Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Bolivia - Sucre

Our next stop was Sucre, another white colonial city.  Our plan was to stay a while and do some volunteer work while working on our Spanish, but unfortunately it didn't really work out because we arrived in time for Halloween and the 'Day of the Dead' which are huge events here, and the Monday and Tuesday after Halloween were public holidays so it was difficult to arrange anything. Plus, Brian was sick for a few days so he had to stay in bed.  Luckily for us, it was a really nice town and we had a lovely, strangely Japanese style hostel to stay in, so it wasn't the worst place to be sick.
The central market was one of the best ones yet.
This is a strange fruit called a chirimoya that we tasted in a juice; it wasn't very nice.
Bags of potatoes, they have so many different types of potatoes here.
Saltenas are probably the one thing we've eaten most in Bolivia. They're sold by street vendors in the morning, and come with different fillings but this one is the most common.  It's like a Cornish pasty that's filled with a spicy chicken stew.
We've also been availing of the fresh orange juice that is sold on the streets everywhere in Bolivia.
We found a great Dutch bar/restaurant that had a really amazing bar snack called bitterballen, fried meatballs served with mustard. Bit strange to go to a Dutch bar in Bolivia.
 The bus station...
The weekend of Halloween was a big event in Bolivia and 'All Souls Day' on the 1st and 'The day of the Dead' on the 2nd are public holidays. For Halloween there was a big parade and fireworks, but we didn't go out because Brian was sick.  The day of the dead seemed to be an even bigger deal though and on the Monday and Tuesday people went to the graves of their dead family members bringing food and drink. They decorate the grave and have a meal leaving a place setting for the dead believing that they come to join them for the party on this day. Bread babies, other sweets and types of traditional bread are baked and left at the grave.  While Brian was sick in bed I went for a walk around the cemetery to have a look.  There were road blocks and street stalls everywhere.  Some families even had music with people playing guitars beside the graves while rows of old women prayed aloud along the graveyard paths.  Apparently musicians are often hired for the event, as are children, to say a few prayers as some people believe that God listens more to the prayers of a child.

I didn't witness this but I read that prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the dead (who at the time were embalmed) were taken out of their tombs. Friends and family members would dance with them, walk them around the cemetery, eat a meal with them and then put them back in their tombs. When the Spanish arrived they outlawed this ritual. So today, a family member often dresses up to look like a dead person and appears at the family reunion at the grave. He or she takes part in the feast that has been prepared and asks how the family has been over the past year. Sometimes the 'dead' person gives advice to the children. When the day ends, the children chase the person in the costume out of the cemetery just to be sure the soul of the real dead person doesn’t give in to the temptation of inhabiting their body in order to remain among the living. 

These are the 'tantawawas' or bread babies that I bought in the market.
Poor Brian...
 More from the market...
We'd arranged some Spanish classes on three days over the weekend, but because of the holidays the Spanish school was closed so we had to go to our teacher's house instead.  It was very strange.  Brian came the first day but after that he was too sick so I had to go alone. Our teacher lived in a block of flats that were arranged around a courtyard.  She rented two tiny rooms that weren't connected but opened on to the courtyard.  One was a kitchen, with a cooker, a fridge and a table and the other room was a really small bedroom with a single bed that she shared with her daughter.  We hardly learned any Spanish because our teacher, who was really nice, (and absolutely tiny compared to me and Brian - like most people here) was also very scatty and kept walking in and out of the room trying to look after her daughter and chatting to people in the courtyard.  The next day I went alone, and she told me all about the father of her daughter who had died three years earlier.  It was an awful accident.  The three of them were going to visit her sister, and were crossing a busy road on a bridge that was under construction, a bit of the bridge crumbled beneath him and he fell to the ground holding on to the little girl.  He hit his head and died but Laura, the little baby was fine.  He was only 30 at the time.  She then went onto tell me all about how difficult her life was now and how she struggled to get work and pay the rent and she was so sad.  We were only paying 3euro an hour each for lessons and I was suspicious about the cut the language school were taking from that. She explained that the next day because of the day of the dead she'd have to travel 12 hours on a bus to visit her partner's graveside, so we'd have to re-arrange the class times but she also invited us to a traditional memorial celebration in her house beforehand.  When I arrived the next day I saw that she had set up a kind of shrine in her kitchen, that had a picture of her boyfriend, surrounded by candles, flowers, traditional breads and lots of his favourite things, including cigarettes, coca leaves, cans of different drinks that were lined up and opened, she had also made his favourite dinner and had a dish of that there.  Because she knew I was a Catholic too she asked me to pray for him, so we stood there in silence for ages, while other people came in and joined us for a while, and then I was rewarded with a plate of his favourite food and a bag of bread.  Because we couldn't do the lesson in the kitchen we went into a sitting room across the courtyard that belonged to the owner.  This room also had a shrine but this one wasn't as elaborate and was for a whole list of people, but I managed to get a picture of it because I was left alone here for ages while she brought people into the kitchen to pray.
After about half an hour of a lesson she asked if we could finish an hour early because she had to pack, I was happy just to leave because it felt a bit awkward even though she was really nice and she had basically told me her whole life story (in Spanish though), but she said that we should practice Spanish in her room while she packed.  So she gave me a glass of coke and I sat on her bed while she packed to a soundtrack of Enrique Iglesias songs that reminded her of her boyfriend, which was even more awkward, so when I finished the coke I excused myself to give her more time to get ready.  The little present I gave her seemed insignificant but it's hard to know what to do in these situations.
There were some really nice parks but when we sat in the main one there were loads of little children begging, and shoe shine boys wanting to clean your flip flops. Two little girls even begged for the glasses of orange juice we were drinking.

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