Sacaba – a small town off the beaten path in Bolivia

After our time in Parque Torotoro, Eyal, Jelena and I spent a day in a town called Sacaba, a short cambio ride outside of Cochabamba.

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Like any small town in Bolivia, Sacaba has a colorful market, a quiet central plaza, and a small church.

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A woman selling jello cups in Sacaba’s central plaza

A woman selling jello cups in Sacaba’s central plaza

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There is nothing particularly special about Sacaba.  It is not a town high up on the Lonely Planet’s list of top Bolivian places to visit.

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For these exact reasons Sacaba was a great place to spend a day.  We were the only non-locals walking around the town that day.

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I had decided to spend a day in Sacaba based on a recommendation from “Mateo” Hayek, a friend from Iowa City who was stationed at Sacaba’s Hospital Mexico during his Peace Corps service in Bolivia.

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When Matt volunteered at the hospital 20 years ago there were only 10 rooms set in a couple small buildings.

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I spoke with a doctor at the hospital who had been there for 17 years but she could not remember Matt because he had finished his service a year or two before she had started working there.

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The doctor told me that the hospital expanded in the last 20 years, along with Sacaba’s population.  The hospital now has five buildings and over 40 rooms.  She did point out a few remaining aspects of the “original” hospital building, which is now used for administrative purposes.

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One of the old entrances to the hospital

One of the old entrances to the hospital

Matt used to live on Calle Padilla in a one story yellow house with red-tile roof. I took a few pics of houses that fit the description but there were so many with that style, I couldn’t be sure if I snapped his actual residence.

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If I had followed Calle Padilla to the end I would have had a chance to do a quick hike into the hills, where Matt used to make trips to nearby villages to provide medical service.

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During Matt’s service in Sacaba, Cantinflas was his favorite family-run restaurant. He got to know the family running the restaurant very well.

Cantiflas I

Matt’s preference for Cantinflas must have been shared by many because 20 years later, there are now two Cantinflas restaurants.  The first one we had visited (Cantinflas I, seen in the photo above) was closed so we ate at Cantinflas II about 5 blocks away.

Cantiflas II

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The restaurants are named after Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes, aka “Cantinflas”, a Mexican actor, producer, and writer famous for his depiction of the campesino (peasant).

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Though Cantiflas was Mexican, his portrayal of life as a peasant is one that resonates with Bolivians, whose population has a big percentage of indigenous farmers.  His acting influence was strong enough that he even got recognition in the United States, with his own star on the walk of fame.

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History and character aside, the Cantinflas restaurants are also popular because they serve some damn good food.

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Jelena, Eyal, and I split two large plates of food.

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My favorite of the two was the colorful Bolivian Pique, aka Pique a lo Macho.

Pique

Pique is an enhanced version of Salchipapas, a simpler dish described in my previous blog post.  In addition to Salchipapas’ french fries, hot dogs, onions, tomatoes, and ketchup/mayonnaise drizzle, Pique adds slices of steak, hard boiled eggs, ham, and peppers.  After our late lunch we headed back to Cochabamba.  I enjoyed Sacaba because it was a Bolivian town very much off the tourist track.

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