Following a 13-hour overnight bus journey we arrive at our next destination at 7.30am on Sunday 1 November, hello Sucre. This is in fact Bolivia’s official constitutional Capital where the supreme court convenes, with La Paz being the administrative centre, I later learn (and find a little confusing!). It was founded in 1538 and named La Plata by the Spaniards, and in 1825 became independent when a new republic was named in this City, and the country named after its liberator, Simon Bolivar. It is a beautiful place, with a rich colonial heritage and beautiful white-washed buildings. The centre is colourful and friendly; this is definitely a place to visit if you want to relax and unwind. The plazas are green with beautiful flowerbeds, and most of the locals in the parks and streets are indigenous.
We’re staying in the Cruz de Popayan Hostal which is rather nice. Most of the group go for another 2-hour bus journey to a market, I decide to stay behind and freshen up. At breakfast I chat to an Irish woman in her 40s and we share our reasons for being out here, why now. She kindly shares some black grapes with me and watches me pick out the seeds. She encourages me to eat them as apparently they are very nutritious and can be made into a paste as an ailment for all kinds of problems, I gobble them down happily. I meet some of the others who also stayed behind and we go for a wander around the markets and taste some delicious chocolate at Para Ti (For You). I spend the rest of the afternoon alone (I love my own space) and enjoy a big healthy salad at Joyride Café, and pop my head into a nosy doorway to find a weightlifting competition going on. I go through security, the only gringo there and sit and watch for a few minutes. A woman is lifting the weight above her head and has Ecuador written on her back. I wonder how significant this competition is? I see a poster advertising a dance festival on the wall and get excited, there is so much going on in this country I need a local to give me the inside story. I re-join the group for a walk up a long steep hill to La Recoleta for some spectacular views of the city and we enjoy a cold beverage at the top. We spend the evening drinking wine at the hostel and I play cards with the lads, laughing into the night.
The next day we pay a visit to a local cemetery that is quite moving, it is huge and beautiful. We find a shady spot and sit and relax, we are quiet and I enjoy the peace. The sound of a woman preying is nearby, I don’t understand but enjoy the peace and tranquillity that fills the air. Brie, Lawrence, Naomi and I pay Bolivar Park a visit, enjoying the perfect weather and watching local mum’s with their children enjoying this lazy Monday afternoon. A few of us then go shopping to buy clothes for some orphans we will be visiting the following day. We learn that one of the girls was raped by her father and has just given birth a few days ago to a baby boy. We buy some nappies and baby grows for him. The woman in the shop is grateful for our large purchase so gives us a little green dress for the baby for free. I am feeling a little nervous about this visit tomorrow but also looking forward to it.
We arrive at the orphanage first thing the following morning to be greeted by around 15 girls aged 12-18 years old. They are shy at first but very warm and friendly. They don’t have the opportunity to go out and about so are excited when the world comes to their doorstep. I am now no longer feeling strange about being here but realise how much it means to them to have visitors. The orphanage is one of many in Sucre, and receives funding from the government. The girls have somewhere to sleep, eat and play, as well as an activities room. They learn to cook and show us how they make bread. One girl is making ahi (chilli sauce) by using a large stone to grind them against a hard surface. I learn that most of the girls here have run away from home after suffering abuse. They can end up here after going to the police, but their perpetrators are usually left unpunished and go on with their lives. This makes me feel sick to the stomach and very sad. One girl hold my hand and hugs me, then we all go to the play area and play ball games together. It is a lot of fun and we enjoy our time together. The girls form a line as we hand out the clothes we have bought, then it is time to go. After a quick empanada stop its time to check out of the hostel and board our next bus for 4 hours to our next destination: Potosi.