Monday, July 29, 2013


A Background Note

As with most people, you probably have heard of the World's Most Dangerous road either through a TV program or a you tube channel video. For those who haven't, it refers to the North Yungas Road in the District of La Paz, Bolivia. The road links the Bolivian capital located high in the Cordillera Real of the Andes to the Upper Amazon basin in the Yungas Region. It is the only road of its kind in Bolivia because of the extreme geographical features it crosses in a short distance. The road was built during the 1930's Chaco war by prisoners from Paraguay. 


On an early morning, in May 2012, I find myself walking out of my hotel located on Sagarnaga Street. I am about to embark on one of the most daring ride on the planet. I am both excited and nervous. I briskly walk the 10 blocks separating me from the meeting point set by the bike riding company I selected called Gravity Bolivia. I have read in my travel guide that it is the safer and more reliable way to go in this country since I am entrusting my life to total strangers. Cafe Alexander is the meeting point. I reach it at 730am. I order a light breakfast and coffee since the ride is promising to be hours long without any services along the way. A young man approaches me to make sure I am on the list of riders. He is from Seattle and has been in Bolivia a few years already so I feel reassured that one of my countryman is leading the way. 

After a few minutes gazing at the sidewalk of the street outside where office workers hurry to their destination of the morning, I sip on my coffee and munch on some well needed breakfast treats. "It's time to go" I hear and our group is gathered in a jiffy and we set to depart aboard a mini van filled with biking gears. We make our way into the van and start the ascent to La Cumbre, a 5000 meters or 16404 feet mountain pass  in the Andes a short ride from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz, the starting point of our adventure. 

We arrive at La Cumbre, exit the van and are assigned a bike and gears. I feel dizzy at such great altitude. Our tour leader makes sure we are ok and that we are ready to proceed. He briefs us about road conditions as well as all the safety recommendations to survive the ride and to keep us all safe. The briefing leaves me a bit nervous but we are all here for it. So what the hell .... 

We are arranged in a circle on our bikes for the group picture as we take a shot of alcohol to gives us courage and sprinkle some of the liquid on our bike as a blessing to Pachamama, the mother earth of the indigenous people of the Andes,  to protect us from harm during our journey. 

As we leave La Cumbre in a single file on a smooth, paved road reminiscent of any modern country mountain road, a grandiose panorama unfolds. 

The group photo ! I am in the middle in beige with the white helmet. 

The North Yungas Road from La Cumbre Pass. On the left the modern newly constructed road, to the right the old unused original road.
Riding down towards the Yungas
The start of the famous section of the Road
After an hour or so of getting used to our new bike ( the lifesaver ), trying our hand at breaking while at high speed, testing our balance on gravel, we feel more confident with what lays ahead. The road from this point is the "Old" one which has been featured on adventure programs all over the World. We are all pumped up for the adventure and we are briefed one more time on what is going to unfold. First and foremost we will make 12 scheduled stops to relax, enjoy and scenery and take pictures. There are 50 kms - 31miles to go and this part of the road is nothing but twists, turns, gravel, waterfall, muddy track laced with incredible scenery and a few crosses along the way reminding riders this ride is not for the faint hearted. 

As I descend the steep road carved right off the cliff faces of the Andes, I remind myself constantly to keep my speed down and my attention on my front wheel even though I have a desperate attraction for the incredible scenery surrounding me. But I know better ... beauty can be a killer especially here so I keep telling myself not to look out because it is said that emptiness creates vertigo which in turn draws one into that space. Hard to resist but still a life saving choice one has to make. Yet the adrenaline rush is here because of that very danger. 

The jaw dropping scenery along the road. 
Yungas Road in all its glory

wetness on the way ... yikes
The most daring stretch of road

As we continue our long drawn out descent to the small village of Yolosa, located at 1000 meters, we undress a layer of clothes as the temperature rises to tropical levels. Stopping along the way makes for some fantastic pictures. Some of these were taken by our official photographer, Juan.

This shot which is one of the most famous along the road is near San Juan Falls where the road becomes 3 meters or less than 10 feet wide in front of a sheer 600 meters or 2000 feet straight down cliff. 

We've made it !!!!!! in 1 piece ... now for the zipline ...  

Turquoise Macaws are so pretty

A very curious coati, a sort of racoon native to South America

Yungas Valley is home to plantations of Coca leaves.

Going back up to La Paz ! 

 So if you are in for some adventure, a ride of a lifetime, don't mind getting cold, wet, hot and sticky this ride is for you. Make SURE you have good weather as the area is bathed in clouds most of the year. Best time to visit is Bolivian fall/winter (May-August). DONT bring an expensive bulky camera as this ride has very little room for them. A good hand held coolpix type camera is best !

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