Founded in 1538 with the name La Plata, the city was made the seat of the "Audiencia de Chacras" to administer Alto Peru in 1559. After independence from Spain in 1825 its name was changed to Sucre to honour Antonio Jose de Sucre and Alto Peru became Bolivia to honour Simon Bolivar. Sucre has been the capital of Bolivia since then.
I stayed here at the Hostal Chacras on calle Ravello in the centre where I had a fine room with bath for 5 US$.
The church of San Francisco, across the street from Hostal Chacras on calle Ravelo, and its arches across calle Arce is one of Sucre's characteristic landmarks only one city block from the Plaza 25 de Mayo.
There was a good turnout for the carnival parade in spite of sporadic rain and cold wind.
Military trucks were made available to carry some exhibits.
The mayor and selected few watched the parade from a dais set up in front of the Casa de Libertad where the declaration of independence was signed in 1825.
Throwing globos and spraying people with foam during the annual carnival is an excellent custom for the therapeutic value of expressing controlled aggressiveness to relieve accumulated frustrations and tensions. Anyone is a fair target, even the paraders and officials as you can see from the water on the street. I got my share of water and foam like everyone else.
This group of children led by a sabre wielding admiral and his ship were making an emotional plea for the access to the sea that Bolivia lost to Chile in the 1884 War of the Pacific.
The issue of access to the Pacific has been used by many Bolivian governments to distract public anger about social inequities and it still works! This little fellow, trained to think that he is duty bound to reclaim the "Bolivian" sea will probably be manipulated by future governments as easily as his parents are today.
This is just a lull. The crowds will soon be back in front of the "Prefectura" for the evening parade.
Next to the large Prefectura stands the 17th century Cathedral that is now a museum.
Sucre's altitude of 2790 m was better for me that Potosi's 4070 m but I was looking forward to breathing even better in Santa Cruz (437 m), after a 15 hour overnight bus ride.
Every possible scrap of land in these mountains is cultivated by the hardy Quechua people.
Here's a village market under the rain.
Carnival is for everybody everywhere, even in remote mountain villages where the Quechua manage to maintain their ancestral beliefs by weaving them artfully into the Christianity that was imposed on them by the Spanish.
Here's another scene of carnival festivities in a mountain village.
We arrived at 9 AM and I took a taxi to the Copacabana Hotel on calle Junin where I had a comfortable room with bathroom and ceiling ventilator for 10 US$.
With a population of more than a million, Santa Cruz is the second largest city in Bolivia after La Paz. Several nearby oil and gas fields and an oil refinery contribute to the city's prosperity.
The "Prefectura" faces the southern side of the Plaza 24 de septiembre. Various stands have been set up to sell globos, water pistols and cans of a special aerosol foam to the carnival crowds.
In Bolivia, the joyous competition of dances and artistic carnival costumes hides an underlying aggressiveness expressed by throwing "globos" that symbolically replace the stones that people would like to throw at the neighbours who have annoyed them. It's a great way to get rid of frustrations accumulated during the year. Globos are complemented with an extraordinary variety of water pistols and guns. Some even have a water reserve carried in a backpack. Foam in a can like shaving cream is also popular. It is more expensive but it is visible much longer on the victim than plain water.
The Cathedral next to the Prefectura, also facing the Plaza.
Carnival as an outlet for frustrations is not a game in Santa Cruz where throwing globos and spraying foam has escalated to using ink in water pistols and guns. The young man on the left below is showing his daughter how smart he is with his ink filled water pistol! Ink is much better than foam, it stains clothes and skin. Frustrations must be much worse in this big city than in the small towns of the altiplano. Some participants even throw mud and used motor oil.
Gangs from the different neighbourhoods wear distinctive coveralls, like those seen below, to identify friends and foes (and save their everyday clothes). They are used only during the carnival ink wars that sometimes get out of hand. Opposing gangs fired on each other in 2002 killing and wounding participants. The 2003 carnival was quiet but this year someone fired a gun in front of the Cathedral yesterday and the police declared the Plaza out of bounds. That did not stop the crowds from invading the nearby streets including calle Junin where the Copacabana is located.
In other countries, carnival is only a joyous occasion to have a last party like this one in my hotel before Lent.
No one knows with certainty the origin of the violent component of carnival in Bolivia but a chap I met in the Plaza told me of a legend according to which the pre-Inca Tiwanakushamans would yearly built a hut around a post that anyone could swear at and beat with a stick during three days before a ceremonial fire carried away their bad feelings in smoke, leaving only cold inoffensive ashes behind. That sounds like a pretty good collective therapy!
One of many roaming bands chose to play just next to the Copacabana..
Carnival is fun but it does not eliminate the extreme inequalities that characterise Latin America and that are responsible for the tensions and frustrations that are vented here. The hard reality comes back on ash Wednesday. The privileged few get richer while the poor remain undernourished and die of avoidable ailments. In Bolivia, 97% of productive land belongs to 20% of the population and the remaining 80% share the remainder.
The band outside was so noisy that we had to join them. We laughed a lot, I drank too much and had a good time. The next day, I nursed my hangover until the evening and took an overnight bus to see what Paraguay's "Gran Chaco" was like.