57 Days Abroad

Day 40. El Camino de la Muerte (Road of Death)


Day 40.

Indescribable day. So many moments of greatness. Flying down a gravel road being literally inches away from 60 meters drop-offs one second, the next second getting drenched driving under waterfalls and always seeing some jaw-dropping landscapes made today one of the highlights of my life. Anyways, how it all began…

We got up early again today. Today was worse than yesterday because we had to pack all our gear and move our bags into the hostel storage. Basically, we originally only planned on staying in La Paz two nights and tonight would be a third night. When we tried to book another night at the hostel, they said they were full so we currently don’t have anything for tonight. We had breakfast, pancakes of course, and then waited for the Vertigo Bike Tours group to stop by and pick us up.

Today we were going to mountain bike down El Camino de la Muerte, The Road of Death in English (Google map: El Camino de la Muerte). From Wikipedia:

The North Yungas Road (alternatively known as Grove’s Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, El Camino de la Muerte, Road of Death or Death Road) is a 61 kilometres (38 mi) or 69 kilometres (43 mi) road leading from La Paz to Coroico, 56 kilometres (35 mi) northeast of La Paz in the Yungas region of Bolivia. It is legendary for its extreme danger and in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the “world’s most dangerous road”. One estimate is that 200 to 300 travellers were killed yearly along the road. The road includes crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles have fallen… Because of the extreme dropoffs of at least 600 metres (2,000 ft), single-lane width – most of the road no wider than 3.2 metres (10 ft) and lack of guard rails, the road is extremely dangerous. Further still, rain, fog and dust can make visibility precarious. In many places the road surface is muddy, and can loosen rocks from the road.

Due to the extreme conditions, countless buses have made grave errors on the road resulting in buses plummeting to the abysses below.  Thankfully, the route has now been closed to public transportation. Now only mountain bikers and the locals can use the road for their vehicles. Public transportation now uses a newer road that is wider, almost all paved and has guardrails. For apparent reasons, El Camino de la Muerte carries a heavy past.

The van had about 8 full suspension bikes on the roof with bags of protective gear for us. Besides Tallon and I, there were 5 others from our hostel that were joining us on the excursion. We headed for top of the valley, this time going towards the north west. We got some great views of the city.

Finally we arrived at the starting destination. We seen there were other mountain bike tour companies starting at the same location. For Vertigo Bike Tours, our van was the first to arrive and then three others showed up, making the count of riders to be about 20. We were all briefed on what to expect and what to do and what not to do. In a single file line, tallest to shortest, we lined up next gear and bikes. We got all suited up and started testing out our bikes. Shortly thereafter, we took off.

The first part of the tour was all paved and lasted about an hour with a couple breaks. The first stretch was particularly nice because we went quite fast and saw some great scenery. Thankfully, the bike tour is all either downhill or flat. Finally we reached a particular checkpoint where we paid a 25 Boliviano peso fee for entering the area. We had a quick snack and loaded up the bikes. This next portion was uphill so we were riding in the vans.

Twenty minutes later in the vans, we reached the beginning of the Death Road. There was another briefing for this next section especially in terms of what we would do in case we met oncoming vehicles. A few minutes later, we were saddled on our bikes and our gear was on. Then it began.

Within matter of minutes, the level of bike riding experience became apparent and the big group was now getting separated into the slow and the fast group. Tallon and I were in the fast group (would you expect any less??!) The fast group consisted of about 7 riders with a guide. We were bunny-hopping and jibbing off rocks and bumps. When I felt confident in my riding capabilities, I pulled out my camcorder to try to capture the actual riding experience of el Camion Del Muerto.

We had a few breaks every now and then and we had a big break for lunch. There was sandwich food, soda and water provided. The lunch spot location was particularly great as there were tall waterfalls present. After lunch, it was full on speed (with caution) down the road.

Our next major stop was a water break. We were told these grounds were common for the locals to grow coca plants. We started seeing the crops everywhere.

We took off for the last stretch of the road. There were a few streams we drove through, fully submerging/soaking our shoes. Finally, we reached the bottom and the end of our amazing trek. We regrouped, put the bikes on the roofs and the gear in the bags.

To top off the whole excursion, we drove to nearby lodging establishment where we jumped in the pool and had a buffet dinner. The water felt so perfect after all that riding. We stayed there for about 2 hours and then got back in the vans for another 2 hour ride back to La Paz.

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We got back to the Adventure Brew Hostel about 8:30pm and we asked if any rooms became available. Coincidentally, the very room we stayed the past two nights in was available again tonight. Apparently some of the reservations others placed didn’t follow through. We were happy because it was late and we didn’t have to go find something else. After we got situated again in our hostel, we left to get dinner at a place called Sol y Luna. Feeling completely exhausted once we got back after dinner, I went to bed the earliest I think I have in the past month.


2 Comments

    Video makes me think maybe the bike ride wouldn’t be so bad, but no way I would drive a car on that. Too scary! You need to invest in one of those little contraptions to mount the camcorder to your helmet. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable with this death wish of yours!

  • rad. Makes my feet tingle. Completely jealous.

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