We arrived in La Paz after a pretty interesting bus journey. We had to get off the bus whilst we and it crossed a river separately! It was pretty odd and worrying seeing your bus carrying all your luggage drive on to a tiny barge!
We arrived pretty late so we booked a trip for the next day, had a few nice beers and went to bed (our hostel is also a brewery so one beer was free)!
The next morning we woke up early and made our way to the meeting point for our cycling trip down 'death road' or 'The worlds most dangerous road!'. We met our guide and instantly thought he was a joker as he has his arm in a sling! But no, this was a cycling injury, not from death road though. The other English speaking guide was riding for the first time since breaking his collar bone on Death Road! And the Bolivian guide had really nasty scabs from coming off his bike in a race! This obviously made us slightly apprehensive about the trip! The guide reassured us that the company had never had a fatality...apart from a heart attack which didn't count he said! He failed to mention an injury count!
There had been several cycling deaths on death road but none with the company we were with! The road is also a lot safer than it use to be as in 2006 a bypass road was opened which took actual traffic to 4 cars a day (not including cycle support busses).
We had picked the company as they had the best reputation for having the best cycling equipment. We got taken to 4600 metres and were given our equipment which was all pretty good quality. We were then given a spirit of some sort to bless each of the bikes, bless the soil and then we all had a swig! Apparently local tradition, all we could think was let's hope it works!
We started off on the new tarmac road which we didn't need to pedal once as we went so fast downhill! We stopped a few times for scenery, to point out the bits of cars that had gone off the edge and to make sure everyone was getting on well with the equipment which we were.
We stopped at a section where a concrete wall advertising beer had saved a few lives as they hit it instead of flying off the edge. The guide joked that beer does save lives! The guide was pretty good despite him not being able to ride. He followed in the support bus and told the Bolivian guide at the front where to stop.
We got to a tunnel which cyclists are no longer allowed through due to an accident. This was our first chance for a ride on the rough, which was good practice as the whole of death road is rough and rocky. Karen managed to fall off straight away! Not badly and only Emma saw it who decided to ride passed her and then tell everyone else about it! Ah, sisterly love!
We then got back on the bus for an uphill section, which the guide recommended us not to do as it would make us too tired to do death road. We all voted to get the bus the 8km uphill as cycling at altitude would be very difficult!
We made it to the starting point of the road and were given our equipment again before having a few photos at the beginning of 'The Worlds Most Dangerous Road'!
Before going down the guide calmed our nerves and said they are all trained in rope rescue. We were told not to fall over the edge further than 100 metres because that's the length of the rope they use!
The road itself was a dirt road with some big rocks in the way big enough to knock you off. We had a guide at the front who went down fast so a couple of people tried to keep up with him and the guide at the back following the slowest person and then the support bus at the back again. The first section was a good introduction but it wasn't long before we were cycling on narrow sections 3-4 metres wide with a sheer cliff edge on the other side. Kris was pretty good at down hill mountain biking straight away, and able to keep up with the front cyclists. Karen and Emma on the other hand decided to do a remake of driving Miss.Daisy on bikes! They joked that they would have been much better suited on bikes with baskets and spokey dokes rather than mountain bikes!
We stopped quite a few times to rest and each time the guide (with the broken) arm would talk to us about the road, what to expect from the next section and horror stories from the previous section!
About a quarter way down is a monument which marks the spot where members of the government were kidnapped and thrown off the edge. The monument has since saved a car from going off the edge.
About half the way down we made it to the narrowest section at 3 metres. The small width is made worse by the waterfall that gets in the way too. You may remember that Top Gear filmed on the road. They used this section to show how narrow it was. They apparently put extra rocks underneath the tyres to make it look more dramatic, although I don't think it needs it!
All the way down were memorials and crosses which reminded you how dangerous the road is. Before the new road opened it was estimated that 200 to 300 people died per year!
We all gained confidence the further we went although one girl in our group was going slow and everytime we stopped she would burst into tears. She eventually got on the bus as she couldn't take it anymore! Out of the blue one of the guides asked if she was the youngest child?! He was definitely insinuating something, and was clearly not sympathetic to her tears!
After about 2 hours of cycling 64 kilometers downhill, we made it to the bottom of 'The Worlds Most Dangerous Road' or 'Death Road'. It was really good just cycling downhill from the starting point for 3 hours! We went from freezing temperatures at the top (4700 metres) to tropical jungle heat at the bottom (1200 metres). We took a couple of pictures before heading to an animal sanctuary for lunch.
The sanctuary opened about 15 years ago when the owner bought a monkey that was being mistreated off someone and it has grown from there. We walked around the grounds and there were a few species of monkeys lying around and a few parrots. We had a quick tour of the monkey area but they were elsewhere apart from one baby monkey that was very funny. We had lunch took a few parrot photos and left.
We got back in the bus and cracked open the beers...to go back up The Worlds Most Dangerous Road! This was equally as scary, especially as you weren't in control and all you could see from the minibus was the cliff drop. The guy stopped the van at the narrowest point, we were thinking there was a problem but he opened the van door and told us to come take a picture (see photos)! This meant everyone moved to the righthand side of the bus to look out at the sheer drop!! We were all glad when we continued onwards from that section!
We made it to the top with relief that we had survived cycling down, and driving up 'Death Road'. We cracked open a few more beers for the rest of the journey. We got dropped off quite a distance from our hostel as there was a massive festival going on where all the roads were closed and packed full of people.
It was about 8pm and everyone was hammered, men, women, dogs, everyone! People were also weeing everywhere which made the whole town stink. There weren't any toilets though. Emma was fuming, not because it was wee, but because it was drunk wee!! Not sure whether there's a difference but she seemed to think so!
We made it to our hostel had a couple of beers but then had to venture back out to get dinner! The situation was getting worse, more drunk people, more low fireworks etc. We successfully navigated our way in and out and then went to bed for a well deserved rest.
The next morning we checked out, went to the bus station and found that all buses to our next destination were sold out. We bought a ticket for the next day instead. La Paz wasn't that inspiring (and now smell of stale wee) so we booked ourselves on to the only thing that was happening...women's wrestling of course!
We arrived to see a boxing ring in a warehouse where locals were sat around the edge and VIP (tourists) all close to the ring. We claimed our free popcorn and watched the various fights. There were women versus men, women versus women and it was all both very funny and weird to watch. From what I understand, nobody was hurt. We got back and had a few more beers with Martin, Adam and the Welsh guys.
We checked out again the next day and headed to the witches market. There wasn't much there apart from Llama feotus which were disgusting but are good luck apparently!
That was pretty much it so we headed to the bus station to get an overnight bus to Uyuni.