It’s human nature to make comparisons. Especially when you travel, it’s very easy to say “I don’t like this because it’s different from what I’m used to at home…” (well, you might not say this out loud but you might think it…), or “This is so much nicer than it is in X country.”. These comments can be positive or negative, and are a big part of learning about a place; including the social norms, culture, infrastructure, services, and all other aspects of life in a new place. It’s not necessarily bad to make these types of judgements, as long as you try to understand why things are a certain way, and get used to living in that place without complaining all of the time.
Since I have traveled quite a bit, I thought I would give you a feel for what Sucre, Bolivia (my new stomping grounds) is like compared to some other places around the world that I have visited. But keep in mind that each city has it’s own unique culture and history that shaped the way it is today.
Note: All images and videos below are mine, taken from my travels over the last 10 years, except for 3 exceptions (#2-Map of Sucre, #8-Map of Montreal, #14-Sidewalk in Mexico). For each set of pictures, the image on the left is from Sucre, Bolivia and the image on the right is another city (which is written in bold in the paragraph below it).
Here are 15 different things about Sucre that remind me of my travels:
1. Sucre is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains – like Kathmandu, Nepal. Everyday when you look out the window you’re reminded by the light brown border on the horizon (this picture was taken from the plane between La Paz and Sucre). Steve’s not used to it yet, so he always thinks that it’s cloudy for a bit, until he realize that it’s just mountains – but it’s actually always sunny (at least in winter) with beautiful blue skies.
2. Just like Florence, Italy – Sucre is really walkable. You can get almost anywhere in the downtown area by foot, no buses or taxis involved. This makes it really easy to explore new areas. I love that I can walk to the supermarket, my office, the gym, restaurants, the main plaza, and all the other important areas from my house in less than 15 minutes.
3. Similar to other colonial countries (like in Lima, Peru) – Sucre has a lot of European style architecture! It’s filled with white-washed old buildings and terracotta roofs. I especially like the overhanging covered balconies made of wood that hang over the streets in some places. Since I work at a school that specializes in restoration, I get to see a lot of this during my daily work (especially since they’re restoring the actual school building that I’m working in!).
4. During my time in Athens, Greece – I realized there was no point in trying to find a shop open in the early afternoon. Sucre also has a “siesta” period each day from around 12:30-2:30 (depending on the store). This means that most stores have “morning hours” from 8:30 to 12:30 and “afternoon hours” from 2:30 to 6:30. Even though it’s the same 8 hours, it’s a bit more spread out.
5. Just like Ottawa, Canada in summer (or Kathmandu, Nepal in winter) – my office is freezing! Although it may be warm and sunny outside, my windows face the wrong direction and the thick walls trap in the cold temperature. I will have to wear a jacket and drink lots of tea! (Update: they found me a kettle for tea and I now have a portable electric heater at my heat – a miracle).
6. Apparently the city of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile is nicknamed “San Perro” (perro is dog in Spanish), for obvious reasons. Sucre also has a lot of dogs! In fact, last week there was a dog festival at the church where they honour all the dogs in the city. Behind every house’s door you’ll fine at least 1 dog (or maybe 3). According to my new friend, there are 70,000 dogs in Sucre, and 5,000 of them live on the street. That’s a lot considering that the actual human population is only around 200,000!
7. When I was living in Dhaka, Bangladesh there was always so much construction on the streets. The funny part was that it was so random. You could leave for work with a perfectly intact street and get home to find a giant hole with some men inside and tools all around. Sucre is very similar, except there are sometimes women involved too (not just men) and they often wear what looks like a work uniform (construction jumpsuit, bright orange garbage jumpsuit, etc.) but in a dress form.
8. I remember as a kid, whenever we drove down to our cottage in the maritimes, we would stop along the way in various cities throughout Quebec and New Brunswick on our way to Nova Scotia. Either my sister or I was always in charge on the map, and neither of us ever wanted to be in the front seat going through Montreal, Canada – this is because there are so many one-way streets! This was way before GPS, and the maps weren’t all correctly labelled, which always led to lots of last-minute detours. In the main centre of Sucre, every single street is a one-way street, and they alternate between the different directions. Thankfully, I walk everywhere, so it’s not a problem for me, and makes it much easier to cross the street (since you only have to look one way – usually…).
9. Whenever I go to Europe, I fall in love with the energy in the plazas. North America doesn’t really have anything like that. People gather in malls, in restaurants, at concerts in big arenas, and in people’s houses – but not really in plazas or parks. When I was in Barcelona, Spain, I loved the way that people could come together in these areas. You’d see old couples walking hand-in-hand, young adults having a few drinks before hitting the club, teenagers making out on a park bench, and kids running around playing games. I love the thought of everyone coming together in a beautiful, central, public space. Sucre is also based around a main square, and it’s where most of the festivals are based. The young people go there to make out (since they all live with their parents) or to play Pokemon Go!
10. If you’re going to be living in a major city, you better get used to honking. When I lived in Accra, Ghana I eventually started wearing headphones everywhere I went, because all the noises and people shouting at me to buy things or take their taxi were just too much. In Sucre, there aren’t nearly as many cars. However, everyone who is driving seems very impatient. In Sucre, the lights go yellow between green and red, and between red and green. As soon as the lights turn yellow, people start honking at the cars in front. Also, any streets that don’t have a traffic light require honking when you go through (to tell the cars driving perpendicular that there’s someone coming). I would recommend trying not to live on these corners. 😛
11. Obviously the head of the Catholic church is in Rome, Italy (or the Vatican). The churches and cathedrals there are extremely beautiful (and plentiful) – if not a bit over the top. Likewise, there are lots of different churches in Sucre (the main one being the Cathedral – pictured – beside the central square). About 90% of Bolivians identify as either Christian or Catholic (though they add their own indigenous beliefs into the religion as well). Most locals will also make a sign of the cross on their chest as they pass this church walking down the sidewalk. On Sundays, you can hear a lot of bells ringing (and yes they start quite early in the morning!).
12. Since we’re in South America, everyone speaks Spanish! Unlike other countries where the business/education language is English, Spanish is a major language in it’s own right. So even in very large cities like Buenos Aires, Argentina – everyone speaks Spanish! Although I did take some lessons in Canada, I have continued my lessons here. Apparently a lot of people come to Sucre because they have great language schools. Our school is just 2 blocks away, and we have classes together for 2 hours every weekday. It’s a lot – but I’m learning! I’ve also heard that Bolivia is one of the better places to learn Spanish because they speak more clearly and slowly than many Latin American countries.
13. In Canada, everything is either inside or outside. Bedrooms are inside where it’s warm, patios are outside to enjoy the sun and the breeze (but only in summer). Kitchens are inside where it’s clean, BBQs are outside where it can be rainy, smokey, or full of bugs. You get the idea. In many other countries, this is not the case. When I went to school in Adelaide, Australia, I noticed that all the hallways at the university were outside. Although all the classrooms were indoor, you had to go outside to get from place to place. The malls there were similar (see above – the mall outside my house in Adelaide – I love those pig sculptures!). Our temporary house in Sucre when we first arrived had a similar feel. Although the bedrooms were decidedly indoors, the common spaces were less obvious. The front door from the street opened up to a courtyard, where you would do laundry. And there were no walls or doors between that area and the kitchen, living room, or stairs to the bedrooms. I think this is only possible in places without central heating (which includes all of Bolivia).
14. When I was volunteering in Cuernavaca, Mexico during university, I had to laugh at their attempts to make “accessible sidewalks”. Although they had a wheelchair symbol stamped in the pavement, the sidewalks often ended abruptly like a cliff or decreased in width to almost nothing. Although Sucre’s sidewalks are better than some cities I’ve seen, they definitely vary in quality from street to street (no, the picture is not just an optical illusion – the sidewalk gets narrower and narrower until it’s too skinny to walk on and you have to step onto the street instead). Whenever I see this, I’m reminded to be grateful of being mostly able-bodied. I do not envy people with strollers, rolling suitcases, wheelchairs, or other reasons they may need a wide, even sidewalk.
15. Before heading to see Machu Picchu, you must stop in Cusco, Peru. Since I have arrived in Sucre, I’ve noticed that there are lots of dancing groups here as well. They get together in elaborate costumes for big festivals, and perform beautiful, traditional dancing in the major squares. There’s a holiday for the Virgin of Guadeloupe coming up in a few weeks, and apparently they’ve been practicing for months since they need to dance towards the main cathedral for 6 hours straight!
BONUS: The internet in Sucre, Bolivia is like the internet of 1995 – mostly slow, and extremely sporadic! It reminds me of my 10 year old self, in the basement of my house in Ottawa on our family desktop computer, playing Neopets and getting super upset when my mom picked up the phone to make a call and cut the connection. So frustrating. Similarly, I often try to do all my internet tasks for the day at the beginning of my work day to ensure I can get them done – in case the internet doesn’t work later on in the day.
Every time I travel I experience a new combination of factors that make a city what it is to both locals, travelers, and expats alike. I hope this blog gave you a bit of insight into what it’s like to live in Sucre, Bolivia! Perhaps you’ll even come visit for yourself one day 🙂