El Camino de la Muerte

Michael near cliff edge on the Death Road

Michael near cliff edge on the Death Road

I thought I wasn’t going to do it, but I could not pass up the opportunity to mountain bike down the world’s most dangerous road. It was a phenomenal day. The ride starts at 4.7KM above sea level and consists of 64 kilometers of continuous, windy, downhill riding along one of the most scenic roads imaginable. The road is cut into the edge of the mountains and is typically about 3 meters wide, with a massive drop off on one side. It was an incredible day I shared with 4 other riders. Most travelers who have done this ride say it was their highlight of Bolivia. While it was the first real adventure I have done in this country I have no expectations that something else might surpass it. It was exhilarating, beautiful, and had me smiling and feeling great the entire day. We rode through clouds at the top, and were surrounded by lush vegetation, and even rode through the occasional waterfall. Sadly, the road is called the Death Road for good reason. It has a tragic history and as recently as May 9th it claimed another life, that of a 22 year old tourist who perished on one of its corners. It was sobering to see the marker for where it happened and the newly added posts and wooden bars now protecting that corner (one of the only walls on the road). If the conditions are good, your equipment is good, and you ride within your limits it is certainly possible to do the trip safely. If any of that changes an accident is likely fatal. I certainly stayed within my abilities for the dangerous parts, but had a blast speeding along after our guide on the lower portion in my protective equipment where an accident would hopefully be little more than painful. After descending 3.5KM in vertical altitude we celebrated with drinks and a swim in a local hotel pool before making the long and scenic drive back to La Paz on the road that for the past few years has provided a safer means of transit and taken most of the vehicles off of the Death Road.

La Paz is an interesting place, the outskirts contain some of the worst poverty in South America, the center is filled with the hustle of some of the world’s biggest cities, and rich suburbs that could be anywhere in the world. They call it the highest capital city in the world even though the capital of Bolivia is Sucre. We suffered no altitude problems having acclimatized already in Peru. On the day I went mountain biking one of our travelling companions went to the world’s highest ski resort at 5600 meters. La Paz is also the place where you can climb the “easiest 6000er in the world”, where height seekers are able to ascend to 6022M and return back to La Paz in as little as 2 days. I would have liked to have tried it (but the 3 day version) if I had more time. The same company the runs the bike trip does this tour as well.

We were in La Paz for only 3 days and 2 nights and have now arrived in Sucre, a beautiful city where most buildings are painted white.

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