The Death Road

DSCF8082Rocky, Narrow, Dirt Road + 600 meter cliffs (2000 ft!) + Mountain Bikes + Epic History of Deaths + Food Poisoning + Thanksgiving Day = BEST. DAY. EVER.

The day before Thanksgiving, we were stuck in La Paz all day for the Census Day. Dan decided to tempt fate – after all, fortune favors the bold – and eat lettuce with our lunch (with tons of surface area, lettuce was very likely to have nastiness on it from being washed in the unclean Bolivian water). I refrained, even though my colon was in desperate need of some ruffage.  We had decided that, since there we no other Americans around, Bolivia didn’t have Turkeys (and even if they did, it was probably smart to stay far away from such meats), and we only had one more day in La Paz, that the best way to celebrate Squanto’s kindness to the Pilgrims was to do the Death Road.

The Death Road has been mostly closed for public transportation since 1996, because too many people died (and they finally built a new, safer road). Around 200-300 people would die a year, because it was literally too narrow for two cars to pass in most places. Buses, trucks, vans, cars, unicycles – all of them used this road because it was a faster route to get to La Paz from Coroico. And when vehicles had to pass each other, often times the outside car would tumble off the cliff, which at the highest point is a 600 meter fall.

Many tourist companies now rented mountain bikes out to tourists to ride down this road, an entirely downhill route. About 1 tourist dies a year, because if you happen to veer off the road at all, you’re screwed. One tourist died already this year, so we figured that our odds were pretty good. Hooray for logic!

Once we had decked ourselves out in full helmets, elbow and knee pads, jackets and pants, we started bombing down the first part of the road, which was all paved. We must have been going 30 mph at least, tucking and drafting, passing mac trucks and busses, until we reached the dirt portion. On this – the most dangerous portion – there were no railings, no pavement, a plethora of gnarly stones and potholes, and oh yeah, plummet-to-your-death drop offs. We flew, adrenaline and fear fueling us to even reckless speeds. There have been few things in my life as fun as barreling down this road. Dan, with some nasty lettuce percolating in his stomach, had to stop periodically to poo and spew his way down the road, yet still managed to go faster than anyone else in our group. Oh the joys of thanksgiving day food poisoning! We started at an elevation of 4,650 meters (15,260 ft) and ended down at 1,200 meters (3,900 ft), a journey that took us around 5 hours to cover. Upon reaching the bottom, we cheered our survival with beer and a swim in a surprisingly not too gross pool. Best way to celebrate Thanksgiving when you can’t be home with la familia.

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