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Friday, 03 July 2009

Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia

Written by Mark Kennedy
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The story of how a backpacking couple turned a local watering hole into a nationally known restaurant and tour company

Travelers in Bolivia looking to get away from the usual backpacking circuit are increasingly finding themselves in Sucre. Unlike the more popular destinations like Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, the salt flats near Uyuni and the mines of Potosi, Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy Sucre offers the modern amenities of a large city, without losing the small town feel (about 200,000 residents).


For intrepid hikers, a lesser-known Inca trail in Sucre traverses through orange and green mountain ranges and an ancient crater. Also, the unspoiled Seven Waterfalls --comparable to Argentina´s Iguazu Falls -- lie just outside the city limits.


Often, travelers extend their time in Sucre by enrolling in Spanish lessons. The number of schools offering language, cooking and dance lessons has taken off in recent years. Because of this many travelers find themselves in this charming city for days or weeks longer than they had planned..


Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy This happened with one couple who came to Sucre in 2007 – they stayed far longer than even they had anticipated. In November of 2007, husband and wife Lorenzo and Tina Rauco took over Joy Ride, a pub on the southeast end of the city´s central square. In a few short months the two transformed it from a seedy hangout to a full-fledged bar, restaurant and dance club -- and more recently, a tour business. Today, it boasts the distinction of being the city´s ´it´ place for both locals and gringos.


The pair didn´t come to the city looking to take over a business. Like so many others backpacking through Bolivia, they planned to stay a few days, and then eventually make their way back home, in their case, to Italy.

Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy "I was drawn to the color, the white colonial architecture, but it was my husband who fell in love with Sucre," Tina said of her first impression of the city. The couple found themselves having lunch in the Joy Ride one day never realizing their lives would soon turn in a different direction. Through casual conversation, the Rauco’s learned the Dutch owner was looking to sell the seven-year-old bar and restaurant – their reactions to the news differed.



At the time, the country was in the throes of social unrest. Politicians were opposed to President Evo Morales´ so-called ´agrarian revolution´ and called for greater state autonomy from the central government. The last thing on Tina´s mind was to make such a huge investment in what was then, an unstable country. But Lorenzo had other ideas.


"Back then there were a lot of problems with the social conflict,” said Tina. “We went back to Italy, and my husband was constantly talking about buying the restaurant. He insisted we go back to Bolivia on another trip in November of 2007 and when we got here, he told me he had bought the place. I thought he was crazy. I didn´t want to stay -- we had a six-year-old son and a life back in Italy. I told him I was going back."


Tina and her son did go back, and her husband stayed in Sucre to head up the family´s new business. A month later, Tina went against her doubt and decided to return to the city. It was better to have the family together in one place.

Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy

Learning Curve


Having come back to help shape the new family business, the next hurdle that Tina, a tourism operator by trade, had to face was learning to speak the language. "At first it was difficult. I didn´t speak Spanish, whereas my husband had some grasp of the language. I started language classes but learned most of what I know now while working. The people of this city are so friendly and helpful if you try to speak to them."


A few months later Tina had all but mastered the language. She was now ready to put some of her own ideas for the Joy Ride in motion.


At the time, gringo-friendly bars offering tour operator referrals were very common in Sucre. When the Rauco’s took over, something new popped up -- the Joy Ride Tourism Office. Mr. and Mrs. Rauco became the first entrepreneurs in the city to officially bridge the divide between its two biggest pastimes: drinking and outdoor adventure.


Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy Today, it´s not uncommon to find familiar faces in Joy Ride for hours at a time. Patrons stopping in for a leisurely mid-afternoon lunch, staying for the seven o´clock film in the third floor lounge, then drinking and dancing till the early hours of dawn is a regular occurrence for more than a few backpackers and hip young Bolivians. The same faces can also be found staggering back to Joy Ride in the morning for a much needed ´Hangover Breakfast,´ which is one of the restaurants top selling items.



Once the hangover has worn off, many choose to escape the partying with some adventure: a trip to the mountains, the crater or the waterfalls, either by bus, horseback, motorcycle or quad bike. The Joy Ride now offered such activities all under one roof.


"Before we opened the office, I felt the tourism information in Sucre wasn´t as good as it could be," said Tina. "We started promoting the restaurant and tourism office under a common brand. We now have the free Joy Ride maps -- it´s like a key to the city."


And the tour operation is taking off. "We have well-trained, full-time guides who speak Spanish, English, French, German and Italian,” Tina continued. “We also have nearly one hundred people coming into the office each day."

Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy


While Lorenzo takes care of the finances, Tina has kept busy promoting Sucre in general and Joy Ride in particular across the whole of Bolivia. She´s taken out advertising spots on television and radio, and runs ads in newspapers and magazines in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.


Despite Joy Ride´s success, does Tina still harbor and lingering thoughts of moving back to Italy?


"No. Sucre is my home now," she said. "We have a nice life here. And it´s good for my son -- he speaks Spanish fluently."


Like any good Italian wife and mother, she´s more than willing to open her home to whoever drops by. As the old saying goes, ´Mi casa es su casa.´

Finding Joy in Sucre, Bolivia, Joy Ride, a pub in Sucre, travel sucre, Bolivia, living in Bolivia, Mark Kennedy

©Mark Kennedy

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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