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January 14, 2004

Dangerous Curves

DAY 85: It has been called the "World's Most Dangerous Road." This route through the Yungas mountain range between La Paz and the little village of Yolosi starts at the peak of one of the mountains at 15,322 ft ASL and dramatically descends down to 4,460 ft ASL over the course of 63 km. The single lane dirt road hugs the mountains for vehicles to travel on -- that is, if they're careful enough not to fall off the edge and down deep into the valley.

It's one thing to ride in a bus along this route, but its another to ride down it on a mountain bike. The trip, offered by about a dozen adventure tour companies in La Paz, had been highly recommended to me from travelers I had met on the road, from Heidi to Sergei the Hamburger (from the Galapagos trip) who called it "the best thing he's done in South America."

Tim and I were up by 6:30 to get ready for our ride along the dangerous road. We walked over to the tour agency we booked at, appropriately named X-TREME BOLIVIA. The company sprung for a continental breakfast at a nearby hostel whee we met Cooper, an 18-year-old from the UK and our guide Juan, who wasn't much for words. We hopped in a minivan with our dual suspension mountain bikes already mounted on the roof.

Our driver drove us out of the canyon of La Paz and up to our starting point, just under the snow line. Outside it was raining and foggy as if we were inside a rain cloud -- visibility was poor. "I think the 'World's Most Dangerous Road' just got a little more dangerous," I said.

JUAN GAVE US THE OPTION to start at the top of the hill or drive passed the rain to the start of the "most dangerous" part -- Cooper, Tim and I agreed the rain wasn't too bad and decided to just wrap ourselves in our raingear under our protective bike gear.

Juan, who was still a man of few words, led the way down the hill. We followed him down the first, asphalt-paved section single file, on the side of the road, through the mist and under the rain, passing through landslide zones and little hamlets. Some portions of the first leg actually went uphill -- something all the tour companies neglect to mention to prospective clients.

"I Inca...Trail..." Cooper said, huffing and puffing.

WE EVENTUALLY MADE IT DOWN to the start of the Ecovia, the start of the stretch of road worthy of the title "World's Most Dangerous." Juan gave us the option of stopping for lunch, but we agreed we'd just eat after conquering the mighty road.

The rain didn't stop like Juan thought it might have, so most of the time we pedaled under the downpour, mud spraying up onto our clothes from the tires. As we descended down the road, it was evident why the road got its name; a majority of the time it was just a one-lane dirt road with short wide sections to wait for oncoming traffic to pass through. Off the ledge of the muddy road was a dramatic drop -- a drop that has claimed lives each year -- but with the incredible fog and cloud coverage, the drop was hidden from us (perhaps for the better.)


We rode the rainy trail along the ledge, passed some waterfalls and under others, through mountain streams. We stopped for trucks coming up and whizzed passed slower bikers from other tour companies. Near the end, we encountered a thick patch of mud that made it impossible to shift gears -- all it did was splatter mud all over my face.

Our descent was only about three hours and we eventually made it to Yolosi, soaked and full of mud.

AFTER A LATE LUNCH, we stopped for a quick bit in Coroico, a mountain "retreat" town for the citizens of La Paz, before taking the World's Most Dangerous Road back up in the minivan. It almost took as much time going up in a vehicle as it did going down on a bicycle.

Back in La Paz, Tim and I bid Cooper goodbye and walked back to the hostel, trousers looking like we had been mud wrestling all day -- passers-by couldn't stop staring at us. Our laundry wasn't done at the hostel when we got back as we had hoped, so we just went out in our dirty, muddy state for bacon, egg and cheeseburgers. Luckily after dinner we had clean clothes to change in.

We met up with Lara, who had taken Spanish lessons in the day, and went out for dessert and coffee and a walk around nighttime La Paz. Lara and Tim argued over which salty spread was better, Vegemite or Marmite, as I had my coffee and ice cream.

On our way back to the hostel, Lara and I paid some little musician on the street for a picture, but when we tried to take it, he just ran away. Where he was off trying to get to I don't know, but if he was off to play in the mud, I could have shown him the way.

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Posted by Erik on January 14, 2004 01:44 PM
TrackBack | Category: Bolivia

ALL: Hey, I know I'm a day behind, but I'll leave it here at the mountain biking story before I head off into an NIZ for four days -- Bolivia's famous salt pans... Will catch up when I return!

Posted by: Erik on January 14, 2004 01:44 PM

Am I first or second? First, since Erik doesn't count. Sorry lovepenny. Take the back seat...

Posted by: j2x on January 14, 2004 02:08 PM


Posted by: markyt on January 14, 2004 02:09 PM

In De Face... In De Face!

Posted by: Duaine on January 14, 2004 02:31 PM



Posted by: LovePenny on January 14, 2004 02:45 PM

oh damn...why did i read the blog first????

who the heck is j2x anyway? sounds like a terminator robot reject.

(^_^) j/k!

Posted by: LovePenny on January 14, 2004 02:47 PM

WOW! that sounds like a lot of fun. especially with all the mud. i like how get to ride through the waterfalls also. that is so cool. i am jealous.

Posted by: alice on January 14, 2004 03:49 PM

Brrrrr... the road sure is steep, I am covered in goosepimples. Glad you conquered the road 8-)

Posted by: Dusty on January 14, 2004 04:07 PM

LOL... LP!

The wait is over! The new X-GAMES event is X-TREAM mountain biking, Boliviano style!

Posted by: Td0t on January 14, 2004 08:12 PM

That LOOKS AWESOME! i wanna go next! the landscape looks amazing... i guess the good does go with the bad.

Posted by: nikkij013 on January 14, 2004 08:21 PM

erik: did you suck on Tim's nipples too? (0_0)

Posted by: LovePenny on January 14, 2004 08:44 PM

Sounds like a good time, but c'mon - "X-treme Bolivia"? Was slammin' a Dew part of the tour package?

Posted by: dunlavey on January 15, 2004 02:33 AM

that road is definitely not farvenugen

Posted by: wheat on January 15, 2004 01:40 PM

Erik: FYI, i just saw a news report that Brazil will start photographing and fingerprinting US tourists going into their country, since the US is doing it to Brazilian nationals. An American pilot already got detained for showing his middle finger when the photo was shot. heh.

Posted by: LovePenny on January 15, 2004 07:16 PM

lovepenny: yeh some crazy stuff happenning there. In the WashingtonPost's Express I found that Americans upon passing through immigration in Rio de Janeiro's airport they are greeted with flowers supplied by the City. Hmmm, "Have a mug shot ... the Rose is on us", must be the new tourist theme there.

Posted by: sim on January 16, 2004 09:43 AM

the roses must be for our "glamour shot" photos and fingerprints....i can't wait to arrive...

Posted by: markyt on January 16, 2004 11:12 AM

yippeee! i'm all caught up:) great stories & photos, as usual.

sorry about your fever & stolen raincoat! glad you're better now & have a replacement jacket to keep you dry from all that H I J K L M N O!

mud on your face.. are you sure that isn't "caca". you are in bolvia... :)

(i'm jealous)

Posted by: elaine on January 18, 2004 07:45 PM

Hey Mr. E

Is everything fine. U seem to have disappeared from the blog.

Posted by: Dusty on January 19, 2004 06:22 AM

ALL: Hey there, I've survived the surreal world of the Bolivian salt flats and deserts and its small towns with power outages or no electricity at all. I'm off to Potosi now, the highest city in the world (with the highest internet cafe in the world), where I'll be catching up on Blog duties. Stay tuned for pictures worthy of computer wallpaper!

Posted by: Erik on January 19, 2004 09:39 AM


Posted by: Td0t on January 19, 2004 02:25 PM

hurry up....i need new wallpaper!

Posted by: markyt on January 19, 2004 04:45 PM

And I thought I'd struck wallpaper gold with one of your amazon pics. Looking forward to it.

Posted by: Neil on January 19, 2004 10:23 PM

no new entries for me to read:(

looking forward to the latest adventures...

(i'm jealous)

Posted by: elaine on January 19, 2004 11:50 PM

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