Papaya shakes & Santa Claras: There's no better way to start the day
Vern: We spent two more quiet days in Samaipata. One day hanging around the hostel listening to two Spanish guys play classical guitar (which relaxed us like a resort holiday soundtrack) and the other walking in the hills around the town. Then we caught a night bus to Sucre. This was the first long distance bus we've taken without a bathroom on board, and the solution was to pull the bus over at a halfway point in a nowhere town then wake everyone up at 2:30am and order them off the bus to empty their bladders. We all wondered off and found a spot to do our business then boarded again and were on our way. I can just imagine office workers turning up to work later that morning and stepping out of the car into a little puddle of wee, "Gaah! Bloody buses!".
We loved Sucre, a pretty city in the mountains. All the buildings are painted white and are topped with red roof tiles made with clay of the same colour from the surrounding hills. Colonial church towers puncture the sky and pedestrians convene in leafy plazas. It's warm (considering that it is the middle of winter), safe, busy, colourful and cheap. Really cheap. We found a room in a bare-bones alojamiento (budget hotel) with a hard bed, partly painted walls and a hot shower, which was right opposite the central market, for just over $7 a night. And the market is brilliant. It takes up a full city block and is three floors high. Anything you can imagine is available: delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, cooked meals (which change throughout the day), fresh juices, hot drinks, wedding cakes, band-aids, shoes for Barbie, whole cow heads, fresh flowers, fake flowers, new release DVDs (though these haven't come through 20th Century Fox's distribution network) and even US college football team hoodies. We ate every meal there, with a particular penchant for a breakfast of a papaya fruitshakes, Santa Claras (oriental-style stir fried chicken and spinach in a crusty pastry) and a bag of mandarines or bananas. Peanut soup and chicken schnitzel ("milanesa") was a popular lunch and we experimented at dinner time.
The 21st of July was our four year anniversary (we started counting when Andrea climbed on a plane and flew to London to start a new life with some South African clown she met on a tour bus) and we decided on a picnic. From the market we bought bread, cheese, tomatoes, an avocado, some wine, a knife and a chopping board and shoved them into Andrea's new shoulder bag made from the magnificent brightly colored fabric which they haul everything around in here. Add to that some carefully selected chocolates (Sucre is Bolivia's chocolate capital) and we headed off to Parque Simón Bolivar.
The park is very European, with benches lining pathways under huge trees and a mini Eiffel Tower built by Alec himself as well as a knock off of the Arc de Triomph up front. Unfortunately it is opposite the Supreme Court (oh yes, Sucre is Bolivia's judicial capital too, but probably just because the judges like chocolate) and therefore home to a tent camp of banner-wielding protesters. We pushed through them and found a bench, then laid out all our bread and produce to start a sandwich assembly line. Let the romantic picnic begin. But we were marked, and an old lady beggar waddled up to us and wouldn't leave until we gave her half of our avocado. Good deed done, we popped open the wine, poured it into plastic cups, toasted and started on our sandwiches. And just as the sweet nothing whispering started up, a lady with an apple cart and another beggar converged on us and stood a few feet away. The one lady yelling, "manzanas" while the other lady just muttered quietly under her breath. It was a little hard reminiscing about how we met while the two woman bore into the side of our heads with their stares so we bought an apple from the cart and gave it to the beggar and sent them both on their way. Before the next panhandler could get to us we scoffed down the last of the sandwiches, glugged down what was left of the wine in our cups and corked the bottle. We had to call a rain check on the chocolates and briskly left our leafy little spot. Later, back in the peace and quiet of our little room, with a view of only the green accent wall, we finished our wine and the chocolates (which had got a little squished and all tasted like peach cream which had oozed out of one of them) and toasted a long life together with many more plans falling apart.
The following day we went to the Cretaceous Park. In the 80s a cement factory doing some blasting discovered a sheet of limestone with over 40 dinosaur tracks - over 5000 individual footprints from 65 million years ago. When the tectonic plates collided and the Andes formed the layer of limestone rotated and now sits at 70 degrees to the ground. So the Park is basically a zig-zagging pathway which runs past big dinosaur statues and leads up to a viewing platform which looks across a trench (in which trucks are carrying cement back and forth) at the rock face baring the prehistoric footprints. I wish it was more impressive, I really do, because it's incredible that amongst the other tracks a moment in time in which a carnivore was stalking an enormous herbivore and her young, millions of years ago, has been captured in stone, but the viewing platform is very far from the rock face and even a footprint 1 meter in diameter just looks like a divot in a mountain. I don't want to suggest Disneyfying the park, but a sound and laser show projected against the sheet rock would certainly bring history alive.
We stayed for a few more days doing little other than reading, inventing knock knock jokes, making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle facial expressions and visiting the market three times a day. Andrea was very happy there and if we could find jobs that paid in sterling while we spent in Bolivianos we could live there like kings!