The World's Second Most Dangerous Road (Andy)

Trip Start Oct 04, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, July 2, 2010

So while Lindsey headed off to Aruba for a little r&r with her family, I decided to take my adventure to the Bolivian jungle.  Fueled by my desire to get to a warm place (with the altitude La Paz and most of the rest of Bolivia is freezing), I decided to take an 18 hour bus through the Andes and down into the jungle.  Many people have described this bus as "the worst choice I have ever made" but I was confident that I would have no problem surviving the grueling day.  Below is a play by play of the events of this bus ride:

1/7/10 11:45AM
I'm on the bus!  After an hour and a half of waiting in line to pickup my reservation and worrying enough to completely have annoyed Lindsey (its probably a good thing she wasnt here for that) I'm in my seat.  It's a cramped bus that I will have no chance fitting comfortably on.  I can't actually point my knees forward but luckily there is no one sitting next to me so I might find a way to stretch out.  I'm saving about US$70 by taking this bus so I'll just try to keep that in mind on the trip down.

I've just realized that I'm the only gringo on this bus.  Not completely sure if thats a good or bad thing.  Most people opt for the flight since its only 40 minutes and much safer.  While I'm thinking this the bus starts spewing out smoke.  Massive clouds of white smoke fill the entire street and cover anyone saying goodbye to passengers.  There is something seriously wrong with this thing, why isnt anyone else worried.  There's not a chance this thing will make it out of La Paz nevermind the 18hr trip.

I spoke too soon about the seat, a guy just sat down next to me.  This is extremely uncomfortable but I have found that if I point my knees directly down to the floor, like I'm about to kneel, they wont hit the chair in front of me.  If I switch off between this position and a side curl position I may get out of this without a strained back and screwed up knees.  Holy crap there are people standing in the aisles for this trip!  How is that even possible?  Is it considered ungentemanly not to give up my seat to a woman standing?  Its 18hrs that would be completely awful.  Ill just look out the window and pretend I don't notice.  Great start to the trip.

1/7/10 12:10PM
20 minutes into the trip and I've already downed a sandwich and a pack of oreos.  Im trying to ration my supplies more so I have something to do rather than actual hunger.  Boredom really can completely kill you on a trip like this.  Also trying to ration my water for a completely different reason ... buses in Bolivia do not make many stops.

So supposedly this bus to Rurrenabaque used to travel the world's most dangerous road (so named that because more people died on the road then any where in the world).  A new one was built about 5 years ago and the "World's Most Dangerous Road" is now more of a tourist attraction ... although it still attains the title since people continually fall off the cliff.  The new road is supposedly not that much better.  There are a lot of steep cliffs with very few guard rails and Bolivian truck drivers enjoy the thrill of driving drunk.  We should be past the cliffs before night fall ... should.  Did I mention our bus is still smoking?

1/7/10  1:10PM
The bus officially breaks down.  Just like in the states all the men on the bus get off and stand in a circle around the man trying to fix it.  Not really giving advice, just sort of watching and asking random questions once in a while.  Its nice to see that somethings transcend cultures.

I get off the bus to use the facilities (i.e. a bush nearby).  I don't really have to go but something I've learned in my time traveling by bus in 3rd world countries, take every opportunity you can because the next one might not be for a while.  We are at one of the highest parts of the trip, smack in the middle of the Andes.  Rock peaks and snow covered mountains surround us.  The mountainside violently jets out like a glacier.  Below in the canyon is the only really sign of life with the typical alpacas roaming around.  I look back at the road we just passed, it was paved which was nice, I did not realize that it was on the face of a massive cliff ... its probably better this way.

After a half an hour we are ready to go again.  Hopefully they fixed the smoke problem.

1/7/10 1:45PM
The bus appears to be on fire, the smoke from before worsened when the bus driver decided to put the bus in the wrong gear.  There is absolutely no way this bus is making it all the way.  I'm starting to contemplate hitching it back to La Paz.

People are starting to get a little antsy on the bus.  A few of the louder ones are now yelling "Vamanos!."  I don't think they realize that a car is not supposed to smoke this much.  The smoke is actually causing a smoke shield across the entirety of the street.  Cars are passing us at full speed without seeing whats on the other side ... but they honk a lot so I'm sure they'll be fine.  Crazy driving is more the norm around here than an abnormality.  Horns are used more as warning signals like "Hey I'm about to run this red light so don't go because I'm honking" or "Hey I'm going to drive 50 mph on the wrong side of the street through a cloud of smoke but I'm honking so I obviously have the right of way."  Don't think I could handle driving here.

The passengers are really starting to become restless now.  We may have a mutiny on our hands.  One woman is trying to gather everyone on board to force the driver to tell us what is going on.  Bus drivers in Bolivia are assholes, plain and simple.  They will never tell you whats going on, will never let you out for an unscheduled bathroom break, wont open the door to let you outside when you are stopped in a smoking bus ... one bus driver on a different trip in Bolivia drove away while Lindsey was using the bathroom and I was yelling at him to stop ... hate bus drivers here.  Our drive is refusing to talk to the passengers or let them off the bus.  One of the passengers starts a chant saying "We will arrive late but we will arrive alive."  Holy crap!  I didnt think it was this serious.

1/7/10 3:15PM
Well, all the fuss has finally subsided.  The drivers did finally let us off the bus at a checkpoint that was 5 minutes down the road.  We spent about an hour there having someone look at the bus while the check point police went through all of our luggage.  Rarely ever having "in country" security checks in the US it seems very odd to me that they do these things in other countries.  Because I am the gringo my bag is not searched and I'm not even questioned.  The only thing they look for is a visa in my passport because if there is a problem with it a monetary offering would have to be made.

road too bumpy to write ... will write later.

1/7/10 4:30PM
Well the road has changed from pavement (nice) to moments of pavement mixed with moments of dirt roads.  Im trying to write during the pavement ... its not easy.

I am developing a hatred for the guy in front of me, he leans back and in the process absolutely crushes my legs.  Not just squeezes them but obliterates any sign of a knee cap that I once had.  I hate him so much right up until one of his two month old puppies squeezes his way back to me and ends up on my lap.  He says that I should hold on to him for a while and I have no problem accepting.  All has been magically forgiven ... the thing is so freaking cute it kills me .. anything to take my mind off this trip.

The temperature and climate here has changed drastically in the last hour. Going from freezing cold mountains to a very temperate climate where I can actually open my window and not freeze to death ... its great.  It truly is an amazing landscape coming down here.  You are coming from about 4,200 meters down to 500 or so.  Looking out my window now it looks like a scene from Jurassic Park.  The road as well looks relatively friendly, it even has guard rails and steel fences.  I'm just so glad to be in warm/hot weather again, after 2 or 3 weeks of the cold I was dying to get out.

1/7/10 4:50PM
We just stopped at the worst bathroom I have ever been to in the entire region of Latin America ... wow that was disgusting.  I've only had one other experience like that and it was in China.  This one I actually had to pay 1 boliviano for!  If you ever take this trip in your life do not go to the bathroom at the first stop.

3 gringos board ... i'm not alone.  Ha, its a funny thing traveling like this.  You make friends with so many different people just because you are in the same situation.  Most of the time you kind of band together randomly just because you are the ones that stick out like sore thumbs so much.

1/7/10 5:23PM
I have found out why they call it one of the most dangerous roads in the world.  Holy crap, as soon as I started talking about the guard rails and steel fences they dissappeared.  The pavement is completely gone.  The road has shrunk to a one way cliff hanger with cars going in both directions.  Several times I look down from my window and only see a cliff below ... I am not above road right now.  And these are serious cliffs, maybe 50 meters down ... I would not survive this.  I need to gain my composure.

1/7/10 5:30PM
Alright, I'm better now.  It's starting to get dark and I'm having a harder time seeing the instant death cliffs that surround me.

We stop again but this time to change a busted tire.  The bus has thankfully stopped smoking, looks like the repair job at the checkpoint was a good one.  Like before all the men on the bus form their semi-circle around the guy fixing it.  I'm just thankful that the tire didnt blow on one of the death turns ... man it would be nice to be done with this ride.

1/7/10 7:30PM
We're stopping in a small town for dinner.  Supposedly the death road part of the journey is over ... we've made it through the cliffs.  Thank god.  AND it looks like the guy next to me is getting off at this stop ... I could have the entire row to myself! things are looking up.  The ride thus far I've had to deal with the broken seat in front of me falling on my lap whenever the puppy guy moved (which was a lot), a broken window that will not stay shut, and the fact that these seats are not made for people over the height of 5'8.

Had a sort of dinner with the 3 gringos that joined me a few hours ago.  They are from switzerland and have been traveling through Brazil and Argentina for the last 6 months or so.  Seem like good people.  I say sort of had dinner because for some reason they just decided to eat fried chicken and french fries out of a plastic bag on the side of the street ... fine by me, pulled out one of my prepared turkey and cheese sandwiches ... its funny how little things like turkey and cheese sandwich you even miss when you dont have them.

Oh crap!  our bus driver is chatting with people that look like they want to be on our bus ... and he's accepting money ... this is not good.

1/7/10 9:00PM
Body odor is not something I've really had to deal with in my life.  With the exception of excessive sweating and long periods without a shower I'm pretty good in the body odor department.  The woman who is now sitting next to me is not.  The smell invades my space and I can think of nothing else.  Whats worse is she is a huge grump and wont even acknowledge my existence.  Somehow, she instantaneously falls asleep.  Not just any sleep but a slumped in your chair let me rest my head on the person next to me type of sleep.

After about 5 minutes of allowing her to rest on my shoulder I start giving small nudges.  Nothing violent or that could hurt her but a "hey get off my shoulder" kind of nudge.  She isnt affected.  I continue doing this for about 10 minutes until I really start getting frustrated.  I put a little more arm into it, sometimes pushing her forehead back.  I end up knocking off her hat but she continues to sleep ... its amazing.  Finally, out of complete frustration, I give her a big shove ... again, nothing to hurt her but a shove that if you woke up from it you would know that you had just been shoved across your chair.  Well she ended up on the other side ... somehow still sleeping, its amazing.

1/7/10 9:15PM
She's back to laying her head on me.  I'm beginning to think she's just messing with me.

1/7/10 11:00PM
Just finished watching the entire 3rd season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on my Ipod.  What would I do without an ipod, it has saved me from some terrible bus rides.  Im going to try and get some sleep but Im so uncomfortable.  Ive found a new position that keeps my knees and back in decent shape.  Picture a meditative position but half standing up.  Its extremely awkward but its halfway comfortable so Im going with it.

2/7/10 1:00AM
In and out of consciousness depending on when the guy in front of me moves and crushes my legs.  The lady is still sleeping on my shoulder.

2/7/10 2:00AM
Bus stops, looks like another flat tire.  Cue all men to circle around whoever is fixing it.  I take advantage of the stop and try to wake the lady so I can get out.  See doesnt budge.  I keep poking and pushing her but nothing happens, its like shes dead.  Finally I decide to crawl over her and hope she doesnt miraculously wake up in the middle of it.  At one point I had my butt directly in her face trying to manuever my way down to the aisle.  Luckily she didnt wake and everything ended successfully.

2/7/10 5:00AM
We are stopping again.  The lady next to me wakes up, making me think even more that she was just playing with me with the sleep thing.  She is reaching for her bag, holy crap this is my lucky day ... shes leaving!

Right as she leaves someone else grabs her seat ... awesome.  He seems to be a super friendly Bolivian who starts chatting with me right away.  To be polite I respond to him and before I know it Im in a full fledged conversation about water filtration.  Luckily a lot of technology or science words are similar in English so I can keep up but this guy does not look like he wants to stop talking anytime soon.  Just please let me go to sleep!

2/7/10 7:00AM
Water filtration is not an interesting subject.  Yet somehow, I have no idea how, we talk about it for 2 hours.  And we would have continued to talk about it if he didnt have to get off the bus.  This time  there is no thinking about it.  I immediately move to the aisle seat, put my bag in the window seat and pretend to fall asleep.

2/7/10 8:30AM
We have arrived! 21 hours later and I made it to Rurre.  Im a little banged up but its been worse.  The temperature outside is perfect, a mild breeze probably about 85 degrees.  Exactly what I was lookig for after too many cold nights in the highlands.

Transportation in rurre consists of bus or motorcycle.  So I ride off into the morning on the back of a motorcycle holding on to the shoulders of a random  bolivian.  It was an interesting trip to say the least  ... on that note its one that I will never be experiencing again, im taking the plane back.
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