Death Road, Bolivia
It’s known as the world’s most dangerous road. A place where buses were frequently lost to the jungle over steep cliffs. Nowadays the one-way road is closed to most pubic traffic and used by tourists on downhill mountain bikes, although there is still the occasional truck heading up hill adding to the experience that is Death Road, Bolivia.
Leaving from La Paz early with tour company Barracuda we made the climb out of the city to the nearby mountains and the Death Road. Our Swiss mates Aldo and Markus joined Jen and I and when we arrived we put on our super stylish green riding jackets and red helmets. Our guide gave us a quick briefing of the bikes features and etiquette on the road ahead, the main rule: Don’t die. He then passed around a small bottle containing
jet fuel alcohol and we asked Pachamama (the Quechua god) to keep us safe before burning our throats on the vile liquid. With fire in our bellies (literally) it was time to get started, the first section on bitumen and perfect for high speeds.
Tucking ourselves into the smallest balls possible allowed us to bomb down this section overtaking the few trucks heading down hill. Soon we reached a narcotics control border and from there we were onto the real stuff, the gravel road which we would stay on for the duration of the ride. This was the point where the ride could get hairy. Luckily the bikes used are real downhill bikes with great brakes and suspension, even though brakes are for sissys. Throughout the 42km ride we stopped at regular checkpoints to make sure we were all still accounted for.
One girl we were travelling with was one of those hippie kind of travellers (you know the type) and decided it would be practical to where a long poncho which threatened to get caught in the back tyre and a pair of UGG boots! It was obvious to the rest of the group that things would not end well for this girl and it came as no surprise to anyone when she skidded out of control and took a nasty tumble.
Not long after the hippie hiccup I came around a corner a little fast and hit the brakes a bit too hard. Somehow it one of those slow motion (oh fuck!) moments I came off the bike and managed to land on my feet running away from the bike and checking all vital organs on the way. Heart pounding at my incredible luck I ran back to my bike and carried on riding before the other people in the group wiped me out. I only wished the camera man was filming that.
The rest of the ride went much better and by late afternoon we had survived the Death Road and were sitting down to lunch. Once lunch was over we had a long drive back up the hill as there is no way back to La Paz from the bottom of the valley. Arriving in La Paz around 10pm in what was a full-on day but something well worth the effort. I begged Jen to do it again the following day it was that good, however we had bigger fish to fry, like a football game in the world’s highest stadium and cholita’s wrestling but they are stories for another day.
There are many companies to choose from for the Death Road but Barracuda has a great reputation and is about half the price of the popular Gravity. Barracuda charge 450 Bolivianos ($65 US) and use Gravity’s old bikes which are still in great knick.