Archive for the ‘Bolivia’ Category

World’s Most Dangerous Road (Feb 28)   3 comments

El Camino de la Muerte

(The World´s Most Dangerous Road)

The World´s Most Dangerous Road was built in the 1930´s by Paraguayan prisoners of war and winds down the steep Andes mountains from La Paz to Coroico. In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank gave it the name “The World´s Most Dangerous Road” because of estimates that 200-300 people died annually while driving on the road. In 2006 a new road was completed by a Brazilian company that was much wider and took most of the traffic off of the old road. Only around 20 tourists have been killed on the road since 1998. The most recent, according to our guide, was a French girl (last May) who took the tour with a budget company. Coming around one of the hairpin turns her disc brakes came off her bike and she went sailing into the wild blue yonder.

The tour is a total of 64 kilometers, the first 20 of which are on the new paved road. This allowed us to get used to the bikes and adjust to the sharp turns that were to come. 90% of the trail is down hill and begins at an altitude of 4700 meters. We would descend from cool alpine forests down to tropical rainforests at 1200 meters, a total of 3.5 kilometers down from where we started.


At the start the views that surrounded us were amazing. Tall jagged mountains covered in dark green grass and low clouds interspaced with waterfalls rise up like walls around us funneling us toward our long anticipated road. After a quick blessing of the bikes with Pachamama (mother earth) and alcohol (96%) we head out. Zooming down the trail, passing the occasional car or truck, we come to a large turn and are met with a stark wall of white reducing our visibility to only a couple hundred feet. This serves as a good wake up for what is in store for us. Farther along we glide, through a drug check-point, and finally to a long dark tunnel (which we aren´t allowed to go through since someone ran into the wall and went into a coma for a few weeks) which serves as the starting point for the old road.

The old road is certainly narrower. Rough gravel, ravines, and baby heads (large 3-7″ diameter loose rocks) litter the road that is only about 3 meters wide on average. There are no guard rails and the previous night´s rain ensured a slick surface. As we begin our descent down the road adrenaline rushes into the blood stream. Flying down at what feels like 100 mph you are tempted to look over the edge where you see a sheer drop of over 600 meters. You know that death is assured, but would certainly be one of the better ways to go. At each turn you run the scenario through your head that one wrong turn, one large rock, or one second heading in the wrong direction could be your last.

The first few sections of the road were the most intense. We stopped a few times for pictures, horror stories and a couple of snacks, but most of the time was spent riding down the road. The group was quickly divided into two groups (three). The boys up front, a few seconds later the girls (followed by one girl who went about 5 mph the whole way scared to death). At one point we passed under a waterfall, soaking everyone, where the road whittled down to around 6 feet wide. At this point it began to rain making the road a nice wet and muddy trail interspaced with flowing streams testing your ability to handle the bike. As we gained confidence, and speed, the road seemed to get a little wider and the cliff face a little less steep.

Finally at the end we were ecstatic from the great views and large quantities of adrenaline still flowing through our veins. Magan and I agree that this was probably the best thing we have done so far. At the end we went to an animal reserve where we saw toucans, cockatoos, and monkeys. Here we had a nice pasta meal before heading back to town. All-in-all this was a great experience and should be on any itinerary for Bolivia.

Water fall over the road.                           River through the coca fields

Toucan and Cockatoos

Monkeys

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Salar de Uyuni (Feb 19-21)   4 comments

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

We began our three-day tour at the border of Chile and Bolivia where we gave our passports to a man in a small shack in the middle of no where. He put our passports in a brown paper bag, handed it to our driver, and told us we would get them back at Uyuni (our final destination). After a nice breakfast we boarded our 4×4 vehicle with a German, two Swiss and an American from California and headed into the wilderness. The first day was full of natural beauty. The first area we came to was Laguna Blanca:

The algae in the various lakes at this altitude give each lagune a very distinct color. Continuing on we came to another lagune. This time the water was a dark blueish-green giving it the name Laguna Verde:

We continued onward into Bolivia and higher in altitude. By this point we were all feeling the effect of high altitude. The American from California had some altitude pills that he shared with us to help with altitude sickness. Even though we had been in Tilcara and San Pedro, both above 2400 meters, we were still not prepared for the next stop. As we continued to follow seemingly random tire tracks crisscrossing through the barren countryside we felt our ears popping and heads beginning to swell. We climbed higher and higher until we reached a geyser field at 5000 meters.

The guide told us the water and mud was around 280 degrees celsius. We  saw holes of steaming water and pits of percolating mud. After walking around for a few minutes we were told it was time to go so we would not get sick. It had begun to sleet by this point. Back in the Jeeps we headed for our hostel for the night. This hostel was still around 4500 meters and everyone was feeling fatigued.  Just going to the bathroom took your breath away. Even though we had plenty of water, altitude sickness pills and a mouth full of coca leaves, we still had headaches and were ready to go to sleep. Before we were able to go to sleep, however, we went to visit another colorful lagune, Laguna de Colorada. This lagune was a deep red color and full of flamingos.

That night we slept, but only barely because of the freezing temperatures and high altitude. Over the course of the night it began to snow, so when we awoke the ground was covered with white fluffy snow. As we set out there were no tire tracks to follow, so our guide had to find his way through rolling hills covered in snow that all looked the exact same. However, since he had been doing this for 8 years, it was no trouble for him to guide us to our next stop, the stone tree.

This area was a flat landscape with rocks jutting out of the ground and littered around creating a unique feeling. Even though there was nothing special about the stone tree itself, the entire landscape was quite amazing. After a few snowball fights and writing a few names in the snow we boarded our jeeps and continued, this time for a long ride, towards Uyuni.

During the trip our driver kept jerking at the wheel, dodging pot holes and driving up over the edges of the road…. We found out later that our driver was nodding off. The person sitting in the passenger seat told us he had to keep nudging him to keep him awake. Good times. It turns out that this week is Carnival in Bolivia and he and the other drivers were up until 4am (we were up at 530 to leave) drinking and partying. So as we drove along, looking at other lagunes and various other vistas, we had to continuously keep the driver awake so he wouldn´t drive off the side of a mountain and kill us all. All the more excitement. More bang for your buck.

We saw the signs for Uyuni, 51km… 31km… then nothing. The jeep rolled to a stop by the side of the road and the driver hopped out to look under the hood. Since we were close to town and near the end of the day there were multiple tour groups driving past. A couple of them stopped to see what was wrong, but our guide waved them on. He doesn´t need any help. After sitting there for an hour he finally accepts the help of a couple of other drivers. A few minutes later the truck starts and smoke fills the cabin before it cuts off again. In the distance the rain and rolling thunder are coming ever closer, and around 2hrs into the ordeal he calls another driver to come and pick us up. This night was spent in the town of Uyuni and in the morning we headed out to the Salt Flats.

Our hotel for the night was nice because it was for two people, but still, there was no hot water, a very low temperature at night, and loud partying all night in the streets. It didn´t matter, because the next morning we headed out to the surreal landscape of Salar de Uyuni. This is the biggest salt flat in the world, and because we were here during the wet season, the entire thing is covered with 1-3 inches of water. This gives it the strange look of a giant mirror. We headed out before sunrise and as the sun came up it began to take on it´s reflective properties.

At first light it was not very impressive, although it was very pretty. As the sun rose it became much more interesting.

The higher the sun got, the better the views got. This unique landscape afforded us great opportunities for unique pictures, enjoy:

No Horizon

Reflective Ground

Damn Dinosaurs

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