Bolivia, country of whites: Sucré

I arrived in Bolivia feeling empty. I’d just spent over a month in Patagonia, and I had a head full of memories of some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes discovered with some incredible friends. I got off the plane, got into a cab, rolled down the window and… really felt like I didn’t want to be there.

Then I got to walking around Santa Cruz and really did not want to be there. And this is all I have to say about Santa Cruz.

I dragged my sorry ass to Sucré, hoping it would lift my spirits a bit and that I could get some peace and quiet. Spoiler alert: it worked.

Sucré is quaint in a south-american kind of way. It’s got ancient churches at every street corner, excruciatingly steep hills that lead through narrow alleyways to splendid viewpoints (and the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen, save the Père Lachaise in Paris), wonderful micros packed full with people of all classes trying to get across town, and a bustling market full of exceptional characters. You’ve got the tiny old ladys at behind huge piles of vegetables giving you a little extra coriander because you can speak Spanish; the teen coming up to her mum’s butcher’s stall to charge her smartphone; the stage-like fruit juice stalls where women peer from over their tall counters to pass you wobbly glasses of fresh mango and passion fruit juice…

One other quirk: Sucré has this mini Eiffel Tower thing… that was actually built by Gustave Eiffel! It is covered in graffiti and tape, though, and seemed to mostly be a hangout spot for youth to date/smoke pot.

Above, a giant statue of Simón Bolívar’s head in Sucré’s Casa de la Libertad museum. For the record, Bolivar was a Venezuelian who contributed to getting a lot of South America their independence from Spanish rule. Bolivia was named after him (although he said it should’ve been named after Juana Azurduy de Padilla, a guerilla leader). He also managed to find some free time to be president of Gran Colombia, Peru and Venezuela – twice.

At one point, I was waiting for a friend in the main square when two teenagers came up to me. They were doing a school project and asked me question after question regarding who I was, my experiences travelling and my impression of Bolivia. Lastly, they asked me to describe Sucré in one word.

‘Relaxing,’ I said.

I saw them half smile, half sigh. I guess that’s what everyone says about Sucré – but there’s a good reason for that. In between the hectic jeep days in the Salar de Uyuni, the altitude sickness of La Paz and the more adventure-filled Amazonia (or so I hear; I passed on that), Sucré is a little oasis of slow living in Bolivia.

Hiking in Torres del Paine

Most people go to Patagonia for one thing: Torres del Paine. The chilean national park, named after its three most famous peaks, is often recognised as one of the most beautiful natural places in the world… And rightly so, too.

It was created as a national park in 1959, but originally only around the area of Lake Grey. It was renamed Torres del Paine National Park two years later, but was then much smaller than its current almost 230,000 sq km – overtime, more and more land was added into the national park to protect it from the damage that livestock farming (what it was used to until then) was doing to its ecosystem.

Nowadays, it’s a very popular destination for hikers from the world over.

The main trekking route in Torres is called the W Walk, for the trail’s shape that hits all the main spots: Lake Grey, the French Valley, Los Cuernos, and the park’s jewels… the three towers.

It’s a five-day trek, but I chose to only walk two of them – we started from the Las Torres campsite, and after having seen the towers on the first day, I couldn’t imagine anything would top them. The hike itself was not too difficult. After the volcano climb and the hike to Fitz Roy, everything felt easy and possible. It’s well indicated, with quite a lot of covered forest areas that allow for rest from the elements (get ready for some rain), and a lot of sources to stock up on drinking water on the way. And it’s frankly never too steep; the main difficulty is getting over some bigger boulders at the end as they’re sneaky on the ankle.

For the rest, it’s all typically Patagonian. Blues, greens and whites; strong winds and gushing water rumbling down mountains. I’ve got to the point with writing about Patagonia where I’m lost for words that feel exact and at the same time new – reading through my previous posts, I’ve said all there is to say about the colours, elements and beauty of Patagonia. But unlike the repetition in my words, the landscapes of Patagonia never seem less than wild and exciting and novel. There is no getting tired of your thighs aching as you struggle up a narrow trail to get to the viewpoint at the top of a hill. There is no getting over the sound of streams through the forest on a muddy national-park walk. There is no stopping that giggly yet worried feeling as you lie in your tent at night, wondering if the deafening wind is going to blow it off. It’s a constantly overwhelming land, in both the best and worst ways.

But mostly the best.

I hope you enjoyed these small accounts of my time in Patagonia as much as I enjoyed discovering the region. In the next post… we’re headed north!