April 9-16, 2017
After the overnight bus, we arrived in Cusco early and tired. We could eat breakfast at our hostel, but not check in until noon. So we killed time at one of Cusco’s expensive cafes and the main square. At this point I had Cusco pegged as another shithole with overpriced tourist facilities. Later, having spent a bit more time in the city and being caught up on sleep, I got to quite like the town.
It should come as no surprise that my opinion of a place is severely colored by how tired I am. Since travelling is tiring, there’s a bit of a constant back and forth between seeing a lot but being tired so less happy, and not seeing much but being well rested so happy and excited about everything. You’re constantly trying to find a balance between seeing new things, and getting rested enough so you can see new things. Our time in Sucre felt busy, but not so busy that we didn’t manage to recharge a little.
In any case, Sucre has a nice downtown, reminiscent of Arequipa. It’s filled with historical buildings, among them the obligatory old cathedral as well as the building where Bolivia’s declaration of independence was signed. This center is surrounded with nice restaurants, hostels, and everything else a tourist or well-off Bolviano might want. This made it a very pleasant place to recharge, but also an easy place to go over our food budget.
Our main reason for coming to Sucre was that we had signed up for a week of Spanish classes at the Continental Spanish School. The school had arranged a homestay for us with a family who did not speak any English, which provided for additional practice. While taking classes, our day started with breakfast with the family, then we’d walk to school and take 4 hours of classes, then we’d walk back “home” to have lunch with the family, and then we’d do a bit of homework.
The school also organized some activities. One night we joined teachers and students to cook Pique Macho, a traditional spicy dish with beef, sausage, onions, bell peppers, french fries, hard-boiled eggs, and very spicy peppers. Another night we joined some people to play wallyball, which is indoor volleyball where the walls are in (mostly). It was nice to get some exercise. The walking we’d done doesn’t quite count. After all that Spanish practice we were generally pretty wiped out, so we didn’t really see any sights during this time.
We enjoyed our time with the family, which consisted of grandma Martha, mother Shirley, and daughter Maria. They fed us tasty food, and it was good to talk to regular people as well as get a feel for what it’s really like to live in Sucre. It was Holy Week, and early on Good Friday we joined Shirley and Maria in their walk past the 12 stations of the cross that are permanently set up on a hill on the edge of the old center. It was interesting to watch the crowds, and get a feel for what the holiday means to people. When asked what happens for Easter in the US we couldn’t come up with much.
Even with all that, I had thought that Holy Week would have a bigger impact on the city. Palm Sunday was mostly visible in the crowds of people in front of churches selling crafts made out of palm leaves. Then nothing was really different until Thursday, when there were a number of parades. On Good Friday everybody had the day off, which meant our classes skipped that day and we had a day on Saturday instead. (It doesn’t feel like it counts like a day off if you have to work the next day.) Easter Sunday most sights were closed, but we never really had a problem finding an open restaurant or anything similar.
Historical museums were closed on Easter Sunday, and while pondering what to do we saw the Cretaceous Park bus nearby. So we took it and got to see the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints. They were discovered at a cement plant, through pure luck. The cement company had been strip mining until they hit a layer with magnesium oxide in it, which is no good for making cement. So they stopped digging, and slowly the oxide weathered away, exposing below it a layer of limestone with the dinosaur footprints clear as day.
The next day we left Cusco for a trek in the Maragua Crater area.