Monday, 20 July 2015

Dance with Death - Worlds Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia.

Overall, I'd really recommend our company - Adventure on Wheels (4.75 out of 5). They lose 0.25 for not having more stops. Our guide, Octavo, was amazing the whole day, really helpful, supporting and spoke perfect English thus could tell us stories. Food wasn't brilliant, but it sufficed. Also, by far the best equipment for the price! The whole day cost us 450 BOB (£45) - we got £5 off for being students, and everyone gets a t-shirt and a DVD with movie clips and photos on. I thought by comprising on price, we might get awful service since the top rated on trip advisor, and the one we could book through the hostel, Gravity, was £70 for the same thing, but this really wasn't the case.

Main section

Starting the morning at 6:45am was just not my idea of fun... After dragging myself out of bed to all-you-can-eat pancakes, where I woefully had one with a cup of milk, we sorted out our bags with the check list they provided and headed for the lobby. We waited 30 minutes and finally the company turned up and we joined four Belgium girls. I was glad they were female as I hoped this would deter testosterone filled competition from Matt that could result in an injury (cocky shit). 

We drove an hour to our start point and got geared up. Knee and elbow pads, thick jacket and trousers, and a biking helmet. This was a lot more than other groups. Some (like Bermuda company), were just given a high vis vest and snowboard helmet/ goggles that I doubt would have done anything to protect them if they fell. Our bikes were amazing quality too compared to others. They had full suspension and hydrologic brakes.

Once we tested out our bikes we were good to go. I was hesitant at first as the seat was at an odd angle, but sure enough, as promised, when zooming downhill the angle made a lot more sense. The first part of the day was on proper tarmac. This is what they replaced Death Road with due to how dangerous it was. As of 2006 regular cars aren't allowed to use it any more. Along the way we were told some information about its history.

In the 1980's a load of men had gone to play a football match down in the valley and had all drank a lot, acting rowdy. 100 of them squeezed into one bus (classic Bolivian style). 3 of them got off part of the way up because they were sober and felt it was too dangerous. As the bus set off again, the rowdy men inside were causing the bus to sway, and the three that got off then watched the bus tip off the edge and all 100 of them tumble to their death in the valley.

In 2003 a family were thought to have braked too late round a corner and slipped off, again crashing to their death. They were only found 3 months later when locals wondered why vultures kept circling the area and decided to go down to check it out. It's thought one of them was alive for a short while before dying because they had made some attempt to climb out the car. Of course, because of the vultures all that was left was bones really.

In terms of bike deaths, last year for example there were  2 local tour guides (one run off the road by a car, and the other lost his footing taking a photo), and a French girl who had been trying to taking a selfie so had one hand off her handlebars when she hit a rock, couldn't gain control, and plummeted 80m down the cliff edge. Gruesome. 

Anyway... Back to my story. I just absolutely loved the Tarmac road speeding along. I think I'd say it was one of the best feelings I've had in my life - and that's a bold statement from me! It takes a lot to wow me these days. The scenery was amazing, it is how I imagine cycling through the Grand Canyon would be if that were possible haha. It was freezing cold to start with, I had a thermal vest, micro fleece, t shirt and long sleeved top on with a scarf, thermal leggings, jeans and all their equipment on too. There was snow on the mountains though. It was difficult to move! Thankfully you didn't really need too as this was all down hill.

After an hour and a half we hopped in the car again for 15 minutes to get to the point where you pay 25 BOB for a ticket to a 'protected area'. Here we had lunch (stale ham and cheese sandwich, banana, chocolate bar and coke). 

I also chatted to the guide a bit about the history of Bolivia. He told me about how their tourism is suffering due to the lack of American tourists. It's unsurprising when they have to pay $135 for a visa! This is because in early 2000, the man who came to rule the country moved to be a coca leaf farmer. He grew irritated with American presence who tried to control the plantations. In Bolivia coca is a huge part of their culture and has been for centuries. They use it to cure every ailment, and chew it religiously. Of course the aggressiveness of the Americans angered locals and eventually this forced them reluctantly to withdraw from the country. (They were placed their to try stopping the export of cocaine.) Eventually the U.S. rose the visa price to try deterring them from bringing it in, and Bolivia retaliated too.
Next, we hopped in the car again and we came to the top of death road. There was a memorial stone there for 5 individuals in the mid 1900s who were pushed off the edge by a dictator for trying to incite democracy. Therefore the name death road not only refers to traffic accidents.

It started off intimidating, and very painful for my bottom. Even sitting on the mini bus right now writing this, my bottom is in the most agonising pain from how rocky the road was.

I wouldn't say I feared death... Sometimes I was heart stoppingly close to the edge to allow minibuses to pass that carried our bikes, or locals who lived there. I was aware however, the entire time, that one wrong move/ lapse in concentration could be fatal. If I hit a rock at a dodgy angle and slightly slipped, I would tumble down the side. There was nothing to stop you falling apart from on corners. 

We rode through some waterfalls which was cool, and some small rivers. Towards the end I was at the very back. My whole body was aching as there were a few parts that were slightly uphill - by this point it was easily over 20 degrees and I refused to take off any of my gear as I knew how much it'd help if I fell off. 

That's what is often left unmentioned, the amount of injuries outside of death. Both locals and tourists  are injured ALL the time on route, lots of scraped faces and broken arms/ legs. They even have a dedicated ambulance for the area. 

I liked that one guide always stayed at the back. There was no pressure to go fast, they allowed you to go at your own pace. One minibus followed behind us too so if you wanted to give up you could just stop and they would put your bike up and you could just enjoy the view from the car. I won't lie, I was so so so tempted at one point. We did an hour long stretch with no break, the main uphill part. I was miserable, and as far as I'm concerned, when something stops becoming fun, you should stop - in a way I wish I had because it tainted my view of the day - on the other hand, I wanted to prove to myself I could cycle the whole 60 km for a personal sense of pride. We rode all the way to the Amazon basin. 

Anyway, once we finally finished, we stopped for drinks and to use a hotels swimming pool/ eat there and got back in the car for the 3 hour drive back on the new road. When I got back, I had a good rest, went and got a hot dog and chips for 90p and watched some odd but amusing dancing by locals in the Univeristy opposite our hostel before settling down to watch the final batman - Matt went to the bar to meet Mark, this lovely guy we met in Santa Cruz, for a few beers.

So, if you're debating whether to do it or not - 110% go for it! If like me you're not the fittest fiddle about, the company still look after you and worst comes to worst, you can get back on the bus if you're that tired! It'll still be the most amazing experience. We were very very lucky with the weather, I don't know how well I would have faired if it were rainy or foggy as it sometimes is.

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