No sugar but lots of water and… dinosaurs!

Lets get things straight to start with. It is tempting to imagine that Sucre is so-named because it is really sweet or that they mine sugar in the surrounding mountains. Iglesia San Francisco & gateway

Iglesia San Francisco & gateway

True, it does have more than its fair share of icing sugar white colonial buildings but it is actually named after a General who was active in the liberation movement and became the country’s second president (Simón Bolívar was the first and he had the whole country named after him). Independence was actually declared here and we have now been told that the town is officially the capital of Bolivia but La Paz later took over as the home of the government so that city is now described as the de facto capital. (Not all residents of Sucre are so clear about this, we were also told that Sucre is called the second capital!)

Sucre catedral

Sucre catedral

We are staying in the sister hostel to our last hostel and things are similar but very different. Although this hostel is almost as attractive, there is less organisation and less attention to detail. We’re trying not to get frustrated by the fact that the WiFi doesn’t work and nobody seems to be able to say when (or if) it will be repaired. The hostel advertises that it has a Spanish school and we were hoping to study some more here. However, despite the emails we exchanged before we arrived, nothing has been done to set up our lessons so it looks like we’ll have to go elsewhere!

To be fair, all organisation in the town has been a bit slack because it has been the carnaval and Monday and Tuesday were public holidays so everything has been closed. A more-organised-than-most Sucre carnaval band

A more-organised-than-most Sucre carnaval band

  We had expected some sort of big parade on Saturday and/or Sunday with the holidays as time to recover but we were wrong. All through all four days, from late morning until well after midnight, the streets were filled with assorted raggedy gangs of mostly young people drinking heavily and lurching around in front of increasingly discordant brass bands. There is no set route or organisation and groups seem to go wherever they feel like going. All this accompanied by a barrage of water bombs, water pistols and buckets of water both from and at the marchers. Typical carnaval parade in Sucre

Typical carnaval parade in Sucre

At first it was mildly amusing and during the first day we quite enjoyed sitting up in the balcony of a cafe called logically Los Balcones drinking sweet stout Inca beer and watching it all going on in the main square. As the days went on, however, it became more frantic and more tiresome. Hostal Cruz de Popayan patio

Hostal Cruz de Popayan patio

Eventually it became impossible to walk anywhere in town without being pelted with water and we retired to the (albeit very attractive) courtyard of the hostel. Some fellow travellers have attempted to give as good as they got but have returned to the hostel very wet indeed!

On Tuesday afternoon, the staff at our hostel arranged a small carnaval ceremony in our courtyard while the havoc reigned outside. Fake money and lucky charms were burned (sounds more like Thailand doesn’t it) and we took turns to drip some wine and water onto the flames. Carnaval fire ceremony at the hostal

Carnaval fire ceremony at the hostal

This was followed by a drink of ‘Tiger’s Milk’ which is a mixture of milk and any available spirits, bottled in second hand bottles and sold all around the streets. The posh stuff has a clean bottle, with a typewritten label and a proper top, but most are done up with some old plastic and an elastic band with the bottle’s original labels still in place. There seemed no stopping the locals but in the end, late on Tuesday night, we had a really big thunderstorm that seemed to bring carnaval to an end and thankfully sluiced down the streets. Too much drinking and marching over at least four days and a complete absence of public toilets in the town has had an obvious bad effect and the stench of urine in the streets was getting pretty intolerable (an aspect of carnaval that nobody normally advertises).

TP gets a sprinkling of carnaval confetti

TP gets a sprinkling of carnaval confetti

We have met a grand bunch of people here, most of whom have been present or past customers of an outfit called Intrepid Tours and stranded here because of carnaval (no buses). Most are making fairly long trips covering much of the ground that we are proposing but in reverse. So we have picked their brains for useful names and addresses for the next part of our journey out of Bolivia and into Peru. You possibly already know that Machu Picchu is curently unreachable because of landslides that have destroyed the trainline (we met a guy last week who had been trapped up there for five days before being helicoptered out – great story but probably a bit frightening at the time). Jen gets a sprinkling of carnaval confetti

Jen gets a sprinkling of carnaval confetti

So we are thinking of making a bit of a detour to give ourselves two separate chances of getting up there. However, there are many other exciting looking sets of Inca ruins that get a lot of positive mentions by so it will not be a complete disaster if we don’t get there at all (‘and we can always come back next year’ says JZZ cheerfully).

Eventually our frustration about not being able to get spanish lessons organised, together with some disenchantment with the hostel’s organisation led to us deciding to cut short our time here and we have booked an overnight bus to La Paz (the highest capital city in the world).

Potato stalls at the market

Potato stalls at the market

Our last days were spent seeing some of the sights that have been closed throughout our stay. Our first visit was to a Museum of Indigenous Life and Crafts. This was housed in a really delightful old house and gave some good information about the past and present lives of some of the local tribal peoples. It included an explanation of the foundation of the ‘ceremony’ that we had taken part in at the hostel. Traditionally the special tokens and gifts are burned as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ensure positive aspects of life such as health and happiness. Many of the ceremonies also traditionally include a llama foetus done up with herbs and sparkly bits which we were rather pleased had not figured in the hostel version!

Woman weaving at the museum

Woman weaving at the museum

The museum also showed the fruits of a project that has been going since 1995 to reintroduce and promote traditional skills of craft weaving in two distinct areas with very different styles. Through the project, the local people have been able to develop their work, for example by incorporating motifs from village life. Village men have also begun to weave and are developing their own approaches to traditional patterns using stronger colours and bolder motifs.

Copy of Turin shroud (wasn't the 1st a fake too?)

Copy of Turin shroud (wasn’t the 1st a fake too?)

The Cathederal Museum contained a lot of predictably religious stuff and the Casa de Independencia had a lot of stuff about the independence movement. Although both were housed in lovely buildings, neither was particularly riveting. What interested us most in the latter was the series of portraits of Bolivian presidents since independence, testifying to Bolivia’s chronically unstable government. Casa de la Independencia

Casa de la Independencia

There have been roughly 200 changes of government in 185 years; in 1841 three separate governments all claimed power simultaneously! The current president is the socialist Evo Morales, who was originally elected in 2006 and is their first president from an indigenous background. He was re-elected by a landslide in January 2009, following yet another constitutional reform and appears to still have considerable support.

Our final excursion was in the Dino Truck. The Dino Truck (look carefully for dino head!)

The Dino Truck (look carefully for dino head!)

This is a converted truck with a plastic dinosaur on the front that takes you out to a cement works on the outskirts of the town; not your typical prime tourist destination! However, this site is different because it is actually the largest paleantological site in the world with over 5000 dinosaur footprints, including some unique tracks. Some have been used by scientists to calculate how fast some of the creatures could move and the collection includes the longest ever discovered track of a single dinosaur.

A couple of scary dinosaurs

A couple of scary dinosaurs

There is an interesting visitors centre with a number of life size models of dinosaurs. These are very realistic (as far as we can tell) and are accompanied by dinosaur and jungle noises. When we finally reached the footprints themselves we were at first a bit confused. The footprints were originally made as the animals crossed a river bed 68 million years ago and further sediment laid on top preserved them. Dinosaur footprints

Dinosaur footprints

However, since that time the tectonic plates have moved and the mountains formed, pushing one side of the flat river bed upwards so that now the bed is nearly vertical. As a result, the tracks look as though the animals were going up and down a sheer cliff face! However this makes it easy to look across and follow many of the tracks. Cliff revealing dino footprints & landslide

Cliff revealing dino footprints & landslide

Sadly the steepness of the face also presents a real problem and only two weeks ago a section collapsed destroying a large group of footprints. However, the better news is that each such fall reveals yet more layers of footprints laid down at different times. Although you can currently only view from a distance, there are casts of some of the tracks in the little museum in the centre so you can see the full size. Our guide also talked excitedly of recently approved plans to stabilise one side of the site and build a staircase that will allow visitors to go right up to the footprints (something for a later trip perhaps…)

Source: Travelpod

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