2013, a year of extremes in pictures

I’m gazing out of the window, the rain is lashing down in ‘sheets’, driven by high winds that are bending trees at an alarming angle. Although only early in the afternoon, the light has already started to fail, making it seem more night than day. The traditional New Year’s Day walk has been postponed – in truth cancelled – due to a general reluctance to endure the terrible weather in person.

My mind keeps wandering over the year just past: this time last year we were celebrating the arrival of 2013 in Sucre, Bolivia, our home for a year. Although we would spend another few months in Bolivia, we were already planning a journey north that would take us through Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, before returning to Bolivia. In between, we’d visit Argentina and Chile, Bolivia’s wealthier neighbours, for a change of scene and cuisine.

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

The Fiesta de Virgen de Guadalupe, Sucre, Bolivia

So, with one eye on the coming year, here’s my homage to 2013, a year which took us from the heart of South America to the heart of Central America. A journey from the high Andean mountains of Bolivia to the turquoise waters of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, and back again, before returning to Britain.

Adobe church and Vulcan Sajama, Sajama, Bolivia

Adobe church and Vulcan Sajama, Sajama, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Cemetery in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Cemetery in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Fiesta in Cuzco, Peru

Fiesta in Cuzco, Peru

Magical Machu Picchu, Peru

Magical Machu Picchu, Peru

Oasis of Huacachina, Peru

Oasis of Huacachina, Peru

A woman sits on a Botero sculpture, Medellin, Colombia

A woman sits on a Botero sculpture, Medellin, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

The Panama Canal, Panama

The Panama Canal, Panama

The beautiful San Blas Islands, Panama

The beautiful San Blas Islands, Panama

The Pacific Ocean from La Cruz, Costa Rica

The Pacific Ocean from La Cruz, Costa Rica

The magnificent Granada, Nicaragua

The magnificent Granada, Nicaragua

The idyllic Pearl Keys, Nicaragua

The idyllic Pearl Keys, Nicaragua

Glorious Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Glorious Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

…finally, returning to reality in London…un feliz y próspero año nuevo por todo.

Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge, London, England

The ‘everything must go sale’, Bolivia style

Bolivian houses rarely come with furniture when you rent. After furnishing a house several times larger than the flat in London we had a lot of ‘stuff’ to dispose of when we moved. When we arrived our landlady gave us some chairs and small tables, but beyond that we had to buy everything else.

I mean everything: cooker, fridge, beds, mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, duvets, blankets, plates, pans, cutlery, glasses, cups, coat hangers, sofas, comfy chairs, bean-bags, rugs, outdoor furniture, mops, buckets, brooms, clothes pegs, towels and, of course, shot glasses. While we donated clothes and various things to orphanges and gave books and foodstuffs to friends, we still had a lot of ‘stuff’ to sell to help finance our travels.

Thankfully, our friend Roxanna, who was in the process of renting a house for her and her son, decided to take everything off our hands to furnish her new home. Bring on Bolivian removals…first, take the entire contents of a four bedroom house; second, pile everything into the back of a small truck; finally, keep two people in the back to hold on to everything.

House removals, Bolivian style, Sucre

House removals, Bolivian style, Sucre

House removals, Bolivian style, Sucre

House removals, Bolivian style, Sucre

So its “despedida” to Sucre and “hola” to the open road…apparently everything reached the other end in one piece, which meant I lost a bet.

Leaving Bolivia…a plan comes together

So, after ten months living in this fascinating country, we’ve decided to hit the road and head north. The plan, such as it is, has an outline and very little content – but not really knowing where you want to explore is part of the fun.

Leave only footprints...the joy of travel

Leave only footprints…the joy of travel

What we do know is, when we leave our home in Sucre, we’ll travel overland to Lima, Peru, from where we’ll take a flight to Colombia and then work our way north with the goal of Nicaragua as our final destination. I’m desperate to visit the Corn Islands and Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, so it is Nicaragua or bust for me.

Map of South and Central America

Map of South and Central America

We have three months, more or less, before we need to return to Bolivia (our residency visas run out on June 1st). We will hopefully be able to spend a little more time exploring Bolivia before returning to London, an uncertain future and an even more uncertain job market (a big thank you to George Osborne for arranging that).

Sucre is a small town that has found a big place in our hearts, it will be a wrench to leave it and all our new friends behind. The pull of a new adventure is very strong though, and our time in Bolivia has only whetted our appetite to see more of this amazing continent. All that remains to be done is to sell all the belongings we furnished our new home with, pack our bags and have a huge farewell party (possibly two, maybe three) to say “thank you” to all our friends.

Sucre from the roof of Convento de San Felipe Neri, Bolivia

Sucre from the roof of Convento de San Felipe Neri, Bolivia

With a sad heart but rising excitement of the road ahead it is hasta luego to Sucre and buen viaje y buen suerte to us.

The White City, the streets of Sucre II

One of the pleasures of living in a town like Sucre is to be able to stroll around, camera in hand, and snap random daily happenings, interesting architecture, street art and odd street life.

The city is starting to spring back to life after the university holidays, and currently the streets are filled with students who have been sitting their entrance exams for university places. Unfortunately, there are nearly three times as many prospective students than there are places.

This coming together of young people also coincides with the run-up to carneval. Thanks to the water bomb throwing antics that accompany carneval the streets are a dangerous place for a gringo – any foreigner is seen as a prime target for a soaking, whether from water balloons or from high-powered water guns, sales of which have gone through the roof. Drive-by water bombings are a regular occurrence, the car speeding off before the victim(s) can react or gather their wits. As I walked around yesterday I was lucky to escape without a drenching.

Stall selling water guns for Carneval, Sucre, Bolivia

Stall selling water guns for Carneval, Sucre, Bolivia

Food, Sucre, Bolivia

Food, Sucre, Bolivia

Bootleg DVDs for sale, Sucre, Bolivia

Bootleg DVDs for sale, Sucre, Bolivia

Street signs, Sucre, Bolivia

Street signs, Sucre, Bolivia

Book seller on the street, Sucre, Bolivia

Book seller on the street, Sucre, Bolivia

Doorway, Sucre, Bolivia

Doorway, Sucre, Bolivia

Mannequin with heart, Sucre, Bolivia

Mannequin with heart, Sucre, Bolivia

Political street art, Sucre, Bolivia

Political street art, Sucre, Bolivia

Cars for hire, Parque Bolivar, Sucre, Bolivia

Cars for hire, Parque Bolivar, Sucre, Bolivia

Cuba Libre advert, Sucre, Bolivia

Cuba Libre advert, Sucre, Bolivia

Motorbike art, heaven and hell, Sucre, Bolivia

Motorbike art, heaven and hell, Sucre, Bolivia

Window with plants, Sucre, Bolivia

Window with plants, Sucre, Bolivia

Fantasy artwork on a garage door, Sucre, Bolivia

Fantasy artwork on a garage door, Sucre, Bolivia

Street light, Sucre, Bolivia

Street light, Sucre, Bolivia

Doorway, Sucre Bolivia

Doorway, Sucre Bolivia

Young girl sits on lion, Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre, Bolivia

Young girl sits on lion, Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre, Bolivia

Political street art mimicking the famous painting of Potosi's Cerro Rico, Sucre, Bolivia

Political street art mimicking the famous painting of Potosi’s Cerro Rico, Sucre, Bolivia

Detail of a church door, Sucre, Bolivia

Detail of a church door, Sucre, Bolivia

Pig and trash, outskirts of Sucre, Bolivia

Pig and trash, outskirts of Sucre, Bolivia

Pacena advert, Sucre, Bolivia

Pacena advert, Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre’s Cementerio General

Sucre’s Cementerio General may lack the grandeur of La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires (and it can’t boast as famous an inhabitant as Eva Peron), but it is still a remarkably tranquil and beautiful place that is full of history. It is also a place where life is celebrated as much as death commemorated.

Visit the cementerio on a Sunday and there is almost a festival feel as dozens of families come to pay their respects to their dead relatives. The thing that is most striking is the lack of formality: the whole family visits together, children play amongst the graves, people take photographs of each other in front of statues, friends greet each other warmly and people bring picnics to eat in the lovely shady grounds.

Cementerio General, Sucre, Bolivia

Cementerio General, Sucre, Bolivia

Visiting the cemetery is to witness an extension of the Bolivian psyche surrounding death, where dead loved ones are assumed to be present and their lives are celebrated in their presence. It is a refreshingly different approach to death than the one with which I’m familiar.

Memorial to Sucre's dead, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

Memorial to Sucre’s dead, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

The streets outside the cemetery walls are filled with people selling flowers, which makes for a colourful walk to the entrance. Once inside you’re likely to be approached by young children offering their services as guides; they are very knowledgeable about the cemetery because they work there putting flowers and mementoes in the graves – guiding for gringos is just a sideline.

Flower sellers outside Sucre's cemetery, Bolivia

Flower sellers outside Sucre’s cemetery, Bolivia

The cemetery is mainly comprised of terraces five or six graves high, each with a glass or open front that doubles as a shrine filled with mementoes of the deceased: photos, foodstuffs, drinks or, in the case of children, toys. Children are buried in a separate section, each tomb front is filled with favourite toys and photographs which are both poignant and sad.

As well as being the final resting place for past Bolivian presidents, the cemetery is also home to a woman called Margarita who was brutally murdered by her husband and decapitated. It’s claimed that she has performed miracles from beyond the grave and many people go to her tomb to ask for her help. There is also a memorial to three students who were killed in fighting that erupted in 2007 when the Morales government decided to change the constitution. Friends here claim thugs were bused into Sucre to attack the student protesters, while the police released criminals from prison to do the same.

Flowers and graves in Sucre's cemetery, Bolivia

Flowers and graves in Sucre’s cemetery, Bolivia

Flowers and graves, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

Flowers and graves, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

Graves in Sucre's cemetery, Bolivia

Graves in Sucre’s cemetery, Bolivia

Tombs in Sucre's cemetery, Bolivia

Tombs in Sucre’s cemetery, Bolivia

Child's tomb with toys, Cemetario, Sucre, Bolivia

Child’s tomb with toys, Cemetario, Sucre, Bolivia

Graves, Cemetario, Sucre, Bolivia

Graves, Cemetario, Sucre, Bolivia

Grave, Cemetario, Sucre, Bolivia

Grave, Cemetario, Sucre, Bolivia

Tomb, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

Tomb, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

An unusual feature of the cemetery is communal tombs. These are often work or union related, such as teachers, bus drivers or miners, all buried together in large vaults. There is also a vault to the dead from the War of the Chaco (1932 – 35), a particularly brutal war fought between Bolivia and Paraguay in which thousands died not from combat but the hellish conditions of the Chaco region.

Tomb for those who died in the War of the Chaco, Sucre, Bolivia

Tomb for those who died in the War of the Chaco, Sucre, Bolivia

Statue to war dead in Sucre's cemetery, Bolivia

Statue to war dead in Sucre’s cemetery, Bolivia

There are also some very grand family tombs of the rich and powerful, offering a stark contrast to the more humble graves of ‘ordinary’ citizens.

Grand family tomb, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

Grand family tomb, cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia

Street Life

One of the defining characteristics of life in Bolivia is the way it is lived to a large degree outside. I guess this is a trait of a hot climate and a legacy of Spanish cultural influence that has bequeathed every town in the country with at least one plaza where people congregate to meet friends, promenade or simply people watch.

The outdoor life goes further than this though. There are a multitude of street vendors selling everything from freshly squeezed orange juice, weavings, shoe shines, plastic bags full of drinks or food and repairs of just about every type imaginable; smooching students inhabit street corners and plaza benches; and campesinos wait on the pavement outside churches in the hope of charity.

This being Bolivia one of the more obvious outdoor activities is the regular ‘bloqueos’ or strikes. These occur with a frequency unheard of in any other country in the world as far as I can tell, and they bring thousands of people onto the streets – mainly because transport strikes are quite common.

Coming from a cold, wet, northern country I love the outside lifestyle of Bolivia, it certainly means there is rarely a shortage of things to distract and entertain…

Street vendor repairing shoes, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Street vendor repairing shoes, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Orange juice vendor takes a nap, Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre, Bolivia

Orange juice vendor takes a nap, Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre, Bolivia

Pigeon people, La Paz, Bolivia

Pigeon people, La Paz, Bolivia

A young girl selling jellies, Potosi, Bolivia

A young girl selling jellies, Potosi, Bolivia

Fashion shoot in the streets of Sucre, Bolivia

Fashion shoot in the streets of Sucre, Bolivia

Balloon seller, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Balloon seller, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Table removals, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Table removals, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Plaza Central, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Plaza Central, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Chorizo Festival, Sucre, Bolivia

Chorizo Festival, Sucre, Bolivia

Juice stalls in Sucre's Mercardo Central, Bolivia

Juice stalls in Sucre’s Mercardo Central, Bolivia

Balloon seller, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Balloon seller, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Protest march, Sucre, Bolivia

Protest march, Sucre, Bolivia

Media crowd around a strike organiser, Sucre, Bolivia

Media crowd around a strike organiser, Sucre, Bolivia

Toys for sale, Potosi, Bolivia

Toys for sale, Potosi, Bolivia

Tarabuco, a real Christmas market

‘Twas the Sunday before Xmas and there was only one place to go when in need of some last minute Xmas gifts or a fascinating insight into life in rural Bolivia: Tarabuco.

The market in Tarabuco is legendary in Bolivia for its superb weavings produced by the predominately Quechua speaking indigenous population. We have several beautiful Tarabuco weavings in the house, but it is possible to find many more wondrous items to fill those Xmas stockings.

Tarabuco is a small village nestling amongst a beautiful mountainous landscape some 65km from Sucre. This alone would be reason to visit, but it is also the epicentre of the region’s famous weavings, all still done by hand on wooden looms with skills and unique designs passed down from generation-to-generation.

Tarabuco and the surrounding region is home to a unique Bolivian culture, and one that fought fiercely to retain its identity, first against the Inca empire and again against the colonising Spanish. Both empires sought to subjugate the local Chiriguano tribes, and both struggled to quash the fierce resistance of the Chiriguano. The main plaza has a gruesome statue commemorating a famous victory (one of the few) over the Spanish – complete with a heart freshly ripped from the body of a Spanish soldier.

Statue commemorating a famous victory over the Spanish, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Statue commemorating a famous victory over the Spanish, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Once you’ve recovered from the shock of that, it is time for some serious shopping…don’t forget to negotiate.

Weavings, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Weavings, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Handmade dolls in traditional costumes, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Handmade dolls in traditional costumes, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Gourds with nativity scene, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Gourds with nativity scene, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Strings of coloured sweets, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Strings of coloured sweets, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Xmas hats? Tarabuco, Bolivia

Xmas hats? Tarabuco, Bolivia

Piggy bank and animal gourds, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Piggy bank and animal gourds, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Handmade dolls wearing traditional costumes, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Handmade dolls wearing traditional costumes, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Sandals made from recycled tyres, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Sandals made from recycled tyres, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Traditional fiesta masks, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Traditional fiesta masks, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Jewellery, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Jewellery, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Weavings, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Weavings, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Llama wool, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Llama wool, Tarabuco, Bolivia

Thunder, lightening…very, very frightening

The rainy season is upon us in Bolivia, this means occasional torrential rains and some of the most hair-raising thunderstorms I’ve ever witnessed. One night, a clap of thunder directly over the house knocked out all the lights and literally rattled the windows while streaks of lightening lit up the night sky like it was day.

The photo sequence below is from a recent afternoon around 4pm. The sky darkened to a point that it could have been night and then the heavens opened with rain, hail, thunder and lightening. The mix of stormy skies, lightening and deafening thunder was truly amazing – I’m just glad I wasn’t anywhere near the lightening strikes.

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia