiastic I've met - it didn't matter that I only understood a fraction of what he said, I was still excited about it!!!
Question: what is the capital of Bolivia?? A lot of literature I'd read before coming here said 'La Paz', but at the excellent Casa de la Libertad (if you go be sure to make use of their highly informative tour guides) we quickly learnt that's not an answer to go shouting around the streets of Sucre! The Casa de la Libertad itself was built in 1621 and is the site where the Bolivian republic was founded in 1825, with the declaration of independance signed and Sucre named as capital. Except these days its not quite so straight forward. In 1899 the ruling Conservative Party (who had most of their supporters in the regions around Sucre) was overthrown by the Liberal Party (supported largely by Tin miners from around La Paz), with the latter immediately putting in a bid to have the capital moved from Sucre to La Paz. The compromise reached
then continues today with La Paz, now home to the president and congress, acting as the administrative capital and Sucre with the judiciary branch of government remaining the constitutional capital of Bolivia.
And so to that bus journey. We'd arrived in plenty of time to catch our bus to Tupiza, except it seemed there was a problem... and well, did we really want to go???? The man at the counter explained there was a strike, we'd have to pay an additional fee because the bus now had to take a longer route to avoid the blockade and we'd arrive at an unknown time. We briefly considered our options but to be honest we didn't have any - with no guarantee that the blockade would be lifted tomorrow and having seen everything we wanted to in Sucre we negotiated the 'fee' down but our questions of when we'd actually arrive continued to be met with a shrug and a grin. So at least we were prepared for a delay... we just weren't expecting 13 hours worth that took us via the Argentinian boarder! On the bright side we got to see some stunning scenery that we wouldn't otherwise and we
really, really, really, really appreciated the beer we had when we eventually arrived!
I'd met a few people along the way who'd recommended paying a little more and doing the Salar de Uyuni trip from Tupiza rather from Uyuni... advice I briefly regretted taking during the epic bus journey but which was always going to be the right decision for me. Tupiza is a small, sleepy town but I liked it - market stalls with all kinds of fruit, veg and animal for sale, a leafy central plaza and all surrounded by the most stunning scenery. Apart from organising Salar de Uyuni trips the other thing to do here is horse riding - some people head off for a few days or more but unfortunately we didn't have the time and settled for a 3 hour afternoon ride instead. And it was fantastic. My mini-muppet Spanish with some entertaining mime seemed to get across the message that I was a novice in need of a nice friendly slowwww horse. And that's exactly what I got.... at least on the way out! Perfect for enjoying the stunning scenery we went through - along the railway tracks, out of town and
suddenly everything was red, green and blue. The sky above blue, the landscape around a russet red of high steep slopes and odd spiky peaks peppered with tall green branching cacti.
We'd gone horse riding with Will, Marika's friend from home who'd just come up from Chile, and Max a Scottish guy who was doing a bit of travel after finishing teaching English in Equador. The four of us were leaving the next day on our Salar de Uyuni trip so we ended our day in Tupiza at a viewpoint over looking the town. We arrived minutes too late for sunset but just in time to catch the the end of a religious sermon going on, after which the minister and his flock decided to go on a recruitment drive and we it seemed were prime candidates. So we spent the next half hour listening to this actually quite entertaining guy, or at least we listened to Max who as the only one of us who could really speak Spanish did a fantastic job of translating, as he handed out leaflets depicting Bill Gates as the devil incarnate (seriously!) and other such bizarre propaganda - not quite what I'd
expected when I arrived in this remote, small, dusty, Altiplano town in southern Bolivia!!!
A quick aside... there was a problem with the photo's displaying properly on the India blog below but by the time I realised I no longer had the originals with me. Its all sorted now so hopefully they should be displaying properly! I'll sort out the other dodgy India ones soon. http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/India/Rajasthan/Bundi/blog-389158.html
Next blog: The amazing Salar de Uyuni
There are more photos below