I arrived in Sucre, Bolivian capital, hoping to spend about ten days trying to improve my Spanish. 3 and a half weeks later - the last two of which has been spent living with a Bolivian family - I am finally packing up my bags and moving on. My time here has been fantastic. The language school has helped improve my Spanish immensely, and living with "mi familia Boliviana" has been a new and fascinating experience, as it's allowed me to view a side of Bolivian life not normally accessible to tourists.
I started off my time in Sucre in backpackers, where I met a good bunch of Brits, Aussies and Kiwis who were all studying Spanish. We had a one cool night out when we went to see a Bolivian Nirvana tribute band. They weren't the best musically, but they more than made up for it in comedy value. The lead singer didn't know the words to the songs and so was reading them off a bit of paper, and when it got to the encore they had run out of material so they just played "Smells like Teen Spirit" and "Lithium" for the second time. Job done!!!!
We also had quite a surreal night after returning from the pub to find that "Eurotrash" has found its way to Bolivia!! Haven't seen it for ages, and us Brits were hooked - whereas the Aussies were just trying to work out what the hell was going on!! In amongst the usual smut was a feature detailing that the English are the happiest people in Europe - smiling for an average of 15 minutes a day. Last place went to the Germans with only 9!!!
One of the cheesiest tourist highlights in Sucre is definitely the "Dino-Truck" (flat bed truck with awesomely tacky Stegasaurous painted on the side). You cram in with all the other Gringos and are taken to a cement factory just outside the city. Here, one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world has been found - including the single longest unbroken trail of footprints from an individual dinosaur ever discovered. DINOTASTIC!!!!!
I moved in with my Bolivian family on Good Friday. It turned out to be a bit of a baptism of fire, as that evening we headed back to Pòtosi to visit Hosey's family for the holiday weekend. Plenty of new acents to try and decipher, and some pretty rapid talking around the table meant that my Spanish was really tested - but I think it went very well. Although one conversation stopped me dead in my tracks as Hosey's mother asked me why Britain makes it so difficult for Latinos to enter the country. Cue the the end of all other conversation and 7 or 8 faces staring at me as I utter "No sè, no sè" (I don't know) a few times over!!!
Life in Sucre has been very different - traffic laws are a bit bizarre, and the food is - to put it mildly - slightly bland!!! Even though it's the capital, not many of the streets have traffic lights. Thus all the crossroads are governed by the simple rule of the road "Tho who sounds the horn first has right of way". Thus the cars simply steam up to the junctions, sound their horns and blaze on through. I don't think there is an MOT in Bolivia, but if there were it would contain just one item. Horn working?? Yep. You're good to go!!!
The Bolivian cuisine I've sample has not been the best. Mainly consisting of a piece of meat, with rice and potatoes, the addition of vegetables into the mix seems an alien concept. Also, the Bolivian's seem to insist on serving everything lukewarm. Its like "we'll cook up this meal and then leave it on the side for 15 minutes before we serve it - that sounds like a plan - hmmmmmmmm!!!)
In the face of these culinary "delights", one night I cooked my family a roast dinner, so that they could sample the type of food that we eat back home. Luckily all went to plan - despite my slightly rusty cooking skills - and my family seemed to enjoy the food a lot. (The couple of bottles of wine I bought may have helped too!!)
One highlight was definitely a Bolivian fiesta (party) that I attended for the graduation of a friend of Hosey's. I ended up getting absolutely smashed, but luckily Marco was way ahead of me in the drinking stakes, and so I managed not to embarrass myself. Apparently, it is tradition at a Bolivian fiesta that the host keeps coming round with trays full of the local spirit "Singani" mixed with lemonade, and that each time you are handed one it has to be polished off on the spot - or you appear very rude. It was all free so I wasn't complaining, and I ended up being the first on the dance floor along with my host father (as the only foreigner there I was something of a novelty and was dragged up there early doors)!!! Danced the night away until 4 a.m so it was pretty crazy and a lot of fun. Hosey couldn't remember anything from about midnight onwards and I spent a good chunk of the next day in bed. All good stuff!!!!
My time in Sucre has been fantastic. Its a shame, but it seems that as I travel more I'm starting to get a bit blasè (sp?). It takes more and more to impress me, the further I venture - for instance I've had about enough colonial architecture to last me a lifetime, but its pretty difficult to escape it here in South America!!
However, the time I have spent with my Bolivian family has just been an incredible experience, because its something I've never done before. Having conversations in a language other than English and adapting to the traditions and way of life in Bolivia has been incredible. It's obviously not been too bad for my Spanish either!! One on one I can have pretty good conversations and understand a lot. In group situations I still struggle because people talk so fast, and make lots of jokes that are very hard to understand. It's improving every day though, and it has been a great feeling.
I feel that I've learnt a lot here about how people in South America live, and about the differences between the South American nations and back home in Blighty. For instance, the quality of life in Bolivia is much higher than I expected, considering it is the poorest nation in South America. Although, in order to live at a reasonably comfortable level, the Bolivians have to work extremely long hours. Hosey and Maria both leave around 8 or 8.30am and often don't return until 9 o'clock. They are, however, able to take long Latin lunch breaks of 2 and a half hours which means that every lunchtime we are able to eat together as a family at a table. This is definitely a difference I'm going to notice when I return to work in the UK and everyone is grabbing a sandwich to eat at their desk!!
Overall, I know I have learnt a lot about life here through living in Bolivia for a short time, and I hope that along the way I have been able to give the local people that I have met some idea about what life is like back in the UK.