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Published: April 10th 2008
New friends in SucreA tale of two capitals
With the hard working kids of Sucre.
Ask anyone in Sucre which city is the capital of Bolivia and you'll most likely be told Sucre. Ask the same question in La Paz and they'll tell you it's La Paz. Ask anyone else in Bolivia and they'll probably tell you it's rather complicated but there are two capitals. Following independence in 1825, Sucre soon became capital of the new Republic of Bolivia. In 1959 the seat of government moved to La Paz. However, no one bothered to change the constitution so Sucre remains the constitutional capital and is also home to the judiciary.
Sucre is a beautiful city, the perfect place to stop for a few days, take it easy and recharge your batteries. It felt very different from everywhere else we had seen thus far in Bolivia. With it's shady plazas, numerous cathedrals and striking colonial buildings, Sucre felt more like somewhere in Spain than in Bolivia. It's home to one of South America's oldest and most highly rated Universities, and the presence of the students means there is a good nightlife with an excellent choice of bars and restaurants. We spent four days in Sucre, probably the laziest four days of
Sucre University is one of the best known universities in the country. There are a good number of students in the city, giving it a great vibe.
our trip. For once there was neither hiking nor mountaineering - I think the majority of our time was spent visiting the aforementioned bars and restaurants. We spent perhaps too much time in Cafe Joyride, a Dutch run bar/restaurant where every gringo in Sucre seems to visit, but it was worth it for the cheap drinks and the nightly movies they showed upstairs. The White City
Sucre is often called The White City, for the blatantly obvious reason that most of it's best known buildings are a distinctive white colour. Though there is a good number of churches in the city, none of them ever seemed to be open so we could only admire them from the outside. The best museum was the Casa de la Libertad, where Bolivian Independence was voted on in 1825. It's a stunning building with plenty of interesting sights. We took a guided tour and learned about Genral Sucre after who the city is named, a Bolivian Joan of Arc and even a Bolivian Margaret Thatcher!
What really caught our imagination in Sucre and left a lasting impression was the people. More specifically the kids. We didn't really notice them so much until
Ruth in Joyride Cafe
Joyride Cafe is something of an institution for backpackers. Practically every Gringo in town passes through, some go nowhere else. Excellent value drinks, nice meals and films screened every night are just some of the reasons to visit this Dutch owned bar.
our third day in town. I was sitting on a bench on the main square waiting for Ruth and reading my book when about six kids came over and tried to shine my shoes or sell me chewing gum. I had so interest in either but the kids stuck around, asked us where we from and even asked me to take their pictures. Then Ruth came along so it meant even more pictures. They were a very friendly bunch who seemed more interesting in speaking to us than selling us anything. They were aged from about 9-12 years old. One of the boys could speak 3 languages fluently and he had also picked up a fair bit of English, French and German!
We kept seeing them over the next few days, specially Mario and Daniella. Daniella was very shy so it must be difficult for her to approach complete strangers and try to sell them sweets and chewing gum. It's equally difficult as a kid selling sweets like that and not being able to keep a few for yourself! I didn't have that same discipline when I was young. so whenever I bought any I always offered her a
Meet Mario. He goes to school in the mornings, works as a shoeshine boy afternoons, evenings and weekends, speaks 3 languages, plus a bit of French and English. He is trying to save 800 Bolivianos to buy a bicycle.
few back which she seemed to appreciate. Mario was much less shy than Daniella. He told us he goes to school in the mornings and works afternoons and weekends as a shoe shiner. He is hoping to save enough Bolivianos to buy a bicycle. It's a very tough life for these kids, having to both attend school and work like this from an early age. I admire them a lot for it.
Bolivia is South America's poorest country which might explain why these kids are having to work. While in some ways it' terrible to see this, in other ways it's just part of the spirit of entrepreneurialism that is evident all over the country. You never need to bring food or a book on any bus journey in Bolivia as you can be sure that at any stop (or even before the bus leaves) you'll be inundated with offers of fresh food, drinks, daily newspapers, etc. I've seen very few supermarkets or the types of shops we're used to in Europe. Instead, everything seems to be sold in markets or on the streets.
It might seem strange that Bolivia is so poor given it receives huge amounts
of international aid and it also possesses the second largest reserves of natural gas in South America. Political instability has played a part; Bolivia has had 29 changes of government since the early 1950s. Political incompetence also plays a role. One story goes that Bolivia refuses to sell gas to Chile (mainly as they don't get on - it all goes back to the War of the Pacific when Bolivia lost its coastline) so instead sells it to Argentina, who in turn sell it to Chile at a much inflated price. With politicians like these, no wonder the people of Bolivia have to take matters into their own hands!
We saw plenty of poverty in Sucre. Outside every restaurant and cafe beggars wait and ask for money. I remember we were eating in a pizzeria one night and one man stood outside the window patiently waiting for us and other diners to finish so he could ask for 1 Boliviano when we left. When you see so many people working hard such as the kids shining shoes or selling sweets, it's hard to justify handing money over to people who simply hold out their hand. But then again, the
Square & Church in Sucre
Behind Cafe Mirador lies this lovely square.
amounts these people are begging for seems miniscule compared to the amounts us backpackers spend or sometimes waste in these places. The fourth decade
So what else about Sucre, well on our final day there I celebrated my 30th birthday. The previous five birthdays have been abroad (Amsterdam, Hamburg, Morocco, Tunisia and Morocco) but I think Sucre beats them all! We had a very relaxed day of lovely meals and easy sightseeing rounded off by pisco sours in Joyride Cafe and then dinner in La Taverna, The French/Bolivian restaurant in the French Cultural Centre. This was the priciest meal we've have in Bolivia but what better time to splash out than the big 30, and besides the food was superb. I can't imagine how much you'd pay for a similar meal in Paris but the whole thing here including one of the nicest steaks I've had in South America (and that's really saying something) plus two very good bottles of wine only cost 20 Euro. As an extra birthday treat we decided to forgo the cheap but probable bone crushing 15 hour bus journey to La Paz - instead we opted for the 45 minute flight with Aero Sur.
Luxury compared to some of the buses we've been on!
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