Friday, 8 November 2013

Cochabamba to Sucre

Cochabamba's main square
We stayed in Cochabamba longer than we expected for two reasons, one was we both got quite ill and wanted to stay close to a toilet, and the other was the buses were not as regular as we expected. Oh and one more reason, because Ellen is rubbish at map reading.
Cochabamba itself is a very quiet place, not a lot happening, it's not really on the tourist trail but we went there after Ellen planned our route and mistook the dot on the map for Totora as the one for Cochabamba, 231 km away. So Cochabamba was supposed to be a stop to break up a 14 hour bus journey, but it added 8 hours. Not to worry, it was a great place to chill out and Skype family and friends and catch up on the blog. Also as there is not a lot to do we didn't feel guilty for not getting out and seeing a lot of sights, as there were not many. There is a statue of Christ on a hill which you can walk to (with, according to guidebooks, a high likelihood of getting mugged) or take the cable car. After discovering there would be no toilet at the top we decided against it.
Dumbos? Why not!
Instead we did a bit of a walk, staying close to clean-looking cafes and restaurants, just in case. 
We walked through the town market, down Espana street, we ate in a place called Dumbos - an American style diner (if you squint and turn your head sideways) which sold burgers, salads and ice cream. Angel must have been ill, he didn't want any ice cream. For those readers who don't know him, this is heard of. 
On Saturday morning we headed to the bus station to buy our bus tickets for that night to Sucre. In Bolivia you cannot purchase bus tickets on any other day except the day the bus is leaving. So we bought tickets at about 9.15 am and the 8pm bus to Sucre was already full, so we got on the 8.15pm one with Trans Copacabana.

The ride started out quite well for a Bolivian bus company, left on time, then about 45 minutes into the journey the driver pulled the huge bus over to the side of the road, and walked into a dive of a cafe and had his dinner. No announcements, no warning. Some passengers got off the bus and followed  him into the cafe and others got off and relieved themselves in the bushes (there was no toilet, and as this is Bolivia, there is no toilet on the bus either). This was the only intentional stop in the 10 hour journey. Seriously. Lucky for us we had planned for this, done our research into Bolivian bus travel and had stopped drinking 6 hours prior so we were suitably dehydrated for the journey, knowing that Bolivian buses, though they usually have a toilet on the bus, they lock them and rarely stop for passengers to go to the loo.
At 1.32 am the bus stopped on the edge of a mountain road and after about 20 minutes of the drivers walking around outside the bus, we were all told we had to get off the bus and walk as the 'road' (read: dirt path) was muddy and we needed to lighten the bus to get it around the corner.  All the passengers got off in the pitch darkness and thick fog and proceeded to walk down the steep road (the drivers had given no indication of how far we were to walk). Luckily Angel always carries a small torch for such occasions in his backpack so we could at least wee where we were going as there was no light. We walked as far as we thought we needed to walk, and then after about 10 minutes of standing about and the bus came down the hill to pick us up, some old ladies had kept on walking down the hill and we picked them up about 200m down the mountain. Despite this little adventure we were not late into Sucre. In fact we were a little early. A first for our bus trips in South America!

Sucre market. look at her face!
We arrived in Sucre at 6.30 and shared a taxi to our hotel with a Kiwi girl who we had met on the bus, she was travelling alone. Arriving at our hostel was a little odd. We rang the buzzer, a guy answered speaking only Spanish saying we would have to wait an hour until reception opened,  but that we could wait in the courtyard, and then proceeded to stay on the intercom and not open the door. Still on the intercom a couple of minutes later, still talking to us and still not buzzing us through. Finally the door opened. Maybe he was still asleep. 
Dino Park, Ellen with Nessie.
The hostel (Kultur Berlin) is good, clean, very quiet, has German-themed cafe with great German apple cake (though appalling coffee!) and intermittent wifi (we are writing this from a cafe around the corner). Hot showers though, always a bonus! Also on the final day they came and told us we had overpaid by 640 Boliviano (about £64) and gave us our money back. which made it 50% cheaper than we budgeted for. Hostelworld had the wrong price. Nice!
Dinosaur footprints in the wall, look carefully.
In our first 2 days in Sucre, we went to the local markets then up to the Ricoleta neighbourhood and had a tour of the Franciscan monastery (the tour was only in Spanish and we impressed ourselves with how much we knew!) and then rode the 'Dinobus' out out to the very touristy site of the dinosaur footprints discovered in a quarry just on the outskirts of town. It was interesting to see the prints, but it was all very over-the-top - with very colourful life-size statues of dinosaurs and the 'imagined' dinosaur sounds piped around the park. Our guide was great though and even asked Ellen at the end if there was anything he could do to make his information better. Bless.

On our return to the hostel we discovered there was a general transport strike in Potosi, which was the town our bus to Tupiza needs to pass through, there will be road blocks and therefore no traffic can pass through Potosi for 48 hours, so we found ourselves stuck in Sucre for 2 more days, we had booked a hotel in Tupiza and they said they will move our booking to the 7th, and the bus company, we went back to the bus station to get our money back and they said we had to come back again tomorrow at 8am and get our money back. We were pretty sure it was a con and we would not get the money back in the end. Bearing in mind the tickets are 160 Boliviano for 2 (£15.80) and the taxi to the station is costing us 20 Boliviano return, and as we have been out there twice and would need one more time to go back, and at 8am, we decided to write-off the loss, and drank German beer at the hostel bar instead. 
I need to buy one of these!
As our room at the hostel was like a small apartment we spent most of the next day lounging around the patio outside the room in the hammock. Nice. We ate dinner at a great vegetarian place we had spotted just around the corner from the main square, very tasty, brilliant spicy salsa. 
The next day we planned the morning, dropped off laundry (rare that we are somewhere long enough to do it this regularly) and headed to the Simon Boliviar park, expecting it to be a large city park, but it was just a green nature strip with a road on either side, about 50m wide. It was pretty enough but also as Sucre is quite small it only took us 20 minutes to stroll here from our hotel. So we headed back into town to eat at the El Patio saltinas restaurant again and picked us up some of their amazing saltinas and empanadas and carried them with us as we walked to the city cemetery. It reminded us of the beautiful one in Buenos Aires in Palmero. Most graves it seems are placed in concrete vaults stacked high like bunk beds, this is because it is cheaper than family plots, some are 6 or 7 stories high. 
After eating our saltinas back at the hostel (we didn't eat them in the cemetery, that would be weird) we headed to what is now our local cafe, Metro, and had £1.50 frappachinos and skyped Ellen's Mum. 
El Patio's Saltinas
We finished off the day with dinner at a very interesting place called 'Nouvelle Cuisine' the name could not be further from the food. It's a really down-and-dirty steak house (in both senses of the word), bursting with locals and brilliant steak! The tables are covered in plastic table-cloths, the glasses were not very clean, so we drank the beer from the bottle, but it was certainly a great experience, the salad was a buffet and our steak came out undercooked but they were great when we asked them to cook it longer. It was a bargain too - we had a sirloin each,  all-you-can-eat salad, a big plate of chips and a litre of beer each, all for £12 (for both of us). Brilliant. Very full, we staggered back up the hill to the hostel where we had a couple of £1.50 mojitos. Bolivias very low prices have been keeping us well within budget, in fact we are struggling to spend our daily budget - including giving money to people sitting on the street. On our 2nd day in Sucre we were walking back to the hostel after the DinoTour and saw an old lady sitting on the pavement, she was not begging but looked like she was taking charity (we find many regional down-on-their-luck Bolivians do not beg, they sit there and wait for someone to give them money) so we gave her 30 Boliviano (just under £3) and her face lit up, she started singing and thanking us, there is so much poverty in South America and for us in London £3 would barely get us a take away coffee bit 30 Boliviano would feed this lady 3-4 solid meals from the town market. It made us feel good that we made her so happy, but there is the other side of the coin that in a couple of days she will be hungry again and relying on the charity of others.

We had a great time in Sucre, quite a chilled out couple of days, taking advantage of the strike and having an opportunity to relax on this hectic adventure without actually being ill! 
Tomorrow we have a bus to Tupiza. 10 hours through the desert on a cheapie bus (ie no reclining seats and probably includes livestock!) 

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