Wake up around 5 a.m. Packing everything, we leave our bags at the lockers. “All you can eat” breakfast with pancakes coffee. We need to get some strength, the day will be epic and long!
Not only we have to ride down the Death Road today, but also we have to get back to La Paz before the rest of the group, not to miss our bus to our next adventure at 5:30 p.m. Usually, the day on the Death Road ends at 7 p.m., but we asked the agency to get everything done so we can be back earlier. It should be OK.
Our driver is here at 6:30 a.m. We first go get our helmets, and get somebody else who will ride with us. We leave La Paz, already vibrating like a bee-hive.
In the car, I attach my GoPro to my helmet, and check if it’s safely tied .
We get to a small lake at 9:20 a.m., 15,288 ft alt. This is where we’ll start our ride down with the bikes. We meet the rest of the group, put on jumpsuit, fluorescent jacket, over-trousers, gloves, helmet and get our bike. Our guide explains us that he’ll ride with us, and shows the gestures we’ll need to reproduce so everyone behind can see them, so everyone can survive the day: “watch out”, “slow down”, “get on the right”, “get on the left”, “we stop”.
The first part is on a road, to get comfortable with the bike. 12.5 miles down on asphalt, on the mountain’s edge, bypassing cars, buses and cow, sometimes at 40 mph.
Once we’re ready, we go back in the car to drive a bit up and get to the beggining of the trail of the Death Road. The view is amazing … Surreal landscapes, completely rugged, with peaks and extremely deep canyons, and a little gray path snaking into a green field.
We get on our bikes, I check my GoPro is safely tied to my helmet, and I try to be just behind our guide to have the best view possible and be able to bike as fast as he does. We we start our 19 miles-ride of pleasure and happiness.
I cannot tell you the whole story, because you have to live it … but in some lines, the Death Road is:
• a 40 miles ride with a 11,811 ft vertical descent,
• a ride from the Altipano (the highest inhabited plain in the world, after Tibet), cold and at 15,288 ft alt., to Coroico in the humid and warm forest at 4,920 ft alt., so with big temperatures difference,
• a path of dust and rocks which measures, at its largest point, 10 feet,
• a precicipe just by the path which can be absolutely vertical and dive 2,000 ft by your side,
• a dozen of security barriers (made of wood, eh) at the most,
• an impressive number of accidents, it’s sad but always deadly …
The Death Road has a name that suits to it. It has been named “The most dangerous road in the world” in 1995. Here’s how you ride it:
After 2 h 30 of vibrations, shudders, fear when your rear wheel touches the light gravel and slips towards the edge … we arrive at the end, alive. Wrists in pieces, fingers sore because they spent too much time tied on the breaks … but happy to have ridden all these kilometers.
Everyone’s congratulating, opening beers and laughing.
Last minutes with Lisa who will return to La Paz in the evening and will fly back to London tomorrow. It’s sad to say goodbye in the middle of the adventure. But I laugh thinking about what’s gonna happen next, between “males”. Nice team (Lisa did all the translations until now … None of us has a really good Spanish ). We’re gonna be OK …
The group leaves to Coroico and will enjoy a good lunch and a good time in a pool, and will go back to La Paz by the new road, built in 2007. We go back to the capital with the bikes on the van … using the same old road, the other way. Julien was more afraid this second time riding the Death Road. It’s true that when the driver stops, start talking and points a little car, completely smashed hundred of meters below, that’s a bit frightening …
I sleep in the van, and we get to La Paz at 7:30 p.m. Just some time to get back to the hotel, shower, talk with … but, it’s Jenny and Amie who got here too! – take back our bags and leave to the bus station.
Our daily bus will ride the 408 miles to Uyuni, our next checkpoint. The vehicle is simple and I start feeling strange: we heard so many stories of bag getting stolen in the bus or in the hold, I think that this bus looks like a bus in which this could happen. Awesome.
Just after we leave downtown, we stop in Bolivar, some kind of poor suburb, to get more passengers in. At some time, a guy gets in, fuzzy look, walks to me and starts talking. OK, from his smell, this guy’s drunk. I don’t understand what he says, but I get that it’s something to do with my seat. OK, I have confirmation looking at my ticket and his, the company has sold my seat twice. He sits down next to me. I feel faint. He’s looking in a way I don’t really like. With the alcohol in his blood, the one he has still in hand and drinks and the way he looks at me, I fear for my life. Really. Julien will tell me later he has the same feeling. Sitting next to a drunk and pissed off guy, in a bus, with a 11 hours ride ahead. 10 minutes later, his friend calls him. Looks like there’s an available seat farther. He leaves, a young boy takes his place. I feel a bit better.
Apprehension. Fear. And we’re still in La Paz.
The bus finally starts, I fall asleep under my blanket.
The road ends for hundreds of kilometers of dusty path. My dreams are strange. Mix of war, destruction, earthquakes. Awesome night.
Apprehension. Fear. Nightmares.