“So, what’s going on?” ask my mother on skype.
“Great,” I answered enthusiastically, “I rode down the Death Road yesterday”.
The silence on the other end told me that it might not have been the best choice of words to describe my experience on the most dangerous road of the world.
Because you must be impressed by the name. I was.
The most dangerous road in the world goes from the Bolivian capital La Paz toCoroico. The road, which was build in the 1930s by the Paraguayan prisoners of war, was nicknamed the most dangerous road in the world in the 1990s when it was estimated that 200-300 people lost their lives there every year.
Nowadays this dirt road with many blind turns and precipices and the width of no more than 3 metres is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Bolivia.
And, believe me – it’s a great attraction!
I must admit I was a bit afraid though. The Internet photos, films and stories were a little scary. In the last 20 years (since it became a real tourist attraction) ‘only’ around 20 tourists lost their lives, but there are also some minor accidents.
Have a look at the advert of Mistubishi Outlandera, this video above shows what la Ruta de la Muerte is like.
Could I miss it? Could I decide not to come back home with “I survivied the Death Road” t-shirt? No, I couldn’t.
So I went. Actually, I went together with Kasia – we travelled together through some of Peru and Bolivia. At first she was not very convinced, but she decided to join me anyway.
Our ride started at 4700m, half an hour drive from the centre of La Paz.
It started as a really beautiful, sunny day, but we felt chilly because of the altitude. Everyone put on a protective vest, a helmet, trousers and gloves (I thought my pink jacket doesn’t suit the orange vest, but what could I do?).
I remember I didn’t feel confident at first, and now I can’t really say if it was because I hadn’t ridden a bike for some time or because I was afraid – those 60 kilometres down, well it was something.
There were two guides. One was leading the group, no one could go faster. I have no idea if anyone wanted to go faster – the fast group was very fast and they quickly disappeared somewhere ahead. The other guide was the last person to ride a bike, only sometimes he would press his pedals hard, overtaking everybody and then waited in front taking pictures of all of us.
The bus slowly drove behind – there were spare bikes on the roof and if someone wanted to have a rest and ride a bus, it was possible.
It was easy at the beginning – down the tarmac road. The sun was shining, the clouds covered the mountains making it more dramatic – the views were truly wonderful. I wasn’t able to admire the views though, I was to focused on my riding. There were quite a few cars on the road, and my opinion of Bolivian drivers is as bad as my opinion of Polish drivers so I didn’t feel very safe at times.
Yes, riding down is pleasant indeed, even if your hands hurt because you clasp them tightly on the handbrakes.
Twenty kilometres later the tarmac ended and we entered the old, real one ‘Death Road’. The sun disappered and it started raining. A slippery road and the awareness of the precipice just right next to you is not a good combination, but what could we do – we just went.
I was shy and slow at first and it took me a moment before I stopped squeezing my handbrakes nervously. I started in sunglasses to protect my eyes against mud, but it didn’t wok. Well, they did protect my eyes, but the faster I went, the more mad was sticking to me and when I reached the first stop I could hardly see anything through my sunglasses.
There were not many railing along the road, mostly bushes if anything. I knew that just a meter to my left there was nothing, but I couldn’t see it because fog hid everything.
Was I afraid? Well, not any longer, it was fun and I didn’t even mind being wet and muddy. It was funny to look at other people – we were all so dirty!
Our group photo is not quite clear – it’s because of the fog. We were standing there on the edge, our bikes put on the back wheel – you can’t even imagine how hard I was holding my rear brake afraid that I might drop my bike down.
If you look at the photos you might think that we rode on the right, close to the rocks. We didn’t. There were numerous turns on the way, many of them blind and the guides advised us to ride closer to the left side – if there was a car approaching we would see it faster.
The cars should not really go this road, but they do, we saw quite a few.
We didn’t go close to the edge however, we were simply somewhere in the middle of the road.
Finally, the moment came when I stopped clutching my handbrakes and I would only brake at the turns.
For a moment, when the fast group was far ahead, and the back group was, well, somewhere back, behind some turn a quick thought came: if I were to fall, nobody would even see it. But it was just a fast, short thought, I continued my ride without fear.
The road was going down almost all the time, there were two moments only when it wasn’t so. At the beginning of the route we were packed into the bus for about ten minutes and driven up the road (tourists shouldn’t get to tired, right?, and then at the end there were a few flat distances – oh, how sorry I was it was the end of just rolling down.
As we were going there were smaller or bigger pools of water and when I forgot to slow down riding through them, another layer of mud would appear on my clothes.
In the last pool of water I failed – I wasn’t able to keep pedalling and simply stopped in the middle of it. Until then at least my trekking boots had been dry. But then, not any longer, there was no single item of dry clothing on me.
Dirty but happy.
We were so happy that I guess almost everybody bought a big bottle of beer to celebrate.
Then were were taken to a hotel where we could take a shower (oh, what a wonderful shower it was!) and have a lunch.
And next, a few hours’ drive back to La Paz.
I can strongly recommend the agency I went with: Madness Bolivia – everything was well organized and safe, really good bikes.
You can buy this trip in any agency in La Paz but it’s better to go not to the one that sell everything, but to the one that specializes in bike trips.
Cost – around 600 bolivianos (90 dollars) – you can save some money if you decide to take a less advanced bike.
The ride down took about five hours, but it’s the whole day trip – we started at 7 in the morning and arrived back in La Paz in the evening.
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