Wednesday, 25 May 2011

I'm the Capital of Bolivia! No I Am! No I Am! You Liar! I Am!

I should probably start by explaining that title. Bolivia is a country with a rare situation when it comes to its capital: it has two! Sucre is the constitutional capital, while La Paz is the administrative capital. I get the feeling there's something of a rivalry over their claims to the title, but it seems to be pretty good-natured. Ania and I thought we'd group these two together in a post, especially as we visited them in quick succession.

We spent five days in Sucre at a strange hostel where we at least had a very nice private room. We took some time to relax after the high altitude and sometimes tough conditions we experienced in the Salar de Uyuni and Potosí. Sucre is a beautiful city. It's small and completely walkable, with very Mediterranean-style buildings: white-washed structures with terracotta roofs. It definitely reminded us of Malta in places!

Any regular readers of this blog will know that Ania and I class ourselves as reasonably foody people and are in some ways 'eating our way around the world'! Sucre was one of those wonderful havens for us where we could rest, read our books, walk around the town and... eat! We found several good restaurants within the first couple of days and then revisited our favourites in the second half of our visit. The ones worth mentioning are Locot's, where the menu includes burritos and Indian curry, with veggie versions of both. Very impressive! There was Cafe Monterosso, a hidden gem of a restaurant run from a family's converted living room, where we ate great pasta, baked aubergine and panna cotta. Florin was great too, where on our last morning I got the Bolivian/French influenced version of a Full English breakfast, complete with baked beans (they were also showing Tottenham Hotspur beating Liverpool in the penultimate game of the Premier League, which always helps the food go down!). Finally, there is a little cafe/restaurant (the name of which I don't recall) in the Recoleta area. We ate here twice. It's chief features are excellent fresh fruit juices, tasty pastas and salads, an annoying food-scavenging cat which scratched Ania (!) and fantastic views of the city:

Sucre has a thing for dinosaurs and we didn't really understand why at the time. As I've said, we were busy taking a well-earned breather! A quick Google search tells me that the town is home to the world's largest collection of dinosaur footprints! They're about 60 million years old and were discovered by workers from a cement factory in 1994. Interesting, huh?! During our time in Sucre, we did see that some tour companies offered dino-themed trips, but we didn't know any of the history. Shame on us! Bearing our ignorance in mind, you can imagine our bafflement and amusement when we happened upon statues and other figures, including this delightfully tasteful public telephone outside Sucre's beautiful cemetery:

An interior shot of the aforementioned cemetery. Much like the one we visited in Buenos Aires, its like a beautiful town with the graves and memorials above ground. Below you can see small memorials with glass doors in gold frames. Relatives put flowers and tokens inside. We even saw one with a miniature bottle of beer!

Our next stop was La Paz, which we reached by overnight bus. I certainly won't miss these long journeys, and this wasn't a particularly good one! Ten hours, admittedly helped by the inclusion of our first fully 'cama' (bed) seats, that reclined to a proper horizontal position! The ride was not improved however by the very noisy, very crap movie playing. Although in retrospect I do appreciate the comedy value of The Gods Must Be Crazy II! We arrived in La Paz at about 6am and stayed at the beautiful Cruz de Los Andes hostel. They were even nice enough to let us into our room at such an early hour to have a quick nap! The entire hostel is painted floor to ceiling with beautiful murals of La Paz. Here's one from our room:

Our two nights in La Paz were spent with more relaxation, food and wandering. One of the best sights in the city - which incidentally is bigger, noisier, more crowded and far less picturesque than Sucre - is the Witches' Market. We enjoyed browsing the stalls selling llama-wool products, jewellery, the usual tourist crap and bizzarely, dried llama fetuses! Mmmm! Needless to say we did not buy one. We read in one guidebook or leaflet that they are considered good luck and Bolivians buy them to bury under the porch of a new house to bring good fortune to the residents. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see one:

A shot of a mini bread market in La Paz:

La Paz's restaurants are also worth a mention. On the first day we found a British-owned curry house called 'The Star of India'. It even has a British-style name! We were pleased to find they did their own version of the Bolivian and Peruvian-style almuerzo (the word literally means lunch, but in this context is a set meal usually consisting of soup, a main and dessert for a fixed price). Frustratingly, the veggie options weren't amazing and Ania was left disappointed. I really enjoyed mine though! And they did great lassis! We also enjoyed Marrakesh, a Moroccan place with a very friendly husband and wife team who served us fantastic couscous and refreshing mint tea!

Another highlight from our limited time in La Paz was our visit to the 'Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia'. That's the Museum of Bolivian Musical Instruments, in case you couldn't work it out! This was really interesting, with pipes, piano-style instruments, guitars and charangos, drums, glockenspeils, xylophones and lots more! Some of the pieces were pre-Incan and there was even a mummy-type figure in a glass case in the early section, which had been found with different musical instruments by the look of it. Many of the pieces were made from animals, for example, these two guitars made with tortoise shell and armadillo:

There was also opportunity to play several of the instruments. Here's Ania playing a kind of pump-powered organ. It was really good fun!

So that was my Tale of Two Capitals. We both really enjoyed Bolivia; and Sucre and La Paz both embodied different elements of the things we so loved about this country, in their own unique ways! The people, the food, the landscape, the buildings and the culture: we highly recommend it all! I sit writing this in Peru (we're playing catch-up a bit on our blog); but as far as chronology, and you, dear reader, are concerned, we still have one more stop in Bolivia to go before we move into neighbouring Peru. Oh, and what a stop it was!

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