Sucre (Bolivia): one week to learn Spanish
Sucre, the white city, is world-renowned for its Spanish courses. Sucre is also home to Bolivia’s best university, which even attracts many Brazilians and Argentines.
Sucre is the Bolivian capital but this pretty city is in a cold war with the current government, which prefers La Paz. Compared to La Paz or Santa Cruz, Sucre has a country feel, quiet, traditional, very pleasant to live in and not too polluted.
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
12 hours from La Paz
We take a cama bus (El Dorado) from La Paz at 7pm and arrive in Sucre around 7am. The bus stops near the city center to unload some parcels. We take the opportunity to go out right away, because we are only 2Km away from the hostel, and the bus terminal is much further.
The receptionist of Travelers Guesthouse receives us saying that the price we see on the Internet (6$ for two) is a Booking mistake, so we have to pay double etc. The hostel isn’t very well located, so we prefer to cancel the reservation and look for another hostel.
Even if the hostels indicate “24-hour reception”, this isn’t always the case, especially on a Sunday. Thus, at 7 am, we had to walk a little to find another open hostel: Joy Ride Hostal. We are the only guests of the hotel. The receptionist speaks as fast as the Chileans, without articulating, it is very difficult to understand. I say to JB: “I told you that I needed lessons”.
The reason we are here is so that I can take a week of Spanish classes. All the language schools are closed, except for The Bolivian Spanish School which is nestled in the Colors Hostal. This hostel has a language school, a restaurant (very popular at lunchtime for its delicious menu at 25$B) and a travel agency.
The appointment is made to start the first classes the next day, then commit to another 4 days if the first classes are successful. I choose to take 4 hours of class in the morning (from 8:30 to 12:30) so I will have the afternoon free.
Sucre is a student town. On weekends, there is no one in the street, it is very nice to discover this city on Sunday, before seeing the reality of things when the cars come back to the city on Monday.
Monday, I start 4 hours of class with my teacher Mirina. The 4 hours pass very very quickly even if they are intense. To be able to sleep a little longer in the morning, I decide to come to settle down at the hostel of the school. Moreover, it allows me to have a good breakfast just before the classes.
During these 20 hours of classes spread over 5 days, my teacher talks to me a lot about Bolivian culture, the perception of Bolivians and also about the dishes to taste absolutely in Sucre.
Contrary to what I thought, the fact of dressing in a traditional way is associated with the campaign, the “old-fashioned”, which can lead to discrimination. The form and manner of wearing the famous Bolivian bowler hat says a lot about the marital situation of those who wear it. And Quechua, like the traditional dress, has become a “shame,” with young people denying that they understand Quechua, not wanting to be considered country people, or “indigenous.
She also confirms to me how difficult it is to enroll her child in a good school. So much so that schools now use a draw to choose their students. University isn’t expensive (209 bolivianos for one year), but private elementary school can cost 700 bolivianos per month. The school also requires students to buy a certain type of notebooks or pens, having partnerships with suppliers of school materials.
She also explains to me the absence of dormitories in Bolivia by the modesty of Bolivians who do not like to share a room or the bathroom.
I don’t think I’ll be able to relate all this again in Spanish, but I don’t know how during those long conversations I was able to understand the content, while we exchanged very little in English and with very little gestures.
After these 20 hours of class, I listen again to the conversations available on the MosaLingua app or on the podcasts, which I had trouble understanding a few weeks ago, and the before/after is incredible: now I understand much, much better.
Note: I have written a more complete article about my Spanish learning here if you are interested.
In just one week, we manage to establish a little routine, as if we had been living here for ages. Every morning I go to my 4-hour class. Since JB doesn’t take Spanish classes, he takes a local bus to his gym and comes back around 12:30 to have lunch with me at mercado central.
After the main meal (between 10 and 15$B), we go down to the first floor of the market to have a natural jugo (between 5$B-6$B) or a fruit salad for JB.
Then I rest while JB works on the computer, on the terrace of the hostel. I dedicate 1 to 2 hours to the exercises at home that my teacher gives me. The rest of the time, I watch the pirated DVDs I buy at the market (for 5$B), in English though 🙂 In the bedroom, we have a DVD player, it’s cool!
In the evening, as the market offers only super consistent dishes, we go rather to tourist restaurants: French restaurant, Belgian… offering dishes between 40$B and 90$B… or the restaurant belonging to the school/inn, on the first floor.
We then return to the hostel to eat fruit bought at the market at noon. The fruit sellers at the market are super commercial, they always make us taste a whole bunch of fruit so that we feel obliged to buy. You always have to negotiate with them because they tend to double the price. My favorite fruits are: super ripe guavas (I can’t find any more in Vietnam, see the picture)…
…carambolas (a little acidic on the other hand), mangoes (when it’s full season, it only costs 1$B/mango). Avocados come in all sizes, but the best ones are the smallest (5$B for 3). There are other exotic fruits such as the tumbo (whose seeds look like pomegranates) and another fruit whose inside looks like an elongated tangerine.
After 8 months of traveling, it feels good to stay one week in the same place, it feels good to JB who is very tired of our incessant traveling.
Classes are pumping me MUCH energy. After 5 days, I’m washed out, I think a week is enough. I couldn’t have lasted longer, or else I would have had to slow down. Other students (especially beginners) are more courageous and do 6 hours of classes/day for 2 weeks.
After postponing several times because of my laziness, we finally manage to visit the cemetery of Sucre, considered one of the most beautiful in South America (we’ll see if it’s as beautiful as the one in Buenos Aires). The old part is very pretty, but the modern part is like the one in La Paz: a mini building with several floors of coffins. Several dogs have taken up residence there. Moreover, when we went there, we saw a dog waiting for the opening of the cemetery at 2pm. As soon as it opened, he got up and visited the cemetery with us.
Our favorite place is Plaza 25 de Mayo where there are always people. Many Spanish teachers take their students there to practice Spanish with the locals. In the evenings, Bolivians meet there to chat, dance, and so on… The square is very pretty with many fountains and beautiful buildings surrounding the square.
On Friday evening, as every week, the school organizes a small activity for students, teachers and guests of the hostel. This week we will have homemade pizzas. We’ll all get our hands dirty, literally. It talks in English, Spanish, body language 🙂 In the end, we will have made 12 pizzas, 30 bolivianos each.
We will also have a torrential rain with hail. The sloping streets turn into torrents, it’s very impressive (and quite rare to have hail like that in the middle of summer).
We loved Sucre, it’s a nice city to live in, very pretty and lively but it’s not polluted like Potosi or La Paz. Unfortunately, it’s also the city where you can see the real face of Bolivia, where poverty is omnipresent: beggars, children drawing (very badly too) in chalk on the sidewalks hoping to earn a few pennies, people going from one stall to another at the market to collect leftover food, people waiting all day in the street just to sell a few seeds (and earn a maximum of 3 bolivianos) … It’s a heartbreaker. Keep some money to give to these people when you are in Sucre.
And to finish on a more “joyful” note, here are a few captures of the comments of a fellow countryman who opened his restaurant in Sucre. We came across it while looking for a French restaurant 🙂 If you want to be insulted, go to Le P’tit Parisien in Sucre!
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Transportation: 180$B La Paz – Sugar by night bus, cama chair with El Dorado
- Spanish course at The Bolivian Spanish School, at Colors Hostal: 40$B/hour, private class (reduced rate because I took 20h, otherwise it’s 45$B/hour)
- Hosting at Colors Hostal :
- 140$B a double room (reduced rate because I took Spanish classes at the same place, otherwise it’s 160$B)
- or 55$B a bed in a dormitory
- Food :
- At the market: 10-15$B/flat. The chorizo at “7 de lunares” is the best on the market, try it (1st floor left of the entrance)
- At tourist restaurants: between 40$B – 90$B. I highly recommend the French restaurant at the Alliance Française. The meat is delicious!
- 5$B per squeezed juice
- 8$B to 10$B the fruit salad
- Fruits :
- between 1$B and 10$B per mango (depending on the season)
- between 20cents and 1$B per guava (depending on the season)
- 5$B for 3 small lawyers. Otherwise it is between 7$B and 10$B for a huge lawyer
- Others :
- 5$B a DVD
- Laundry: 7$B/kg
- Shuttle to the airport: 8$B/person
My tips for learning Spanish in a month are here. The accent in Sucre is the best, it’s better to learn Spanish here, not in Santa Cruz where the “s” isn’t always pronounced.
If you are coming from La Paz, make sure your bus passes through Potosí (the route is better).
From Sucre you can go to Cochabamba, Potosi, Uyuni or La Paz by bus. However, the road from Sucre to Santa Cruz is horrible, it is very very bad. It is better to take the plane (for 200-300$B/person).