'The World's Most Dangerous Road!'

Trip Start Sep 04, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bolivian roads are HORRIBLE and Bolivian bus drivers are....also HORRIBLE = being SHIT SCARED on a bus all night! We made it to La Paz though safe and sound, checked into our hostel and caught up on some kip! La Paz is that high up altitude-wise that I'm not kidding when I say that turning over in bed is tiring!! Just doing anything is knackering so it might take a while to get used to this! Oh, and its bleedin FREEZIN ALL DAY EVERY DAY!! The first night we met up with Paula and Matt who were on our Salt Flats tour and they'd recommended a place to eat. So when we walked in to the poshest place in Bolivia, guy on a piano and all that....me with my 'Pendle' trackies, totally faded T-Shirt and knackered trainers and Kala with.....well basically the 'female equivalent', we were totally out of place and thought we were in for an expensive do! A big old feed and a bill that came to less than £7 each and all of a sudden WE LOVE BOLIVIA!! Dirt cheap!!
A couple of days later and we'd got stuck into a tour which involved cycling down 'Death Road' - the worlds most dangerous road, based on the number of trucks and buses that have plunged off the cliff edges over the last few years!! (Jeremy Clarkson did a Top Gear episode on it a while back). It is seriously scary stuff at times and at the steepest point, the sheer drop off is 450m straight down!! The road twists and turns for over 60km but it's all downhill, so not a tough cycle, but you just have to concentrate because at times it is narrow and you don't wanna slip off the edge of this one!! The guide didn't exactly fill us with confidence with his 'stats' either......1 in every 5 trips he sees blood from someone falling off the bike because they are going too fast, 1 in 15 trips results in someone getting a serious injury and back in January, a Japanese girl went off the cliff edge and died whilst filming her boyfriend on her I-Phone!! WOW!! So we got all the clobber on and got our bikes (which were top notch....and had to be because of the gravely surface) and all had a shot of pure alcohol (!!!!????). Surely the wrong time for that!! (A ritual for Pachamama - Mother Earth apparently!). We got going and the first 3rd was the steepest, but was tarmac so was fine. Then on the gravel, the fun started!! We were in and out of the clouds all day which added to the eeriness of the day I suppose and yeah, the drops on our left hand side were pretty lethal! One guide was at the front and the other was just behind the person at the back (who shall remain nameless he he!!). We stopped off at various points for a rest and for photos. The image of Kala's 'ridiculously sideways' sideways helmet will remain with me for a long time as it loosened throughout one of the sections after she took her hat off!! Brilliant!! This tour wasn't exactly in her comfort zone so she did well!! (It is worth noting that there is a new road now, so the majority of the traffic goes on that, but there are still some cars and trucks and if they were coming towards us, we HAD to let them pass on the inside i.e. we'd be at the 'cliff edge side' of the road!! Not nice!!). I had a couple of fast sections towards the end which were a buzz! Kala was doin her share of overtaking towards the end aswell!! A 'Streethawk' in the making!! We made it alive to the bottom - an Israeli nearly got hit by a truck though!...Superb tour!! Then came Kala's favourite part of the day - we got to see some monkeys in a sanctuary that were being looked after by a car mechanic from Macclesfield (random!). The sanctuary had collected monkeys and other animals over the last few years and looked after them because prior to them being there, Bolivians were keeping them as pets, not feeding them well and training them to pickpocket! (One of them had a look inside Kala's pockets!!). They were good value though!
Right.....last thing for the day......the bus BACK UP 'Death Road'!! Easily the scariest part of the day as, when you're cycling, you kind of forget about the drop offs and just get on with it.......on the bus, you can actually SEE the drop offs because you don't have to concentrate on the road!! And then it gets dark and foggy.......that was one uncomfortable hour, especially because we were on the right hand side of the bus!!! We're sick of being scared on buses!!!
When we booked this tour, we had the option of booking an 'abseil down a building' tour with a bit of discount.........nah, not interested in that...........'dressed as Spiderman'.........we'll be there tomorrow!!! The Presidents Hotel is 17 storeys high and idiots like us abseil out of it with a Spiderman costume on so they can be like SPIDERMAN HIMSELF!! The most popular method is the face first (so like a forwards abseil if you will) which we both went for! Kala went first, hopped up onto the ledge no problem and made her way down! It was one of those where she loved it......after she got to the bottom ha ha!! I was next up and gingerly got up onto the ledge. I walked down (badly) and opted for a 20m freefall at the end which was cool! A good surprise of a day! Somet a bit different!!
An age old tradition in Bolivia is chewing coca leaves so Kala dragged me along to the Museum of Coca to learn a bit more! Historically the leaves were most commonly used as a stimulant to combat tiredness and hunger and were given to miners and slaves as it allowed them to work harder for longer in horrific conditions. (Miners got to the point where they would not go to work without coca and in one year they chewed the monetary equivalent of 450kg of gold!!!) Other historical uses included treatment for broken bones (due to high calcium content) and anaesthetic for operations! Many years (and lots of chemical processes) later, cocaine was produced from an extract of the leaves. This was originally used legally for medicinal purposes and was even an ingredient in some wines and Coca-Cola! Not until 1961 was cocaine made illegal but some South American countries, where traditional use is established, are still legally allowed to grow, cultivate and possess the leaves. So in Bolivia you can buy all sorts of coca products! Leaves, tea, biscuits, sweets! The western world tends to have a negative view of coca because of the associated cocaine, however, recent studies have shown that coca leaves are rich in nutrients and have several health benefits including increasing the amount of oxygen that passes into your blood, so they are ideal for life at high altitudes. And although Coca-Cola have changed their recipe, they continue to buy tonnes of coca leaves from Bolivia every year for flavouring!
Our last fling in Bolivia saw us get into the mountains on a single day trek. We've heard the scenery in the 'Cordillera Real' region isn't to be missed here so we opted for a crack at 'Pico Austria' - a peak that stands at 5,350m (17,550 feet). Jesus we were bollocksed just getting out the bus at about 4,500m....today will be tough!! The day started with a wander to 'Laguna Chiarkhota' - a nice lake that has a mountainous view. A few photos there before we started the climb. H.A.R.D!! Our guide (Mario) said we had to be on the peak for 1.30, to give us time to get down and all that, so we had to friggin' RACE up the thing!! It got to the point when you were counting 10 steps and resting for 10 seconds! Mario RAN up the thing! CHEERS MATE.....I'll GUESS the route shall I..?!!! Anyway, after A LOT of coughing and spluttering and heavy breathing, we managed to get to the top! It was TOTALLY worth it though as the view in all directions was STUNNING!! Some of the best we've seen! We had a great view of Huayna Potossi and Condoriri (2 big peaks basically) and down to a load of beautiful blue lakes!! 5350m is easily the highest we've been...and will go to. Kala slipped over on the way down which was funny and we eventually got to the bus a couple of hours later!! Me losing my hat and Kala having a cold lasagne that night took the edge off a class day...one of the best for me!! A journey over to Peru (our last border crossing) saw us stay in Puno for 3 nights in one of our best rooms yet......carpet AND warmth AND space!! We had ALL 3 of these things ha ha!! Kala enjoyed a MASSIVE CHOCCY CAKE for her birthday!! I've never seen her so happy ha ha!!! Just one more thing left to do in South America now.............
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