Amigos de Sucre

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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Why it pays to speak Spanish

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

If you go into a shop in Europe, then the prices of the items on sale are usually on display. They are fixed an non-negotiable.

If you take a taxi in Europe, then the price is shown on the meter. It depends on the distance travelled and maybe the time of day.

In Bolivia, things work a bit differently. For a start, taxi fares are agreed in advance, and are normally a fixed price for anywhere within the local town, but per person. It is, however, possible to arrange a discount when travelling in a group and you fill the taxi up.

Then there are the shops and the markets – you can bargain with the vendors and arrange a lower price if, for example, you want to buy more than one item.

This obviously takes some getting used to, and is made easier if you can speak Spanish well enough. If you don’t, then your efforts will be less successful.

It is a fact of life in Bolivia, that tourists who speak Spanish (or at least attempt to) get a better deal when buying products and services.

But there is another factor in the buying equation that should not be ignored – being accompanied by a Bolivian. This can often knock the price down a little more.

And if know exactly what you want and can get a Bolivian friend to go into the shop on their own and buy it for you, you may even save an extra Boliviano on top.

I remember that a taxi ride in Sucre used to cost 3 Bolivianos per person, regardless of distance. For 3 people I could knock the price down to 7Bs, if one person was a Bolivian, they might even get it down to 6Bs.

In Cochabamba our Bolivian friends even stopped the taxis to ask them to take us for 1Bs/person. There were so many taxis in the queue (and we were 24 people in the group) that if a driver wouldn’t agree to the price, then they would just ask the next one. It worked!

So it really does pay to speak Spanish!

Internet cafés

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

If you want to stay in touch with the rest of the world during a visit to Bolivia, you will inevitably find your way to an internet café. In Sucre there were several during my visit, and I also used one in La Paz. Although I am sure that there have been improvements since, there was a noticeable difference in the service quality between the different cafés.

A new internet café being built in Sucre, July 2000

Firstly, the connection in La Paz was much faster and more stable than in Sucre – I think the hardware was probably newer as well.

In Sucre, those cafés affiliated to the national telecommunications provider, Entelnet, definitely appeared to be faster.

La Paz was slightly more expensive, but all the cafés I visited offered good value for money – except one. A smaller, private internet café in Sucre (I think it was in the Calle Audencia) was so slow, that I was unable to read my webmail. As I left, I spotted a 56k modem at work and guess that the network was probably sharing this one analogue line.

As with any public computer, security is an important issue when using these facilities.  It is worth learning how to clear a web browser cache and cookies beforehand, as the computers may just be standard installations and not use any special software to reset them after one customer has finished as is common in European countries.

Child workers in Bolivia

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Having reported on the abandoned children last week, it reminded me of the children that I saw in Bolivia working themselves to earn extra money for their families.

Before I went to Bolivia I was given the following advice: support the children that are earning their money honestly, as it motivates them to stay out of crime or begging.

It’s certainly true that having your shoes cleaned on a street corner will not really cost you much be German standards (more probably now than then). In Sucre I don’t remember so many children working in that business, that was something I encountered more in La Paz and Cochabamba. However, there were children working as guides at the cemetery.

For a small fee, they would show you around and point out the graves of important people. In fact, they had an extensive working knowledge of the layout and history of the cemetery.

In La Paz I did, once, have my shoes cleaned by a young boy. Actually they were my hike boots and needed it after the dust of Potosí! He worked so carefully – at one stage he picked up a tin of black shoe polish and I pointed out that my boots were brown. “No”, he replied, and pointed out that the bottom rim was indeed black and he proceeded to polish this from all sides with a thinner brush.

When he was finished my boots shone and I was prepared to pay more than the going rate, well a little bit at least to show my appreciation. Anything over the top and he might have taken offence to it.

Unfortunately he didn’t want to accept my dollar coin – he wanted a dollar bill, or the equivalent in Bolivianos. In fact, he preferred Bolivianos as was working as part of a group and had to divide up his earnings with the rest.

For me it was not easy to accept a child cleaning my shoes – it is the sort of thing that you would discourage in Germany, although many years ago in the UK it is the sort of thing the Scouts would have done in Job Week.

But by the time I was in La Paz, I had visited several institutions in the country and had learnt about some of the social structures. Often, these children are allowed to go to school for half a day in return for going out to work the other half. Either they earning their school fees, or a charity will pay the school fees in return for the parents accepting this form of deal.

If the children do not earn enough, the risk is that the parents will pull out of the deal and the children will no longer be allowed to go to school. Even worse, they may end up begging on the streets or even earning their money in less legal ways.

The child that cleaned my shoes and his friends seemed very cheerful – there were no adults with them putting pressure on them. They found their customers themselves and looked after them from beginning to end. Their earnings, although fairly shared out amongst the group, were not landing in the pocket of some overseer.

If your normal image of children working is of making clothes in illegal factories in Asia or even of boys sweeping chimneys in Victorian England – then this is no comparison.

Obviously it would be better for their education to be in school full time and not worrying about the family income, but as it is this is probably a reasonable compromise.

Bolivia’s abandoned children

Friday, October 26th, 2007

The BBC Radio 4 programme “From Our Own Correspondent” features reports from BBC reporters around the World. Last week, Bolivia was featured. The article shows the other side to the immigration problems that are often discussed in Europe.

It talks about the children, left behind in Bolivia bei their parents while they go to work in Europe. The children stay with relatives, and talk to their parents on the telephone using the public phone-booths, common to Bolivian towns. The parents send home money for them, but this often gets intercepted by other adults.

The full story and can be read and heard on the BBC News website.


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