Sunshiny Sucre

After three weeks on the Altiplano we were ready for a break from the constant cold. Sucre, at 2750m, was just the thing with it's sunshine, white-washed buildings and a bountiful supply of gringos ensuring restaurants that serve a safe salad (every now and then you need a taste of home). A colonial style town, Sucre is centred on a plaza surrounded by impressive government buidings with a grid of narrow cobblestone roads radiating outwards. Situated closely to the plaza (inevitably named after some important date in the history of independance) you find the numerous catholic churches and domiciles of the rich whose austere facades, with their heavy studded wooden doors, conceal peaceful courtyards within.
Our hostel was one of these and it's courtyard was our base for breakfast, reading, catching up on the diary and homework. Yes, homework. We had decided to do three days of spanish lessons to kill some time till market day in Tarabuco. So our mornings were filled with spanish verbs in past tense while our afternoons were left free to wander the historic streets of Sucre, visit some of it's domed churches and drink fresh juices at it's lively markets.
Sunday arrived and we took a local bus to the popular Tarabuco market two hours to the east. The lingua franca on the bus and at the market was quechua and many of the older people didn't speak spanish so we had a few entertaining conversations with (and without) the help of some younger translators who had spanish in school. Tarabuco market is one of the few places where people still come to trade their goods: an incredible variety of potatoes, maize and tomatoes from their fields aswell as meat, wool and other products from their animals. Added to the perishables were colourful arrays of powder dyes, handwoven textiles,alpaca jumpers (or chompas) and other souvenirs for tourists, sandals made from old tyres, second hand 'ropa americana', the typical many-layered skirts in all colours and patterns and much much more.
The most fascinating part of the market were the men and women in their traditional Yampara dress: Black, red and orange striped ponchos for the men with sequin and feather decorated cowhide conquistador helmets. The women wore simple black dresses with intricately designed hand-woven cloth pinned round their waist and shoulders. The woman also wore a headress: a sturdy thick woven 'fez' with a curled extension set at a cocky angle on their heads with beadwork fringes framing faces whose smiles glinted with star shaped gold fillings. The yampara dress was so drastically different to the common 'polleras' (or flounced skirts) that you usually see in the towns that it made me curious as to the origin of the bowler hat and bell-shaped skirt. The answer lies far away in the Iberian peninsula. During spanish rule, especially after the indigenous uprisings, an attempt was made to quench every source of national identity by outlawing traditional dress and imposing the peasant dress of Old Spain. How ironic and sad that what everyone now automatically associates with Andean South America is despotic and cruel in origin.
After the market, and a quick look at the impressive but distant dinosaur footprints, it was time to head back to Patacamaya to our lonely motorbikes. An overnight bus - cama for comfort- dropped us off at 5am on a misty and freezing cold altiplano morning. After climbing over all the 'extra' passengers that filled the aisles we found ourselves in a deserted town sharing the hotel verandah with a barefooted, wild-haired and wild-eyed woman who kept muttering incomprehensibly. At around 6:30 a breakfast shack opened up and we gratefully drank our hot 'api' (a maize drink) with fried pastries. Slowly the transport hub of Patacamaya was awakening but it was only at 7:30 that we finally got into the hotel courtyard where the bikes were kept. Desperate for a warm bed we promptly moved to a friendlier place next door after the managers less than helpful attitude. Their reticence can at times be very frustrating.
Next stop La Paz.