From snow to the jungle - on a mountain bike!

Trip Start Dec 29, 2008
Trip End Mar 22, 2009

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, January 24, 2009

After convincing the kitchen staff at the hostel to give me some of the delicious (and free) pancake breakfast before the usual start of 7.30am, I walked down the main street of La Paz to meet the group I was to spend the day with. The meeting place was a really nice cafe called La Terraza, and I was meeting all the others who had signed up to mountain bike down the 'World's most dangerous road' with Gravity - the best company offering this trip.

Apart from one other kiwi and an Aussie, the rest (including the tour leader) were all from the UK/Ireland. This might have had something to do with the price tag (almost USD120). My friends from the Intrepid tour had decided to go with a cheaper operator, but I decided to go with an operator that I could trust.

On the bus up to the start of  the ride we were talked through some of the horrific injuries that people had received while doing this ride. I was starting to feel pretty nauseous when we were told about the Finnish girl who had face planted and smashed her top teeth into the roof of her mouth. This was after we'd heard about ripped anuses, gear levers poked into skin and detached private parts. And these were on top of the odd death.

I wasn't feeling too confident when we arrived at the top to white-out conditions with snow falling and covering the road. We piled on almost every item of clothing we had and were still freezing as we started wheeling our way down the tarmac.

After a couple of stops to check everyone was still there, we began on the 'gravel'. Bolivian gravel is generally a lot more chunky and rocky than NZ gravel. There were times when I could feel my wheels skidding out from under me, but I quickly slowed down and made sure I wasn't too close to the edge. That was one good thing about the weather being a bit crap - you couldn't see how far you could potentially fall.

As we descended from the moutains, the weather gradually improved. Soon we were shedding our warm pant and rain jackets. I was a bit reluctant to take off all my protective gear because I had stupidly not brought with me a full change of clothes. We were riding through streams and puddles and under waterfalls, so even though it was getting hot, the chances of staying clean and dry were slim.

The road is known for being dangerous because of the steep cliffs and frequent traffic. Luckily for us, most of the traffic we had to deal with was the vehicles of the different mountain biking companies who were very courteous towards us. The road used to be the main road from La Paz to Coroica, but there has now been a new road built, so the road is used a lot less often.

The very end of the ride was an optional 'technical' section. I thought I'd give it a go, but quickly learned that I do not have many technical mountain biking skills. I spents the whole time going down the single narrow track with my feet on the ground or falling off. It wasn't a very long section and we soon came across some of the residents of the wildlife refuge we were having lunch at - a group of different types of monkeys.

The ride ended after a wooden bridge across the river and thankfully we'd all survived without an injury. We'd made a deal with our tour leader that if we all got to the end in one piece we'd each buy dessert (to the benefit of the animals). I had a delicious banana/caramel dessert, after a fantastic hot shower (where I washed my shorts out). We had descended to about 1100m into the jungle and the weather was very hot and sunny.

We tried to go back up the WMDR, but a land slide had blocked the path, and we had to go back via the new road. From the new road we had amazing veiws back towards the WMDR.

The sun was setting by the time we got back to La Paz.At the hostel I caught up with Patricia (from Canada), who I'd agreed to go up to the Adventure Brew's sky bar for a drink with. There was supposed to be some party on, but it was pretty quiet when we got there, and the longer we stayed the more quiet it got. I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open and gratefully collapsed into bed. It had been a fantastic day, and like the previous day, quite surreal.
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