Sorry there are no new pictures yet, but it´s quite an ordeal to get the photos downloaded, shrunk, and then uploaded onto the blog. We´ve had a lot to do over here in what feels like such a short time to me, so I guess for now I´ll just add a few of the highlights from my past week.
I just finished my first week of spanish classes, which were a lot of fun for me. 4 hours a day is just about perfect for shoving a lot of information into your brain. I arrived knowing a lot of grammar, but having never spoken real spanish with a living person. Well, I can´t say that I know a lot more bookwise right now, but I feel a lot more comfortable talking with people than I did when I arrived, so that´s what I was hoping for.
Our afternoons have been packed with activities after class. We start by returning home to the host family and have a huge meal, as Kate described earlier, of starch with a side of starch--like potatoes and rice--usually in a soup and in a main dish with some sort of meat. We had a spicy fried chicken one day, fried potato dumplings stuffed with eggs and cheese another, yesterday was a kind of pulled chicken in a creamy sauce, and today was a special type of potato-like root with potatoes and rice and spicy sauce. Everything comes with spicy sauce here, which I like, but Kate is not as fond of. At least it´s a sauce on the side.
After lunch we do lots of walking and sightseeing, often meeting up with other students from the academia. We saw a wonderful museum of the different textiles in the area. Weaving is a huge cultural thing here, so all of of the markets have these beautiful woven blankets and shawls and ponchos, etc. The native women here almost always carry a bundle, sometimes a baby, sometimes just a bunch of stuff to or from the market, in a brightly colored woven blanket. And each area around here has a particular style of weaving, which the museum helped explain to us. There was another museum we saw that was just about masks. There are lots of festivals and carnivals around Bolivia--I think they said that at any point in time there is some sort of a festival going on in some town somewhere here. Dancing and costumes are an important cultural phenomenon here, so there was actually a lot to see in a museum just about masks. One of the docents showed up to answer questions, and when he heard we were from the Academia, he gave us this wonderful tour in the most slow and lucid spanish I have ever heard. We all left feeling like we could suddenly understand spanish perfectly. Of course out in the real world where people speak fast and slur, the feeling disappeared quickly. A couple other things we´ve seen here are: a tour of the cathedral and church museum (with lots of dead and bloody saints), a special performance of bolivian dance, the famous dinosaur footprints that were discovered in a cement factory nearby, and lots of soccer world cup craziness. We are the only US americans at our school, and probably the only people around who aren´t particularly interested in soccer, but it´s fun to see the excitement. We also took a bunch of the students out the other night on a harrowingly steep drive to the top of the local hill to go stargazing. Amazing to see Scorpio upside down, the Southern Cross high in the sky, and the handle of the Big Dipper just peeking above the horizon.
There are lots of wonderful coffe and pastry shops here. As a matter of fact, we´re going out to one pretty soon for an afternoon snack. There´s also a local specialty, called salteñas, which are pastries stuffed with a fruit and meat filling and are absolutely delicious. They are only served and eaten between something like 9 and 11 in the morning, so we had been missing out on it during class in the mornings, but the teachers keep telling us how wonderful they are and how we should try them. So for our last day today, we got permission to take off during the break and have salteñas. MMM delicious! And just in time, because although it feels like I´ve just arrived here, we´re now about to leave Sucre for some adventures on our way to our next series of classes in Peru.
Let´s see, if everything goes right here, we should be leaving town tomorrow morning. We´re going to Potosí first, which is one of the highest cities in the world, and quite a few years ago used to be one of the richest cities in the world. It´s right next to a hill called Cerro Rico, which has one of the most prolific silver mines in the world. It´s also where hundreds of thousands of miners are estimated to have died, mostly from silicosis among other common mining hazards. It´s sometimes known as the mountain that eats humans. Don´t worry, although there are (somewhat dangerous) tours of the mines, we´re not planning on going in. Instead, there´s a museum for the national mint there, and Potosí is on the way to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, our next tourism goal. We´ll probably do the 3 day tour of the Salar, which includes other sights of geyser fields and natural wonders--it´s kind of like a safari in the Altiplano. It´s very remote out there, so you may not hear from us in a while, but hopefully we´ll check back in again at least when we get to La Paz, which is the largest city in Bolivia, with all the modern conveniences.