After spending 9 days in the Amazon walking around in the sunshine, sunbathing and totally relaxing we had to fly back to La Paz to continue with our journey through Bolivia. There was a 2 hour delay with our flight, it appears the flight company had just decided to join 2 flights together without telling us. We got back to a sunny but cold La Paz just after lunch, as soon as we stepped off the plane we felt the difference, walking and breathing was once again hard to muster.
We had found a hostel online and got a taxi to take us straight there. The price was a little more than we’d hoped to pay so we decided to only stay for 1 night and then we would find somewhere else that was cheaper so we could recoup some of the extra money we spent on the jungle and pampas trips.
La Paz is an intense, hectic, busy place with stalls on the side of the roads, people and traffic don’t mix very well, its difficult to cross the roads, you really do take your life in your hands here and we thought Arequipa was bad. We walked around the city to find another hostel and to research the Death Road trip costs. We located what seemed to be a reasonable place called Muzungu Backpackers hostel, the receptionist was friendly and it was 100 Bolivian Sols less than the current hostel which we had booked (£8.52 cheaper) so well worth it we thought but we made a mistake forgetting that you get what you pay for.
The next day when we checked in, we were given a wrist band with the hostels name on it, the band entitled us to a free drink each day and discounts off drinks in other bars. We found the room, small but functional, the toilet flush was broken and you had to pull a soggy cord to flush it. There were two big lockers in the room to put your things in, a small double bed, and the views out of the window were good stretching out across the city. After food and a walk around we went to get our free drink, in the bar on the top floor. Our room was on the 2nd floor, there were pool tables, table tennis and a few hippy travellers milling about. We retired to bed at about 10.30pm because the next day we had an early start for the Death Road mountain biking trip.
As soon as we hit the sack, we could hear lots of noise, people talking, laughing, music etc, we assumed this would quieten down at a later hour but it just got louder, the people in this hostel just didn’t care, midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am the party continued! We were kept away all night at 3.45am the party moved to the corridor where we were trying to sleep. By this point we were both awake searching online to find somewhere else to stay the next night. At about 4am we found that the more expensive hostel that we had stayed in the previous night was available so we ducked out and booked back in there! The cleaners arrived shortly after 6am making as much as noise as the party folk who had just gone to bed.
There are many tour agencies offering this trip varying from 300-750 Bolivian Sols. All operators appear to be offering the same deal, transports, bikes, options for front suspension or dual suspension, safety gear, snacks, lunch, a T-shirt to say you’ve survived death road and a CD with photos and videos of the experience. Paul had done lots of research, we used “No Fear” they had good reviews and for 359 Bolivian Sols it was good value and we got a middle range bike included.
The trip started at 8am. We were picked up and then we collected other travellers on the way, three Germans and a Dutch couple. It took about an hour to get to the start where we were kitted out with all the gear, and assigned our bikes. We got told the full cycle of 60km would take about 4 to 5 hours down hill, we started at 4700m and descended to 1200m. We were given instructions of how the bikes worked and on which side of the road to cycle and then we were off cycling down Bolivia infamous Death Road.
The descent was fast and fun. At the start we were cycling on Tarmac between the surrounding white snowy peaks, an easy introduction for that which was to come. Paul was up front and I was in the middle of the group, just enjoying the views. As we got further down we began the proper part of death road, a small narrow stony track with killer drops at the side and no safety barrier in between. To make matters worse, we cycled into a dense, damp fog. For most of the remainder of the cycle we didn’t get to see much of the surrounding views but I could still get the feeling of how close the edge was and how close the drops were, from what I could remember seeing on “you tube clips”. I knew the drops were steep and dangerous so I just concentrated on staying on the road and remaining upright!
Some way down, I saw another member of our group go crashing off his bike at what I had thought was a simple and safe part of the road, the unlucky rider unfortunately couldn’t carry on as he injured his arm which stopped him from being able to squeeze his brake – an essential requirement on this road that’s for sure. We continued down enjoying the ride, through waterfalls, round sharp corners, seeing lots of crosses representing where people had lost there lives, it became soberingly apparent why it’s called Death Road. It’s a misconception that Death Road is now closed to motorised vehicles, at one point we were having our photos take and a small mini bus squeezed passed us. I was glad we were on bikes, I wouldn’t have liked to be in a car crossing the bus here, very scary.
The road is still used but there is now a new tarmac road that bypasses the gravel road and handles most of the traffic. We were happy to complete the cycle in about 6 hours. In hindsight, the cycle wasn’t as scary as we thought it might have been but that could have been because we couldn’t see a lot of the drops! When we got to the bottom of Death Road, we handed all our equipment back and took a well deserved shower, then enjoyed the buffet that was provided and that we had earned by surviving Death Road .
The bus journey back was probably harder than the cycle, 3 hours in foggy conditions on steep roads with 3 German folk sitting behind us didn’t come up for air the whole journey back. When we got of the bus we were happy to be given our T-shirt to confirm that we survived Death Road and even happier to know that we were going back to a decent hostel for some nice well deserved rest.
Santa Cruz is the next stop to see a little more of Bolivia, La Paz has been hectic and different, I’m glad to have visited it but also happy to now be moving on.