Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre was a breath of fresh air after the smoggy chaos of La Paz. The city is the second capital of Bolivia, and is known as “La Ciudad Blanca” (the White City,) because just about every single building is painted bright white. It creates a wonderfully clean and peaceful aesthetic. Sucre is much more quiet and calm than other South American capitals. There are several universities in town and thus an abundance of young students in the area; however, that definitely doesn’t make it a party town like you might imagine. It’s also a popular spot for Spanish lessons, so a lot of travelers come to Sucre to chill out and study the language before continuing on the “Gringo Trail.”

We planned to stay in Sucre for two or three days before heading out to Uyuni to see the famous salt flats. It’s centered around a charming park in the main square, which is bordered by a lively ring of shops and cafes next to vintage, grandiose government buildings. We spent the first day on our hostel rooftop—it was sunny but cold, in typical high-elevation weather—and the evening wandering around town, searching for vivacious restaurants and live music.

One afternoon while we were out for a stroll, we ventured a bit further than we had gone before. We weren’t too far, but definitely outside the tourist realm. We were about to head back when Murray suddenly perked up, saying she smelled something delicious and had to have some of whatever was cooking. We followed the scent to a tiny house, which had a raised garage door and a makeshift bakery set up inside. We arrived just as a squat Bolivian woman was pulling a tray of steaming, glistening empanadas out of the oven. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Empanadas in South America can’t be THAT exciting…” But they were! True, it’s common to see these pastries for sale in food carts and restaurant display cases, but they usually look dry, crusty and unappetizing. These were a different story. We ordered five or six of the vegetarian delicacies and were blown away! Although we tried several times over the next few days, we couldn’t find the secret bakery ever again. We must have told everyone we met in Bolivia about “the best empanadas in the world” but there was no way to give directions so that others could share the experience.

I made good use of our next otherwise idle afternoon by running some much-needed errands. I had noticed a plethora of medical offices in town, so I decided to get a couple checkups. I went to the eye doctor for a vision prescription, got a teeth cleaning at the dentist and a haircut—for less than $30 total! We also found a lovely little Pilates class that night and the instructor turned out to be from Palo Alto, of all places (Murray’s home town!)

When we first arrived in Sucre, we had heard that all the bus and truck drivers had gone on strike, but as were planning to stay for a few days, we figured the whole thing would blow over before we had to worry about it. Apparently, strikes are very common in Bolivia—nobody seemed at all bothered by the situation. However, after a few days, we tried to schedule our escape and nobody would sell us bus tickets! The problem was that there is only one way in and one way out, so we couldn’t exactly come up with an alternate route. We must have gone to ten different agencies and they each gave us different accounts of what was going on and when we could leave. We never got the full story, but from what we could gather, it seemed the drivers didn’t want to pay taxes based on the cost of their cargo, but rather a flat rate… Or something like that. Anyway—we were trapped in Sucre! Everyone made it seem like the strike would be over any minute, but finally after almost a week, we had to take matters into our own hands. We teamed up with a few other travelers at our hostel and decided to take taxis to the frontier of the strike and just figure it out from there…

We got dropped off about 40 minutes outside the city, which was as far as the taxis could take us, since the road was completely blocked. There were trucks and buses parked perpendicular across the road as far as the eye could see, preventing any and all vehicular access.  We donned our big backpacks and started the trek, weaving through dozens of semis, their drivers sitting in circles under the shade, playing cards and drinking bottles of beer.

There was no telling how far the block stretched, so we just continued to hoof it, sweating profusely but still laughing at our bemusing predicament. Finally, after what seemed like forever but was only probably about an hour, we reached the end of the line! There were about 30 taxis, waiting to transport—and most likely overcharge—those who navigated the maze. Thankfully, Bolivia is super cheap so a two and a half hour taxi ride cost less than $20 and we made it safely to Potosi in time to take a bus to Uyuni..

Posted on by Erica Duncan in Bolivia

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