Friday, February 1, 2013

The Death Road

Day 103 (January 26, 2013)
La Paz, Bolivia to El Camino de la Muerte
Day's Ride: 149 Miles

I went down to the hostel lobby this morning to check my email and found the night clerks hard at work:

After breakfast, Mike and I hit the road for Coroico and the famous Death Road, or "Camino de la Muerte" as the locals call it. The Death Road was listed as the most dangerous road in the world for quite some time. I can't remember the exact numbers, but they used to have something like 20-30 fatalities a year on this road. You can look up youtube videos of busses falling off of cliffs while trying to negotiate the Death Road's treacherous corners. However, within the last few years the government went through and built another, safer road across the canyon so that Bolivianos can now drive between La Paz and Coroico without having to roll the dice for their survival.

The Death Road is now primarily a tourist attraction, though people sometimes still use it to transit to and from La Paz. The majority of the traffic on the route now consists of tourists on mountain bikes looking for some cheap thrills.

We left La Paz around 10:00 AM and headed east. The road climbs high up into the Andes before crossing a dizzying pass and descending down the other side.

As you can see from the picture below, my GPS was showing over 15,000 feet of elevation near the top. That's significantly higher than any point in the lower 48 states.

After cresting out and beginning the decent, the weather turned cold and cloudy.

After asking a few locals for directions, we finally found the entrance to the Death Road. There aren't any signs saying "Death Road Here!", but they do have this nifty little sign explaining the rules of the road: drive on the left hand side of the road, keep your lights on day and night, uphill traffic has the right of way, and
honk your horn before going around a corner.

After snapping our pictures, we set off into the fog on the beginning of the Death Road.

Before long we started coming across mountain bikers.

The road is cut into the side of the mountain; the drop off is extremely severe and is anywhere from a few hundred feet to thousands of feet of nearly straight vertical plunge.

About a quarter of the way down the road, we stopped so that Mike could air up his tire and we were suddenly surrounded by mountain biking tourists! Eventually we had to ask them to get out of the way so that we could leave.

Back on the road, we had the joy of riding through a few small waterfalls. Unfortunately, I had taken off my water proof shell and was soon soaked.

It's hard to get an idea of just how shear of a drop off it is on the side of this road. The pictures don't really do it justice. When you are riding down this thing, you are just inches away from a thousand foot plunge down the side of the mountain. Hopefully this picture will help add a small amount of perspective:

The vegetation gets in the way a little bit, but you can see just how steep of a drop off awaits the unwary traveler or the foolish rider....

Just after the last picture was taken, I dropped my bike. It's a heavy son of a gun with all of that luggage, and after laughing at me and snapping a few photos, Mike came over and helped me out.

We continued on down the road and eventually left the mountain bikers and steep drop-off's behind. We were soon rewarded with a few fun water crossings.

All in all, the Death Road wasn't as epic as I thought it would be. Sure, if it were still being used as the main route between Coroico and La Paz, it would probably be insane. The Bolivians are pretty crazy drivers. Seeing a Bolivian trying to take a bus down that road would have been an experience. However, since there isn't any serious traffic on the road, it's really not that scary. There are some beautiful views though, and it provides a good excuse to get off the pavement.

We eventually made it into the town of Coroico where we stopped for lunch in the main plaza.

After eating, we jumped on the new road and rode back to La Paz for the night. Tomorrow we are going to start heading south again, making our way towards Potosi and the Salar de Unuyi.

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