You might not have noticed, but my travels have been slowing down again somewhat since I reached Bolivia. Not to say they're ending – not by a long shot! – but I'm choosing to spend a lot longer in each place I travel to.
First I spent almost five weeks in La Paz, and now I've lived a full month in Sucre. But while I moved around a lot in La Paz – two weeks in a hotel, two weeks at a homestay while working at the limb clinic, and a final week at the Allkamari retreat – Sucre has been the complete opposite.
Sucre is a traveller's dream. This Bolivian city boasts a constant spring-like climate, holds the reputation of being really safe, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot – filled with happy strolling couples, palm trees, wide shaded plazas, and white churches on every corner.
(It's actually extremely similar to Cuenca – and there's a reason why I lived there for five months…)
As a result, Sucre is the perfect place for travellers to stay put for a while. And in a month of living here, I've been lucky enough to score my own apartment – complete with kitchen, bathroom, balcony, courtyard, and a rotation of lovely flatmates.
Putting down temporary roots in Sucre
After ten months of travelling in South America, staying in hostels, hotels, homestays, and on the occasional friend's couch, I hadn't quite realised how much I missed having a place to call my own. It's one thing to have access to all the comforts of someone's home, but there's nothing like the luxury of feeling really settled.
I moved into the apartment with two friends from La Paz, and when they both ended up having to leave, I invited a new Sucre-based friend to take their place. Josh and I took the 'living like a local' thing very seriously; cooking when we wanted, leaving various possessions lying around, hosting dinner parties, and occasionally just chilling out and falling asleep in front of the small TV.
But despite settling into a bit of a Bolivian routine, there was a very specific theme running through my life in Sucre. Somehow, every day ended up being focused around food.
Eating all the food in Sucre
South America is always lauded for its vast range of fresh produce, and up until now I loved visiting local markets – but it was mainly just for the experience.
Heading to Sucre's central market, however, was an almost daily occurrence; picking up ingredients for dinner, and chatting with the same stall owners as they threw vegetables into my outstretched bag.
While I often tend to over-romanticise this kind of thing – you know, the whole “I'm going to make friends with all the people in the market and they're going to remember me forever!” kind of thought process – my daily wanders through the Mercado Central have actually been remarkably close to the concept.
The closest I've ever come to feeling like I belong in a place like this.
In fact, the entirety of my Sucre foodie experience can be best explained by breaking down our daily eating patterns.
It's gone something like this.
Breakfast: in the market
Every morning we found our feet leading us to the market. I had work, Josh had Spanish classes, so a brief breakfast was ideal – and the market offers a range of options. There are hot salteñas filled with carne, vegetables and gravy from a tiny stall clustered with people on the ground floor – a bag of two (one to eat there, one to eat while walking) is only 7 bolivianos, or 70 pence.
If we had a little more time, we headed up the stairs to the real heart of the market; either for a bowl of papa rellenas, a ball of fried mashed potato with egg, meat or vegetables in the centre, topped with spicy onion and tomato sauce, or for empanadas de queso from the friendliest and loudest woman in the surrounding area.
Both dishes come with a quick scout for spare wooden stools to sit on, or spoons are scraped around our bowls while we stand and chat.
Breakfast is a community affair. I noticed the same groups of people arriving separately but eating together; companionable silence reigning, as everyone concentrated on the task at hand. After finishing my bowlful, I usually ended up looking out across the market floor, already heaving with customers before 9am.
Lunch: in a restaurant
One of my favourite elements of South America is the menu del dia – and I'm honestly not sure how I'm going to handle lunchtimes without it.
The menu is the common choice for locals which usually makes it a fraction of the price of more tourist-friendly dishes – plus the amount of food you're served is ridiculous. A bowl of soup, a segundo of meat, vegetables and rice, followed by a postre and accompanied by a glass of whatever juice they have on offer.
As always, there's a wonderful sense of community during lunch. People walking past your table will wish you “buen provecho” (the Spanish equivalent of “bon appetite”), and often you'll find yourself sharing a table with other diners.
The food is ultimately secondary to the company you're keeping, and it's hard not to adopt the same Bolivian courtesies. Ordering a bottle of Coke to go with your food? Automatically ask for a few more glasses and offer them to the father and daughter sitting beside you. It's sad how strange this would feel back in England, but in South America it's fast becoming second nature to befriend everyone.
Mid afternoon snacks: anywhere
In Sucre particularly, there are a number of touristy cafes and bars to hang out in (free wifi is usually a huge draw for their visitors!). The city centre is wonderfully small, and you'll often spot the same faces in your favourite places.
Day after day, I ended up with jug of cold lemonade at the Mirador cafe, lying back in a deckchair and looking over the city; drinking a super strong coffee at Metro; sipping on chilled out smoothies at Flavour; picking up a sneaky bag of chocolate covered peanuts from Para Ti; and spending a vast amount of my afternoons in the Condor Trekkers cafe, with a cup of 'special' hot chocolate, going through my Spanish notes or catching up on some work.
Dinner: cooking in the apartment
Cooking is one of the things I miss the most when travelling. Despite many hostels having relatively good kitchens, they're usually cramped and busy, and there's little likelihood you'll be able to cook the way you want. Plus, staying only a few days in one location before moving on significantly lessens the type of meals you cook.
My go-to shopping list when travelling is usually pasta, tuna, an assortment of vegetables, tomato puree, onions, garlic, eggs, bread – but you're not going to make too many different recipes with those ingredients.
So it's safe to say that my cooking imagination seriously depletes when travelling – but the luxury of our own kitchen in Sucre was too good to waste. Add in Josh's passion for cooking, and the apartment soon became a hub of kitchen activity.
Over the course of a month, we churned out steaks, caramelised onions, chicken and leek pie, Moroccan green beans and garlic lentils. The blender was in almost constant use as a result of daily banana, honey, yoghurt and milk smoothies. Our kitchen table became a home for spare cloves of garlic and onion skins, bottles of fresh honey, and the last vestiges of flour from my triumphant first attempt at making pastry from scratch.
Such intensive cooking endeavours do, of course, call for constant ingredients.
We ended up in the market most afternoons for some reason or another; sometimes to grab some vegetables or find a sharper knife, sometimes to buy some fresh yoghurt, decanted from huge buckets into a bottle we brought with us, and sometimes just for a bottle of a tiny old lady's suggested red wine, the type of which changed each time we visited her stall.
And every single week, we also needed to buy a chicken.
Sucre's infamous Thursday Chicken Night
I can't remember the last time I threw a dinner party. It's simply not something you're able to do on the road. But the day Josh moved in, he suggested we cook a huge spaghetti bolognese and have some friends round for a house warming: dinner party style.
The evening was such a success that we wanted to do it again, and ended up cooking a full roast chicken dinner three times for various people. Always on a Thursday, and always accompanied by guest-brought wine and dessert.
Further exploring of the city's food offerings
On the rare occasions that cooking got too much for us, we headed out to see what Sucre's restaurants had to offer. After some careful weeding out of the less positive places, we found ourselves dining on freshly made pasta in Tentaciones, chatting with Abis Patio's incredibly friendly restaurant owner over barbecue burgers, and the most delicious piece of steak I've ever eaten at a tiny churrasqueria near the bus station.
A restaurant unknown by Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor, and probably all the better for it.
Eventually, expanding our market horizons was necessary too.
The Mercado Central was put aside in favour of the Mercado Campesino – filled with stoically silent women sitting on the floor with their produce, old men with huge bags of coca leaves, young girls fast asleep at their meat counters – and Mercado de Pescados, where we feasted on fried freshwater fish, priced according to size and served up at plastic tables with baked potatoes, fat pieces of corn and a no-cutlery policy.
Filled to the brim with Sucre's foodstuffs
There's no doubt in my mind that my memories of Sucre will always be inextricably related to food. Not to mention the realisation that there's a lot more to South American cuisine than the standard 'meat-rice-potato-vegetables' combo.
But it's also made me even surer that staying in apartments, shopping locally and cooking in your own kitchen is one of the greatest privileges you can have while travelling. After a month in my own space, I was relaxed, reenergised, and ready to heave on my backpack and start travelling properly in the hostel environment again.
Sometimes, having a little touch of home in a strange place can make all the difference.