…there are marching bands in the streets and fireworks 24 hours a day. We found ourselves in a familiar situation the first night we arrived in Sucre, Bolivia. The drive from chilly La Paz to (relatively) balmy Sucre was uneventful except we finally had to pay our first bribe. We think we got caught by the only radar gun in all of Bolivia, so we handed over $7 ‘for gas money’ and two chocolate power bars to clear our passage. We arrived in Sucre just hours before the streets were flooded by crowds of dancers and marching bands practicing for the main festival event coming up in a week. We immediately appreciated the warm evening air and the beautiful architecture after freezing for a month hectic La Paz.
We were also looking forward to finally meeting our virtual friend, Ignacio, in person. Over a year ago, Ignacio contacted us through this blog, offering to act as our host when we arrived in Sucre. After reaching him on his cell phone and meeting him for dinner at a local restaurant, we quickly got to know the ‘unofficial mayor’ of Sucre. It is hard for Ignacio to walk down the streets of Sucre without being constantly stopped by his many friends and colleagues. We met his lovely family for lunch at his mother’s house the next day, and were interviewed by Sucre’s newspaper, Correo del Sur, as Ignacio is friends with some of the editors.
While we had originally planned to stay in Sucre for only a couple of days, we extended our stay past a week when we learned about Sucre’s annual Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The patron saint of Sucre, the city devotes several days of elaborate church services, parades, music and dancing to celebrate the Virgin. The party started on Tuesday with a parade of the jewel-encrusted Virgin through the streets followed by the ubiquitous marching bands and eardrum shattering fireworks. As an interesting twist to the traditional Latin American festival, a line of uniquely decorated cars snaked around the city following the parading Virgin. Decked out with colorful cloths, dolls, stuffed animals, pots, pans, and silverware, the cars were decorated as thanks and prayers for success.
The festival continued through the weekend. On Friday huge groups of school children from kindergarten through highschool paraded miles around the city. Dressed in brilliant costumes representing the many traditional clothing and dancing styles of Bolivia, in a test of endurance the kids danced for 6 hours before ending up at the main catheral for a quick blessing in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Not to be outdone, the adults followed suit the next day starting at 8 am. Fireworks, marching bands, glittering costumes and amazing choreography, they boogied through the streets and the party didn’t end until around 3 am. We found Ignacio in the main square that afternoon, danced in the streets with the exhausted but still enthusiastic marchers, and met more of his good friends. Several of them extended invitations to their houses for brunch the next morning, but unfortunately we had to turn them down since we were leaving early the next morning for Uyuni. We loved Sucre for its lovely weather, amazing traditions, and beautiful architecture, but want to also thank Ignacio and his many friends for being so welcoming.