Monday, 11 August 2014

Dino trekking!

Condortrekkers is a tour agency that offers city tours, as well as single or multi-day treks into the surrounding countryside. All profits from tours are used to support other local NGOs and communities. The treks that they run focus on understanding the local cultures and ecology and give you the chance to stay within local communities.

It's an early start as we walk through the empty dark streets of Sucre to meet our companions for the next three days trekking. Neil, a very likeable English guy who lives up to all the positive stereotypes of an English gent, and a young German girl who over the course of the trip manages to live up to every negative stereotype of both her age and country.

The early start gives way to sleep on the bus, as we're driven to the starting point of our trek, where we enjoy a delicious breakfast of coffee, the most amazing banana bread, and fruit, in pretty impressive amphitheater surroundings.

Slightly different on this trek is that we've all been told to bring our big backpacks with us, as we'll each be carrying a couple of boxes of communal food, so we get loaded up and then we're on our way.

Day 1 will be a total of 16km, which takes us down an old inca trail and into a naturally formed crater which is 4km across. Within this crater is a small village which Condortrekkers invests some of the money paid by us into various community projects - they've built a library, helped to build the school, and even just bringing small groups of tourists there helps the local economy as we all buy water, drinks, and snacks from the shop, and a woven bracelet for 50p from some of the younger residents. German girl opts to weave her own and then wear it... well done, but I think you're missing the point there?

Our guide (who speaks only Spanish and Quechua) explains various things along the way. Initially it looks like German girl will play translator, but it quickly becomes clear that the rest of us can understand sufficiently well to not need this. We even manage to learn some Quechua: to say "hello" you say something that sounds like "Ee-mah-na-ya", although we try this a few times as we reach villages along the way and get no reponse, so clearly we didn't learn it that well.

The scenery along the way is at times breathtaking:

We stop for lunch after a nice little uphill, and the reason for us each carrying boxes of food is revealed - the picnic feast that is put on is phenomenal.

Having not yet risen to any of the (unintentional?) jibes from German girl, I finally crack when she talks about Guatemala, and while she has an entirely different view to ours, refuses to accept that our perspective might also be valid. We explain that hers is not the experience that we had, to which she replies "well if you only go to the most touristy areas, like Tikal...". Alright, I'll bite... "So do you suggest that people shouldn't go to Tikal? That's one of the best things we've seen on the whole trip."

* long pause *

"Well, I went when I was 15, my host family took me, and they only paid national rates (tourists understandably are expected to pay a higher entry fee), and we didn't have a guide!"

Riiiiiiiight... Throughout the trip, we tried to be inclusive, but it's difficult when someone seems to go to great lengths to exclude themself, or continually changes any group conversation to be about themselves. Whatever, we got on great with Neil and our guide anyways!

Rant over, so here's out humble home for the night. When we booked they'd gone to great lengths to emphasise the simplicity and basic standard we should expect. Seriously, we all expected something far worse than these funky little huts...

Day 2 will be a little longer than yesterday at 18km, but the hardest bit is walking up and out of the crater. 

When reach the top, we (actually I, for some reason CP doesn't want to be associated with this) notice that the natural rock formations look remarkably similar to the cow pats left by the local livestock...

Pretty early on we reach the thing that we've come here to see. To be honest, I was expecting a fairly shoddy imprint in a rock that if you looked at the right angle, might maybe look like a footprint. Instead, there's two very obvious lines of tracks, one from a dino that would have been 15m long, 7m tall, and a meat eater, and the other a 30m long herbivore. Their names escape me, but suffice to say we'll be watching Jurassic Park when we're back home to try and spot them.

The problem is, now that we've seen the footprints, the rest of the trek is basically just about getting to our next campsite. At about 3pm, we arrive at a purpose built complex where we'll be sleeping tonight... after a quick look round the town (there's a plaza)...

...and the purchase of a bottle of wine to go with dinner, there's really not much else to do, so we teach Neil the standard card game (shithead), and he teaches us a game called Presidents and Assholes. Having expanded our intellectual knowledge, and dinner still some time away, the wine between three of us doesn't last long. Dinner is served - which is the first meal of this trip where our guide has not been able to conjure something magical from our supplies, and the local store has let him down badly.

The next day, we all have very early morning bus tickets for the return to Sucre (platform A...):

After half an hour, it's clear that the bus is not coming, so our guide puts in the call to the office who will send a car to collect us, in three hours time, Meanwhile we help the local economy some more by buying a whole range of sweets from the little shack, and visit the only tourist attraction in town, a little museum of Quechua stuff, like this guitar thing, made from an armadillo!

Our wagon arrives and transports us back to Sucre in time for a final team lunch, although CP insists on being dropped off on the way so she can grab more of those (soon to be?) world famous salteƱas.

After lunch, we make a dash to the dinosaur park on the outskirts of the city. This place is awesome, and aside from the recreated dinos on show, there's also a 70 degree wall, 1.8km long, and 120m high, full of footprints. The wall was flat millions of years ago, part of a lake floor, and has been pushed upwards by various tectonic plate movements over the years, and plans are now in place to stabilise and preserve it. The cement factory next door to the dino park discovered the footprints in the 1980s by chance, and luckily realised this was quite an important find so opted not to just carry on digging.

And some of those recreated beasts...

And what's this last one? 

Well it is of course a dinosaurs vagina.

That's all we have time for in Sucre as we have another overnight bus, this time to take us to Cochabamba, where we will spend a couple of days volunteering at an orphanage. Definitely CPs choice, but I'm happy to tag along!

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