Surviving the Death Roads

Trip Start Jan 2007
Trip End Apr 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, March 18, 2007

I have officially travelled the nastiest roads on earth! Great, right?

I will start with my Jeep (Landcruiser) tour, which was awesome!  I hopped a jeep at the one shack border between Chile and Bolivia, literally in the middle of nowhere.  We then travelled for three days through the desert, mountain pass and salt flat between the border and little town of Uyuni. 

The first day we saw some crazy lagunas with different color water and millions of flamingos.  We saw some geysers and got to swim in a natural hot spring, again, in the middle of nowhere, looked like the moon to me.  What brings you back to reality is the other five jeeps full of people.  That night we slept at over 5000 metres.  Now, chilling out at 16400 ft is not something to which I am accustomed and something to which I perhaps could have given more thought ahead of time.  They say you are supposed to acclimatize yourself for a few days at incremental elevations along the way.  I went from 0m to 5000m in a day and a half.  Turned out I was generally ok and did not get altitude sickness, but very lucky.  Some people did and it was not a pretty sight (or sound).  If you let the lack of oxygen get to you mentally though, panic attacks and waking up gasping for air (and not being able to catch your breath for a minute or two are very common).  I may have experienced this slightly.  Funny now. 

I forgot to describe my group.  I lucked out in one way but not in others.  There was only four of us, plus the driver so there was lots of room.  Here is the scene.  In the front seat there was a lesbian, the opposite of the porn star variety, from Slovenia, who wanted to stop and take pictures of every creature and llama she saw.  She also got drunk one night because she only eats lettuce, tomatoes and apples and explained, half looking for advice, that her live-in girlfriend of six years won´t admit that she is gay to any of their friends.  In the seat in front of me there was young married couple, he from Italy and she from Holland, who spoke in 5 different languages the whole time, seriously.  She also didn`t eat a damn thing, and anything she did consume her husband had to try first.  She was sketching out and pouting the whole time about getting altitude sickness so hubby had to give lots of hand holds and hugs.  I would have been slapping.  He was good shit, although, speaking fluent spanish and translating my intense questions to the guide. 

The second day we passed through more crazy desert and little deserted villages.  It was a landscape like no other, paralled only maybe by that of the middle east or a variety of scenes from  Star Wars  (episode 1 for you light savers).  The third day we got to check out the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat (12000 sq km).  Unfortunately it was completely covered with a layer of water so we were only able to cross a section of it for fear of getting lost, as it is a complete reflective whiteout.   We went to a hotel in the middle of it that was made out of salt.  What?

I am writing too much again.  Moving on, I got sick from pizza in Uyuni and had to take a bus to La Paz.  This is perhaps one of the most sureal, weirdest, worst, most horribly memorable experiences of my life.  The highway from Uyuni north is a single track trail through the middle of nowhere.  We had a full, jacked up, 50 year old offroad bus with what seemed like 50 Israeli passengers yelling away in Hebrew, with seats that reclined to whack you in the nose.  This bus pounded away in the middle of the night (so you couldn`t see what was coming or if you were moving or stuck in the mud), through creek beds, up and down crazy sketchy slopes, over wash board the entire way until we got to some pavement 8 hours later.   You imagine the noises my stomach was making.

Ok, finally, here in La Paz.  La Paz is a very crazy and unigue city, I definitely like it as it is different from all other cites I have seen.  Shiiteloads of people buzzing around everywhere.  Oh, also, Bolivians are a very unfortunate looking people.  La Paz is built in the bottom of a valley that is surrounded 360 degrees by steep ass slopes covered in shantytowns.  You can imagine the water that runs down the street in rainy season.  As it is a steep city, walking  around here at 4000m kills the old lungs. 

Yesterday I went mountain biking down the world´s most dangerous road.  Another def. highlight.  We went from 4750m in the snow and rain to 1100m in the sunshine in a few hours. We got to ride pretty crazy Kona full suspensions, as I wasn´t going to cheap out on my guide company.  Pretty wild scenery, with 1100ft drops immediately beside you.  When lots of cars once used this road (until last year) it killed a stupid amount of drivers and riders each year, head-ons and just flying off the single gravel track into thin air. Really though, unless you are an idiot or your front wheel rips off there is not much danger.

Obviously, I lived to tell about it so I celebrated that and St. Patty`s day at the worlds highest Irish bar, which happens to be in my hostel, last night.

Will throw some pics on tomorrow when I can find a faster computer. Later all, T.
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