Friday, September 21, 2012

Sucre and Some Musings

Hello, dear friends and readers, from Sucre, Bolivia! Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia and still home to the Supreme Court, even though the seat of government is now in La Paz. And no, it does NOT mean "sugar" - Sucre was Simon Bolivar's number one general, who fought for independance from Spain throughout South America! We've been very busy here, so I apologize for not writing sooner.

The bus ride from Cochabamba was interesting, as the road was mostly unpaved, very bumpy and somewhat windy. We didn't get much sleep. However, the bus arrived earlier than expected, around 5:30 AM. We decided to stick around the bus station until the sun came up so we wouldn't be walking around a new city in the dark. As we made our way into town, we had a lot of trouble finding a room - almost every place was full! It turns out, we had arrived to the Feria de la Virgen de Guadalupe, a very large celebration that attracts Bolivians from all over! We were able to get a double room in a recommended hostel, with the promise that we could move into a more comfortable room when one opened the next day. The feria was crazy! Thousands of people marched in a giant parade throughout the center, wearing bright and sequined regional outfits, dancing and walking to various marching bands.
The marchers were all pretty organized with their dancing and outfits, so it reminded me of Samba Schools in Rio or Mardi Gras "crews" from New Orleans - groups that must practice all year for this parade.

The next day the city basically emptied out as people returned home in preparation for the week to come. Since then, we've spent the week touring different sites and museums and spending some quality time in the central park, which is quite lovely. On Monday, we went to "Cretacious Park", a site just outside of town that featured real dinosaur footprints that were found in the mountains by the workers of a nearby cement factory. The museum guide explained about the four different types of prints to see: carnivores (like the carnasaur, which looks like a smaller T-Rex) who walk on their toes, large herbivores who walk on four feet, one foot at a time, bird-like dinosaurs (like raptors!!) who had pelvises like chickens and walked by rotating their hips, and plated dinosaurs, who walked on four feet, two feet at a time. We could also see by the prints if the dinosaurs were walking or running, or if they had beeen injured. Because of plate tectonic and volcanic activity in the Andes, the prints appeared to be going up the side of a mountain, even though they were originally made on flat ground.

We have also visited the "Casa de la Libertad", the former Jesuit temple turned University where Bolivia proclaimed its independance and signed their Declaratioon of Independance, MUSEF, a ethnographic museum with an interesting collection of masks worn in various parades and festivities, and the Museo Textil Indigeno, which featured woven clothes made in various regions of Bolivia. At this last museum, we learned of a Sunday market that takes place not too far from here which we plan to visit this upcoming weekend. We even made plans to visit the home of our guide from the Museo, who will return home for the weekend, and for me to take a short class in the weaving techniques of his village from his wife and daughter. This is something I have wanted to do since Guatemala, but never found an opportunity! Sucre is warm during the day, due to its location in the valley between the two Andes ranges, but quite cold at night as it is located at 2900 meters above sea level. While lower than Lake Titicaca and La Paz, it is certainly quite high! (Though not as high as Potosí, where we head on Monday, which is 4000 meters!!!!!)


We finally bought tickets to return to the states from Rio de Janeiro after New Years. It is sort of a strange feeling to think that most, of our trip is now behind us, even though it seems there is still so much to see! Until now, we have travelled with the feeling that we have infinite time to take in all the sites, but now we realize we may have to move at a quicker pace to do everything we have planned. For those of you in Los Angeles, we return home January 4, 2013! We've gotten a little behind schedule in Bolivia, somewhat intentionally to save money, as it is very affordable here. Our general plan going forward is: Monday to Potosí, Wednesday to Uyuni to begin our tour of the salt flats there, which ends with us crossing into Chile. We will go quickly through northern Chile, spend about a week in Santiago, then have some VERY long bus trips to the south with the goal of getting to Ushaia, the southernmost city in the world, by late October. In Ushaia, we are going to try to get on a cruise to Antarctica (!) but only if we can get a good deal. Then we come up through Argentina - if we do go to Antarctica this will also be rushed, stopping mainly in Cordoba and Buenos Aires, once again, some VERY long bus rides, because we must be in Uruguay by Thanksgiving to meet our mothers who are coming to visit! At that point, we will be back on our original timetable through our departure. Wow! When I say it like that, it seems like we will be back in the states sooner than you can say "Estados Unidos de America"!

I know I haven't written any thoughts like this in a while, but being in Sucre brought up some things I have felt in many cities we've visited, but because of the feria, have been so much more "in your face", I really wanted to share. The topics are: city cleanliness, specifically public urination and littering, and begging, both young and old people. It is not uncommon in almost every country and city we've been to so far to see men urinating on the street. While some cities have public restrooms more available, the problem exists everywhere and, in my humble opinion, it's just disgusting. The stench that exists from it can be naseating, especially in very hot temperatures, and it also gives a general unsanitary feeling. Now imagine yourself in a giant feria, with lots of happy drunk people in a city with no public bathrooms. On Saturday, I saw people pissing on nearly every street corner - and not just men. You also parents holding daughters over the gutter to pee, little boys watering the sides of cars; you can't seem to avoid it. And while it might feel good to relieve yourself in that instant and return to the festivities at hand, the stickiness that lasts throughout the week takes away from everyone's enjoyment of the city. I think all large cities should have well located public bathrooms that cost a small fee to keep clean and stocked. To go into a somewhat smelly public bathroom for the 2 minutes it takes to pee is way better than walking through a smelly town all day.

When it comes to littering, it seems to me that there is somethign both cities and individuals can do to take care of their home. Cities should have trash cans, if not also recycling bins, easily accesbile throughout town, making it hard for individuals to have a reason to throw things on the street. In our experience, cities that had trash cans on every corner, like most cities in Colombia, or Leon, Nicaragua, and nearly no street litter, while cities that have very few public trash cans, such as San Salvador or here, Sucre, find the streets literally filled to the gutters with plastic bags, wrappers, bottles and cans, bits of food, and other trash. Even within this city, the main square does have trashcans and is much cleaner than other areas. By the city placing trash cans in public places, it sends the message that trash in the streets is not acceptable. It also creates jobs for sanitation workers. Individuals need to do their part, too. Today in Parque Bolivar, a teenager dropped his cup of juice from a top the "little Eiffel Tour". He didn't seem too upset about losing his drink, but when he came down from the jungle gym, didn't even bother to pick up the plastic cup and throw it in the trash can five feet away. Despite this being one of the places with ample trash cans, there was a significant garbage pile in the water fountains and grassy areas. I ended up picking up the cup and trashing it, then purelling my hands. As a tourist, it makes me not want to visit this city, even though there is a lot to love here, and if I were a local, it would make me want to move.

Lastly, begging. This is an issue I've touched on before, but mainly in regard to children. It seems that here in Sucre, there is an army of elderly beggars moving through the center. Many pick a spot on the sidewalk and hold out their hand or hat, while others walk around the park or market walking up to people asking for money. Some may try to sell you some trinket, but if you say you are not interested, they will just ask for money without a purchase. It seems that if one learns you can make more money begging than working, why wouldn't you? Or, if you begged as a child, you may have never learned another trade and only know to beg. While it seems there are a few organizations supporting children, there seems to be no safety net for these elderly people. At the same time, there are almost no beggars in the streets after dark, so they must have somewhere to go. Are their adult children sending them out to the streets by day? I have no way of knowing, but still believe the best way to help the underprivleged is through a leigitimate organization and never through handouts on the street. But what troubles me the most is the view of tourists as a free source of money. Regular citizens, walking down the streets, will see obvious tourists and just hold out their hand and ask for money, because, hey, why not? Having been poked, grabbed, and otherwise molested by several elderly beggers this week, I can say that they are frequently much more aggressive and persistent than their child counterparts, oftentimes beyond to the point where I am forced to move away (which is frustrating if I'm reading on a nice shady park bench) or say, perhaps more forcefully than I would like, to please leave me in peace (Dejeme en paz!). As I've said, I don't believe direct handouts are the way to help someone in this unfortunate situation, but I never want to be rude to anyone, even a beggar, which can be frustrating in such situations. Bolivia is not a wealthy country, but when children shine shoes after schools to make money for their families, elderly men and women sell everything from fruits and vegetabes to plastic chairs and batteries at the market, women with babies in slings sell popcorn and chips on the corners, and teenagers sell newspapers table to table in restaurants on weekends, there are so many ways to earn those few Bolivianos, that begging and giving money to beggars, just doesn't seem necessary.

These are just some of my thoughts, I'd love to hear yours! Until we write again...

1 comment:

  1. Wow I had no clue about the public urination. The photos look lovely though. As far as begging my only experience was in Mexico and the children there beg in teams. My mother was giving out pesos like candy. It's sad but they need the money to make a living I guess