Bolivian Basics

So far, one of the things I like best about Bolivia, and Sucre in particular, is the amount of pride that Bolivianos take in their country and their heritage, from the folkloric days, to their Spanish roots, but especially in their independence from Spain in August of 1825. More important to Sucre than their official Independence Day in August is el 25 de mayo (1809), the day on which their war for independence began.

In one week here, it is apparent that Bolivia as a whole is rich with history, and that even today its people are proud of their roots. Beyond that, each region retains its own food, drink, and dance, making my experience here in Sucre feel that much more personal. Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of going to a folkloric dance show with my host parents. It may sound like a snooze fest, but I think that show alone is worth a stop in Sucre for anybody considering the trip. Dazzling doesn’t even begin to describe it. The show rotates between 3 different programs, each consisting of 10-11 different dances, each from a different region of Bolivia, with distinctive clothing, rhythms, and music, rendering the struggles and triumphs of each era in such vivid detail, it felt like magic. My pictures here do it no justice, because you can’t see the purpose with which the dancers move, nor can you tell that each costume is made by hand, and takes approximately 6 month to make… You figure 14 dancers, 10 costumes per dancer x 6 month per costume… The show is expensive by Bolivian standards, but worth every penny, or “Vale la pena” as they say here. On one stage, all of Bolivia, in a single night. Magnificent.

In my previous post, I mentioned that La Paz is not to be confused as the capital, and that remains a point to be driven home while discussing the basics of Sucre. In my first 2 days of school and homestay, I learned several important things, the capital feud being one of them. However, my favorite tidbits come from the daily goings-on and little things that I notice. I like it here because like almost all Latin cultures, the people are warm and congenial. They walk a little slower, and drive a little slower, honking lightly at intersection without lights as to avoid collisions. They like to laugh. My Spanish teacher must rank among the best: she is patient but not too lenient – she does not hesitate to correct my floundering Spanish language skills. She is proud of her country, but even more so of her city. My very first class consisted of a tour of some of the main attractions of the city, many of which are now museums that I have to go back to later, including The Casa de la Independencia- the building where the revolutionaries finally signed their declaration of Independence, after more than 20 years of fighting. In a city with relatively few gringos, I usually exchange a knowing glance with those that I pass on the street. We smile and say, “Oh hi, you too?”

I begin my days here rather early, waking up around 7 on most days because the rest of the family is alive and moving, Pablo and Adriana are ready to play, and a light breakfast of black tea and Bolivian bread is set up on the table. Abuelita shuffles down the stairs independently, moving slowly, but always with a purpose. Every now and then we exchange a few words, but in truth I can’t really understand her, so we smile a lot and say thank you. Lunch is served around 1 or so, and it is absolutely the most important meal of the day, always served in two courses – first soup, then a traditional bolivian dish, such as Picante de Pollo. Picante de pollo is generally very easy, as long as you have the main ingredient – Polvo de Aji, a powdered form of the moderately-but-not-too-spicy Aji chile pepper, a flavor staple of the Sucre region. More to come on the food here. 2 days in, I was already greeted with cries of excitement and 2 big hugs from my host siblings. Adriana is so gentle with Perla, calling her “Hermosa” as a pet name. Pablo is a robust 4 year old, always getting into trouble and smiling his way out of it.

Quechua culture is also a part of life here, though it is dying out with the current generation. In certain settings has been mixed with Spanish in language. The Mercado Central is a vibrant  place where a person can find almost anything, from pens and notebooks to cow faces – yes, faces (from the cheeks down)- because not only is the tongue edible, but the nose can be used to make a soup for new mothers who are having difficulty producing milk for their newborns… Who knew? One of the most important traditions of the Mercado is the use of the Quechua word “casero/a” a greeting or acknowledgement between vendor and customer. When you want to purchase or sample something, before beginning the transaction, you must say, “Hola casera,” and the vendor will respond with the same. Then you can begin your purchase. The other important part of market transactions is the Yapa – a gift from the merchant to the buyer. For example, when you purchase a kilo of chicken (about $2.50 USD- that’s about a dollar per pound), the casera throws in an extra piece or two as is customary. Same goes for the fresh juices at the market, which run about 7 bolivianos or $1 USD for a glass + a half glass Yapa when you finish the first. My other favorite: Rather than saying “giving birth,” they use the phrase “Dar la luz,” or literally, “To give light.” What a poetic way to regard such a profound event.

That’s all for now. You should come visit Sucre ASAP.



  1. This place sounds awesome! I had never given Bolivia a thought before this. These posts make me miss you more lady, but I am so glad and so proud of you doing this!!

  2. I love reading about ur travels!! Can’t wait to hear what’s coming next 🙂 I must live vicariously thru u since I’m poor and therefore can’t travel lol

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