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Santa Cruz de la Sierra - Sucre - Cal Orko

Going back in time


View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake at 02:00 with a horrendously sore throat and a cough – no doubt as a result of the cold I caught on the flight over to South America. Bummer.

Music from a disco is still going on in the neighbourhood, right up until I get up at 05:30.

Flight from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Sucre.

I had been concerned about the luggage allowance on this domestic flight, as we’d packed for international allowances which are somewhat more generous. Juan had kindly offered to take some of our stuff in his bag, so late last night we handed a couple of bundles of clothing over. As it turns out, check-in is smooth and easy at Viru Viru Airport.

Security on the other hand is a bit of a joke. Despite the alarm going off as I pass through the X-ray (there is metal in my pocket, on my boots as well as my knee brace), I am waved through without as much as a cursory pat-down.

In the departure lounge, a small fluffy white dog follows its owner around like… well, a puppy dog. It is so rare to see a dog on a flight that it raises quite a few eyebrows (and attracts much petting). The dog does not have a lead, yet it never steps further than one metre from its mummy.

Less popular, but attracting no less attention, is a man covered from head to toe in tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications (including his eyeballs). Two brave little girls, however, venture as far as asking him for a selfie with them. He obliges while making a rude hand gesture to the camera. Par for the course, I feel.

My throat is feeling desperately raw at the moment, but the only relief I can find in the small stall in the departure lounge, is a packet of overly-sweet Starburst. Still, they go some way to soothe my throat. To supplement this, I take some painkillers.

Bolivia appears to be way behind the rest of the world in terms of moving on from the Covid lockdown. While the WHO (World Health Organisation) declared the pandemic officially over last week, here masks are still worn by at least 60% of the population. They are compulsory on domestic flights, and in the airport, we see very few people without one.

I begrudgingly put a mask on as we start to board the plane. I’d forgotten just how claustrophobic they are – the last time I wore one was in Brazil last summer. Thank goodness it is only a very short flight.

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Despite the sore throat, lack of legroom, and having to wear a restrictive mask, I manage to sleep for 44 out of the 45-minute flight. I wake with a jolt as the plane touches down in Sucre.

Again we de-plane by row, not that it makes a great deal of difference to us as we are seated near the back of the plane.

We are picked up in a minibus by Miguel, who will be our driver as far as Uyuni. As with most other vehicles on this trip, there is very little legroom, but I am pretty used to it by now.

It is too early to check in to the hotel, so we head for the place where the city of Sucre was founded.

La Recoleta

When the Spanish initially arrived in this place, they decided to make their new city at the top of the hill, with great views over the valley where the poorer people settled. After a while, they realised that this higher altitude was considerably cooler than the lowlands and much windier, so they upped sticks. The rich people moved down the hill, and as a result, the poorer people ended up at the higher elevation.

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The main plaza

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Iglesia de Santa Ane

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View over the lower part of Sucre

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These love-locks get everywhere!

Just off the main plaza is a narrow alleyway with many ethnic stores.

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Asur Museum

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“It’s just a few steps” Juan answers when I ask about accessibility. Seeing the side of the hill the museum is built on, I am not sure I trust him.

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To a point, he is right. It is just a few steps down to the entrance and top floor of the exhibition. The rest, however, is down two flights and steep, uneven steps.

No photography is permitted in the museum, only in the entrance lobby, where there is a lady in indigenous clothes weaving on a traditional loom.

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Also known as the textile museum, The Museum of Indigenous Art displays a collection of archaeological pieces, textiles, musical instruments and ceramics dating from 2000 to 500 years ago.

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The main exhibition consists of tapestries from various communities, with Juan explaining the difference in style.

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Hotel De su Merced

Most of the streets in Sucre date from the colonial period, and thus are narrow and cobbled. The manager of the hotel tries to leave a space opposite the hotel entrance (using bollards) when he knows there are guests imminently arriving. We manage to squeeze into a tight space to unload our luggage.

The hotel is housed in an 18th-century Spanish colonial mansion and is gorgeous: from the reception, an arch leads to an internal courtyard, filled with terracotta pots and colourful plants, beautiful hand-painted ceramic tiles, intricate black wrought iron railings, lanterns, and window frames.

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Tiled steps lead to two more floors, with the first floor having a walkway outside overlooking the quaint atrium.

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Our room is on the first floor, tucked away in a corner. The room is big and bright, with terracotta floor tiles, two large beds, and high ceilings with a fabulous chandelier.

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La Tabla Charcos

From the hotel, we walk down to the lunchtime restaurant. “It’s just a short distance, ” says Juan – maybe for him, a seasoned hiker and mountain climber – but for me, overweight and unfit with a dodgy knee and a nasty cough, it is exhausting.

We have the daily set menu, which features a starter called Sopa de Papalisa.

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Papalisa is an edible tuber known as ulluco, one of the most widely grown and economically important root crops in the Andean region of South America, second only to the potato. It has been cultivated in the Andean highlands for thousands of years.

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Photo from internet

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Pork Stir Fry

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Chocolate cake - yummy!

Cal Orcko

This afternoon we are visiting a limestone quarry on the outskirts of Sucre, one of the highlights of the trip, and a site that I have been very excited about seeing. This is not just any ordinary quarry (although the cement plant is still operational), it is what was discovered here by the miners that has caused great excitement across the world: a 70° sloping wall full of dinosaur prints.

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They still produce cement here

The wall is 80 metres high and 1.2 kms long, and used to be a lake floor some 65 million years ago, well before the Andes were formed. The tectonic plate shifts during the Tertiary shifted the rock face to the angle we see now.

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Back then, dinosaurs trudged through mud towards the lake in search of water. It is believed that sediment covered the tracks in the mud, followed by a period of drought drying out the clay, thus preserving these prints. When wetter weather returned, the prints were sealed in the mud and sediment, until they were discovered in 1994 when miners were clearing the grounds.

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Over 500 tracks have been discovered, and so far 294 species of dinosaurs have been identified, making this site the largest of its kind in the world. The tracks include a 347-meter trail left behind by a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed “Johnny Walker”. There are so many trails crisscrossing the rock face at different angles, that it has been nicknamed the ‘Dinosaur Dancefloor’. In my mind, I have a vision of elephants at a waterhole in Africa, with the elephants replaced by dinosaurs. The visualisation is mindblowing!

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Imagine that these are dinosaurs!

From the car park, there is a short lane to the bottom of the hill opposite the slope featuring the dinosaur tracks. We can see the footprints from the bottom of the trail, but Juan suggests it is better from the top. The trail to the top is long and winding, and I struggle to make my way up the hill, stopping many times to catch my breath, or for a heavy coughing fit.

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As we reach (what I think is) the top, the bench against the entrance wall is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a long time, and I head straight for it and plonk my bum down for a while to rest.

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I am really proud of myself for reaching the top, but at what cost to my health? Time will tell.

At the entrance, we are allocated an English-speaking guide, but first, we see a short film about how the dinosaurs lived. While I can’t understand the Spanish narrator, the film itself, the animations, and the special effects, make it very worthwhile, and we can get a general idea of a timeline and the hierarchy of the different species of dinosaurs. I was unaware that there were so many different varieties.

The cretaceous park features a number of life-size models – the guide explains that while paleontologists have been able to work out the size and shape of these giants, the skin colour is mostly guesswork.

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Carnotaurin

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Abelisaurian and Iguanodontian

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Ankylosaurus

There is also a small museum at the very top (a few more steps and slopes up from the entrance). I feel quite lightheaded, and extremely unwell at this stage, with my knee hurting from the climb up, my back aching from standing around listing to the guide, and my sore throat has now settled on my chest. I am sad to say that much of what he explains gets lost in my brain fog.

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The viewing platform doesn’t really offer that much better a view than we had from the bottom (before climbing that hill), and I am not sure the models and museum are worth it in this incident, with the way I feel today. The replica footprints in the museum are cool though, they show the size better than looking at them from a distance (some of the footprints they have found measure a massive 80cm across!)

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Before starting the descent, we treat ourselves to an ice cream in the little café on the viewing terrace.

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Going back down the hill is easier on my chest, but harder on my knee, but I make it back to the car in one piece. As soon as we reach the hotel, I collapse into bed and stay there for the remainder of the afternoon, evening, and night. As David leaves to go for dinner with Juan, I wake up, and immediately cough up a whole load of green gunk. I take my blood saturation levels, which are only 86%. Not good. During the pandemic, the NHS was urging us to go straight to hospital if the SP0² dropped below 90%.

Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fascinating trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 20:25 Archived in Bolivia Tagged masks flight airport museum bolivia terracotta soup south_america dinosaurs colonial tattoos chandelier mansion wrought_iron sucre padlocks airport_security tuber quarry undiscovered_destinations tertiary covid sore_throat santa_cruz_de_la_sierra chest_infection x_ray viru_viru la_recoleta iglesia_de_santa_ana asur asur_museum textils textile_museum hotel_de_su_merced de_su_merced colonial_mansion la_tabla_charcos papalisa cal_orcko cretacians cretacious_park limestone_quarry dinosaur_prints tetonic_plate_shifts t_rex johnny_walker dinosaur_dancefloor carnotaurin abelisaurian iguanodontian ankylosaurus brain_fog backache sp02 oxymeter

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Comments

Such a shame you felt so ill at a place you'd anticipated would be a highlight of your trip! I've found myself that it's sometimes hard to explain any limitations or difficulties you have to an enthusiastic and super fit local guide! Nevertheless it looks fascinating and your hotel looks beautiful. I like the sound of the Museum of Indigenous Art too, although it was a shame you couldn't take photos inside.

by ToonSarah

Juan was so eager to please, bless him, and he knew how very much I wanted to see the footprints. Thanks for reading and commenting, Sarah x

by Grete Howard

My gosh, I hope you get better!!!!
It seems you had an interesting day and feeling so bad as you did it is such a pity.

by Ils1976

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