Sunday, October 4, 2009
As dead as a dinosaur.
Besides just being a nice town, the other thing Sucre is famous for is its dinosaur tracks. There’s even a special tourist bus called the dino tuck that picks people up from the plaza and takes them out to the quarry where the tracks are located. The site is the largest set of dinosaur tracks in the world. Adrian was super excited about this and for some reason, the Dino Truck in particular.
Although we were only going to be here for one night, Adrian started the day by heading to the market to pick up some grub. His goal was to come back with a bunch of oranges to make juice, as well as some other fresh fruit that we were missing terribly. Unfortunately for Adrian he confused the Spanish word for 10 with the word for Thankfully, the seller had erred on the side of caution and sent him away with just two shopping bags full of oranges. Next time Adrian should just stick to saying sh-sh-sh-sh while shopping. It seems to work better than his attempts at Spanish. Oh well, after lots of orange juice and free oatmeal we headed out to catch the Dino Truck.
When the truck/bus pulled up, Adrian however was disappointed. “I though it would be a truck shaped like a dinosaur,” he admitted. No really. That’s what he was excited about. I should have guessed since if it’s tacky he wants to see it. But when the truck pulled up to the entrance to the park his need for all things tacky was satisfied once again. In the last five years, the Bolivian government and the cement factory on whose land the tracks were located, had pumped a bunch of money into the site to build a tourist centre complete with lifesize plaster and plastic models of the dinosaurs. Since it was smack dab in the middle of a dismal looking cement factory and quarry, the bright colours and child-like design was a weird juxtaposition. We had just enough time to take it in before every one on the dino truck was herded into a tour group.
The guide took us through the small onsite museum and into the grounds before taking us to the track viewing point. Along the way he gave us a brief history of site. Around the turn of the last century, an earthquake struck destroying much of the town, our guide told us. This was surprising since the town was one of the best-preserved ones we’d seen. To rebuild the town a cement factory and quarry were built just outside of town where there was plenty of the required minerals and rocks. They dug and dug and dug until they reached a hard layer. One of the geologists noticed something a bit odd about it. The layer jutted straight up vertically but was covered in animal tracks. On closer inspection he realized they weren’t animal tracks but dinosaur ones. He called in the right people and despite being in the middle of a (still-functioning) cement quarry, the slab remained untouched except for the scientists.
Nowadays, the slab was preserved for tourists. At one time the slab had been a muddy flat used as a highway by the area animals but shifts in the earth had driven the hardened slab straight up, perfect for viewing the kilometer long stretch. Until recently, it was possible to get right up to the slab but it was now too dangerous not just because of the instability of the wall but because the factory trucks used the area in front as a main road to and from the factory. But from the safe distance of the tourist park we had a great view. There were small dino prints and big ones. There were the tracks of docile herbivores and of scary carnivores crisscrossing the wall. Exposure to the elements had caused some portions to collapse but scientists and the government are working hard to keep the rest intact. I don’t blame them – they invested all this money in a tourist centre that wouldn’t be all that appealing without the tracks themselves. Although Adrian might disagree – he enjoyed posing under the plastic models particularly when he realized that the creator had included anatomically correct bums which he pointed and giggled at. He would have stuck around longer but the dino truck honked that it was time for our return trip to Sucre.
Back in town, it was still early afternoon so we stopped for lunch at an Italian café on the plaza. Then we decided to check out some more of the city. We walked towards the big park in front of the government buildings. It was the weekend so the park was full of families. The kids were riding around in motoroized or peddle powered cars and carts or playing on the jungle gym shaped like the Eiffel tower. Meanwhile their parents and what looked like every stray dog in the city lounged under the shady trees. Afterwards we headed out past the opera house and old hospital towards the cemetery. It was a bit of a trek but it was worth it.
The cemetery was jammed full of people, not just dead ones but living ones too. The cemetery was a city of cramped streets lined with graves – although they weren’t graves like we were used to. Instead there were walls of tombs on each of the dozens of streets. Some were marked by just a simple engraved stone while others were more like glass display cases. Instead of street names or monuments, we navigated our way using the fancy crypts in the middle. They were home to some of Sucre’s wealthy families. The crowds of living people were all busy tended to the tombs, scrubbing the stone markers, replacing the flowers with fresh ones and and placing new tokens in the tombs as an offering. The day of the dead was in a few weeks and it looks like everyone was sprucing up the cemetery for the 1st of November. What was interesting was that it didn’t matter if the person had died a hundred years before or two months ago, all the graves were being tended too. We were offered a tour but since we didn’t know any of the famous people buried here we declined. We wandered around on our own, discovering the poor part of the cemetery where the streets of tombs had been replaced by modest markers like the ones we saw on the side of the road, as well as a small Jewish cemetery.
With our feet now very tired, dare I say dead tired, we grabbed a mini bus back to the market. The break gave me a chance to realize that we’d actually visited two cemeteries today and they weren’t all that different. Okay, so the dino tracks weren’t real one but it was a place were people visited to remember the animals that were no longer here. And when you think about it, that isn’t very different from an actual cemetery. The locals tended to the graves of distant family members who had been dead for generations and we saw many other gringos like ourselves checking out the cemetery even though they had no connection to anyone in it. I guess human nature is just fascinated by the past no matter how distant it is.