There were a lot of diversions along the way to Le Paz so the ride was a bit bumpy but ‘back to the future’ was shown on the bus and that kept me entertained for most of it. Classic. Along the way I noticed Paul coughing a good bit. I had hoped it was just a cold but feared it might be the altitude again… When we arrived at about 11pm Paul didn’t make it 5 feet from the bus without getting sick again. The man can pretty much fart and burp on cue, so I was beginning to think it was the same with puking!! I felt for him but we had booked death road for the morning and I knew we couldn’t do it now. I asked our guide if he could contact the company to defer it, but it was 11pm so the office was closed and there was nothing he could do. He suggested I meet them as scheduled, for 7am in the morning and ask them in person.
I set my alarm for the next morning, I was going to get up and explain the situation and try figure something out and then, with the time difference, the man united v man city match was on at 7:30am so I was going to watch that. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world.
We had originally planned to get a bus to Uyuni (town near salt flats) straight after death road but we decided with Paul’s altitude problems and the sheer fact that we had been rushing everything so far, that we would take the extra day in Le Paz anyway, so postponing death road to the next day would turn out to not be a big deal.
I woke up the next morning to message from Paul saying he wasn’t sure if he slept one night or two… I thought the altitude had him screwed up! Then another message from him saying he was good to go today!! He was surely gone made altogether!
He reassured me he was fine so in the end instead of meeting the company to postpone, we just went ahead as scheduled. If ever there was a time I wasn’t disappointed to miss a man united match it was for something like this!
An hour van journey to 4,670m had us reach the starting point of the trip. Paul was holding up just fine and it was all down hill from here. We got suited and booted and after a safety briefing we set off. The death road tour consists of 18km on proper road, all down hill and fast, or at least as fast as you push yourself. I really enjoyed this part, you could get streamlining going and pick up speed to overtake other riders. After the 18km We regrouped and got in the van again to travel 15minutes uphill again to the start of 32km of gravel death road.
Death road has actually been closed to traffic from 2007 so all that is on it any more are tours (cyclists, motorcyclists, vans following the tours for repairs etc.). So it’s not really as dangerous as it used to be but that being said, if you don’t take care of yourself and ride responsibly you might live to regret it, or not.
Our tour guide had us stop at different points on the way down for pictures, for a rest and for a bike checks (brakes, tires etc.). The group, as we rode down in each section, generally got split into three levels. Fast, mediocre and slow. Paul being the speed demon he is was always at the front, I was middle of the pack sort of level being nowhere near Paul and his group but still well ahead of the last few. I nearly fell about three times and Paul said he nearly fell twice but even if you fall you are wearing all the protective gear you need. Thankfully we didn’t end up testing it!
The road itself is pretty narrow for the most part, as in there is room for one car only but that gives you plenty of space on the bike you just need to be safe on the corners. The bikes we used were really good so the suspension was great but everybody finds that the ride is really sore on their hands. Not something you can avoid but not something to make you not do the tour either!
It was such an amazing adrenaline rush and its up there with the best thing I’ve done in a long time! If you are in this part of the world you should do it. People of all ages and sizes do it. At the end of the day you are pushing your own pedals so you only go as fast as you want. I probably pushed myself a bit too far at times but nobody makes you do anything – and the views are fantastic!
After our tour they brought us to a place that had shower facilities, a pool and a buffet (all included in our tour) so it was a great way to unwind and talk about it all before taking our three our bus back to Le Paz.
Back at the hostel there was a bbq going on just outside our dorm room so we got changed and went out to join in. As soon as I opened the door I seen Mel and Lloyd, from New Zealand. I couldn’t believe it. I met them in ihla grande and Rio in Brazil. What were the odds of bumping into them! We had a few beers to catch up, standard enough. Might have made it to the bar for a shot or too as well…
The next day Paul and I had made a list (in our heads) of things we would do on our rest day. Breakfast, Chelsea match, check out, El Alto market (biggest market in the world apparently), buy towels (he had none and I left mine in a previous hostel), buy shampoo, get some props for salt flats and catch our bus at 9pm to Uyuni.
After the match it was time to check out. I noticed a familiar face beside the reception desk.. Sinead! Because Paul and I decided to stay an extra day in Le Paz, it was never thought of that we might cross paths again but here we were! Paul and I headed to the market via the cable car (red line) and we told Sinead we’d meet her later for grub. The market was unique, it had everything from car seat belts to staplers to Children’s toys. I even seen someone get a tattoo! The great thing about the market was that it wasn’t touristy. It was for locals who needed, well, anything. It was all there! Shampoo check. Props check. They even had towels but not the hiking quick dry ones we wanted.
I don’t have the foggiest idea what they were used for. After that, a few streets away, we got sorted with our microfibre quick dry towels (perfect for any backpacker) and headed back to the hostel for a few free drinks (courtesy of the fact our hostel was partnered with Peru/Bolivia hop) and a bite to eat. Sinead came up to meet us and we caught up with all our recent adventures. Before we knew, it was time to head for the bus and time for Sinead to be ‘on her todd’ again. Time for Paul and I to head to the salt flats.
When we got to the bus station our bus said that they didn’t have us on their list even though the money had come out of Paul’s credit card. We were in their system as ‘unprocessed’ because the payment didn’t go through on their side. After a long and heated discussion we had to pay a second time with the promise of a refund of one time if/when the payments went through. I had heard so much about shit buses and shit roads in Bolivia but this bus was the nicest I’ve been on yet and I’m told the roads on this route are great too. Time to find out.
Tips and Prices:
Death road with ‘Altitude’ $100-$108 dollars on website. $82-$94 dollars with Peru hop discount. Includes 3 hours biking, free tshirt, snacks, lunch, pool and shower.
You can do death road a lot cheaper but with companies that are not so safety conscious and may not have the best gear. But I have heard that Altitude, Gravity and Bermuda are the best and most reliable. Altitude were perfect as far as I was concerned.
There are three cable cars in Le Paz. All are recommended for views but we only did the red line. Red line cable car. 6 Bolivians return.
El Alto Market, via red line is only on Thursdays and Sunday. Worth a look to get the views and see the real part of Bolivia but don’t expect to pick up too much stuff there. Also felt very safe there.
For taxis only use the ones that have taxi sign on roof and names/numbers on side of car. Avoid ones that just have taxi written on sign inside windscreen.
Bus to Uyuni, using Tudo Tourismo (the most expensive but best bus going) was 250 Bolivianos one way. Included wifi and dinner. Our booking got screwed up but in general it’s meant to be the best company for safety etc. too.
We stayed in wild rover hostel…again. 70 Bolivians per night in 8 bed dorm. Breakfast included. Would recommend, but not if you want a really quiet place.