Sunday 19 August 2018

Sucre, Che Guevara and Samaipata

With a sparkling clean truck, after its salt bath we headed for the town of Sucre, with a quick overnight stop on the way in Potosi.

Sucre , which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  is the the Constitutional Capital of Bolivia, as oppose to the actual capital which is La Paz.

It sits at about 2800 meters in altitude and is home to about 300,000 people.

It is also , as far as we are concerned, a real jewel in Bolivia's crown. I have said before that we aren't particularly city people, but we loved Sucre. So much so we stayed for a couple of weeks .

Camping near the city is nearly impossible. Luckily for us, and fellow travellers, a wonderful couple named Alberto and Felicidad have opened up their garden to Overlanders and we camped there.
It was only a 10 minute walk to the towns magnificent Plaza.

We had decided that our grasp of the Spanish language was still crap, so cashing in on Bolivia's low prices we enrolled in Spanish lessons at the Sucre Spanish School . I would recommend their services for sure. Our teacher Veronica was very patient, luckily.

By chance our stay coincided with the Bolivian Independence day on the 6th August. The whole of Bolivia celebrates this and the parade in Sucre is extra special as the declaration of Independence was signed here.

The procession lasted several hours and contingents from all professions such as Doctors, Municipal workers, Miners ,teachers and Market Stall Holders were proud to participate. Brass bands from the Police and the Military lined the route. Even the local Dog rescue services took part.

Everyone was very proud to take part and the atmosphere reflected this 

One profession that made me laugh was Bolivia's version of the the Lollipop person. Bolivians also call their crossing "Zebra Crossings" so the attendants, who are on every street corner dress accordingly 

Not sure where the contingent of Dinosaurs fit in, I thought they fell out of favour a few billion years ago 

The parade was observed from on high by the Bolivian president wearing his ceremonial sash. ( we will come back to the sash in a minute )

His popularity has waned somewhat and several sections of the parade were waving political flags and banners opposing he future re election.

Now about the sash. The sash , which is several hundred years old, doesn't actually belong to the president, it is a symbol of importance  that belongs to the Bolivian nation. It is transported to and from various events under the guard of a small military escort. 

Well just after this parade, it was being transported by two soldiers who decided to have a short break from their journey, so taking advantage of low Bolivian prices, they checked into a brothel for a bit of leg over. You guessed it, whilst they were busy the sash was stolen.

It was however recovered a few days later but I bet those two soldiers are now dressed as zebras at a junction miles from civilisation. Read more

Whilst in Sucre we managed to catch up with some great faces from the past. Claus and Sippie, Ryan and Camille and made some new friends called Fritz and Gisela. 

Dinosaurs are big business Sucre. Lots of remains have been found in the region and at a local cement works on the outskirts of town a huge collection of Dinosaur footprints were discovered and have become a local attraction called "Parque Cretacico" its like Jurassic Park but about 70 million years younger.

In company with Ryan and Camille went to see this phenomena for ourselves .

The park had tried hard to put on a very impressive display of life size creatures that created loud booming sounds and growls. It was all very exciting until we met our parties guide who tried very hard    ( actually I think it was a natural skill )  to make it the dullest tour in the world. Dinosaurs should be awesome, but his complete lack of personality was unbelievable. However, being a bit childish this feature actually became a good part of the tour and trying to second guess how dull this guys monologue could get became fun.

Anyway here are some dinosaur footprints

I know what your thinking. How did some big fat dinosaur manage to plod up a muddy 85 degree rock face . I had the same question.

We apparently all dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period became far more nimble than in other periods and had mastered  the art of abseiling. Simple when you think about it.

No seriously. This rock face was once  horizontal . The tracks set hard in the mud, which over millions of years turned to stone and the whole area was pushed up to the near vertical plane by sedimentary heave, that is still ongoing today.

As said we loved it in Sucre and we actually had three failed attempts at leaving, being planning to go in the morning and then couldn't manage it the next day. In fairness this was caused by us both having a rather big dose of "Bolivian Bottom". We were well and truly on a "PAN" American Adventure.

We had been told that the road to Santa Cruz was paved all the way and would take us about about 12 hours to get there as it was all down hill.    So we  set off and soon discovered that about 150 km of it in the middle section were in fact unpaved Gravel         " Ripio" roads that had huge single track mountain climbs of several thousand meters. 

Although a bit daunting this section , that took  3 days, actually became a real highlight. The Bolivian scenery was amazing.

The single track had a cliff on the inside and a sheer drop on the outside. The problem with these twisty roads is oncoming traffic. The locals here drive a bit fast. Our truck has two very large air horns but taking your hand off the steering wheel every few minutes isn't prudent. So we rigged up a long cord so Pat could operate it from the passenger side .

It started well but soon became the " Nervousometer of fear" we are now both deaf.

Remember, the tyre tracks you see on the ground are from cars. we are much wider than this.

During this stretch we stopped at the small mountain village of La Higuera. ( Spanish for "The Fig Tree" ) 

This village was catapulted into the limelight on the 8th of October 1967 when the revolutionary Communist Terrorist ( Now freedom fighter ) "Che Guevara " was captured by the local Bolivian Army and held prisoner in a local school building. With the assistance and encouragement of the American CIA , who attended the location Che Guevara was executed in that school house and a huge legacy was born.

Che Guevara was an young Argentinian medical student who, with a friend,  went on a trip around South America on a Norton motorcycle. During this trip he became very aware of the huge inequalities that existed between people and was slowly drawn into becoming a Communist campaigner and led Guerrilla movements in many locations including Cuba , Bolivia and Congo. Being probably the worlds most wanted man, at that time, he took refuge in the Bolivian hills and it was here he was captured .

The town of La Higuera has now become a focal point of his life and the very schoolroom where he was shot dead is now a small Museum of his life.

History now looks at him differently but who knows what was really like.

The only communication that existed at the time was a small telegraph room in the centre of the village.

The messages of his presence in the area, his capture and his assassination orders were all sent and received from this tiny room, which is now a restaurant offering candle lit dinners for small groups or couples. Casa Telegrafica, owned by a french couple,  also offers camping and Cabanas for travellers in their beautiful garden.

Despite his legacy, that brings tourist like us to visit, village life is still a tough existence. There are only   7 local children.  There are only 5 people in the village  who are old enough to remember him. One of which is this 71 year old lady who claims to have cooked him his last meal. For the price of a jacket donated by Pat she was keen to tell us her story.

If Etta and Stefan get to read this, your table that I have been dragging round for months has now been donated to the curator of the museum. Who knows it might have a bit of Che's beard or last bowel movement displayed on it as we speak.

The town of Samaipata ( High Rest  ) was our next destination but we still had to negotiate more of the mountain ripio road. 

We arrived late and simply parked in the Plaza. The next day we came to realise that Samaipata was in fact a really lively town and was clearly a popular destination for backpackers and unemployable Europeans who have devoted their lives to avoiding  shampoo. We liked it here.

The nearby Inca Settlement of "El Fuerte" was our goal, but rather than drive there we took a tour with a local company called "Samaipata Tours". The locally named owner and guide " Jacqueline" was superb. Her knowledge was incredible and the service outstanding. I would definitely recommend them.

"El Fuerte" ( formerly the original Samaipata ) is the largest carved rock settlement in the world and it sits on a high platform between two valleys. The south side is classified as Andean and the north side is the start of the Amazonian region that stretches to Brazil.

Buckle up for some more history and culture.

Apparently this site  has been of huge significance to several civilisation over many century's. 

Originally developed by the Mojocoyas the rock carving was started by the "Chane" in 800 AD and then continued by the "Incas". 

These three civilisations live together peacefully until the "Spanish" showed up in the 17th century and basically said to the 2000 or so occupants "Convert to Catholicism, take a Spanish name, adopt the Spanish way of life and become a slave..... or die". 

Lots chose to die.

There was a further hostile invasion by an eastern Bolivian / Paraguayan culture called the "Guarani"

The rock itself served many purposes. It was a place of worship and ceremonies. A place of government. A place of sacrifice and even has carving on its surface that show the seasons, indicating events like the Solstice and Equinox and the right times to plant and harvest .

Around the rock were homesteads and market areas. 

Religion and worship of Sun and Earth gods played a big part in cultures of this time and death was very important .

The alcoves in the rocks in the following pictures were the burial sites of important people. Each site was assigned a priest who's roll was to live in front of, and guard, the corpse for ever. Nice work if you can get it.

For some reason the entire site later became uninhabited and derelict. Wind blown sands completely buried the area and its existence was almost forgotten

However, in the 1970's an eminent archaeologist called "Omar Claure" devoted his entire life to excavating the area and restoring many of its features. Thanks to his tireless work in 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site . 

By sheer chance Dr Claure was on site when we visited and we were privileged to meet him.

Tha Pantanal in Brazil is now in our sights

Dont forget you can see lots more information on the "Route and Photos" page of this site 

Hasta Luego