A Brighter Side of Bolivia
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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The Spanish influence is epitomised by Sucre - the judicial capital of modern-day Bolivia. It is a striking colonial city set in the central highlands at an altitude of about 9,200 ft. It has a relatively mild and sunny climate and has earned the nickname of 'The White City of the Americas'. No wonder it is regarded as Bolivia's most attractive city - being declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1991 - and it is a joy to wander around its narrow, cobblestoned streets and explore the multitude of whitewashed architectural gems. We had lots of opportunities to talk to the women vendors in the markets, visit some churches and museums, enjoy mid-morning café con leche and 'media-lunas' in sidewalk cafes, and marvel at the high-energy performances of folkloric dancing.
At the weekend we set off into the mountains to the small village of Tarabuco to check out its famous Sunday market. This is very much an Andean indigenous affair, and local people trek in from miles around to sell their wares and purchase supplies. It is a very colourful occasion with stalls lining all the streets, and provides a great opportunity to sit quietly in the plaza and 'people-watch'. The women have distinctively decorated hats and intricately patterned 'falda' skirts, with the inevitable colourful 'aguayo' slung across their backs, fully loaded with all manner of goods and very often topped off by a placid baby. The men strut around in their Sunday best - finely woven ponchos and very distinctive 'montero' leather hats, which are modelled after the helmets worn by the conquistadores. After we'd had our fill of the market hustle and bustle we headed out of town and found a quiet spot for lunch with panoramic views stretching for miles over the barren highlands.
Later in the week we decided it was time to head north towards La Paz - the administrative capital of Bolivia, and reputedly the highest capital city in the world at about 13,000 ft. On our way through the altiplano town of Oruro we were slightly delayed as the riot police cleared away the remnants of burning tyres used as blockades, and secured a strategic bridge for through traffic - yes, another reminder of the presidential and prefectural election due in two days time. As anywhere, the election is providing plenty of opportunities for slanging matches between the politicians of various stripes, and the brawling between their supporters sometimes erupts into violence - but so far things seem to be relatively tranquil. Our first glimpse of La Paz was as spectacular as the guide books promised - it is rather awe-inspiring to look down from the rim at the sprawling metropolis sitting in a huge bowl a thousand feet below. Once we joined the myriad micro-buses and taxis choking the congested streets dropping steeply to the downtown centre, we just kept our fingers crossed that our brakes and transmission would hold out, and hoped that our idle would behave itself for once!