Sucre, Bolivia

Today I woke up in Torotoro (the rural, mountainous, Jurassic Park of Bolivia) and I am going to sleep in Sucre – the bustling capital city of Bolivia that somehow also has a kind of small town feel.

By direct travel, Sucre would be just 3-4 hours from Torotoro, but there is not a developed direct route, so I had 10 hours of travel – going north to Cochabamba and then south again, to Sucre, passing Torotoro on the other side of the mountains.

On the way from Cochabamba to Sucre, the guy in the seat next to me kept falling asleep half on top of me (I’m used to that now after 3 years of colectivo rides in Peru), but he very kindly happened to wake up just when we passed a key landmark and he told me, “hey we’re about to pass the bridge and the famous road that Simon Bolivar took in the fight for independence for Bolivia!” Then he went back to sleep. (Unfortunately we passed it so quick I couldn’t snap a photo.)

Later, he woke up and we chatted and I found out he was in the military, from La Paz but living in Sucre, which he said he fell in love with because it is much “nicer, smaller, quieter, and safer than La Paz”*. In the military he travels most of the time, so only has short bouts of time with his family. He commented that his daughter likes to dress like “people like you” (I was in dry-fit, outdoorsy clothes), and that she loves learning English and wants to study in the US or England.

Since elections were coming up, we talked a while about it but I noticed he was trying to be very neutral, so I finally asked him directly if he wanted Evo Morales to win again. He said he hoped not because under Evo’s isolationist policies his daughter would likely not have the opportunities to study abroad and travel.

Evo Morales was re-elected in October and there were a lot of demonstrations in the country, many people claiming corruption in the election process and calling for a change of government. My super simplistic understanding based on the conversations I’ve had traveling through Bolivia is that Evo has done some good things for the country, including promoting recognition and rights of indigenous people and trying to keep benefits and profits from natural resources in the country, but his government is also know for corruption, and he changed the constitution to allow himself to be re-elected indefinitely.

I paid extra to arrive in Sucre in one day and not have to sleep on a bus, and I was rewarded with the biggest fiesta of the city – the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe – which happened to be closing that night with a huge parade through the town – They said it had been going since 11am!

The best way to describe it would be “it’s not done till it’s overdone”.

Just when I thought I’d seen the craziest costumes and best music, something crazier came next.

By 10:30pm many of the people marching were so tired and/or drunk they could barely walk and hold their eyes open.

I found anticuchos and, for the first time in South America, street pizza made in a portable oven.

The bands played and as they came closer and got louder it became impossible to not dance and join the fun.

People from the crowd hopped into the middle of the parade to take selfies with the marchers. The marching band played a pop song and the crowd went wild. If the US marching band kids got to lead the town’s parties like this, they would be more popular than the football players.

(Shout out to Megan Eileen-this reminded me of your wedding, proof that you really did it right!)

The partying here is insane. It goes into the night and once you are tired the band just plays louder and they drink more and it just keeps going. Work hard play hard.

The best way to see a city is to do a run or bike ride through it, so in the morning I put on my running shoes (the only pair of shoes I brought this trip) to do a run through Sucre. The predominant style was houses with tiny balconies and hanging plants.

Between the paved main roads were cobblestone streets and lots of public green spaces. Having heard that Sucre was small, I found it much bigger than I had imagined, with many major thoroughfares throughout the city.

I ate lunch in the “Mercado Central” where there were about 20 food stations all serving the same options and each yelling the popular dishes they served trying to convince visitors to come to their restaurant (despite the fact they all were serving the same thing.)

I randomly chose one and say at a table with a young couple with a baby. We chatted and I asked if they attended the parade fiesta the previous night. Being from Sucre, they had attended the fiestas when they were younger but now they tried to avoid the crowds. They explained that students from different organizations in the universities from different parts of the country typically were the ones that dressed up and marched. Before leaving, they asked the server/cook/owner for an extra cup and then poured me a drink of their soda, generously leaving me with a parting gift.

The next day for lunch, I chose a different restaurant and sat at the table with an older, expressionless man that didn’t smile. I wondered if I should even try to talk to him… but of course I did. And after chatting a while he opened up and I learned that he has a daughter and a son in the US. In the end, he gave me a really sweet and very warm smile wishing me well as I left.

Next up, sight-seeing around Sucre…stay tuned!

Famous Footnote:

*As my friend from the taxi said… “Sucre is incredibly safe. With the fiesta you have to be careful – it is less safe because of pick pockets taking advantage of crowds, like in any place, and also drunk people can do stupid things. But Sucre is generally a safe place, and while there is the possibility of pick-pocketing, you won’t be robbed, you won’t crime of force.”

Go Bananas

The other day I needed to buy 100 bananas to give out as a breakfast snack at a huge training for water committees. So I went to my friend who is a water committee president and sells fruit in the feria (farmers market), and she said she’d help me get them at a good price. We went and found a few bunches of good-looking bananas and she got me a great price!

When I got home my family asked me about all the bananas I had brought home, and I explained what I was going to use them for. They asked me if I was going to fry all those bananas, and I said: “No way! I’m just going to hand them out for people to peel and eat as a morning breakfast snack.”

“But those are for frying or boiling,” they told me.

My jaw dropped. Face palm.

I had just bought 100 PLANTAINS.

You see, most people in Peru just call any type of banana “plátano”, whether it’s a peel-and-eat banana or a plantain for frying or boiling (yes, you can boil bananas and they’re actually pretty delicious!) Also, it is more common to eat fried plantains for breakfast here than to peel and eat a banana for breakfast, which had added to the confusion of everything.

So even after 3 years, I’m still making cultural and language snafus! And I apparently still haven’t figured out my bananas.

When I lived in the US and I went to add bananas to my cart in the grocery store, the only decision I had to make was between organic and non-organic bananas. While there are plantains in most grocery stores (and every now and then I would buy plantains to fry), they are much bigger and fatter than bananas and it’s kind of hard to confuse them.

HOWEVER, in the feria in Oxapampa, there are at least SEVEN different types of peel-and-eat bananas and two different types of plantains…and there are probably more that I haven’t heard of! (Now, that is nothing compared to the thousands of different types of potatoes in Peru, but that’s a whole different article, right now we’re talking bananas.)

For my own vindication and for your reading and viewing pleasure, let me introduce you to the NINE different types of bananas I have heard of or encountered in Peru.

Let’s start with the EIGHT different (peel-and-eat) “baNAnas”…

The banana that most Americans are familiar with is the “plátano seda”. That’s the one that Chiquita has taken and made the super banana crop. They taste differently (sweeter) when you buy them from the feria (farmer’s markets) here because they aren’t artificially gas ripened, and they’re just a lot fresher. However, if you buy them in a supermarket in Lima or a big city, they taste pretty much the same as in the US because I think they are processed the same way.

plátano seda

The next peel-and-eat banana is the “plátano isla”. Fatter than the plátano seda, a little orangish color on the inside, this banana is delicious. I actually didn’t like it at first, but it grew on me and now I usually prefer it over the plátano seda.

plátano isla

Similar to the plátano isla is the “plátano palillo” or “plátano Guyaquil”, which is just a little bit fatter than the plátano isla. I admit that I haven’t tried this one yet, so I’ll have to test drive (test eat?) it before I leave.

plátano palillo

Now you might have actually come across some miniature bananas in a grocery store in the US… here in Oxapampa those are called “canelito“ or “biscocho”, or “calbito”. Who knows what other names they might have in other parts… They are deliciously sweet and bite-sized.

Slightly larger than the canelitos are the “plátano manazana”. Yes, that translates to “the apple banana”. Supposedly this banana tastes like an apple. To me it still tastes like banana, but I’m still refining my banana taste…(remember I went from just one banana variety to nine, so I need some time to adjust.)

There’s also a redish-pinkish-purplish colored banana called the “platano morado”. (Translated as “purple banana”). I’m not a huge fan of this banana because for me it’s way too sweet, but then again I’ve only tried it once, so it could have just been the batch I was eating was excessively ripe. I will have to give it another try before I leave.

plátano morado

Finally, the plátano brasil, which I have heard of but have not tried. It is supposedly similar to the plátano seda, so your challenge when you visit South America is to find the plátano Brasil and try it.

Finally, the two type of plantains I have encountered are those that are for frying (plátano frito), boiling (plátano sancochado), or making banana chips (chifles).

plátano sancochado
chifles
chifles – a high-energy snack, great for a long day

The most common (and many claim is the most delicious), is the “plátano largo”. Most commonly, it is boiled or fried. This is the one that I mistook for plátano seda because we happened to come across some particularly small ones that highly resembled plátano seda (at least to my untrained eye.)

Plátano largo

And finally, the plátano bellaco is also for frying and also commonly used to make banana chips, or also to prepare tacacho – a typical plate in the selva (jungle) region of a thick smashed plantain ball combined with pieces of pork and fried.

Tacacho

 

Now for the quiz. Can you identify each type of plátano in this photo?  (Now you’re not laughing at my banana confusion, are you???)

Now that you know your plátanos, you are ready to come explore Peru! And I hear there’s an even greater variety of bananas in Ecuador, so I guess I will have to go investigate…and I’ll let you know!

 

 

And, here are the answers, for those curious minds:

 

*This post was updated to clarify that here the plátano Guyaquil is the same as the palillo.