Sometimes what you discover in a new place isn’t a mind-blowing landscape or a wondrous monument, but something much more unexpected – the feeling of a home. And that’s what I felt in Sucre.
We stayed in a hostel called Gringos Rincon and it was by far my favourite hostel that we stayed in on the whole trip. Although lacking in facilities and services such as lockers, breakfast and computers, which were usually top priorities when choosing a hostel, we took a chance on this one as a travelling friend was already there and it did have great reviews on the hostel booking websites. We arrived before dawn broke after a dreadful bumpy bus journey, and with a pang of guilt we pressed the buzzer to the hostel building 4 hours before they expected us, but Mike the owner welcomed us in through his sleepy haze to give us a tour and made up our beds for us even though we were way too early for check in. I think he took pity on us as we must’ve looked like we were about to cry from confusion/exhaustion, because as if the bus journey wasn’t treacherous enough we had just finished up a 4 day trip through deserts, floods, altitude and mud to Salar de Uyuni (Salt flats) where we encountered several occasions where we could’ve got stranded and died, and so the aim of Sucre was to get a bit of quiet and rest, rest, rest! When we finally awoke some hours later feeling a bit more alive, we reunited with our friend and she took us into town to show us around and get some food in us, and the first place we had to go was the local market for a fruit salad.
Tropical fruit is just something you can’t get right in the UK, there’s just no way it can be transported here without it tasting funky when it arrives. I gave up eating mango here decades ago because nothing compares to the ones you can get in the Philippines (and in South America as I learnt from this trip) and trying anything different would always result in disappointment and a squinty eye from the sourness. In the centre of the town was a market that had everything you could need – vegetables, toiletries, meat, clothes and best of all, fruit. It was a small square in the middle of the market with multiple stalls filled with piles and piles of fresh fruit. The women were ready in the their aprons and a gigantic knife to serve you the best fruit salad you would ever have for the grand price of 10 Bolivianos (that’s about £1!). They came served in boat-shaped glass bowls with the fruit covered in yogurt, condensed milk and whipped cream, and as we sat on little rickety wooden chairs we fell silent as we ate all the wondrous fruit. It was so beyond yummy, you just have to go there and get one!
One of the important parts of Sucre was food, and not just for the quality or types of food but the community and experiences that surrounded it. Although the hostel didn’t serve any meals there was a fully functioning communal kitchen that provided every utensil that you told yourself that you would not encounter again until you returned home, like a vegetable peeler, potato masher and pots and pans of every size, and they provided basic amenities to make cooking so much easier that would be so annoying to carry around in a backpack, like cooking oil, salt and herbs (free instant coffee and sugar was also up for grabs anytime of the day too). It was these simple yet genius touches to the kitchen that struck glee into every guest that stayed there, as the self-catering experience could turn from over-processed pre-made pasta sauces to homemade meals made from fresh ingredients that you could sit down and share with the other guests of the hostel. It’s one of the reasons as to what made this hostel so unique to all the others we stayed at and why so many who arrived took weeks or sometimes months to leave. There was a mutual kindness and trust to all that stayed there which is such a rare thing to find, and bonds were made so easily and deeply with people. (It’s from this hostel that I met travel friends that became real friends in the ‘real world’ … but more on that later!)
When you’re travelling over several months, you need places where you can relax and have some down-time because going full speed ahead with action-packed activities will just burn you out if you don’t stop, and Sucre, and specifically Gringos Rincon Hostel, was just the perfect place for that. It was a simple town that nudged me into taking a rest and to feel content with doing normal everyday tasks again. To sit down with a fellow traveller for hours and talk about anything and everything with no urgency to run off to visit some landmark, with some good food or a cup of coffee or three is what your body and sanity needs at some point on any trip – it’s what I needed anyways.