Walking in the footsteps of the Incans

We got an early start and headed out of the city for about an hour and drove to the village of Chataquilla, located at 3,600 meters ( feet). After visiting the chapel at the top of the mountain, which was built over another miraculous image of the virgin Mary. I’ve heard many versions of this folktale in Venezuela and Colombia all the way back to Spain. It must be a Hispanic-America Catholic phenomenon.

Ale and Nadia sample some coca leaves to relieve the soroche.

The local government restored an Incan road from the chapel, dropping 1000 meters to the village of Chaunaca. The path wound around the steep mountain and there were a few very steep drops. Workers took care to cut and fit stones around the original remaining Incan stones to create a level, 1 – 2 meter wide trail. The entire walk is about 5 kilometers, but at that altitude, it felt like double that. We took our time, taking lots of photos, learning the names and medicinal uses of the plants and sorting out the children’s various needs. The views were spectacular and the sky was a pure blue. It was an absolute pleasure taking in the views of the geology and the many valleys, peaks, canyons, etc. What a great morning!

End of the trail – we made it!

We were planning to visit another village in the ancient Maragua crater but my sister-in-law was not feeling well so we returned to the hotel. I really want to explore more of the villages outside Sucre. It is a wonderland for mountain biking, rock climbing/scrambling and walking. It would be similar to the American Rockies in the southwest, like the state of Utah.

In the late afternoon we visited La Recoleta convent again for a sunset dinner. On the walk back we stopped in the plaza to get a taste of some of the Bolivian Independence Day celebrations. There was a school parade and lots of vendors, music and people-watching. We had a wonderful stay in Sucre!

View of Sucre from the roof of our hotel.

Bolivia is awesome for travel and adventure. The combination of a tropical latitude in the Amazon river basin and the widest part of the massive Andes mountains, blows away what most countries have to offer for adventure travel. I do hope to come back and especially as my children get older, I want to share with them the wilderness of Bolivia. My ideal trip would be to spend a week in the Amboro National Park, entering from the Samaipata side and then going to Vallegrande to see where Che Guevara was killed. Next we would go to the highest capital in the world, La Paz. While there we would do side trips to Lake Titicaca and see the village where Modesta is from and climb the snow-capped peak of Mount Sorata. Next we go to the salt deserts of Uyuni, staying in a salt hotel and do a driving tour of the amazing, alien landscapes of the high Atacama desert. There are brightly algea-colored lakes, high altitude flamingos, herds of vicuna and the weird rock formations. We would finish up by visiting two Amazonian parks, Alto Madidi and Noel Kempff and then the pantanal, the largest wetlands in South America. How is that for a trip!

Hike in the Seven Cascades Canyon

The fifth cascade made a refreshing water hole.

Our goal today was to get out of the city and see a bit of the Chuquisaca (name of the department) hinterland. In the morning we visited the Fancesa Cement Quarry, which they claim is the largest dinosaur track/footprint site in the world. Years ago the company was digging limestone out of the quarry and they ran into a layer of Magnesium oxide rock which was not used in the cement making process. Two geologists working at the company noticed the fossilized dinosaur tracks. Nadia and I visited the site 15 years ago when there was nothing for tourists and since then, the government has established a visitor’s center with displays and information about the geological time scale and dinosaurs. It is quite an informative center and worth visiting if you want to learn more about dinosaurs. The prints are huge and criss-cross a massive (150 meters high by 1 kilometer in length) slice of rock. It was once a lake and the prints of 4 different dinosaurs can be identified.

Owen looking at the sauropod prints on the wall of the quarry.

In the afternoon we went on a hike to the Siete Cascadas canyon. It is located past the cement factory in one of the many mountain canyons/valleys in the area. The guide from the hotel was very knowledgable about the local trees. The driver asked me to smoke a cigarette when we got down to the first waterfall to appease Pachamama, the Quechua indigenous god. He said on Tuesdays and Fridays in the month of August it is bad luck to swim in the waters of the river in the canyon without this offering.

After a few puffs, Owen and I dove into the blue water and it was cold! The guide showed the boys a few rock climbing moves and we explored the canyon a bit. We made it over the fifth waterfall, but the sixth and seventh require some serious rock climbing skills. Sadly there was some graffiti and litter at the site, but the rock formations and waterfalls still made it an awe-inspiring site.

Ollie leads us out of the canyon.

On the way back out, we walked down the river a bit and took a smaller trail back up to the entry road. We saw a freshly killed goat carcass, which the guide said was probably the work of a fox. I loved scrambling with the boys through the canyon and the opportunity to get off the regular trail. The scenery reminded me a bit of the mesalands of the Venezuelan state of Anzoategui, except it was just a deeper ravine here in the Andes.

The access road hugs the side of the cliff and is dirt and it is a bit dodgy with a steep precipice. Our driver was careful going up and down.

Sad to see the tough life of the poor of Sucre.

The drive back into town went through some very poor barrios. The Barrio Alegria was definitely a misnomer (alegria means happiness in Spanish) as the roads were unpaved, makeshift houses, and disheveled children and garbage in front of the homes. Lots of opportunities for community service up there and I am amazed how people survive in such a tough environment.

The city has the great idea to use people dressed as zebras to act as crossing guards during rush hour. The colonial streets of Sucre are narrow and there are lots of universities and K-12 schools getting out plus regular pedestrians.  At first I thought why zebras, but then figured out the white lines of the pedestrian crossing resemble a zebra. A creative way to keep people safe and add to the character of the city.

I can’t wait to explore more of the countryside on Day 3 as we are going for a full day excursion. We finished the day with a walk about the 25 of May Plaza and pizza.

First Day in Sucre Bolivia

The flight from Santa Cruz to Sucre is only about 30 minutes, but the difference between the two cities is vast. Sucre is the judicial capital (home of the supreme court of Bolivia) and on my birthday, May 25, 1809, the first call for independence from Spain was declared here. Ironically, Bolivia was the last South American country to be liberated from Spain after 14 years of war in 1825. Most likely that Bolivar was a Venezuelan and started there. I need to re-read the history of Bolivia and to read the latest biography of Simon Bolivar.  The city is named after Simon Bolivar’s right hand man, Antonio Sucre. It is cool to think that Bolivar was here The historical center of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site and is known as the “white city” or “cultural city” by the Bolivians. They kept the Spanish Andalusian colonial  style with most of the buildings being white.

The hotel that we are staying at, Parador Santa Maria La Real. The hotel is a 17th century mansion of the Spanish court, when Sucre was known as Real Audiencia de Charcas. The owner beautifully restored it to its past glory and it is a pleasure to stay in. The Spanish loved the inner courtyards, which were open air and the center of life in the house. Rooms built off of the courtyard, like rooms of a motel, were used for sleeping, clothes cleaning, the kitchen, etc.. When they were restoring the place, they found a basement that they are unsure what it was used for. The owners turned it into a museum/dining hall with his collection of colonial antiques

Nadia and I have fond memories of walking up to La Recoleta Church when we visited in 1998.

As with most of Andean Bolivia, the city is at altitude, over 9,200 feet (2,800 meters). If Denver, Colorado USA is the “mile high city”, then Sucre should be the “two-mile city”. It is so bright, with blue skies and it reminds me of a Mediterranean look, but drier and higher. It is a small city, with a population between 250,000 – 300,000 people and has a small town feel. Lots of European backpackers coming through the city, as this must be on the South American circuit. Altitude gives me a headache the first day and today I had a slight one. We are also a bit sluggish and it was a slog up the hill to spend the late afternoon at La Recoleta Church. There is a nice cafe there and some good views of the city. Nadia and Ale enjoyed the shopping in the markets and bought some beautiful rugs/textiles. The prices are so cheap here in Sucre. I am glad to show the children the Andes and they can learn about dealing with altitude.

Nadia shopping for textiles in the central plaza of Sucre.

I wonder how these mountains looked like before the Spanish arrived, or maybe for that matter, before the Incans came. I guess there were probably more trees and vegetation which helped for a wetter climate. Sucre is at 19 degrees south latitude and most of the deserts and arid areas are found around 30 degrees latitude like the Atacama, Sahara, etc.

Sucre is being touted as a place for globally mobile foreigners to settle and live or for a place to retire. The cost of living is incredibly low (contrasts with the drug-boom bubble economy of Santa Cruz), there is nice sunny, dry, cool weather, and the third piece, which I question, is it is a culturally rich place with lots to do, both intellectually and outdoors. We will be here for a few days so I will be weighing in on this topic.

Owen and Sebey playing chess above Sucre.

I finished the night playing cachos with my nephew, Oliver and Ocean in the hotel bar. I tried a local drink called a chuflay which is made of the Bolivian spirit singani, which is a type of brandy distilled from wine, and ginger ale on the rocks. It was OK, but nothing special. I preferred the kids’ chocolate submarines, hot milk poured over a bar of chocolate. We laughed a lot and it was a great way to end our first day in Sucre.

The mountains of Sucre as seen from the plane.