La Paz and the World´s Most Dangerous Road

I took a bus to La Paz on account of my broken rear rack. Besides, I was tired and I am behind schedule a bit so this saved me about a week and a lot of pain. But I felt a little like a wimp. Oh well.

At an elevation of around 11,000 feet, La Paz is no joke. I had a splitting headache for the first day and a half due to the altitude. The streets are utter chaos. Very steep, horrendous traffic jams, sidewalks overflowing with people, constant noise and smells. It´s great. What´s also fascinating is the mix of cultures. You see women in traditional Quechua or Aymara clothing walking past smartly-dressed businessmen shouting into cell phones. I found the traditional dress of the indigenous women fascinating. Here are some shots:

Absent in other cities until now, the shoeshine boys are ubiquitous. They wear masks for some reason. I must find out why. This poor guy was waiting for some business. Unfortunately I was wearing sneakers.

The transportation system is chaotic as well. These vans, called micros, drive past constantly, someone shouting out the destinations to passers-by.

The locals all chew coca leaves to mitigate the effects of the altitude, so I hustled down to the mercado de las brujas, the witches market, and bought me a bag for about 75 cents, as well as a dried llama fetus, which you are supposed to bury in your front lawn to bring good luck. Since I live in a condo I will have to do that at night so nobody notices. Here I am with my coca and fetus. I haven´t tried the coca yet. I am saving it for my next big hill.

The world’s most dangerous road

The road from La Paz to Coroico was built in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners of war in order to provide a transportation link between La Paz and the northeast interior. Many perished during its construction. The road descends over 12,000 feet in 40 miles. Much of it is unpaved and cut into the side of the mountain range, in places only nine feet wide. There are bays in order to accommodate passing cars, trucks and busses, but even so, every year 200 to 300 people die on the road. In one year alone, 25 vehicles plunged off the road and into the ravine. The worst accident occurred in 1994 when a bus with 100 passengers slipped off the road. It tumbled hundreds of feet. There were no survivors.

Because of this record, in 1995, the Inter American Development Bank christened it the most dangerous road in the world.

Of course I had to ride this road, but not on a fully loaded touring bike. I joined a tour group that provided mountain bikes and gear, and a ride back up hill. It was thrilling–downhill for 40 miles, but a bit scary more than once, as I rode within a foot or two of cliffs which dropped straight down for 1000 feet, and not a guard rail in sight.

Here are some views of the road and me in my cool mountain-biking form. Ali Buchan,  eat your heart out.