In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) coined the mountainous road from La Cumbre to Coroico in Bolivia as the World’s Most Dangerous Road. This was because of the extraordinary amount of deaths that occurred on this road which is no more than 3 meters wide at most points, has no guard rails and generally has 600 meter sheer cliffs as a drop-off at any given point. Although a beautiful road dotted with waterfalls, with several hundred deaths a year, mainly from trucks carrying hundreds of workers at a clip, it was time for a loan from the bank to build a safer paved road. That just created one of the most awesome tourist opportunities for adventure seekers to essentially bomb down 3600 meters from 4700 meters at the top to 1100 meters at the bottom at high speed and at high danger. The world’s most dangerous road is simply awesome!
About an hours drive from La Paz and about another 1200 meters up to La Cumbre, the ride starts at a small alpine lake at 4700 meters (below), early in the morning in freezing cold conditions and for us that included rain; light at first but eventually to the point of torrential and dangerous. After becoming accustomed to our high powered, top notch mountain bikes with suspensions systems that essentially make you feel very little and brakes that can stop on a dime-literally.
I used Gravity Bolivia as my tour company. They were highly recommended by pretty much everyone but especially my buddy Jake, who used them last year and told me they have the best/safest guides and the best equipment albeit more expensive. After seeing bikes and guides from the other outfits, I couldn’t agree more and wouldn’t even consider using any other tour company. My guide, Phil from North Carolina, was very cool and was clearly good at what he did. I would also become his shadow as we started the trip as I would stay on his ass right behind him to get the best and certainly fastest possible experience going down.
The first part of the course is a nicely paved road that you literally fly down. I seriously must’ve been going 50-60mph down these gorgeous mountain roads in the rain and around sharp curves…in hindsight maybe not the smartest thing but you have to trust your equipment, like in mountain climbing or any other sport where you need another apparatus to achieve your goal. The guide brought the best out of me and my competitive nature and certainly made me have an amazing time.
After an hour or so of bombing these hills (skateboarding term that perhaps only my friend Jake will understand) we reached an area where we had to pay a tourist tax of 25 B’s which is like $3 and more annoying than anything else and then they give you an optional 8km uphill ride at about 3500 meters at that point. 8km is about 5 miles and 3500 meters is some 12,000 feet and I’ve only been at altitude for 24 hours but of course I cannot say no to a challenge so myself and two others of our group of 10 (Aussies) decided to give it a shot. The rest of the people rode up on the Gravity bus.
Let me tell you how bloody difficult it was at that altitude. I thought my chest was going to cave in at several points and was having serious breathing issues. The Aussie guy who was doing it as well smoked like a chimney too and I have no idea how he made it but we all made it. I found myself wishing I had taken my whole bottle of diamox for that ride or that I had just gone in the bus. But a few breathing stops or walks aside, we made it up. Usually on stuff like that you look back the next day and are glad you did it but not me, not today…it was pure misery but in truth if I ever do the road again I will probably do the uphill again just because!
After the uphill we arrived at the real start of the world’s most dangerous road where it turned to gravel, dirt and mud. This made many of the group nervous, understandably so but I got really excited. I did a ton of mountain biking as a kid in Connecticut and was eager to get started. The only problem was it started to pour. Not rain, pour! That made it really cold which was worse than anything else because as you are flying downhill the wind gets all up in you. In dry conditions, it’s no big deal because you are bundled up but everything was wet I had on. Anyway, the options were either deal with it or go in the bus. And so we start…
Phil always led the way and was clearly very good at mountain biking and does the road nearly every day but I was literally on his ass-he couldn’t shake me. I didn’t even have time to think about the sheer cliffs to my left about a foot away that have claimed so many lives because if I took my eye off the road for one second I could hit something the wrong way and go flying-which didn’t seem like a fun option, but neither did going slow with the rest of the pack!
About 30 minutes into the gravel road ride as the rain was at its worst, we arrived to a massive boulder that was in the middle of the road because of a landslide. I clearly happened a few hours before because there were little Bolivian men (as my guide called them Bolivian circus midgets-awful but kind of true because they are such small people) trying to move it and chop it away with a pick axe. Needless to say that wasn’t working very efficiently-shocking I know for South America so as the other groups caught up to us at the boulder site, we all tried pushing it off the edge. No such luck, it was a big fucking rock!
To make a long story short, we stood there for 45 minutes or so trying to push and help then more pick axes arrived and several people were chopping away. I guess eventually it worked because the busses behind us made it to the bottom but the rain damage was done. We were all thoroughly freezing, waterlogged and for me my camera became a casualty as well which I was pretty pissed about but put it to the back of my mind so as not to ruin the rest of the ride.
As we descended for the three or four hours the ride took we went through every type of weather, from freezing cold to torrential rain, to hot then to tropical and humid with a ton of mosquitoes at the end at this animal sanctuary. We were all sore, mainly in the hands and in the butt. The road is very bumpy and you take a lot of damage to your body over the course of the ride but it is so much fun and a true must do on the International adventure circuit. Most people will not do it because either they haven’t ever heard of it or because they are scared. I am telling you it is a must for any adventure traveler and a fabulous time.
So I just woke up at the Adventure Brew hostel in La Paz where I’ve based myself and will be spending today relaxing and looking for new sneakers and a new camera (I am trying to rescue some pics from my memory card but doesn’t appear to be going well as it’s still wet so fewer pics than usual on this story and from the Internet) before the 12 hour grueling bus journey to Uyuni for the start of my 3 day jeep tour of the salt flats tomorrow. I am really pumped for the trip as that was the main reason, along with the road that I am back here in Bolivia. I expect it to be absolutely freezing at night and some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen in the middle of nowhere. Should be fun. Check back with me soon!