Did Steve Survive Bolivia´s Death Road?

Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
Trip End Aug 22, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, April 30, 2007


Every great country has one great tourist attraction. Peru has Machu Picchu, India has the Taj Majal and France, of course, has stinky french people. Well, Bolivia has managed to outdo them all with the ¨Death Road,¨ otherwise known as ¨The World´s Most Dangerous Road.¨ 

Every year, thousands of tourists pay the $55-$75 US to ride down this winding, mountain road on a bike. An Israeli guy died a little over a month ago and in February they found a body of a Canadian. I could go on, but let´s just say it earns its nickname.

Well, I just had to do it. Not for me, but for you, my loyal readers (all 8 or 9 of you). I really had no choice in the matter.

So, on a cool Sunday morning, I kissed Sara goodbye and set off to join 14 other brave soldiers on the hill.

Steve: ¨Goodbye my love.¨
Sara: ¨You know, you don´t have to do this.¨
Steve: ¨This thing is bigger than you and me, bigger than the both of us.¨
Sara: ¨Be careful, okay?¨
Steve: ¨Always. Oh, and Sara... remember me.¨ 

Jumping back to a week before this tearful goodbye, Sara and I took a night bus from Cusco to Puno, Peru. We arrived at our hostel at about 5 a.m. and were checked in by a clueless night watchman. While asking him about the price, a tall, angry and perhaps Austrian fellow reminded us that we were having this conversation in the middle of the hallway.

Angry Schwarzenegger Impersonator: ¨Tank you, tank you very much for waking me from my sleep. Tank you.¨
Unapolegetic Steve: ¨You´re welcome.¨
(door closes)

US: ¨So, about those extra blankets?¨
(door opens again)
ASI: ¨Stoop talking in the alls...it´s very ruuude.¨
US: ¨You´re in a hostel, douchebag,¨ smiling at both the use of the word ¨douchebag¨ and the fact that I would surely never see this man again.
(door closes)

Fast-forward to the cold, Sunday morning in La Paz. I´m feeling quite nervous and even a little apprehensive about the trip. I walk into my tour group´s office, Downhill Madness, and who do I see, but the Governor himself. It´s a week later and a different country, but it´s him.

Having just watched Collateral Damage on a recent bus trip (in spanish), a movie where Arnie travels all the way to the Colombian jungle to exact revenge, I think to myself, ¨This man is going to run me off the road. I am certainly a dead man.¨ 

However, I notice he´s now wearing glasses. Lucky break, I don´t think he recognizes me. I´ll stay silent for now.

Another one of the 14 ¨brave soldiers¨ who´s accompanying me down the mountain is a complete ditz, an airhead who speaks with the rising intonation of a valley girl. Bubbly, retarded, you know the type. And, of course, she´s Canadian.

Before leaving for Death Road, she asks ¨Ummm, can I still buy some Gatorade. Gatorade is just sooo good.¨

An Australian guy sarcasticly whispers to his friend: ¨That´ll save her, just what she needs.¨ 

Nice, I will have allies on this trip. I immediately tell them the story about the Austrian and ask them to watch my back... just in case.

The start of the trip is almost too perfect. My mountain bike has the craftsmanship of a Ferrari, I get to wear a cool helmet and the road is paved. My inhibitions have been vanquished. I break my promise to Sara. ¨I wanna go fast.¨  

And I do. The bike ride itself is over 60km long, where at speeds of upwards of 65km/h, I ride from an elevation of 4640m to 1295m, a drop of almost 3500m (Steve Dominey, Math Genius). 

This is easy at first, but then the paved road ends, fog envelops the surroundings and the true Death Road begins. All of a sudden, I find myself on the side of a mountain cliff, with a sheer drop of over 500m, on a gravel road that in some parts is less than 10ft across. Oh yeah, and with a potential bounty on my head.

At one stop along the way, Arnie asks me to take his photo along the cliff (he doesn´t remember me...yes).

My imagined photo shoot: ¨Okay, I just can´t get you in the shot, back up a bit, okay, a little more, almost perfect.¨ Followed by a comical Wile E. Coyote freefall. 

Actual photo shoot: I politely take his picture and he lives. But again, many people don´t.

On the way down I felt like I was on a morbid tour bus. While speeding behind the guide, he´d point out countless memorials, ¨That´s where the French girl fell, there´s the place 47 bus passengers plummeted to their death, oh,  and that´s where the two Israeli guys collided, sending one of them off the edge.¨

We were two-thirds done our descent, almost home-free, when our guide hit the brakes and pointed to a fallen group member in the distance. ¨Somebody fell,¨ he said. 

It was the Canadian girl. But don´t worry, she lived. She just crashed herself into the side of the mountain. Afterwards, she cheerfully pointed out, ¨At least I picked the right side to fall off,¨ giggle, giggle.

Well, that depends on who you ask, but I for one, was ecstatic she lived. It gave me the opportunity to break out the ¨She must have run out of Gatorade¨ material.

So, like most days, there were no casualties. Our group made it to the 5-star resort at the end of the path, ate a full-course buffet and swam in a pool.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Death Road was the climate change that occured while I was on it. When the day began, I needed a sweater and gloves. The surroundings were cold, barren and mountainous, but after just a few of hours I found myself in a hot, humid jungle where everything was green.

It was like Kenny Roger´s face after plastic surgery, I didn´t recognize a thing. The change just didn´t seem possible on a bike. You would think I would have had to hop on a jet to get where I ended up. 

The place was a paradise. My Austrian friend even decided to stay the night and not return to La Paz with the rest of us. 

Always Congenial Steve:  ¨You´re staying here?¨
A now much more Friendly Schwarzenegger: ¨Yes, I will stay.¨
ACS: ¨It´s a nice place, you should get a good night´s sleep.¨
FS: ¨Yes, I hope so. Guud bye.
ACS: ¨Yep, nice meeting you.¨  

After surviving this potentially dangerous situation, not to mention Death Road, I set off to make my triumphant return home. How excited will Sara be? I didn´t exactly dodge exploding Muslims, but I survived.

I swing open the room doors, ¨Honey, I´m home,¨ only to discover Sara in the height of passion with the hostel owner Juan.

Steve: ¨How could you do this to me?¨
Sara: ¨I didn´t think you´d make it.¨
Steve: ¨It hasn´t even been 14 hours.¨
Sara: ¨I was lonely.¨
Steve: ¨Well, I guess war can do crazy things to a person.¨

(A fight breaks out between Juan and Steve. Steve looks to have the upperhand, but Sara screams, ¨Stop, I´m having his baby,¨and smashes a vase over Steve´s head, killing him instantly).


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vine_hooligans on

very good!
Really enjoyed reading you account of Death Road, we are visiting Bolivia later this year and I'll definitely be looking into doing a similar trip, hopefully without the ACS!

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