By the time Christmas was behind us, Tyler were far too much in love with Sucre to have any intention of leaving. Tyler and I have been feeling a little weary for months now, and hanging out in one place with friends was too good to rush away from. So, we spent a few days doing the gringo tourist thing, including visiting the largest and most diverse collection of preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. It was as action packed as anything from the Cretaceous Period, 65 Million years ago, that I've ever seen... we saw one big set of tracks overlapping a set of smaller tracks. And then, mysteriously, the smaller tracks dissappeared. Yum, somebody ate well!
Speaking of eating well, in all my travels I've discovered a counter intuitive rule about life on the road. The food in the poorest countries is exquisite and the food in wealthy and more developed countries is simple, boring, and of poor quality. Ok, I suppose that isn't entirely fair. It might have something to do with the fact that I always am travelling on a tight budget. And when I go to a wealthy country like France, I subsist mostly on the cheapest food I can buy at a supermarket. And when I find myself in a country where each dollar stretches far, I find myself at upmarket restaurants that at home wouldn't let a fellow like me walk through the door. So while in France I ate almost nothing but bread and cheap cheese but in Bolvia we went to an unbelievably chic French restaurant in the heart of downtown to eat a feast for $3. Bolivia is a country rich in resources, but deperately poor in coastline and economic stability. This is hard on both the downtrodden people and my expanding waistline.
The meals were fantastic, but the chocolate, Oh God, the Chocolate! Ironically, although Cocoa was found and still is mostly produced in Latin America most random local candybars you will get down here are waxy or with too much or too little sugar. It gets so bad that I've caught myself craving just a generic Hersheys bar which is no stranger to wax itself. But the chocolate in Sucre was a shining exception. On a single street downtown I counted three high end chocolate shops that each sold some of the best wares I've ever sampled. Our praise of the chocolate was so high, in fact, that Tyler and I were able to lure Io, the smiling German we met in Peru, to backtrack on her plans and meet us in the "Chocolate city" of Sucre. It was a joyful chocolate coated reunion.
Despite keeping myself busy in Sucre sleeping in, strolling the pedestrian streets, lounging in the plaza reading as the days rolled into weeks I decided to add even more to my stressful schedule. I called my secretary, and had her clear my timee enough to volunteer at a nearby orphanage. A friend Paul, had been volunteering at a local Catholic run orphanage for about a month and invited me to join. We walked over to the nice, clean and large orphanage and said a hello to the nuns working. Before we met the kids we quietly wandered through the halls, noted some lovely views and thought about how pleasant the day was. We heard some kids so opened a door and then WOOOOSH! We were swamped by 22 five and under screaming giggling kids screaming "Pappi, Pappi!" ("Daddy, Daddy!"). We played games. They squealed demands to be picked up, spun around and carried which I did 'til too exhausted to raise my arms. Exhausted I collapsed onto the ground where they piled on me giggling, drooling, smiling and playing. Before long I realized that despite all their entreaties for games and elevation the most important thing they were craving was human contact. A hyper kid kicking and crying turned to a ball of warm smiling putty when I reached an arm out from under the mass of other kids and pulled him into a hug. Every time I went it was gratifying, satisfying and one of the most fun things I've ever done. Not to mention tiring, after three hours at a time I could barely sum up the energy to walk my knackered body home.
In much of my travels to other places I've always felt grateful, and a little guilty, when my monolingual nature alters the flow of conversation. For example I'd walk over to a table of French, Belgian, and Swiss friends chatting away and say "uh, Hi." There would be a moment of hesitation where they paused mid-conversation and switched their brains from French mode into English. Living in Europe as a monolingual American you quickly become grateful that much of the world values languages as much as my country values big loud cars. So when Ben mentioned, "I have a French friend from work who is a really great guy and I'd like to invite him out with us... but he doesn´t speak english," we happily agreed. When we switched the conversation from english into struggling spanish as Antoine sat down at our table I finally got to start paying back some of the lingual generosity that so many Europeans have shown me over the years. Speaking with him has been one of those seminal moments that has made practicing another language worth it. I suppose it helped my good feelings when, on a epic climb through 7 waterfalls with Antoine (a mountain guide at home) he declared our team "Los Fabulousos Gringos" ("The fabulous Gringos," Hell Yeah!).
Our time in Sucre came to a crescendo on New Years. Paul, who we'd invited to the Christmas dinner insisted on returning the favor by cooking up a feast for New Years eve at the hostel. He cooked the main dish, many of us made a side dish, and everyone brought alcohol. Halfway through dinner we were singing and throwing lemons at eachother and lost all track of time. Somehow, some timekeeping person rallied the troops fifteen minutes before 2006 arrived and got us out the door singing and wobbling towards the Plaza central. The clock struck, and we were howling hugging and dancing. Much of merrymaking population in Sucre was with us there and before we knew it we were hugging and getting offered drinks by a plethora of the normally reserved Bolivians. We heard a brass band strolling by and suddenly we were in the road, dancing our way up front of them through the streets hand in hand with locals and eachother.
We awoke in the first morning of 2006 with heads throbbing but faces smiling. Not being satified, we see what more we could do to abuse our poor, poor bodies. The next day we decided to get really, really High...
Welcome to Potosi, the Highest city in the world