Start a new Travel Blog! Blogabond Home Maps People Photos My Stuff

Death Road and Drug Dealing Mothers

La Paz, Bolivia

I had initially decided not to bother with Death Road. The thought of doing something purely because it was dangerous didn’t make much sense to me. During the course of our travels we had heard more and more good things about it though, and after a quiet few days in Cusco I decided I would do it. I was in need of adventure and although Dave, bless him, had given us a thorough adrenaline-fuelled run around La Paz the day before I was glad to find myself in the cold heights of the Andes that sunny morning dressed like a waterproof stuntman along with my new partner in crime and general stupidity, Niall. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Niall was a terrifically bad influence.

Our group of around ten or twelve set off at speed, gliding down the mountain on smooth, curving roads. The whole ride was completely effortless; the pedals were merely footrests as we coasted along. The only thing which concerned me slightly was my front wheel, which rattled excitedly, even on the tarmac… I reported this ominous sound to our guide and was immediately given a new bike with better suspension and wheels which sounded a lot healthier. It was a well timed upgrade because the next part was the infamous Death Road.

Unlike Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca trail, Death Road has earned its name with an extensive collection of tragic tales. Essentially it is a narrow, rocky road on the side of a mountain with dizzying drops and awkward bends – in the days when the road was used by buses and coaches in both directions, wheels would simply slide off the loose road and coach loads would be lost. Graves along some of the trickier curves serve as very real reminders. Now, however, a new road has been built and the traffic along Death Road consists only of tour groups rattling down on mountain bikes to earn a free t-shirt. As if insisting on giving the riders a challenge, our guide explained that the rules for this road were different and that now we would be riding on the left in the event of traffic. This, combined with the fact that the brakes were the wrong way round, added a wonderfully confusing new dimension to the ride.

I had decided to take it slowly but gravity and increasing confidence gently spurred me on. By the end we were flying down the dusty, uneven roads, our whole bodies vibrating, aching hands locked onto the handlebars and teasing the brakes. It was an intense experience made all the more epic thanks to the views of the valley. Dense cloud forest like we had seen along the Inca trail lay all around us and we rode through streams and even under a large trickling waterfall. When we came to the end I couldn’t believe we had already covered 64km! We had only one minor casualty, a lady who had had a slight disagreement with her bike and got a couple of scrapes but she looked as happy as the rest of us as we ravenously destroyed the buffet at the end of the day.

The next day the three of us attempted a more standard prison visit, citing Sebastians name as we entered the side door and looking as close to casual as one can hope to look when confronted by large men with oversized guns. They were not interested in letting us in but we were helped by a kind woman whose husband was also a prisoner and, she said, a friend of Sebastians. She offered us the use of her room in the family/visitor section of the prison and Niall took her number gratefully. As we left the woman, in a manner not quite befitting one with her baby in her arms, started offering strangers cocaine. We had met one of the prisoners outlets. It was strange to think that she was paying for a room in a prison by selling the cocaine manufactured there by her husband. I had to admit that at this point I was ready to call it a day and read Marching Powder instead.

We spent the rest of the day and much of the next admiring the alpaca jumpers of the local stalls and also checked out one of the museums which had a hilarious collection of fiesta outfits among other less bizarre exhibits. We also bought tickets to Rurrenabaque, the jungle region up North which we were all excited about seeing. For our last night we treated ourselves to an “Interminable” pizza from the famous pizzeria nearby – it was a 24 inch monster which we struggled to eat even half of. More difficult and uncomfortable than the consumption itself was the guilty journey back to the hostel trying to avoid the hungry eyes of begging families. It was worth it though, with ample cold pizza and a collection of games to keep us entertained, we boarded our bus for the longest journey so far, a bum numbing twenty hours. And they didn’t even have a toilet on board.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 21, 2009 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged DeathRoad, InterminablePizza and CokeDealingMum

Send a Compliment

comment on this...
Previous: The Law of La Paz Next: Messy Pampas

trip feed
author feed
trip kml
author kml


Blogabond v2.40.58.80 © 2022 Expat Software Consulting Services about : press : rss : privacy
View as Map View as Satellite Imagery View as Map with Satellite Imagery Show/Hide Info Labels Zoom Out Zoom In Zoom Out Zoom In
find city: