The World's Most Dangerous Road
Today was a very excitng day,...I (Patrick) got to ride down the World Most Dangerous Road (WMDR) on a Mountain Bike. While Alex stayed in La pas for a relaxed day of browsing, shopping and a bit of organizing I got up at 6:00 AM to meet with my fellow cyclists for the 64 KM ride down the mountain. We decended from a height of 4700 meters to a mere 500 meters above sea level in just 4-5 hours. the first 20KM was a steep paved highway (with little traffic). The most exciting parts were slow moving trucks that we got to pass, a drug control points and need sharp curves to lean in. Otherwise pretty standard. But after the first part we switched to gravel road and the actual WMDR. Our guides checked up our breakes and then off we went.
The WMDR has once been the only way into the bolivian amazon basin and caused many deaths due to is narrow path and steep cliff like edges. As you can imagine many accidents lead to cars fallen of the cliffs. On our way back (in the bus) the guide was so kind to tell us all the stories of the various crosses we saw. The worst year was whn about over 340 people died on that road (including one accident that involved 118 people traveling home on a large truck from a local soccer match). However, now they actually have a paved road that takes up most traffic and leaves most of the road to the moutain bikers. Only 2 moutain bikers have died on this road so far. In anycase, we had a blast passing cliffs, waterfalls and river crossing of little creeks. See for your self.
To the jungle, in 12 hours
4:30 am - good morning. Maria and the cab were at our door 30 minutes later and in the dark we were on our way to the airport. We arrived at TAM, the military airport, that enabled these planes to fly to the jungle and waited. It was there, in line, with a snicker bar for breakfast, that we met the two people who would help to make the next 4 days some of the best of the last 4 months. Erin and Liz from Chicago.
Plane delayed. Okay, cafe is open, so we had breakfast and within 2o minutes, we were on that favorite topic of travellers: pooping. Either that you are or you are not. Simple as that. It is a topic that everyone shares, and though for everyone at home, it may be quite absurd that I added this in our blig, it is part of the journey.
Still no flight. Delay. Oh, wait we can board. Oh, no, cancelled.
And so there we were. 4 girls and Patrick. With Erin's fluent spanish, one pay phone, the LP and a sense of adventure fueled by groupthink, an hour later we had a driver at the airport, willing to drive us to the jungle in 12 hours, for close to the same amount as our flight ticket. The Land Rover was a bit tattered, and I think our driver was missing a tooth, but Patrick seemed to think the state of the tires was acceptable and that was good enough for us. We headed into La Paz, settled things with the travel agency who would get our money back from the flight and by 12:30 we were on the road for our 450km trip into the unknown.
We climbed the summit Patrick had cycled the day before, and descended down through the dense fog into the jungle. Slowly the temperature became a bit more balmy and the giddiness of uncertainty and lack of real breakfast food set in. And then, the smooth paved first 100km of rode came to an end: the remaining 350km would be gravel road.
The temp increased, the dust increased, the width of the road decreased. Massive trucks travelling toward us would often force us close to the edge and we wondered how on earth a large bus would make the curves. Our driver would often drive on the "wrong" side of the road in really dicey situations, because it would allow the drive to sit at the edge of the cliff and see exactly where his tires were. Make sense, perhaps not, but it worked.
At the four hour mark, we stopped in what seemed to be the first jungle town: sticky hot and full of new smells. The best one being the barbeque chicken lunch we gobbled up with perhaps the best marinade we had all tasted. Really magical. Fresh squeezed orange juice, from a street vendor, as sweet as candy was dessert. It is served in a plastic bag with straw...perfect to go package. The bumpy drive continued through a stunning sunset and then into the dark. For entertainment, someone started the dog counting game: call out stary dogs running through the night. You would be surprised how many times we got to hear "PERRO"!
And then without warning, flat tire. In the darkest of night, our driver swiftly changed tires, while Patrick assisted with the head lamp. Within 10 inutes, we were back on the road - what Patrick did not share until the next day was that the spare tire could have competed with the baldness of his own head. We were all glad he kept that to himself!
As promised, we arrived at the Hotel Rurrenabaque at 12:30am. Happy to have stopped the constant bumping, we stumbled into our twin beds and thanked the heavens for 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.