Getting off the plane in La Paz we were hit by lovely cool dry air (a welcome relief from the heat of the jungle) due to the increase in altitude of around 2000m.
After we settled back into our hostel we went for a trip to a look out point of La Paz- it was a bit cloudy and really cold up there so we didn’t spend long- maybe we will miss the climate of the jungle after all. The city did look impressive from this height though- La Paz is set deep into a valley so buildings are built on steep cliff faces giving it a very interesting shape. We could also see the football stadium from here where there must have been an important match on as you could hear the roar of the fans from the lookout.
We then had a wander around town before treating ourselves to a nice meal to celebrate Grace’s birthday – Indian was the choice for the evening. We know we should have been tasting the local delicacy but we couldn’t resist a taste of home! It was bloody brilliant- the spice fix we were both looking for.
One of the most popular activities in Bolivia involves a 62km bike ride down what is known as ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Road’- taking you from an elevation of 4500m to 1000m, from snow capped peaks to jungle. The road gained the title in 1998 when numerous studies showed that it was the most accident prone and took more lives than any other road in the World. For all the Top Gear lovers out there it was featured on their South America special episode. In 2005 a new tarmac road opened reserving the ‘Death Road’ for stupid tourists and idiotic Bolivians only that still think it’s okay to drive it.
We have mixed feelings on this experience- Mike loved every second of it and Grace was absolutely petrified almost the entire time- it was an experience of a life time for both of us but maybe for different reasons.
First we drove to the start point which was covered in snow and was freezing cold, this was where we got all our gear on, tested our bikes and blessed Pachamama (mother earth). The ritual involved pouring 97% alcohol on our bike wheel, the floor and then taking a sip ourselves to prevent Pachamama taking us as a sacrifice. It was horrible, like swallowing fire but we didn’t want to piss off Pachamama before hitting the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
We flew down the first tarmac section hitting speeds of over 50km/h (even Grace enjoyed this bit) before reaching the junction where the new road meets the old ‘Death Road’. For the next 30ish kilometres we would be racing down the narrow dirt and rubble track, the whole time clinging to our handle bars praying that the wheels don’t come loose (this actually happened to a guy we met).
Cycling Death Road is a serious business though, a number of tourists die every year during the trip therefore we did tend to take things a bit easy. The first part is definitely the scariest, the single track road clings treacherously to the mountain side with sheer drops of over 1000m waiting for anyone who deviates from the narrow path. To make things even more interesting we happened to be cycling in the wet season – meaning the ground was much looser with some parts of the road disappearing due to landslides.
We stopped a few times during our descent to catch our breath and for a briefing on the next section. One of our stops was at the now famous small stretch of road where Top Gear filmed the most iconic scenes of the episode. This particular part is extremely narrow with one of the biggest drops, here Clarkson was filmed passing another car on his way to the top – with a lot of swearing of course.
As the day progressed both Grace and I slowly became more and more confident, allowing us to enjoy the amazing scenery as well as the ride. Although Grace was still scared for her life the whole way…
We finished the ride with not a single person even scrapping their knee – a rare occurrence apparently. We rewarded ourselves with a refreshing dip in the river, lunch and a beer before our jeep ride back up.
This was actually scarier than the bike ride, the elevated position and speed of the jeep really made you feel as if you were going to fall off the edge at every corner. It was only on the ride up that our guide started to point out the small memorials where people had died…
After 3 hours in the jeep we finally made it to the new road making us double survivors of the ‘Death Road’, what a relief. We arrived back at our hostel late that evening so ordered take out and settled in for a film. The next day we were headed to Sucre, a 12 hour bus journey away…