Despite previous musings this blog will not be written in Spanish. A month of lessons in the charming city of Sucre has certainly helped our understanding of the local language but I don’t think we are quite up to writing perfect prose just yet. One day.
So what have we been doing for the last 5 weeks? We managed, very quickly, to settle into a incredibly enjoyable routine of working at the hostel and taking Spanish lessons, all encompassed by eating lot of great (and cheap) food and drinking beer with new friends. Sucre life has definitely been memorable.
The city itself is the official capital of Bolivia, though the de facto capital is in La Paz where the government is actually based. Sucre is not a huge place which for us is definitely a plus point, but it is renowned for having a chilled out atmosphere and it is also a UNESCO world heritage site. It was awarded that title for the huge amount of whitewashed colonial buildings in the center of town, making downtown Sucre quite picturesque. Those same buildings provided us with many interesting hours aimlessly wandering the streets, and the surrounding hills gave us good excuses to get out of city and see the area from different angles. Even just hanging out with the ‘juice ladies’ in the central market was loads of fun. Sucre is definitely an easy city to love, and a difficult one to leave.
Plenty of cool things to see.
Hanging out at the market.
7Patas hostel was where we were based during our time in Sucre but having a job (albeit volunteering) again was a strange feeling. Even though we volunteered on the farm in Coyhaique this felt different as it was a business we were working for. That being said it was a family owned business, the parents and 3 of their children all contributed to the day to day running of the place. They were such a lovely family and they made us, the other volunteers and the guests feel truly at home.
The hostel itself is one of those aforementioned colonial buildings with a really great atrium and patio area inside that is in stark contrast to the blank facade that you see from the street. Our duties as volunteers primarily involved checking people in and out, and helping out with laundry. Between the two of us we worked the morning shift and the night shift and we rotated each week or so. The work was straightforward and it was nice to meet all of the other guests of the hostel. 7Patas is pretty popular and for the majority of the time we were there the hostel was close to being full, which meant for a sociable atmosphere and plenty of stories to hear from all of the different travellers.
Building a BBQ!
The hostel also had many long-term guests, others that were studying Spanish for a few weeks etc. Between us we had a decent knowledge of Sucre; where to eat, what to see, and any interesting things going on. During our time there we watched a fair bit of the World Cup (despite knowing nothing about it before talking to others staying at the hostel), we went to a concert in the Casa de la Libertad, one of Sucre’s most important buildings and got the chance to explore the annual ‘Alacitas’ fair. The fair was a lot of fun, along with the normal fairground rides and street food there were hundreds of stalls selling miniature items, everything from tiny books and animals right through to tiny ovens and household goods. The tradition of the miniature items comes from the indigenous people who would buy tiny crops and animals and offer them to the Andean god, Ekeko, in the hope he would deliver them more of the real thing in the coming year (better harvests, more livestock etc). Nowadays it has morphed into a somewhat more capitalist thing and you can buy miniature TVs, PlayStations and even just tiny money.
The market was huge and there was loads to see (and eat).
Miniature everything! (More photos on Instagram/Facebook)
Plenty of entertainment there too.
Going back to school was also pretty interesting as it had been many years since either of us had studied anything in a classroom. Sucre has reputation as a good place to study Spanish, primarily because it’s cheap but also the Bolivian teachers tend to speak a more traditional version of Spanish with less of an accent than in some other Latin American countries (I’m looking at you, Chile). We visited several Spanish schools to see what kind of courses were available and whether they could be done around our working hours at the hostel. We went with Open Spanish School in the end as the people we met there were really friendly and enthusiastic.
Doing homework for the first time in a long time!
While we had learned a reasonable amount of Spanish since we started travelling neither of us had ever formally learned it, so the course we did at Open Spanish really helped us. We learned a lot of grammar, syntax and general structure of the language which I don’t think we would have learned just by travelling and talking to people as we had been so far. It was definitely worth doing the classes but as Rolando our teacher was fond of saying, ‘One month is not enough, you must keep practising!’ Claro, él tenía razón. Necesitamos mucho practicar con hablando español!
By the end of our stint as volunteers at 7Patas we had quite comfortably settled into life in Sucre, so much so that we didn’t want to leave (Ben especially). Our Spanish had progressed but it felt like it was only just starting to click and more time would have been really useful. Living and working somewhere as sociable as a hostel was the polar opposite to our daily life while riding our bikes (where we rarely see other travellers), it had been great to meet new people and make new friends. Both of these factors, and having something of a more ‘normal’ life again meant that leaving Sucre was not an appealing prospect. We had hoped that some time off the bikes would make us really keen to get going again, but in fact the opposite happened and getting back on the bike felt like hard work. It didn’t help that our next destination was actually backtracking to Uyuni so we could see the salt flats (we couldn’t last time we were there due to the weather), as the climate in Sucre is lovely and Uyuni is flippin’ cold. We also didn’t have a solid plan for after Uyuni as it would somewhat depend on the weather, all of this meant that motivation to leave Sucre was pretty low. Not what we had expected at all.
But as always, regardless of conditions and despite any misgivings, riding your bike will always make you feel better. So that’s what we did! (Find out where to in the next instalment – or just check our Instagram…).
If you want to do any volunteer work we’d thoroughly recommend using Workaway to find opportunities all over the world. It’s safe, cheap and great fun. Use our link HERE and sign up today!
Until next time,
Ben and Steph