from La Paz to Coroico
08.12.2008 13 °C
So Steve persuaded me to go on this infamous road between Coroico and La Paz. As I mentioned before, it is so named the "Death Road" due the ridiculously high mortality rate it once claimed. When it had buses, trucks and cars going on supposedly 200-300 people were dying on that road annually. However a newer larger road was built a few years ago and now most of the transit goes to Coroico via that road. The death road now is only really used for the occassional truck trying to get to smaller villages and tourists who want to mountain bike down this temptingly named challenge. Really I think most people do it just to say they´ve mountain biked down the world´s most dangerous road and most companies give you a so telling T-Shirt after completing it. I will not deny that the scenic views and the prospect of getting that T-shirt were what sold me. :P Anyway we went with the most reliable and well-known company Gravity Assisted. Their bikes apparently come from Canada and are worth $2500 US each. The suspension and breaks supposedly top of the line and maintained on practically a daily basis. The guides are mostly from foreign countries and speak english. Our guide was Swedish and I think another of the guides was a Kiwi. Anyway our guide was named Chris I think. Apparently about 10 tourists have died on that road doing the mountain biking over the last 10 years. Only 1 had died with Gravity Assisted in 10 years so I figured that was a reasonable reputation. Lots of injuries though - usually caused by overconfidence. In the last year, Chris told us, people had broken collarbones, someone bit off their own tongue in a fall, another person fell is such a way that they ahh...ripped themselves a new "hole". So if 600 meter drops edges on a gravelly road weren´t enough - just falling off could take you out. You need to ride at a certain speed to get over the gravel, you have to ride "cliff side" on the left side (this is some weird traffic rule just for this road), often conditions are wet and misty at the top because you're in the mountain. Makes for a lot of potentially serious situations. Some French girl apparently got off on the wrong side of her bike and fell over the cliff when a truck drove by - she actually survived the fall and was left screaming for 2 hours before they could get her out. Apparently she died on the way to the hospital. Lots of similar stories on this road. So it isn´t something to sniff at.
It was about an hours drive out of La Paz to the starting point of the ride, La Cumbre. The views I must say were already impressive. We were up pretty high as well - somewhere up there in the 4000-5000 meters. There was snow on the nearby mountains. The whole ride was actually 64km but he death road is only 32 km of that I believe. The rest is paved. Chris had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour and his english was good but with a heavy Swedish accent so I missed probably 30% of what he was saying. Anyway he fitted us in our bikes and made us all drink this horrible local liquor as some sort of luck ritual. My bike was named Pepino. These bikes really were top line. It was like riding a Rolls Royce of bikes. Such a smooth ride. Anyway we started out and it was easy enough because 90% of the route is downhill. It was slightly wet out and very misty and very very cold at the top (I swear my hands nearly got frostbite). There were some points where we could barely see a few meters in front of us. As we got lower it cleared up a bit. We hit the porcion of uphill. Now they gave us a choice between being driven up in the support vehicle or riding up. Apparently it´s only 8km but uphill at that altitude is one killer ride. Steve decided to do. I decided to save myself for the ride down the death road which would be strenuous enough. It started to pour rain while the few who chose to ride up did it. Seemed like a very long 8km to me and they were all soaked afterward. Conveniently when the rest of us started riding it had stopped. So we started the death road. Very gravelly, waterfalls along the way and some points were you´re like a foot from a 600 meter drop. But you almost don´t notice because you´re paying so much attention to the path ahead of you and you have to. It was a cool ride though, all said and done. We stopped about 8 times - one of which was to have lunch. It was well paced and instructed so nobody had any problems. The key really was to keep your head focused on the road. We didn´t encounter any other vehicles thankfully and I took some nice pictures. It took us probably and 1.5 hours to get down. At the bottom we had a buffet lunch at an animal shelter. Abused or homeless animals taken care of by volunteers. Parrots, rabbits, monkeys, goats, dogs, and other creatures wandered around. There was as particular goat that took a liking to me. I think it tried to hump my leg. It also butted me with it´s horns. The monkeys were mischievous and little thieves if you got near the wrong one. One little bastard started up my leg - I thought he was going to climb on my shoulder - instead he stole the pen from my pocket. He let it loose for a moment and I got it back and he started screaming like a banshee - he was on a rope so he couldn´t come after me. Those monkeys were troublemakers man. Anyway it was a very noble group.
Man the scariest part of the ride was going back up in the bus, man there was times when you could look out and see nothing but the drop - there was no ground between the wheel and the edge. It took an hour and it was a scary hour. The bus shouldn´t really fit on that road, but we made it .
Anyway good company, good ride and good day. The next day we headed into Peru - where we spend 1/3 of our trip.
Check out more pics of the road here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=81510&l=a4786&id=684816071