Beware Bolivians Bearing Booze…

Saturday was the Festival of San Juan here in Bolivia. While the Festival officially celebrates the birthday of St John the Baptist, it also celebrates the shortest, and coldest, day of the year in Bolivia. Quite similar to how the celebration of the shortest day in Sweden is combined with a religious holiday, Santa Lucia. Our host family, the family who owns, and lives next to, the hostel we are staying in had invited us to their casa de campo to celebrate the festival.

But first let me give some background, and provide some flavor on how we’re living in Sucre. K and I are staying at the Santa Cecilia B&B, which lies three blocks from the central plaza in Sucre.

About half the white building is the B&B, the other half is the family home.

The courtyard outside our room

Our room

Our bathroom. Water is hot, and has good pressure.

Breakfast and sitting room

The kitchen, sufficiently equipped to make decent meals
L-R: H, Marieke & Azarja (Holland), Emma (US) & Carl (England) both Biblioworks volunteers, and Sharon (England)

Our room is tidied up every day, every week there is good cleaning and sheets and towels are changed. Breakfast is coffee, yoghurt, bread and jam, plus whatever we feel like bringing ourselves.

We pay US $ 9 /person/day…  If you are in Sucre, we highly recommend the Santa Cecilia, it is a great place to stay.

Ok, let me get back to the San Juan Festival.

Our B&B hosts are Osvaldo and MariaJuana; both of whom work at the University in Sucre; delightful people. The party was at their casa de campo roughly 20 minutes outside Sucre. May sound like a short drive, but in 20 minutes you go from the fairly upscale and modern city of Sucre, to a small village, where raising chickens is the main business. Interspersed around the village are a few casa de campos.

The casa de campo.

View down into the garden

L-R: Obi (son in the house), MariaJuana, Obi’s girlfriend Claudia, daughter in the house Cecilia

2nd daughter in the house, Claudia, with her husband Mauricio, and the much beloved, and constantly over-dressed, Maximiliano

Upon arrival at the casa, a whiskey was offered, and, of course, accepted. It was followed by a second whiskey, and perhaps even a third as the other guests arrived.

Around 7ish, by this time most guests had arrived, we caravaned down to the small local church for a San Juan mass. Mass took about 45 minutes, and even though it was in Spanish (not in Latin), I still didn’t understand many words.

Back to the house, and dinner. Delicious. Two different kinds of potatoes, beets, carrot – green onion dish, salad, and a whole bunch of great meat: chicken and beef. Accompanied by more whiskey – mixed with coca cola for the Bolivianos.

After dinner a fire was lit in the fire pit. Fire is a great part of the San Juan festival, to the point where the government has actually banned bonfires as people would be saving up trash for months just so they could burn it during the festival – apparently leading to the kind of air quality found in China.

And with the fire also came servings of sucumbe. This stuff is dangerous. Sucumbe, also called ambrosia, consists of hot milk, coconut shavings, cinnamon, and singani – a grape based, clear, brandy style liquor.

Primo sucumbe requires fresh milk, so K and MariaJuana walked 5 min down the road to a small farm.

The milk was strained, and that was it.

The mixture may not sound that good, but trust me, sitting next to a nice fire on a slightly cold night, the sucumbe goes down very easy.

K and H enjoying the ambrosia.

And here is where the warning against Bolivians bearing booze comes in: they are smooth. MariaJuana in particular is very smooth, both when it comes to ensuring that her guests have food on their plates, as well as sucumbe in their cups. Without noticing it, your cup will be refilled time and time again.

Following the sucumbe, there was more – much much more – whiskey and wine being served around the fire.

Sitting around the San Juan bonfire.

Here, Osvaldo, MariaJuana, and the stealthy Tia Olga, all made sure that all the guests never ran low on whiskey, or any other beverage. Although in their favor it must be said that their glasses were never empty either. By midnight, few of the guests were feeling any pain, and the dancing began.

Osvaldo and MariaJuana on the dance floor. K in the background.

H showing off some seldom seen Bolivian dance moves.

The pictures are nor representative at all, Osvaldo and MariaJuana are quite elegant. Karen and I, on the other hand, not so much. But after the whiskey and the sucumbe, not only was my Spanish much improved, my dance moves felt elegant, appearances be damned.

The next morning, there was moaning and groaning as people started waking up. But a nice stroll through a small, picturesque village 10 min away, plus an excellent lunch al fresco at a restaurant nearby, restored our spirits.

K and H, Claudia (the girlfriend), Cecilia (daughter) strolling

Cecilia, Osvaldo, Obi, and his girlfriend Claudia

Overall a superb Bolivian weekend: fun, friendly folks, good food, beautiful landscape. Muchas Gracias to Osvaldo and MariaJuana!


4 thoughts on “Beware Bolivians Bearing Booze…

  1. Oops! We forgot to warn you about San Juan…sorry! When we hosted this fiesta a couple of years ago, we almost burned down Obrajes with fireworks gone wrong. Sucumbe and fuegos artificiales…a dangerous combo! Sucumbe is easily the most delicious way to drink singani. WAY better than hot cocoa. Did your folks eat hotdogs?

    • Ah, now you tell us…
      Yes hotdogs were served – for those not in Bolivia, hot dogs are served as they can be grilled over the fire and go along with the San Juan theme. We also did marshmallows. And fireworks were launched, not always well aimed, but no injuries.

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