Oct 6, 2012

Mountain biking the world's most dangerous road in Bolivia

I've always thought that the best way to learn something is to just jump in, headfirst, and do it. This statement may provide some context for why I decided that it would be a good idea to try mountain biking for the first time by riding down the ominously named "Death Road" in Bolivia (which also goes by the comforting moniker of "the world's most dangerous road"). Akin to the father who throws his child in the lake and says "and that's how you swim!", I threw myself on the back of a Kona mountain bike with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking and hoped for the best.

The world's most dangerous road snakes along a volcanic mountain in Bolivia
Luckily, as it turns out, I'm not bad at mountain biking. Which is a damn good thing, because there isn't a lot of margin for error on this road. It earned the honour of being named the world's most dangerous road for exactly this reason - at the peak of its use, it took the lives of more than 300 people in just one year. At points, it's barely a car-length wide, with about a one-kilometre drop straight down into jungle on the outside, which made things interesting for steady two-way truck traffic. In fact, unlike in the rest of the country, drivers had to drive on the left side so that they were able to better see how close their tires were to the deadly drop. Today, thanks to the construction of a new, much safer road, it's mostly used by mountain biking tour groups and local traffic, so there aren't nearly as many lives lost.

Don't look down...
RIP (photo: Gravity Assisted MTB)
However, if you can get past the idea that you could die at any moment, you'll realize that Death Road also happens to be insanely beautiful. It starts up at above 4,000 metres above sea level, and ends a couple of thousand metres lower, so along its length you experience seven different microclimates - from cool, high altitude to lush, humid jungle. The whole ride in total, with several stops for snacks and to wait for the slow bikers, took us four hours. It definitely ranks among the coolest things I've done in my twenty-seven years.
Our route down Death Road (photo: Gravity Assisted MTB)
Sean is stoked and ready to ride
I'm not so sure...
Once I learned (by trial and error) that, under no circumstances, should you slam on your breaks while on a gravel road on a mountain bike, I was fine, and stayed close to the front of the pack with Sean. The ride was mostly downhill (with a few flat parts), and took us under waterfalls, past breathtaking viewpoints and down into the luscious jungle. It was definitely a challenge to concentrate on the road with such amazing scenery.

Photo: Gravity Assisted MTB
Photo: Gravity Assisted MTB
Photo: Gravity Assisted MTB
We managed to make it to the bottom alive and with all bones (and teeth) intact. The rest of the group headed for lunch, while me, Sean and another rider Chris opted into the extra experience of Zzip the Flying Fox, a three-part zipline over the jungle (we hadn't had enough adrenaline rushes for the day yet, clearly).

Zzip the fox: Bolivian zipline across the jungle
The first section was the highest, taking you across a 350 drop to the jungle floor. The second section was the fastest, hurtling you at up to 85 km/hr. The last section was the most scenic, as you pass over the animal reserve below. They offered two options for your zipping - the typical, sitting up and harnessed around the legs option, and the second, more insane, headfirst and harnessed lying down option (aka "Superman"). We all decided to try one section in the Superman (I was skeptical at first, but didn't want to be showed up by the guys). Note: this was also my first time ziplining. Jumping in headfirst, remember?
Sean harnessed up in the Superman
The fact that it resembles a straightjacket was not comforting (photo: Chris Maxwell)
Turns out hurtling along above the jungle is pretty awesome, and even more so when you're lying down and feel like you're actually flying. Call me a zipline (and Superman) convert.

I'm alive!
After the zipline experience, we headed to meet the others for lunch at the gorgeous La Senda Verde animal reserve on the jungle floor. My friends Mike and Mel had spent a month volunteering here in the spring, so I already knew we were in for a treat. And we definitely were - monkeys, parrots and other wildlife greeted us upon arrival. We ate a tasty pasta buffet in a cool, open-air dining area, and then headed to the natural swimming hole to treat our tired, dusty bodies with a dip.

Parrots at La Senda Verde (photo: Gravity Assisted MTB)
Monkey at La Senda Verde (photo: Gravity Assisted MTB)
Adorable pup at La Senda Verde
Path to the swimming hole at La Senda Verde
Sean and Chris in the natural pool at La Senda Verde
After our swim, we and the rest of the group jumped in the bus and headed back up Death Road, stopping for photo ops we'd missed earlier on our bikes.

Our mountain biking crew
We were tired, filthy and completely high on an amazing day - I'd rank it a close #2 after our day at Machu Picchu. If you ever make it to La Paz, Bolivia, definitely check out Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking and do this trip. I'm living proof that you don't have to be an expert mountain biker to survive!

Postcard Corner, Death Road, Bolivia (photo: Chris Maxwell)

1 comment:

  1. That looks epic! God I would love to do something like this! Would be surreal!