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Archive for the ‘Sucre’ Category

Sucre-Potosi rally

La Dolce Vita has been a peaceful spot for most of our stay; our room is off the street and the other guests have been quiet on the whole.

However, last night we were woken up at around 11.30pm by chatting and laughter in the courtyard outside our door, and we waited for our fellow guests to make their way to their room. Except the noise continued, and we could hear an American couple talking to Jacqueline, the owner, about all manner of things Bolivian. Thirty, forty minutes later, still chatting away (i.e. well after midnight) sitting at a table just a few feet from our door. So I went out and suggested that they might like to find another place to continue their conversation (e.g. the TV lounge or Jacqueline’s office). We’ve encountered thoughtlessly noisy guests before, but we thought the owner would know better…

It did go quiet after that (though they seemed more surprised than apologetic) but it took a while to wind down enough to get some sleep.

Up early this morning to get hot water for showers and to make a prompt start with the packing. We were so efficient we were done by 9am (we had to vacate the room by 11am) and I settled up and the owners called various taxi firms to get a good price for taking us to Potosi. They expected 35 or 40 Bolivianos per person, but most firms quoted 50 Bs today; almost all their cabs are in Potosi because of Todos Santos. Sounded more like a holiday overtime supplement to me.

We chose the one company that said 40 Bs, but they later phoned back to change this to 50 Bs; we settled on 45 Bs in the end. The young driver loaded our bags into the boot, we shook hands with Olivier and Jacqueline (who issued a half-apology as we left) and we set off on our two-and-a-half hour taxi ride.

Now the Lonely Planet guidebook says of this taxi journey ‘expect speed’. And we had some good rally driving along the winding, mountainous road connecting the two cities, dodging unrepaired sections of tarmac and rock-falls in our way. As a rule of thumb, we drove at twice the indicated speed limit; a 35km/h bend was taken at 80km/h, and 45km/h through a village meant 100km/h.

But this was a far safer drive than our La Paz taxi experiences; he didn’t overtake unless there was sufficient visibility and we never felt in danger. But as any fule kno, centripetal force = mv²/r so double the speed causes four times the cornering forces; we clung on to any protuberances the car had to offer, in the absence of rear seat belts. (We moved Hannah to the front seat because she found the bends a bit much.)

We reached Potosi and our hotel just before 12.30pm and were shown up to out apartment; once again, very swish and far beyond what we could afford in Europe. In urgent need of lunch, we soon went for a walk to find a snack. We struggled up the hill towards the centre of town (having just gained 1400m of altitude in a couple of hours), gave a set-menu establishment a miss (not quite sure what we’d be getting) and eventually found a roast chicken place. Half a chicken, two portions of chips, a medium bottle of water and one of Coke – all for £2.50.

We then returned via the central market where we bought some fruit from stalls interspersed among slabs of meat, liver, trotters, brains, etc. (I couldn’t even identify all the offal on offer). A lot of kindly interest in the girls (not many blonde youngsters make it this far down the Gringo Trail, I suppose).

Back in our apartment, the girls watched TV in their room (we don’t get a TV in our room…) while I got the laptop connected to the Internet (hurrah!) and Kirsten explored the street market just down the road from us.

She returned with locally-made marshmallows and biscuits for tea, as well as a few slices of fresh pineapple. Then more rest and relaxation (aka altitude acclimatisation) before suppertime.

We hoped to eat downstairs in the hotel restaurant but it didn’t open until 7pm; we therefore ventured out into the next-door market to buy a few ingredients (since it appears that Potosi – with 150,000 inhabitants – has no supermarket).

But they don’t need a supermarket when they have this street mega-market selling everything from bras, kitchen utensils, remote controls to bulk pasta, dairy produce and chicken feet (all unrefrigerated). It is quite simply the biggest market I have ever seen, extending at least a good half mile from our hotel, as well as spilling up every side street around. Not the plump luscious produce of the Amish county market we visited, but a profusion of every necessity, however mundane (loo paper, scouring pads, coat hangers). Such a huge market that we got lost on the way back, turning off three streets  too early…

We returned with a ‘libra’ of angel-hair pasta (no metric nonsense here), measured out with a pan and balancing weights, a tub of margarine (street temperature) and a plastic-wrapped cylinder of mortadella (ditto). I overcooked the pasta and slightly burned the meat, but the apple and peach for dessert was tasty. We now hope that everywhere won’t shut down for the next two days…

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Milk rage

This has been a bit of an uneventful week in Sucre, and we weren’t expecting it to be thus. This may be no bad thing, having time where we are at a bit of a loose end, but we are surprised at how few activities or attractions there are for families with young children. After the high-speed Dino-tour of Tuesday, we have been mooching around town or staying put in our Hostal. The girls have at least enjoyed spending afternoons with Thelma, dressing up mainly.

I have at last started to get my geography straight in Sucre; it’s a square grid of white sugar-cube buildings and on a few occasions I got my bearings wrong by 90 or 180 degrees. A few landmarks such as the main square or the arches just this side of it, but beyond the centre it’s harder to keep track of which row or column you’re on. (Talking of rows or columns, the mathematician in me came out the other day with the weird erroneous plural of ‘waitress’ as ‘waitrices’, along the lines of ‘matrices’ – I suppose one deals with a table of numbers and the other deals with a number of tables…)

Anyway, we began the day with breakfast upstairs and were surprised to find that our second bag of milk had only lasted us two mornings instead of three. (Milk is purchased in polythene bags and then stored in special plastic jugs, here labelled by room.) And there was only one other container of milk in the fridge, despite most of the ten rooms here being occupied. It’s the nightmare of the shared kitchen – no-one taking responsibility for keeping the place clean, lots of ‘borrowing’ items from the fridge. No doubt quite a few people thought we wouldn’t miss a smidgen of milk for a cup of coffee, but the smidgens added up to over four bowls-ful and we then had to buy a whole new pack just for our final morning tomorrow.

After breakfast I returned to yesterday’s stationery shop to buy some scissors (tijeras), a glue stick (pegamento – and then point to which one) and a thick black pen (we progressed from a boligrafo to a marcador but when I requested one which was ‘menos ancho’ – less wide – they seemed to find this highly amusing; perhaps it’s never phrased this way in Castellano).

Anyway, the point of these purchases was to make some flash cards for Hannah (and then Kirsten made some for Ellen as well). Multiplication tables from 1×1 to 10×10 with answers on the back, so Hannah can learn the ones she doesn’t know without having to get things wrong in front of me. All very colourful, with many rainbow hues – apart from the not-so-practical black sheet of card (could be useful for Hallowe’en spiders and bats, I suppose).

Baguette for lunch, then out to the children’s park again, with more table football and more ice cream (it was another hot and sunny day).

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Panorama

As we walked there, we passed crowds of children coming home from school (around 1.00-1.30pm), including many girls carrying large grey plastic hula hoops; we’ve seen them on previous days, too. Is this the chief form of exercise at this particular school? And why do they take them into and back from school? Do they have to practise at home as well?

We also passed pavement shoe-menders, mobile phone repair shops with a man with a soldering iron and a magnifying glass; this is a non-throwaway culture, and for every broken item there is a little place where someone will attempt to fix it for you. I am impressed at how there is no mystique about car engines, electronics, etc.; plenty of people are prepared to get stuck in, take things to bits and get them working again.

However, there is blatant disregard for copyright of images; the park had numerous unauthorised drawings of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snoopy and so on to brighten the carousels. This even goes for snacks on sale in supermarkets.

Back to La Dolce Vita for more dressing up (and the girls had fun, too) – Thelma was going to a Hallowe’en party (they seem to start early here) and Ellen tried on her witch outfit. Jacqueline kindly brought us four iced pumpkin cup-cakes – delicious!
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A bit of flash-card numeracy (as opposed to gun-boat diplomacy) with the girls, then TV (Spanish Disney Channel) before going out for our last Sucre supper at Locot’s. Good food, but a terrible wi-fi internet connection for some reason – not adequate for uploading photos or our blog.

Tomorrow we go back up to 4000m; this may take a bit of adjustment after nearly a week at 2700m. An apartment in a posh hotel in Potosi for three nights, then a cheap hostel for one night in Uyuni followed by a two-night salt flats tour which should bring us out in northern Chile (San Pedro de Atacama) where we’ll stay for about a week. Internet access will be even more sporadic, I expect, so please bear with us…

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New shoes

Yet another blue sky and again we decided to have breakfast upstairs outside the kitchen. When the sun is out, it is very hot and straight after breakfast I had to escape downstairs to find some shade and cool air.

First job of the day was collecting yesterday’s washing which I was quite happy to do, while Tim and the girls stayed at home to stick the latest pile of entrance tickets and leaflets into their scrapbooks.

Mid-morning we ventured out to visit a local museum free of charge. It housed a collection of masks, which was pretty similar to the collection we saw in La Paz, two series of very beautiful nature photos (one dedicated to vicunas) and some explanatory displays regarding village life back in the seventies. The girls liked the nature photos best of all.

After our cultural activity of the day we strolled down to the Plaza de 25 Mayo, found a bench in the shade and watched the world go by. Although it was quite busy we only got “bothered” twice by local peasants selling multi-coloured ribbons and waistbands.

We decided to try out a different cafe for lunch and popped into “Joyride”, which seems to be yet another Dutch run eating place. We opted for ham sandwich (E), salami sandwich (H) and a superpanini for Tim and me to share, all washed down with a jug of fresh lemonade. We took our time eating and digesting our lunch and checked on emails and locally guided tours. The latter seems to be quite difficult as most tours are laid on for the adventurous type of traveller. If you’re into paragliding, serious hiking, horsebackriding or mountainbiking you’re spoilt for choice, but for families there isn’t much on offer. We enquired at Joyride for the easiest walk which would take around 2-3 hours and would be quite expensive for all four of us …

We returned to La Dolce Vita for our usual siesta and to recharge our batteries. Come teatime we headed out again to visit a cafe around the corner, except it was closed (it had been open all week!). We carried on and went in search for trainers for Ellen to replace her old ones and found a pink flashing pair for under £10 – not bad.
We saw several cafes and eating places selling cakes but we weren’t sure how long those cakes had been out for and didn’t really want to take any risks so we all settled for chocolate instead – the girls each chose another chocolate lollipop and Tim & I opted for a 200gr bag of mixed chocolates (they tasted a lot better than the chocolate bars we bought earlier this week).
On our way back we stopped at a stationery shop to buy card so Tim could make some flash cards for Hannah’s times tables and a small pack of coloured pencils to replace the girls mostly broken set.

The girls had another play with Thelma, but just before supper Ellen came down with a headache. She decided to have a lie-down and skip our pasta supper altogether, hopefully she’ll be able to simply sleep it off and feel a lot better in the morning.

While I started typing this entry for our blog, Tim offered to pick up our second lot of washing and pop into an internet place to check on emails and look into accommodation for Uyuni. We are planning to only stay there for one night, but apparently a lot of places are pretty expensive so we’ll need a little more research.

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The convention of spelling ‘John’ as ‘Jhon’. This goes for local first names and extends to menus where you see ‘Jhonny Walker’, etc.

There is a huge market for sign-writers/painters. So many buildings display neatly-painted full-colour logos for mobile phone companies, soft drinks, etc., where in Europe a printed poster would do the job. I suppose the painted versions are longer-lasting and cheaper.

The concept of the ‘anticretico’ whereby you can live in a property rent-free. Well, you pay a large sum of money to the landlord, entitling you to stay in the property for a fixed term, e.g. one year, at the end of which you get all your money back! The landlord gets to keep any interest on the money, however. The catch is that many Bolivians can’t afford the sum required, so they have to borrow it from the bank and pay interest on the loan. Currently it might be about 4000 Bolivianos for a basic property, and the minimum monthly wage is 570 Bs (that’s a little under £2 a day).

The way that you even get announcements in English as well as Spanish on an internal Bolivian flight; I feel a slight embarrassment that they go to all that trouble – surely it’s our responsibility to learn the local language.

On a different tack, the way in which our journey is turning ‘there’ into ‘here’. If you plot where we have travelled on a globe, the locations seem remote and exotic. And yet the Amazon jungle or the Bolivian altiplano is now just as ‘here’ as anywhere else.

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Wash day

Waking up to yet another blue sky and a breakfast of cereal and fresh pineapple in the sunshine.

We headed down to the “lavanderia” and dropped off our 1.5kg of washing and returned to “Florin” to have a morning coffee and check our emails. Still no news from either hotel in Potosi, so we noted down phone numbers instead and when back at La Dolce Vita, I asked Jacqueline if she would phone the hotel on our behalf. She picked up the phone straightaway and had no problem at all booking our hotel accommodation. So why did the hotel not answer our email? Never mind, we seem to have a reservation, and Jacqueline even offered to phone the hotel again on the day we leave here to make absolutely sure.

We had another fresh baguette (it was still very warm when we bought it) for lunch, followed by a 3-hour siesta when Tim & I read our books or filled in crosswords and the girls had another play session with Thelma when they did lots of dressing up.

Bolivian web design.
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We walked up to the Mirador viewpoint at the northern end of Sucre and had a great view over the town.
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We walked down a few steps to the cafe from which we could continue to enjoy the view. The girls each chose a banana/orange/strawberry fruit juice and a pancake with chocolate. Hannah’s first choice of chocolate cake had, to her disappointment, already sold out but she was cheered up by the doggy picture that was made out of the pancake and chocolate sauce – and very tasty it was too.
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Whilst sitting outside enjoying the view, we noticed the sky turning darker and the girls were getting chilly in their summer dresses and thin cardigans. We returned to our accommodation to put on warmer clothes and for the girls to have another play before going back to “Florin” for supper.

The road down from the Mirador.
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As we were about to go out, the sky had turned even darker and we noticed a few raindrops and lightning. We risked leaving without our raincoats and fortunately didn’t get wet.

At the cafe the girls shared a ham sandwich and a portion of chips, while Tim & I shared a chicken balti and chicken with peach and rice. We had hoped to check out a few more hotels (Uyuni) and put on some photos, but in the end we only had enough time for both girls to send an email to some of their friends and by then it was getting late and the girls were both quite tired.

Back home, the girls got ready for bed and we continued with the blog.

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Cretaceous Park

This morning the weather looked more promising; the odd warming glimpse of sun through the clouds as we ate our cereal outside the upstairs kitchen. So we made a snap decision to go and see the dinosaurs.

We quickly gathered fleeces, sunhats, water bottles and cameras and walked to the main square. According to our free map, a shuttle service operates from just in front of the cathedral three times a day, with the first trip leaving at 9.30am. We got there with time to spare and spotted the blue safari bus (converted flat-bed truck) with a dinosaur head on the front. A man approached us about tickets and said that it would cost 50 Bolivianos each just for the return trip, plus 30 Bs entrance fee once we got there. A bit steep (un poco empinado), we thought, and we stood there doubtfully until a lady with a book of tickets gave us a price of 15 Bs for us and half price for the girls. I was expecting a price around 10 Bs, so this was close enough and we agreed. Now we are still not sure whether we misheard ‘fifteen’ as ‘fifty’ (especially when they stress the first syllable for both) or whether he was trying to ‘tirar un rapido uno’.

We rattled out through the suburbs of Sucre, through what seemed to be an endless succession of car repair workshops, tyre fitters, sellers of ‘niples’, oil change stations. This was Fancesa (which sounds like a Frenchwoman with no ‘r’s), and at the far end we came to the heavy industry bit where they make cement or something. We turned in here and drove up a gravel track to Parque Cretacico (and of course they used the Jurassic Park font for their logo).
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We were given one hour to tour the site and then return to the bus – we had assumed we could stay longer, but perhaps there is insufficient space on the next bus to permit this option (our bus was comfortably full). So we bought our tickets, plus a ‘camera permit’, and strode off – only to be called back by a guide for our English-speaking group. He showed us a photo of the rock face with dinosaur footprints in order to help us locate them easily when we saw the real thing; three herbivores and one carnivore are represented; Ankylosaurus, Titanosaurus, a bird-like dinosaur and a member of the same family as Tyrannosaurus Rex (couldn’t get the exact name because of our guide’s thick accent). They were particularly proud of the Ankylosaurus footprints because they were discovered here in Sucre before anywhere else in south America.

Then out to see the limestone wall itself; 1500m long and over 100m high. Although horizontal when the tracks were formed, the rock has since been lifted to its current near-vertical position. Visitors are no longer allowed to go up close, officially for safety reasons (and there was a large rock fall in the central section) but it looked as if they were still quarrying stone all along the base of the face (i.e. tourists would get in the way). So we were confined to a viewing gallery 250m away, and I did my best with the video zoom to get a reasonable picture of the footprints (the girls shared our binoculars).
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This final close-up is from a book the guide showed us; it gives a clearer indication of scale.
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Also outside were various life-sized fibreglass reconstructions of some of the dinosaurs that lived in this area. The most impressive was the tree-height Titanosaurus that dominates the site; almost impossible to get it all in the camera frame. The girls standing next to its legs give some idea of scale.
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Titanosaur

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We had a little bit of spare time at the end of the tour; a few more photos and a look at some parts of the park not included in the tour. But no time to sit down for a drink or have a proper play in the children’s area. So back on the bus and rattle back to Sucre.

It was nearing lunchtime by now so we tried to find a Salteneria that had been recommended by Jacqueline; El Patio. It looked pleasant enough, but they served only the meat variety, not chicken. So we popped next door to another one to order three chicken saltenas – but we couldn’t sit outside here.

Now, a saltena is a Bolivian Cornish Pasty; the same shape but crimped at the top rather than at the side. And they are rather more dribbly, the meat filling having a lot of juice which runs out when you bite into the pastry. The chicken filling also contained olives, egg, potato and various vegetables, while the pastry itself was slightly sweet. Ellen, Kirsten and I all found them muy rico (very tasty) but Hannah was less keen – too sweet for her liking.

So lunch for a family of four came to a total of 13.50 Bs; around £1.20. Yes, I can see that it would be possible for us all to get by on about £20 a day in Bolivia. Our accommodation is about £15, and by eating local food you could easily stay under budget (a good-sized baguette costs 1.50 Bs, less than 15 pence). But anything touristy would soon eat into that margin; we spent just over £10 ‘doing’ the Dinosaur Park, and would-be paragliders or mountain bikers will have to fork out nearly £50 a time.

The court house.
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The landmark arches, just off the main square.
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We popped back to our room for a brief rest, then made the most of the continuing sunshine by heading for the children’s park – the one that was closed yesterday. No problem today, and the girls enjoyed the helter-skelter concrete slides and then a bargain set of games of table football (1 Boliviano got you four tokens, and each token got you five balls; that’s two a penny).

At the end of our time in the park, we tried the ice cream place on the corner (also recommended by Jacqueline); they only served frutilla (strawberry) and cream flavours, but the quality was good.

Then back to our hostal to share the pineapple from the market that Ellen has been desperate to try since we got it. We weren’t sure about its ripeness, but it turrned out to be lovely and juicy; so much so that we had a second helping at tea time.

Lots of play time for the girls, and through a drawing session with Thelma (la petite Suisse) the three of them began playing together. Barbie dolls, Lego, dressing up, swinging in the hammock, watching Spanish children’s TV. They even played for half an hour after our baguette supper, and it’s nice that we still have several more days here.
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Also this afternoon another chat with Jacqueline; we heard about the riots in Sucre of two years ago (just after they had opened the hostal) when police stations were torched and they even released all the inmates from the prison to prevent them being trapped and burned. For the next week there was no police force in the city but apparently life carried on as normal (improvised security forces maintained order), and in due course most of the prisoners returned to their cells.

Today and tomorrow the road to Potosi is blocked because of strikes; we hope all will be back to normal when we are due to travel, but we deliberately allowed ourselves extra time in case of this sort of thing.

I tried to connect our laptop in an internet booth this evening, but it doesn’t seem to be allowed (or rather, the people running these places are not sufficiently techno-savvy to allow it). So we’ll need to go to a Dutch cafe some time to upload these entries – expensive when it means buying four drinks (minimum) for us while we sit there.

More worrying is the lack of replies from the two Potosi hotels I have tried to contact; they are our best options and I don’t want to end up with a choice of whichever grim places the touts need to fill up.

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Dutch cafes

All of us, apart from Ellen, had a good sleep.  The beds are comfortable and warm enough with only a sheet and duvet and no heavy blankets to struggle with.

We took our time getting dressed and ready for breakfast.  We took our cereal, juice and milk upstairs to the kitchen and sat outside enjoying the fresh air.  Using the kitchen offers a good opportunity to meet the other guests; mostly couples in their mid-twenties and sharing travel experiences, apparently we just missed another travelling family (French with 2 children aged 5 & 7)

One of the couples was having a huge breakfast of fresh pineapple, banana and avocado, all purchased at the daily market.  So that was where we were heading shortly after our breakfast.  We found stall after stall of fresh fruit, vegetables, bananas, meat and spices.  The upstairs was packed with locals enjoying a late warm breakfast or early lunch.  On our way out we bought a fresh pineapple (Ellen’s choice), kiwis (for Hannah) and mandarins and dropped these off at our accommodation.

The weather was grey, cloudy and chilly but we decided to walk to Parque Bolivar at the northern end of Sucre in search of the children’s playground.  Once there, we could “see” the playground, but couldn’t find the way in.  I went to ask in the ice cream place at the corner and they told me it closes every Monday!  Oh well, we sat down in the other half of the park instead and enjoyed some Bolivian/Swiss chocolate which we had bought on the way.  The chocolate tasted alright, but not as good as Belgian chocolate!  We finished off our morning snack by sharing one of the juicy mandarins we bought earlier, we all agreed it was absolutely delicious.

Before going back “home” for lunch we wandered around the park and stumbled upon a wannabe Eiffel tower.  It was a rusty looking construction with a tiny spiral staircase leading to a small platform at the top.  We only stayed up there for a very short time as several people were already at the top and there wasn’t much room.  It almost felt claustrophobic …
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At the top of the Eiffel Tower.
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Parque Bolivar.
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On our way back we stopped at a bakery to buy a fresh baguette and popped into the supermarket for tutti frutti jam and a chicken pate for our lunch.  This was followed by a little rest before sitting down for more school work.  Ellen is not at all keen on writing her keywords, so together we decided to do them slightly differently from next week and practise a little every day as opposed to all of them in one go – we’ll see if that makes a difference!  Tim and Hannah went through some numeracy work. 

Later in the afternoon we went out to have our passports and “entry slips” for Bolivia photocopied and instead of photocopying two passports on one sheet, the girl made two photocopies of each passport! We were trying to keep the number of sheets down, but obviously didn’t make ourselves clear …  Never mind, it means that we can hand in one copy to the owners of the hotel (apparently the law says they need a copy of each guest’s passport) and keep one copy on us whenever we go out. 

We found an ATM and after a second attempt Tim managed to get some money out and then we were off in search of a nice place for afternoon tea.  We stopped at the Amsterdam Cafe because a) we knew it had wifi internet and b) they support/run a project for local street children who come to Sucre from the countryside in search of work and a better life.  These children really struggle and their parents can’t afford to send them to school.  The project offers them a daily lunch for a symbolic 50 centivos and some schooling.  After a while the owner of the cafe, who also runs the project, stopped by at our table and sold us the project’s magazine (put together by the children) and we started talking about the project.  There might be a chance later this week to visit the project and maybe have a guided city tour by one of the children.

After we had eaten our pancakes and drank our coffee/tea/vanilla milkshake we looked into possible accommodation for Potosi and contacted one particular hotel which had a similar set up as Hotel Calacoto in La Paz.

We had spent quite a lot of time at the Amsterdam Cafe and couldn’t believe it was already supper time!  So on we went from one Dutch cafe to another Dutch run cafe called “Florin” further down the road.  Hannah & Ellen shared a ham sandwich, Tim had a chicken in peanut butter sauce sandwich and I chose one with cheese, hard boiled egg and salad.

By the time we got back to “La Dolce Vita” it was time for the girls to go to bed and for us to finish the blog and  relax with a good book.

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