Thursday, February 18, 2010

You see those beautiful butterflies? Don't look at them, they want you to die.

Sorata days kind of merged into each other. There was plenty of relaxation, book reading, and getting to know a couple of fantastic boys. I made the vertical hike up to town a couple of times, and did an 18km hike to Las Grutas de San Pedro. Great hike, can't wait to post pictures.

As is always the case, it came time to leave. I can't stay anyplace longer than 4 or 5 days. La Paz called. I arrived and immediately booked a bike for 'The World's Most Dangerous Road'.
El Camino de la Muerte, or Road of Death, is so called because 200-300 travellers used to die on this road yearly. Bolivia has since put a lot of money into opening a new road to Coroico, so these days far less cars travel on the Road of Death, and there are therefore far fewer deaths. But the road earned its infamous title because of extreme dropoffs of at least 2000 ft, single lane width, lack of guard rails, frequent rain, fog, and dust making visibility extremely poor, and since the road is unpaved mud, loose rocks, landslides, etc. are too frequent. The road begins at 4,650 meters and descends to 1,200 meters at the town of Coroico. As you ride down it, you ride through the end of the Andes into the Amazon Basin.
The landscapes you see as you go down? One of the most beautiful roads I've ever been on.

These aren't my photos. I was riding a bike on the Road of Death, so I left my camera at the hostel. But I sure wish I could go back and walk down this road because it was stunning.

I am so impressed that I can still use words like stunning, gorgeous, jaw-dropping, absolutely genuinely after all that I have seen. I am so glad that one country's beauty doesn't seem to diminish another's.

I was a little apprehensive about El Camino. Not only because of its moniker, but because I haven't ridden a bike in years. And I have never ridden a bike on anything but pavement. And I can't say that there was any practice time really. We got on our bikes, adjusted our seats, and then our guide said 'Let's Ride!'. And we did. We began on pavement, which is something. We road for possibly 20 minutes, whipping around corners, along with traffic, our tires singing on the pavement. I loved the views during this part. It was bleak, foggy, freezing. We were so high, it was a little difficult to breathe. Llamas dotted the fields unfolding around us. All I could hear were the tires, the occasional llama or bird, traffic veering by, my breath, and the wind.

Our equipment was superb. Great bikes, great protective gear. I may have looked a fool, but wearing all that padding made me feel pretty badass.

Soon we came to the actual Road of Death. The pavement ended, and all I could see was a rocky, dirt road disappearing into fog as it curved out of sight. It felt eerie and dangerous. There is constantly fog shrouding the highest half of El Camino because the Andes' cool air is clashing with the very humid air of the Amazon Basin.

Again, no practice time, just straight into riding. And you know what? I did great. I was always near the head, I never wiped out, and I only skidded twice. We rode for about 4 hours through the mountains. We passed countless white crosses dotting the right hand side of the road, and iridescent butterflies luring us to our death over the dropoffs on our left. Our guide was great. The Andes gave way to the Yungas, which is extremely fertile ground perfectly suited to the growing of coca.

We finally rolled into Coroico, where a beautiful hotel complete with lunch, hot shower, and a pool waited for us. That second picture? That was our view.

When we piled into a couple of vans (there were 10 of us), the drivers asked if we wanted to drive back to La Paz on the new (safe) road, or go back up El Camino de la Muerte. Back up the road of death, of course! So I got to drool over the view once again, giving it more of my attention this time.

A few times we passed other cars or BUSES coming down. I'm not going to lie, there may have been some white knuckles in our van.


Amy-Alisa said...

4 hours on a bike? The view must have been amazing to do that.

Reuben said...

looks beautiful! looking forward to reading about more of your adventures

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an excellent exercise. Gotta love a scheme where you ride downhill and get a lift back up.