Surviving Death Road

Martin, a friend of ours from London had mentioned to us about a death-defying mountain bike ride down the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia, my first reaction was ‘hell no.’ But after numerous TripAdvisor reviews and hearing about other travellers loving it, we just had to put it on the list.

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Prior to booking any tours, Jason and I normally put in the effort of doing some research to make sure we are getting both a good service and a good deal. Unfortunately the day we wanted to do the tour also happened to be the day we would be arriving in town so there was a good chance our bus may be delayed and we’d lose all our money for the bike tour. So we opted to book our tour through the bus company as they assured us if there were any delays we would get our money back. Plus they offered it for USD$70 which was significantly cheaper than most other companies.

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We arrived into La Paz at 6am which was much earlier than expected. We even had time to check-in to our hotel and get changed. The bike company Extreme Expeditions picked us up in a minivan with about 6 bikes stacked on the roof. We picked up 3 German guys along the way (Felix, Alex and Tom) and were then introduced to our super laid back Bolivian guide Fernando (think Bills and Ted’s excellent adventure).

Now Fernando is a man of little words, but he seemed friendly enough. We drove for about 1.5 hours and stopped at the peak. This is a highway built on a mountain and is the starting point for most of the bike tours. It is not considered the ‘death road’ part of the tour yet, that is still to come. Prior to starting, we were offerred a simple breakfast of bread and jam and then progressed to put on all our gear. The uniforms were brand new and the bikes looked to be in good condition and quality. Based on looks alone, everything seemed tip top.

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We started at the top of the highway with Fernando’s only advice being to stay in single file. Now being the only female in a group with 4 guys, I made sure to stay at the back and let the potential speedsters have their fun. Within seconds everyone took off at ridiculous speeds, so much so that it too less than a minute for me to lose sight of the entire group. I was initially shocked at how fast the bike was going given the degree of decline didn’t appear too steep. Whilst getting used to the speed, I of course applied the brakes on many ocassions until I could build up the confidence to take turns at full speed. Within about an hour we reached the bottom of the highway. At this point we had already covered 20km and were all pumped from the adrenaline rush. Jason’s entire bike chain snapped in half so our guide just removed it completely and gave Jason his bike instead.

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The next 8km of the highway was uphill so we stacked our bikes on the van and were driven up to a foggy gravelled area where we saw the other tour groups again. This was the start of ‘Yungas Road’, otherwise known as Death Road. I was pretty nervous because whilst we had just descended at super fast speeds on the highway, the road was smooth. This part was completely uneven with loose rocks, a narrow trail and inexperienced riders just to make it even more dangerous.

Again I started at the back of the group and again the boys disappeared within seconds. I was particularly slow to start, with the rattling of the bike over the uneven surface being quite unnerving. I broke way too often when I saw a large rock and this actually made me lose control and almost fall a few times. I quickly learnt that I actually had more stability by quickly riding over these areas than braking. About 10 minutes into the ride I suddenly heard a loud clunk from my back wheel followed by a repetetive clicking noise. Thankfully I could see that our group had parked on the side of the road by this stage which gave Fernando a chance to inspect my bike. One of the spokes on my back wheel had come off, so he just twisted it around another spoke which seemed to do the trick. Not long after we got going again, I saw the group had stopped on an edge. Felix’s chain had come off and it actually took Tom (one of the other Geman guys) to figure out how to put it back on.
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Eventually we got going and after 20 minutes we stopped for a photo break. As we got on our bikes to continue, our guide noticed Alex had a flat tyre, so he turned the bike upside down and began to repair it. Alex was given the spare bike and our guide told us to continue the tour down the trail and he would eventually catch up with us. He even gave Jason the camera to take the official photos. So there we all were, looking a bit confused, about to head down the World’s most dangerous road…without a guide.

We pressed on and still had a lot of fun on our own with the three German guys going all guns blazing down the trail. We eventually reached a checkpoint where we waited for our guide for about 10 minutes. It was reassuring having him back, even if he didn’t really have to do much. As we descended further down the trail the air became uncomfortably more humid which also coincided with the trail becoming uphill. We all battled with this for about 15 minutes and were glad to see the rest stop up ahead. Once we’d arrived we took off all our thick gear and let our skin breathe. It felt great! We didn’t rest for too long as we knew we were quite close to the end.
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Again, just before we were about to go, our guide noticed Tom had a flat tyre, but with only 20 minutes to go and the terrain being downhill, the guide thought it would be OK to leave it. So we got going, the boys speeding with me trailing behind. As I finally reached the end, I noticed Tom walking his bike. I looked down and noticed his entire gears, chains and brakes had come off. He was pretty angry as this all occurred during the downhill section so he was unable to brake. This literally could have resulted in a death on Death Road. He told our guide who didn’t seem to fussed which made him even more angry understandably. This definitely put a dampener on the end of the day and seriously made us reflect on just what happened on the tour.

Whilst Jason and I still managed to have a blast, it probably one of the most poorly run tours we have ever been on. Every single bike failed in one way or another, we weren’t given any safety briefing and we were left to do the tour alone on the most dangerous section of the trail. In future, when it comes to extreme sports we will definitely revert back to doing our research and booking a company based on past reviews.

I would definitely recommend doing a death road bike tour to any confident bike riders but with a more reputable company.

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Still a highlight of our trip and something we finished with a sigh of relief!

Til next time
Ann & Jason xo

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