We left Paraguay on a flight from Asuncion to Sucre. Sucre is a small city situated at 2750m above sea level. We’d initially intended to only stay for 2 days but ended up staying 6 due to me not being able to acclimatise and having bad altitude sickness. It affects people differently, if it all. Dave was more or less fine apart from the occasional headache. Whereas for me, it felt like my brain was going to explode out my head, I had pins and needles in my hands, feet, knee caps that lasted for hours, nausea, weeing more than a pregnant lady expecting quintuplets, a bloody nose making it even harder to breathe and mainly extreme shortness of breath after doing anything, like walking from the bed to the shower. Needless to say, I was charming to be around. We went to the pharmacy and got Punacap, an over the counter anti-altitude sickness medication as well as drinking the local coca leaf tea every day.
Anyway, enough of my whining, altitude sickness is the real deal. Sucre had some amazing food in the modern town. We had two favourite places, on opposite ends of the price scale. Firstly, Condor Cafe, a not for profit vegetarian place that did a full set menu for B$25 (£3) and also the biggest cheese empanada you’ve ever seen for B$9 (£1). The restaurant, that also offers trekking tours, runs many projects supporting the local community such as funding two preschools with food and basic necessities. A very cheap place to eat with a good cause! On the other end of the spectrum, there was a restaurant called La Taverne, where I had the best steak I had ever had in my entire life. The food was incredible, and even that was only £9 for the most extravagant steak and drink! Sucre is also infamous for its chocolate so it would have been rude not to stop in one of the many chocolate parlours. We chose our own selection from a shop called Para Ti and subsequently scoffed the lot in one go as soon as we got back! Carbs and sugar boosts actually help with altitude sickness, it’s science…
Our first excursion (other than food trips) was to Museo del Tesoro, the museum of treasure! Within the entrance price, you get a guided tour in English which we had with just one other bloke, so practically a private tour! We learned about the rocks and precious stones found in Bolivia and how they are used in both the past and present culture. They showed us how silver is smelted at the side of the mountain using a really small device. We saw traditional Inca jewellery made from gold and saw the differences between 18kt and 24kt gold malleability. The star of the show was Bolivianite, a unique gemstone whereby yellow citrine and purple amethyst fuse together to produce a beautiful gradient effect. It is found in the nearby town of Potosi, only 40km from Sucre!
When I was finally feeling up to it, we headed to Parque Cretacico; a dinosaur park on the outskirts of the town. Getting there was an absolute palava. You can catch a local bus from the town centre (4 or H) for B$1.50, which we managed to navigate. The problem was when after only a few kilometers, the bus driver said “everybody off, the road’s closed”. We walked on to see empty buses, trucks, lorries and cars. We still aren’t sure actually what happened and why all the drivers just left but fortunately for us, there were three other French people on the bus trying to get to the park too. We managed to find a taxi and barter to pile in the 5 of us for B$15; the most useful time speaking French has ever come in! The park is based around the Cretaceous period, the last age of the dinosaurs in South America. Included in the ticket price of B$25, is a free guided tour (in English!). We started off by watching a terrible 80’s graphics production about the Cretaceous period, funnily enough lots of people got up and walked out, though we persevered. We then went on to to see their collection of sculptures, including the largest dinosaur sculpture replica in the world of a Titanosaurus; 36×18 metres! It was actually really impressive and helped to visualise the absurdity of their size rather than just reading measurements.
The main attraction of the park however, is the dinosaur footprints: the largest collection of preserved footprints in any one place in the world! And what’s even more mental is that the foot prints go up a vertical face of a dug out cement quarry. Millions of years ago, South America was flat but then tectonic plates collided and turned the flat landscape into a mountainous one, I mean, look at the Andes. Hence why the footprints went from horizontal to vertical. Whilst you can still see the footprints in a panorama sort of way from the main area, you can actually go all the way down to see them up close at either 12:00 or 13:00. They give you a hard hat and goggles (if you don’t have sunglasses) and you go down with a different tour guide, ours was brilliant and so enthusiastic. Our guide held up his plastic dinosaur toys as he animatedly discussed the main two group of dinosaur footprints we saw; Sauropods, identified by the round shape and Teropods, identified by the three toes. They can’t identify the exact species, only the group. It was a great day out, apart from the near death experience of walking back up the quarry in the altitude.
Our final visit in Sucre was to the Church of San Felipe Neri. It’s a functioning school by day, but between 2.30 and 5pm, they allow tourists to enter for a small fee of B$15. We had only known about it because Dave stumbled upon it on Tripadvisor. We weren’t really sure what to expect and as it is only 2 flights of stairs, we sort of thought that the views couldn’t be that good but wow did we eat our words. The roof offered the most spectacular views of Sucre by afternoon. Dave said it was a ‘hidden gem’ without realising his Sucre gemstone pun, *rolls eyes*.
Join us next time as we head to the iconic salt flats of Uyuni!
Sophie & Dave