Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 30 May 2008

¡Que Viva Sucre!

As a recently sworn in Peace Corps Volunteer, one has myriad opportunities to ponder time and its relativity.  Today is May 30, 2008.


One year ago today, I was greeting new staff members as they arrived at Adventure Links for the first time.


Two years ago today, I was one of those new staff members arriving at Adventure Links for the first time, still tense from my first trip down that driveway, unknowing of all of the adventures that lay in store for me in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia…


(To any of you AL folk that may be reading this, I am thinking of you guys as you begin the madness we lovingly call “summer”. Keep those kayaks rolling, those noses unbroken, those caveralls filthy, those busses running, those hammocks swinging and those Yuenglings flowing. I love and miss you all. But also, thank you for your support and for letting me fly…)


Four years ago today, I was sitting in Skoglund, sweating in my cap and gown (and flip flops), graduating from St. Olaf into what we then imagined would be “real life”.


Four months ago today, I arrived in Bolivia, eye krusties still fresh and in place after an overnight journey from Washington, DC.


There are times when all of these moments seem like just yesterday, and all of the intervening days and moments have sped by in flurry of sunburns, visa applications, bus journeys, road trips, languages studied and occasional monotony.


And, of course, there are other times when it feels like a small lifetime has passed from one of these memories to the next.


But, no matter which camp my perspective falls in at any given moment, I can say this for certain: I am happy—grateful—to have lived each one of those moments.


I have already completed over one month of service as a PCV in La Palma. And, despite the E. Coli attack, the trucks and busses noisily whizzing past my window in the middle of the night en route to Cochabamba or Santa Cruz, the scheduled meetings that never existed and the multiple strikes which left the schoolyards silent, it’s gone by really fast, and has been, overall, great.


Recently, there hasn’t been much school, on account of aforementioned strikes (on municipal and departmental levels, not necessarily the actual La Palma teachers walking off the job…) and lots of Bolivian holidays.


Of note was the 25 de Mayo celebration, which is the anniversary of Sucre, and hence, the department of Chuquisaca.  In 2009, Sucre will celebrate its bicentennial, having been founded on May 25, 1809.  Falling on a Sunday this year, all of the teachers accommodatingly came back down to La Palma to help the kids and Palmeños celebrate. Here, we kicked off the holiday on its eve, with the students parading up and down the highway (no other streets or plazas here in La Palma) with candlelit torches made with reused plastic bottles (yay!) and adorned with either Bolivian national colors (stoplight red, yellow and green) or the Chuquisaqueño colors (red and white).  It was actually quite beautiful, and it was fun to cause a little traffic jam, as it was peak flota passing time (Busses leave Sucre around 7pm headed for Coch every night and pass through La Palma around 8pm).


On Sunday, community members, students and teachers alike all gathered in the schoolyard to salute the Bolivian flag and kick off yet another parade. Same route, just more noise this time, as we were led by a band of men from the community playing the drums and zampoñas (panpipes).  There


Although Bolivian independence wasn’t solidified until 1825 (freedom from Spain came in 1824, from Peru in 1825), 25 de Mayo, 1809 is often heralded as having produced “the first cries/shouts of independence” in Sucre.  In light of the recent Capitalia debates, Sucreños/Chuquisaqueños are especially proud of this historical fact, and regional pride abounds.  So much so, that there was a lot of controversy over the planned visit to Sucre by Evo to participate in the parade here last weekend. 


You see, Sucreños are still quite upset with Evo for having blatantly ignored their request to consider moving the capital (which, constitutionally is in Sucre, yet only the judicial branch remains here, the executive and legislative branches having long since moved to La Paz) back to Sucre.  Last November, students took to the streets in protest because, while Evo and his government were writing a draft of the new constitution (yet to be voted on), they did not allow for any discussion of the Capitalia matter.  Evo was once widely supported throughout Chuquisaca, but this was a blunder too great, and a political move that hit too close to home for the people of Sucre.  There were violent riots, students were killed, and the Police force of usually-tranquilo Sucre threw in the towel and left the city for Potosi (oh yea, and opened the gates to the local prison before they peaced out). 


The wound is still fresh here in Sucre, and not all of the angry anti-Evo graffiti has been power-washed off the UNESCO World Heritage whitewashed buildings in the center.  Needless to say, Sucreños were not wild about the fact that Evo would be present to help them celebrate their regional holiday.  There were rumors floating around that they were going to cancel the big parade in Sucre in protest and move the major celebrations to Monteagudo, a smaller city in Southeastern Chuquisaca—anything to keep him out of the city.  He didn’t end up showing up because of some violent confrontations that erupted between university students, police and campesinos.


Anyway, enough of all that. This post is getting excessively long. I guess that is what happens when two holidays (Monday was the day 25 de Mayo was recognized b/c it was on a Sunday, Tuesday was Bolivian Mother’s Day) and a civil strike (Thursday) interrupt the workweek and you have lots of free time on your hands. J


We celebrated Bolivian Mother’s Day on Tuesday night.  All of the male teachers cooked a delicious dinner for everyone (I was asked numerous times why I was not yet a mother at 25… but that is a whole other issue I won’t get into right now…) and then we danced the night away until the wee hours. It was a really great time to bond with the other teachers.  We haven’t had all that many social events as of yet, so Tuesday night was a nice breakthrough. Good times. Good people. Wednesday brought sore legs from dancing and a headache from singani (fermented wine…), chicha (fermented corn) and the infamous “bad wine with coke” abomination Bolivians love so dearly…


OK, I have definitely said too much. Enjoy the following pics.




La Palma, from a distance. (Where all the trees are, just behind them is La Palma) Rio Chico in the foreground.

Laundry day in the Rio Chico. On weekends and holidays, you see tons of women coming to the banks of the Rio Chico to do their wash. OK, maybe you can’t really see it in this picture, b/c it’s so small, but trust me, there are lots of clothes strewn out on the shore of the far bank…

Obispo is the name of the mountain that presides over the Southern border of Sucre. This is it.

JICA is the Japanese Peace Corps, and there are lots of JICA volunteers in the Sucre area. They made this map of Bolivia out of origami cranes.

Eve of 25 de Mayo procession by candelight. So beautiful.

Kindergarten students being oh so cute and oh so proud to be Chuquisaqueño.

Students lined up, ready to parade.

Fourth year student and I sporting our flags on 25 de Mayo.

Teachers and I parading on 25 de Mayo. I missed the “white shirt, black pants” memo… Woops…

Bolivian Flag in front of a beautiful Chuquisaqueño blue sky, complete with a mandarin tree in the foreground.

Kindergarten students dressed up as “payasitos” (little clowns).

Fourth year students dresses up for their altiplano dance.

Fifth year students share a traditional dance from Camargo, a town in Southern Chuiqisaca.

Possibly the cutest girl in the world.



  1. !Helen! Funny story – except as I type it, it’s losing its humor. Maybe I’ve been in the shack for too long. REGARDLESS! I set up Google alerts to track if anyone mentions anything about “Adventure Links Virginia” on the web, and you were the first legit alert that popped up! I’m spying on you.

    Hope you are well and healthy!

    PS I’ve been hard at work over the past few months you’ve been gone spreading the delicious knowledge that is Poio Rico to everyone I know.

  2. Hi babe! I just finally have been catching up on your blog. It sounds like an amazing, exhausting, unforgettable time!! Can’t wait to hear all about your next adventures:) Miss you and love you- be safe. Love, Erica

    PS- Absolutely adore that picture of the flag with the mandarin tree in the foreground. Beautiful!!!!

  3. Hi Helen,
    I enjoy reading your blog. You are a good writer! Hope you are finding plenty to do and see. I read in a recent Johns Hopkins magazine that there is a nonprofit group Writers Without Borders “to help public health professionals in developing countries explore their work through nonfiction writing”. It is at: Maybe this would be of interest to you or someone in your group of volunteers. I talked to my old Peace Corp friend Jill on the phone last week. She was my traveling buddy in Colombia because it was so difficult for a female to travel alone. We got together almost every weekend to talk & compare notes. You will have a great time seeing your PC friends again in July. Peace corps for me was a challenging time, but is also a backdrop against which I compare anything else new… So those words : “experience of a lifetime” are really true. Anyway, I think about you and hope you are keeping well and safe and all that. Those kids are sure cute! Hope the food is OK and not too expensive! Gas prices here are over $4.10 a gallon. Be glad you don’t have to deal with that!
    Love, Stephanie

  4. Spending the day not writing my project proposal (we’re gonna have a radio show! yuupiii!)) and instead surfing PCV Bolivia blogs. Re: the above…I didn’t know that we had a dance specific to Camargo. I spose I thought it was Bolivia wide (based on the photo) but am proud of my Camarguenos. Be good have fun.

  5. hi helen! Iam from bolivia…….i have been living in california for 20 years…..(I think It’s time to go back) I am getting old it seems that you like you miss your roots much more often as you get older!. I realy enyoyed you writing… thank you for saying such a nice things about my people. (pardon my english)…….take care

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