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Published: July 29th 2006
My last entry mentioned that we were planning a mountain biking trip from La Paz. What I failed to mention was that the route would venture down the so-called "World´s Most Dangerous Road". Yes, there is some validity to that well earned title a we heard that 3 vehicles had gone off the cliff in the last week. And if I´m so afraid of heights why would I even consider this trip? For one, I feel less fear when I'm in control, for another, I enjoy a good a good thrill now and then, and finally, we chose the safest tour operator on the route (one guide per seven riders;our group of 16 had 3 guides)
The route is 40 miles of which the first 10 are paved and the balance is dusty gravel, made even more dusty by passing vehicles. Our ride will descend 11,972 ft to the sub-tropical town of Corioco. We´ll bottom out at 3,608 ft at the end of our ride to have a round of beers to celebrate our finish-
We meet at a La Paz cafe at 7:30am and drive 30 minutes to the starting point. Our starting point is at a place called
La Cumbre which is at an altitude of 15,580 ft. Once we arrived at the starting point, we were outfitted with pants and jackets, safety vest, helmets, gloves, goggles & dust mask while our pre-assigned bikes were off-loaded from the chase bus. We had the best bikes -Kona bikes with hydraulic breaks and great suspension. Since it's early and high altitude, everyone is bundled up in layers to resemble the Michelin Man. We really notice our shortness of breath at this point. We get to test out our bikes and gears here before we head off and receive a lengthy safety briefing from our lead guide, including a number of examples of what happens to you if you don't follow the safety rules. I'm convinced I will follow all the rules.
Although driving in Bolivia is the same as in the States, they drive on the right, one unique rule applies to this road. It is that descending traffic stays to the left (cliffside). This allows the descending truck driver to view his wheels as he pulls as close to the cliff drop off as he can in order to allow the ascending driver (hugging the mountainside) to pass
Coca Fields near Corioco
Learning about coca plant production
safely. Bear in mind that the width of the gravel part of the road is about a lane and a half. I don't particularly like this rule, but we'll see how it goes.
Once we're off on the road, the experience is amazing. We stay single file and whiz on down the road while viewing spectacular scenery. Yes, I'm taking my eyes off the road for a split second or two. During the paved section, we continue to receive safety briefings at key points along the route. Once we reach the gravel section, after 2 hours, it's a whole new experience. There's no taking your eyes off the road at any time. The road zig zags frequently. The guides whistle to notify us to slow down or dismount the bikes for oncoming traffic. We don't seem to have any wild riders in our group, thank goodness, as if so, they've been warned to curb their enthusiasm. I feel like I´m riding my breaks the entire trip. Anytime Dennis tries to ride beside me I tell him move on and stay out of my way. I need to focus and can´t have any distractions! It´s a rattling ride on the
gravel for about 3 hours.
The scenery is spectacular and the drivers we pass exercise caution while we pass. By the time we are in the final leg, we´re all tired and trying to be careful not to make any mistakes. We have our celebratory beers and are driven to our hotel, where we all have lunch and showers. We made arrangements to stay 2 nights, but the rest of our group will ride the chase bus back to La Paz on the very same road that afternoon. Our options to return to La Paz are that we can take the chase bus in a few days, take a local bus (no thanks!) or hire a private taxi.
The next day we stroll into town to check out the local market and scope out a potential driver. We saw a jeep in very good condition and contracted with Gonzalo to take us back the following day. In the meantime, he offered to take us on a 3 hour tour around the area. He drove to some of the nearby communities to show us the coca fields, explained how productive the plant is and why it´s important to the indiginous people.
The crop can be brought to market 4 times a year! We also visited a 500 year old abandoned hacienda built by the Spaniards to ensure a stable coca plant supply which was then provided to the miners in Potosi to keep up production levels in the silver mines.
The following morning Gonzalo arrived on time to take us back on the 3 hour drive to La Paz. Dennis sat in front while I preferred to have the rear seat. Along the way we stopped to take photos and enjoyed the breathtaking views. Once back in La Paz, we made arrangements to fly to Sucre. From there we will take the bus to visit Potosi, the city made rich and famous during the Spanish colonial days in South America for it´s silver mines.
Here in Sucre, the climate is spring like. It´s a university town and the capital of Bolivia. We have very nice accomodations and the food is great. I´ve been in shock each time we receive the bill for a meal. We rarely spend over $10 for the both of us for dinner. Last night we sat in the balcony of a restaurant overlooking the square. We
ordered an appetizer of meat for two. When it arrived, we were shocked at the size. The cutting board had 2 large pieces each of pork, steak, chicken and a spicy sausage, along with a bowl of fries and a basket of bread. We also had a beer and 3 glasses of wine while we chatted with some travelers from London. The total bill was about $8. Tomorrow we´ll make the trip to the nearby town of Trabuco for the Sunday market, and on Monday we´ll take a cab to the city of Potosi where we will take a mine tour. We enjoy visiting Spanish colonial cities for the history and architecture so we´re looking forward to spending a few days there.
Thanks for all your comments and emails. It´s great to stay in touch.
Nancy & Dennis
For those anyone who is just now getting our blog, you can see previous entries by going to www.travelblog.org. From here, go to Bloggers, and type in Nancy & Dennis. This should bring you to our home page.
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