Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The World's Most Dangerous Road

Yesterday, I had one of the best experiences of my life--mountain biking down the "world's most dangerous road" in Bolivia.

The road tracks the side of the mountain and on the left there is a sheer drop of hundreds of meters. Because the cars need to hug the mountain (they can't see how much space they have), we ride our bicycles on the left, right on the edge. Thankfully, they opened a new road for cars, trucks, and buses a mere 5 months ago. This meant that there wasn't much traffic on our road. Before they opened this new road, 300 people would die every year from trucks and buses going off the edge.

Here's what the edge looks like:

And, here's the spot where many of those trucks/buses have gone over:

We started out with breakfast at 7am and by 7:40 we were on the road in a microbus to the start. We drove out of La Paz in the chaotic rush hour and into the mountains. The first two hours or so were on asphalt, mostly down hill, but with one somewhat difficult uphill section. It was also pretty cold high up and early in the morning. Here are some pics of our team at the start:

And here's a nice shot of the asphalt part of the road:

Then, we got to some gravel and finally the starting point of La Calle de Muerte, or The Road of Death:

Here's a video of us trucking down the gravel road:

Our guides were Israel and Gonzalo, who were great. Israel was the guide earlier this year when an Israeli guy went off the edge and died. Apparently he was racing a friend and they crashed. His friend fell right and he fell left, off the cliff. Israel also finished second in the last race they had down the road, two years ago. His time was about 1 hour and 15 minutes, 5 seconds behind the winner. We took 3-4 hours to do the whole trip. They don't do the race anymore because there were too many accidents (although no deaths).

Riding down at near full speed was exhilirating. You don't really need to peddle at all, just brake--so your hands actually get sore and there's a lot of pressure on your upper body. We spent the first part riding through a cloud, getting wet. Looking off the cliff to the left, all I could see was mist. Then, as we got lower we came out of the clouds and the sun came out. The scenery was spectacular and I was torn between barrelling down full speed and slowing down to look at the mountains to my left (doing both at once seemed like a bad idea).

Here's some video of us riding through a waterfall:

Towards the end we got to ride through a small river. Here's a still shot of me going through:

And here's video of us all. I'm first:

Luckily, the only time I fell during the whole ride was when I was standing still--reminds me of skiing.

At the end of the road, we pulled into a small village and had a few beers. Here's our team at the end:

We then took a bus to Hotel Esmerelda in the town of Coroico where we enjoyed a dip in the pool, more beers, a shower, and a buffet lunch. The hotel was beautiful and costs only $7/night.

Finally, there was a 3.5 hour busride back to La Paz. Overall, a great day. And, the whole trip cost $35 which included breakfast, all equipment, two snacks, lunch with time at the hotel, a t-shirt, and a CD with pictures from the trip--a real steal.

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