The World’s Most Dangerous Road

31 08 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 6.10.08- 6.11.08

In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank (don’t ask me who these guys are) surveyed traffic related deaths and determined that the road leading from La Paz to Coroico was the World’s Most Dangerous Road. With a yearly average between 200-300 deaths on this road, few would disagree with this name. The one lane dirt road winds through the Yungas mountains with an elevation decrease of 3,600 meters (a little over two miles).  Since this was the only road connecting the Yungas valled with the capital city, it supported two lanes of traffic. If a bus or car saw another vehicle coming, one of them would have to back up to allow the other to pass. This scenic mountain road has dropoffs up to 600 meters, so it was not uncommon for cars (or large buses) to take the quick way down, as in straight down. Then about 15 years ago, someone realized that people will actually pay money for the chance to ride down on two wheels instead of four.  We decided we were those kind of people, and immediately signed a waiver.

Now, before you have a heart attack Mr. Louis, please know that we found an extremely reputable company, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. They have actual instructors who teach you mountain biking basics and safety. You can not sign up with them unless you have insurance which specifically coveres biking (but you can purchase a one day insurance package through them). They use excellent equiptment and stop three separate times during the ride to check your brakes. And you get a free t-shirt.

The morning of our ride fourteen bikers and two instructors boarded a bus in La Paz at 7:45. (Leaving on time is a rare occurance in Bolivia). Our instructor Dave introduced himself and explained the layout of the day. We would take an hour ride bus and stop at the mountain pass a few miles north of La Paz, then start our descent to the town of Coroico where we would have a buffet dinner before getting another bus back to La Paz arriving around 8pm.  He then said the dumbest question he had ever gotten was from a girl who asked, “Do we end up in the same place we started?” He then asked if we had any questions.

At the top of the pass, we unloaded our bikes and gear. We got a few basic tips, such as, whatever you do DON’T slam on your brakes.  Then more specific instruction on riding position, safely passing other bikers, and not following too closely behind the person in front of you. We put on helmets, goggles, dust masks, and very chic orange vests. Then we each had a swig of some clear alcohol and poured a small amount on our front tire as an offer to the Incan goddess, Pachamama, to see us safely to the bottom.

The first 10 miles of our ride was paved. I started before Chris, then saw him whiz by me down the road and pass a few other bikers in line.  We were riding in a single file line with one instructor leading the group, while the other brought up the caboose. This system allowed each rider to go at his own pace.  We took the mountain in sections, biking for about 20 minutes, then regrouping so our guide could explain the next section of terrain. After riding on the pavement down some fairly steep hills, we had another small lesson on how to ride on gravel. Then the real fun began as we put on our dust masks and clutched our handlebars for the bumpy ride down.

The morning had been cloudy, but the clouds lifted around 10:00 when we stopped for a snack. We began our ride from the dry mountain top, but saw the lush jungle below. As we rode down towards warmpth, oxygen, and green trees, our guide reminded us to keep our eyes on the road. One biker who went over the edge said the last thing he remembered was looking at an eagle soaring a few meters away from him.  While the road is not technically challenging as far as mountain biking goes, we did have quite a few hairpin turns.  We also splashed through a few streams that turned into waterfalls as they fell over the edge of the road.

Crosses on the side of the road every few hundred meters served as a reminder to go a speed where you felt in control. Chris’ comfort speed was a bit faster than mine, so he ended up near the front of the pack.  I hung out somewhere in the middle.  Problems happen when riders exceed their control zone. While the road plummets at a 90 degree angle and it’s terrifying to look over the edge, it’s your own fault if you end up off the ravine.  However, a rather annoying group of girls seemed to like starting at the front of the pack, so we would constantly have to pass them or be stuck behind them for segments of the ride.

After a 45 mile ride, we ended up in the town of Coroico where we had dinner at La Senda Animal Reserve, a refuge for abused and mistreated exotic animals. The Reserve doubles as a restaurant and hotel with the proceeds going to help the animals. While we walked around, Chris made friends with this boar/ pig character.

Then, after a buffet dinner of salad, pasta, and veggies, the parrots enjoyed some left-overs. Instead of taking the van back to La Paz, we stayed in the town of Coroico to enjoy an extra day of warmpth and oxygen.

Click here to see pics of “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” at our Flickr site***

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