Bolivia – La Paz and the Death Road to Coroico

We made it into La Paz in the dark.  Gee whiz, I wouldn’t want to do that again.  The traffic was full stop.  Inching through every kilometer breathing in tons of bus exhaust. The pavement has been sunken so much with those wheel ruts that it’s impossible to lane split to get ahead. That was a tough one.

We found a pocket of hostels to start checking on for the night.  The city is dark and busy and we pull in to a couple of them to ask prices.

As many of you know, while I was inside asking about prices with Dean (who doesn’t speak Spanish), we left Barton outside to watch the bikes.  My tank bag’s zipper has been broken for a while, making it more important to watch.  However, when I came out, my back pack and all the contents inside the tank bag were gone, while Barton was talking to a Bolivian woman.  My heart sank again for the umpteenth time in the last few weeks.  My nice big camera and long lens are gone.. Spot tracker gone.. maps, documents, the list goes on.  Usually I would take the backpack inside with me to enquire about rooms, but I really thought he’d keep an eye on it.  We were all tired, and he was just being kind answering the womans questions, however, it was probably organized to draw his attention away. Bugger. In the whole world, in my whole life, I have never had anything stolen from me like this.

The police couldn’t be bothered but they did tell me I can go file a report with the ‘tourist’ police in the morning.  Other than that, there is nothing I can do.

Paz means peace in Spanish. This ain’t it. La Paz is big and loud.. full of protests and bombs going off all day and all night. Sitting in the hostel for breakfast, so many bombs went off close by it made me scream.  I guess this might be what the Gaza strip is like. Yes, I’m sort of exagerating, but hopefully the Bolivians can restore their city to it’s proper meaning again someday.  But by the sound of the government here, they’ve got a long road ahead of them. I didn’t like it and had no reason to stay.  La Paz is very near the famous “Death Road” which we intend to check out while here.

This is a goal destination for most Bolivian riders. The Death Road, also known as the North Yungas Road or Coroico Road, has it’s reputation, a well earned one. If you haven’t heard of it before, it is listed as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. It truly used to be, it just isn’t anymore. One estimate says that 200-300 people used to die on this road per year.  However, they have recently built a new double lane paved road.  The locals use the new one and it’s mostly us, the tourists, that travel on the Death Road.  Interestingly it’s usually quite full with mountain bikers. They bring backpackers out from La Paz on a daily tour to ride down Death Rd as a gimmik.  However, while researching the road before we started, I found that a female mountain biker lost control on her tour just days ago and plummeted to her death. I kept that in mind all the way..

Kevin was here recently.  If his bike hadn’t broke down in Ecuador and Peru, we would have had time to ride this together.  Our route was to ride Lima to Cusco (he told me a million times I need to go to Cusco with him, he’s been before and loved it there). Then down to La Paz for this one road. We all would love the opportunity to brag about riding the “world’s most dangerous road”. However, you know the story.  I had to move on to Chile.  So I was really glad when Kevin finally made it here.  However, he didn’t get to do it anyway.  He tried one day and it was so foggy, he turned around and came back to La Paz.  When he spoke to me on skype that night, I told him there was no hurry to get south since now my own bike is broken down in Chile, and to give it another try the following morning.  He did, it was still super foggy so he turned back for a second time and never did complete the road.  I was proud of him at the time, because he’s a strong-willed man and has been looking forward to riding the Death Road for so long, but he needed to make safe decisions on the bike.

So with Kevin’s piece of helmet I have with me, hopefully we can finally accomplish this goal together too.

I’m riding again today with Dean and Barton.

Leaving La Paz, we take the newer paved road to the high end, the same as Kevin.  You can either go from the bottom up, or the top down.  We chose the top.

I love riding in the clouds.. but it’s freakin’ cold up here! 😉

Barton and Dean take a side route up in to the brittle mountain rock.  My head is not into the super difficult stuff right now, but these boys crave the hardest path they can find.  So the plan is for me to go and find the turn off for the Yungas Road and wait for them there.

It was quite a long wait.  I was getting concerned, but they eventually showed up.  Telling me that the steep rubble track was harder than they could do on Dean’s heavy bike, so they had to turn back to take the main paved road as well.

Luckily there was a little lunch shack near the turn off. These shacks usually make the best meals. Nothing like a little Coka Quina with lunch! I keep pronouncing it as Co-caina. It’s one of the few local coke copies that I actually really like.  A few coca leaves, a little carbonated water…… ;-0 Just kidding!  It tastes almost exactly like the Coca Cola recipe.

During lunch the rain started pouring, and we are in the fog.  Not the greatest combination for the death road.  Keeping in mind that both days Kevin attempted the ride it was foggy, we just came to the conclusion that it must always be foggy up at the top.  It may have been worse the days he was here, but on this day it seems like if we take it easy, it shouldn’t be a problem.

I can honestly say that it was something to think about.  The road is carved out of the side of a mountain and nothing but a sheer cliff on one side.  As I continued along the dirt road, there was just the big white fog wall to the left of me.  Try not to look at it too much.  You know how it goes.. If you see a rock in the road and keep looking at it, you’ll surely hit it rather than go around it? I was fascinated by it, but if I fell into the white abyss, I would never be found. So! Be careful!

I wanted to pull to the side of the road and get off the bike for a couple photos..  Sometimes I take them while riding, but today wasn’t the day for that.

As you can see, within six kilometers, it was fairly clear.  Other than the odd water fall you need to ride through.. all is well!

Barton took the photo below from far away, if you can see me in there just before I am about to get drenched!

Haha.. this is funny… safety railing!

The farther down we went, the warmer it got.  And how welcome that was!  Ever since living in Bolivia the last few weeks at over 4000 meters, it has been rather nippy to say the least.  And the top of the Death Road is freezing.. including ice!  Here at the bottom, which didn’t take long to reach, we are hot and sweating in the jungle.  We pull over to get some of the warmer layers off and reward ourselves with a beer. Death road alive and complete!

I love this photo of Barton and Dean, because they weren’t saying much and staring at the wall.  I asked, “So… what are you guys looking at?” (knowing full well what it was.. 😉  I had my camera ready when dthey whipped their heads around so fast.. “What..”  Ha, gotcha!

We came up to the town of Coroico.  It was too early in the day to stop and the boys have a dirt road mapped out as part of our route to Peru.  We didn’t get too far past Coroico and the road came to a halt due to construction.  We stopped and asked how to get through, they told us you can’t get through until tomorrow.  It turns out this road is only open for a short time each day.  It’s due to open up at 8 AM.  So we turn around and find a cute little room for the night back in town.

Helmets hung for the night, we found a nice Mexican restaurant to eat at in Bolivia!  It was really good too!

It was a bit tricky to park the bikes out on the street in the morning to finish packing.  They needed the space for cars to get through, but tucking them to the side, my bike kept wanting to fall over on this wobbly street.  I don’t think Grandma was too thrilled either.

We really need to get to that road this morning before they close it off for the day, and we made it!  Woo hoo!

Hmmm. this road is interesting!  Almost immediately I am thinking it’s more dangerous than the Death Road we did yesterday.  In the photo below with the dump truck, you can see my headlight coming around the corner between the rock and the truck?  Luckily he was going slowly, stopped, backed up a bit and let me pass.  That’s how tight this road is, not enough space for a skinny motorcycle to pass a truck in many places.

Whew!  The boys got through before me and were waiting in the space past the truck.

We came to yet ANOTHER block in the road, but it wasn’t long before they moved the boulders out of the way and we could pass.

Cruising the slippery dirt track again.. Always aware how much I don’t want to make a mistake, but in general this road is quite fun!

Hmmm.. how are we going to get past this one.

The boys will come up with a plan to overcome this small hazard.

This one might be a bit more challenging.

We waited and waited, and watched the other people settling down eating their meals in their cars.  I remember telling the boys that I don’t think this one is going to open any time soon.

I decided to ask a worker in his orange suit as to when he thinks we can continue.  He said around 7 PM.  What?  For real?  It’s not even noon yet!  Bugger…  Dean did his best to convince the man that we could make it through on the motorcycles. Wasn’t going to happen. Barton, Dean and I had a pow wow and decided not to wait ALL day on the side of a muddy cliff just to continue on this road.  If we turn around and ride back the 3 hours to Coroico, we could take an alternative road that would take us back to La Paz and we can go up into Peru the boring way – paved road.

I have to admit, this dirt road was fun yet scarey.  Definitely far more dangerous than the Death Road itself because of more local traffic along the steep mountain road that is crumbling apart in places.  But because the Death Road is not used by locals anymore, traveling this road beyond Coroico gave us a taste of what it would have been like only a few short years ago before they put in the paved roads.

About kangamerican

Originally from America. Proud citizen of Australia. Currently riding my motorcycle around the world. 44 countries so far and counting. ;-) View all posts by kangamerican

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