Bolivia: Entry 4

7 December 2002: Sucre, Bolivia

Subject: Bolivia


We're now in Sucre, a pleasant enough place about 2700m up. The flight here from Cochabamba was excellent - only 35 minutes, but the alternative was a ten-hour bus ride, and looking down from the windows it was clear why. Like Cochabamba, Sucre is part way down the slope from the Altiplano to the Amazon basin. From the air you can see how the rivers have incised their way down into what was once a high plateaux. Higher up the ground is quite barren, then in the river valleys almost jungle.

We flew with LAB - Lloyd Aero Boliviano - who claim to be the world's third oldest airline and are celebrating their seventy-seventh birthday! Although their first jet aircraft, a 727-100, is still in service, we were on a slightly newer plane. Their in-flight magazine claims that when they started in the 1920s "Bolivia had no roads" - a rather bizzare statement that also ignores the fact that it did have quite a respectable rail network until quite recently. Now most towns are joined by good quality roads and coaches have won, as in most of the rest of the hemisphere.

When we got to the airport we were greted by gleeful-looking taxi drivers who told us that there were no buses to the centre. Latin American taxi drivers are, as a group, probably the least honest people I have met and I didn't believe a word of it (and other people in the airport said that collectivos go past the airport gates for only 1 Bol). But it turned out that they were right! It seems that the local authority wants to pedestrianise - or at least to prohibit buses from - the city centre, and the bus drivers don't like the idea. They want to be able to continue to queue their smoke-belching monsters, engines revving, outside our hotel all evening while a small boy shouts something incomprehensible at the top of his voice to enticle potential passengers onboard. So to get their point across they decided to.... blockade the town! Sounds slightly familiar? Yes, this is the third place we've got to in the middle of a strike. But luckily this time it only lasted for the day and the place seems to be back to normal now.

The main attraction here is the weaving. It seems that the traditional weaving almost died out in the sixties when most of the old textiles were bought up by merchants for sale to collectors; the weavers then didn't have any examples on which to base their new work. But a group of anthropologists saved the day by giving them photos of their old stuff and setting up a fair trade network and textiles museum in the town. The museum is excellent: Christine says it is the best museum in Latin America! There are three main styles that they focus on from three distinct areas. One shows fantastic creatures, normally in red, on a black background: they are supposed to be things from the night or your dreams. Another has a light background and shows scenes of everyday life. The final style is multi-coloured and, unusually, is done by men. It uses a combination of motifs including fantasy creatures, based on pre-conquest textiles. Of course you want to buy one of each but they take a long time to weave and have "fair" prices to match. But it seems that the prices still aren't enough to satisfy the weavers: they augment their income by selling canabis to the museum visitors!

Dinosaur Footprints

The other main attraction here is the dinosaur footprint site. You take a ghastly old truck (one redeeming feature: it is powered by local natural gas) a few miles out to the local cement factory where they have exposed what was once the muddy edge of a lake, now tilted up at an angle of 73 degrees. We had an excellent guide who was obviously a real geologist and used a mirror to reflect a spot of sunlight onto the face to point out the tracks. Some of them are vast round elephant-like tracks (I forget how big they said they must have been, but certainly much bigger than an elephant), and others are smaller, faster carnivores with three or four toes or claws. And as they quarry deeper, more of it will be revealved! Excellent.