Death Road

Trip Start Mar 05, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, August 1, 2010

A 05.30am start meant that we were up and ready to travel high into the Andes Mountains and bike down through the Yungas Road - also known as Death Road and World's Most Dangerous Road.  The road earned these nicknames because it has more deaths per mile than any other road in the world.  Paul and Philip decided to join Oliver and I so the 4 of us set off.  We had to walk to the Madness office, which was only about 5 minutes away but as we walked I felt really nervous!  The butterfly feeling was excitement too at the thought of doing something that I have never done before and will never do again!  At the office we had to fill in and sign our disclaimer forms.  Oliver read the small print but I thought it was probably better not to know so just signed and dated the back.  I realised that today was August 1st - the month that we get home again - hopefully!  Madness provided breakfast and then got us all kitted up with trousers, jackets, helmets, gloves etc.  The set up seemed good and I had confidence in the guys that were talking us through everything.  Although they weren't the cheapest company we enquired at, today was not the day to be penny pinching - safety and good bikes were far more important!  The bikes were racked up on the roof of the minibus and we all got on to drive for an hour and a half to the starting point.  We climbed up to La Cumbre, with an elevation of 4700 metres and we were to descend to 1525 metres.  We were given our bikes and we had gone for full suspension.  The bike felt good but my goodness it was cold up there!  My hands and feet were freezing and I was just looking forward to getting down, safely, as quickly as possible.  I didn't want to wish the experience away either though and I was looking forward to passing the high mountains and the subtropical jungles.  We had our starting pictures taken - I tried to look extreme but I couldn't quite pull it off - I was too worried.  Then, we set off!  To start the road was tarmac and although high it wasn't too bad.  After about 5 minutes we stopped so the guides could see that everyone was doing ok.  I was still really nervous so had found my place at the back of the group and was pretty heavy on the brakes!  When we set off again I gained a bit more confidence and was even able to look around at the magnificent setting!  It was still absolutely freezing and whenever we took a break people were shaking their hands and feet around.  I was just picking up speed and thinking that it wasn't so bad after all when we transferred to the original Death Road itself - a different story!  The first thing I noticed was that we had to ride on the left, as opposed to the right like the rest of Bolivia.  The reason vehicles drive on the left side is because all of the vehicles have their steering wheel on the left-hand side. The road is so narrow that the driver has to be able to stick his head out the window to make sure the wheels are on the road, making passing safer!  Woah!  The windy, steep and bumpy road plunges almost 2 miles down and it took us the best part of four hours to make it down to the subtropical jungles in the Yungas that lead to the Amazon basin in Coroico.  The guides were excellent and we stopped throughout for everyone to take a rest, make sure they were feeling ok and for some snacks!  They fed us bananas, chocolate, empanadas (the South American pasty snack) and this was all before lunch.  I was taking it really easy at the back but at the same time still felt safe in the set up.  The minibus was always not too far behind and stayed there in case anyone felt unwell, in case of accidents and also as a back lookout marker.  Sometimes when we stopped the guide would tell us about the road itself too.  The Yungas road was built by prisoners during Bolivia's 1932-1935 war with Paraguay and continued many years after.  It has been the only route linking northern Bolivia and the Yungas Valley to La Paz.  The road is carved into the sides of the mountainside and has vertical drops of more than 1500 feet and it has no guardrails since it was all built by hand.  Yes, the bike ride is highly recommended for extreme mountain biking enthusiasts seeking thrill but I also absolutely loved it!  The two way road at times no wider than a single car, had blind corners and hairpin turns.  During the ride down the road, we had to dodge by tractor trailers, buses and cars.  One of the local road rules is that the downhill driver (us!) never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road.  Paul freaked me out a little bit, although it was a good tip, by telling me to put my bike on the outside when we had to pass other vehicles so that if anything went off the edge first it was the bike rather than me!  Scary!  As we descended we went across narrow sections of the road that cling to the mountainside.  It wound through dramatic, breathtaking scenery and twisted between waterfalls and rocky overhangs - it really was the ride of my life!  However, at the back of my mind was always the staggering death toll: in just one year 300 people died in cars, buses and trucks that plunged over the sheer cliff sides.  After years of construction, a brand new section of road opened in 2006, giving vehicles a safer bypass around the most dangerous section of the road.  Fortunately this means that it is mostly mountain bikers going down the most dangerous section of the road, however, as I said we did pass the occasional vehicle risking it and continuing to take the old section of road - notably a very fast taxi driver who obviously just wanted the short cut.  Even the mountain bike statistics were frightening as 16 riders have died in 15 years.  The latest one was a girl in April this year and nobody, including the safety vehicle of the company she was riding with, saw what happened.  They just found her body at the bottom of the cliff.  In a way I was glad to finish the ride.  It was amazing and one of the most exhilirating things I have ever done but I was glad to be down safely.  At the bottom was a little village and we stopped at Mosquito bar for a drink, whilst the team loaded up the equipment and the bikes.  The woman in the bar was so drunk it was very funny!  She was trying to get me to dance with her and then wanted paying for the pleasure!  From the bar we headed to a small hotel where we were able to get a shower, have lunch and also swim in the pool if we wanted.  Oliver had a swim but I just relaxed in the sunshine.  It was a great end to the ride.  Paul and Oliver found a butterfly in the pool, which they tried to save so we left her in the sun to dry out - I hope she made it.  At about 15.00 we started the drive back to La Paz.  This too was a bit scary as the road, albeit the new one, was covered in fog and the corners and overtaking were not good judgements in my book!  The journey took 3 and a half hours to get us back to La Paz and when we got there we were really tired.  Oliver decided to go out for something to eat with the boys but I wasn't hungry after the amount of food they gave us today and I also needed to get packed up as we leave La Paz tomorrow.  We had put some laundry in at the hotel yesterday and despite them telling me it would be back last night it still wasn't here.  I had to express my concern and after a few phone calls it eventually arrived - clean too!  It amazes me how things like that happen here - things just seem to get done when they absolutely need to!  So today was a really good day and I will always remember the ride - the speed albeit slow, the snacks, the stops with the stories and of course the special experience that the Death Road was!    
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mum(carmel) on

OH MY GOODNESS!!! even just looking at the photos has made my 'legs go' I am glad I never looked up anything about Death Road until I knew you had done it and were back safely!!!! You were very brave(or maybe very stupid!!!) to do it but as you said yourself-it was something that you would never get the chance to do again- what a fantastic experience, you will be able to 'dine out' on it for years!!! Keep on having the time of your lives!!! Hope you are continuing to feeling better, love and miss you loadsxxxxx

Chris D on

What a journey! Couldn't have done that bike ride - would have pooped my pants!!!

Jenn on

Excuse the language, but HOLY S*#%!! (the program won't let me say what I actually wanted to say. HAHHA) I can't believe you did it! One, its called the death road; two, the road is barely wide enough for a car with a huge drop off and three, ARE YOU NUTS?? Good for you for doing it. That's one thing that I think I would have had to pass one. My fear of heights trumps my fear of being inside caves. The video is fantastic cuz you get a real feel for how scary it is.

Emma M on

Oh my god what a day! I felt scared just reading about your day! How brave are you! Bet you are so glad you did it, but I was glad to hear that you were back safe and sound!! What a experience!!! Well done to you and Ollie!
Not so keen on the banana eating Katrina - you know how I feel about those things! Not long now till we will be having a good old spag bol and choc night - can't wait!
Enjoy you two, loads of love to you both xxx

Marc on

This sounds like a pretty cool way to spend the day - good on you for doing it. I had to laugh with your comment about being "at the back and heavy on the brakes" !!

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