19 November 2011

Bolivia day 8: sweet Sucre

The lovely courtyard at my hotel
By 7.15am I was on the bus to Sucre. The woman in the seat next to me wanted the curtain shut against the sun so she could snooze, so after a while I also snoozed, though I peeked out occasionally. I saw enough to know we went up hill and down dale. It got gradually greener, with real grass and a lot more trees – and that was my initial impression of Sucre – it was very green. I stayed in the old, colonial part of the city, where the government has decreed the buildings be painted every year. And the hotel, Hostal Sucre, had a beautiful courtyard, with a central fountain and lots of flowering geraniums.

After settling in at the hotel, I had a sandwich and tea at a little café next door, and a chat to a Canadian girl, who’s travelling around South America for a few months. Then, I sat in the courtyard, enjoying the sunshine and surroundings until my city tour at 2.30.

It was a great tour. Maribel, the vibrant young tour guide was full of details about Sucre, and Bolivia in general, the driver was a real gentleman, opening the door and providing extra information, and, with my permission, a young language student also came along to listen to our conversation. We were a chatty cheerful party!

A view over Sucre

First stop was La Recoleta, an area where lovers go in the evenings, for a fine view over the city. Next was an artisan’s workshop and store nearby. There are two local indigenous peoples, whose craftwork is quite distinct one from the other: one group produce textiles only in red and black, the other’s are multi-coloured. I would have liked to have bought something but it was beyond my budget – wall hangings were several thousand pesos each (at the moment, there are about 6.5 pesos to the US dollar). One of the women weavers was wearing a very ornately decorated hat, which marked her as single and available!

Next was the Museo del Convento de la Recoleta, once a cloistered convent, now partly a Franciscan monastery, partly museum. It is a beautiful building, with three separate cloistered courtyards each containing beautiful gardens – you could smell the roses and jasmine as you walked in. It was a quiet peaceful place and easy to imagine living there a life of prayer and contemplation – plus, I do like the Latino way of inside-out living, of high solid walls facing outward to the world, with, inside, rooms opening on to a cloister and courtyard for private enjoyment.

The museum housed memorabilia of the monks, many religious paintings, and much silver – gifts from the parents of sons and daughters who joined the religious orders. Apparently, the family tradition in the past was for the first-born daughter to become a nun and the first-born son a monk, at the age of 15, and neither could ever leave. Now, though most Bolivians would say they were Catholic if asked, few actively practice their religion. Many of the paintings were in desperate need of restoration, but the Franciscans are self-supporting, though tickets sales to the museum and some donations, so the restoration has to wait till sufficient funds are accumulated. Outside, there was an orangery, which used to the stable area when the monks used to ride around the countryside spreading the word of God, and terraced gardens, still in use, with the excess produce being donated to the school next door. In the chapel, a first communion was in progress, which we observed from the upstairs area, which now houses beautifully carved choir stalls. Most of the wood in the old buildings is cedar. The trees used to cover the hills around Sucre, until the Spaniards cut it all down for building purposes.

Next was the city cemetery, a busy place just days after Todos Santos. Over the entrance is a large ornate gateway, with the Latin inscription HODIE MIHI CRAS TIBI: ‘It is my lot today, yours tomorrow’ or, more simply, ‘Today me, tomorrow you’. A sobering thought! It was a beautifully landscaped and maintained cemetery, but it is subdivided by class. Near the entrance are the tombs of the rich families, those with enough money to buy a relatively large plot of land and build on it an ornate mausoleum to house all family members. Next are the multi-storey graves of the middle class, not grouped together by family but rather in random order. They are also well maintained, with glass fronts like windows, with flower arrangements inside. Some even have mini awnings to protect them from the sun! Some were decorated with coloured streamers from the 1 November commemoration, blue and white for boys, pink and white for girls, and purple and black for older people. At the rear of the cemetery were the graves of the poor; the sort of burials we have in Western countries, but huddled much closer together. Nearby were new buildings where members of the same profession can choose to be buried together; for example, there was one building for truck drivers, another for teachers.

Tombs of the rich
Graves of the middle class

As we were leaving, a funeral procession was entering: a hearse, with a group of people walking slowly behind. There is a small chapel near the entrance gate where Mass is held, then the body is buried – no cremations in this country – then close family and friends return to the house of the deceased for food and drink. Another mass is held one month later, then a further Mass – with food and rather a lot of drink and sometimes music – one year later, at which time the women also stop wearing the black clothes of mourning.

Graves of the poor

Next on the tour was a walk through the main city park, Parque Simón Bolivar, where locals walk, play, sit and study. On Saturdays and Sundays, it has lots of things to entertain children – mini roundabouts and bouncy castles. In the centre the park has a mini Eiffel Tower – quite a bizarre construction – and, at one end, a pool which has a fountain light display on weekend evenings – equally bizarre, but apparently a favourite with lovers.

Next was a quick walk through the central market, just one block from the main plaza and the place to buy anything. We bought bananas and bread, gifts for the indigenous people we would visit the next day. There were fruit and vegetable stalls, toiletries and electrical goods, nuts and spices and flowers, as well as a whole floor of food stalls and juice makers. I learnt there are two local food specialties: one is a pork dish which sounds similar to Peru’s chicharon, and the other, various versions of spicy pork sausage. Sadly, I didn’t get to try either.

Last stop of the day was the Convent of San Felipe Nery, now a religious school for girls, and another beautiful old building. From the rooftop, there was a glorious view both of the courtyards below and the city skyline. Afterwards, I walked along to the main plaza to have tacos and a coke for an early dinner. On the way back to the hotel, I took photos of more lovely buildings. It had been a wonderful day. Sucre had a good feeling to it – I liked it there.
Convent of San Felipe Nery
View from the rooftop

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