Down the worlds most dangerous road



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La Paz 29.08.02

La Paz 27.08.02
It's raining in La Paz. It was like being home when it started this morning. Do I really have to enjoy a rainy day on my trip? It's nice I don't have to get up to go to work. And breakfast is waiting.
At the tables finish is spoken to the right. It's some finish archaeologists, who have been here for around 2 months and are going back tomorrow. They agree with me in my view upon bolivian cultural heritage.
I go to have an insurance and to know that all is ready for the trip La Cumbre - Coroico tomorrow. I haven't had time to find out if my own insurance also covers this kind of extreme sports, but I wouldn't think so.
I'm promised a cardboard box, one of those they get their bikes in. But a big "normal" cardboard box? They don't know where to find one. You can have your "home" in such one. But to offer money for one might be a good starting point.
There's not much on the schedule today, but it takes all day anyway. I want to copy the pictures from the broken camera onto a CD, and thought they had a 'gravador' in the netcafé at my "old" hostal, they had a USB-port, but no, Sorry. I try some more places, I meet with. No. I decide to postpone it and try later at El Prado, the main street.
I finish some minor shopping. Buy 'salteñas' for lunch and am back at the hotel. Back into the street I meet with my young french friend from Toconao and the train for Uyuni. He's met more from the train at different spots. We walk together a bit, while we talk - in spanish. That's not quite true, I speak mostly english, which he understands, but it's a rather international conversation mingled with french. We're on our way towards Prado, and he also needs internet connection. The place we encounter they don't think there's a 'gravador' in the whole of La Paz, so I give up. In stead I head for a sports shop where I've seen cardboard boxes outside.
Last time I passed there was noone inside, but now there is, the shop seem to be closed off for the time being, but I explain my problem: Can I buy a cardboard box, a large one? I also explain for what purpose, but they have none that big. So I suggest that I might be able to put two together to make a large one. That's impossible, they're nearly all tied together. So I suggest that if I open the big one and put it together with tape so that it just needs ends, I must be able to use the small one for that. I don't have to pay, so I thank a lot and fight homeward with my boxes. Every time I'm heading home I have to walk up the mountain, and it's quite a distance.
Back in the hotel I watch CNN a bit and leave to cash the last bolivianos. On my way I encounter a netcafé advertising CD-burning, so it WAS possible, you never have to believe the locals! While my CD is burned I sit looking at book in a shelf. It seem to be books people have read and left here. After some searching something catches my eyes: "Ved stranden, Ventetid" by Nevil Shute. There's been a dane here. When I take a closer look I find:
"Jorden runt på 80 dagar" (swedish) that has a stamp from "Furulundskolan" in Sölvesborg not far from Ystad and Bornholm. It's a strange experience.
During the day I've also bought a new belt. I've nearly lost my trousers lately, I'll have to eat some more. The old one, which was only from 1969, broke in the dry air of Chile. Those that know me, will know that buying a new one isn't that easy. But after 5-6 trials I succeeded. It has llamas on it!

La Paz - Coroico 28.08.02 (minibus - bike)
I'm sitting on my balcony in room 21 Hotel Esmaralda, Coroico. I can watch a river around 1 km away where 4 valleys join each other. The tops of the mountains are 5-600 m higher than here I guess. Most mingle with the clouds,
but are 5-6000 m high. It's warm. 6.15 p.m. and cicadas and crickets make sounds. It's getting dark, but I had time to have a swim in the pool and a hot shower afterwards.
Compared to the dry windy heights I've passed, this is paradise. We're at 1900 m and there should NOT be malaria. I chose the suite for 15$. When I'd seen it I didn't feel for a room facing the slope behind the hotel. Here on the balcony is a hammock if it's too hot inside, but that's mostly in the summer. Banana palms grow right down under the balcony and the mountains bursts of fertility.

But let me resume: We had to meet at a café this morning to be taken up to La Cumbre, that is the pass across the high mountains (4700 m) and down to the lowland (jungle) behind. From here we were going to bike on MTB's to Yolosa just before Coroico, which is at 1800 m. After some adjustments and instruction we set off, ther's a guide in front and a guide behind and the minibus comes last. We stop from time to time to keep the group together and to have warnings of what's to come. It's a staggering experience.
The first 20 km is reasonable asphalt and down we go fast, but anyway it feels like agees where you only havee to concentrate on staying in the road and avoid the potholes that occur often. I'm the oldest. Noone else past 30.
The first part I succeed following the young adventurers, but when the asphalt ends I have to resign. It's a new sport and I havee to learn, going as fast as possible in an unbelieveable bad road. First time the road inclines I almost have a breakdown. I'm used to ride at my own pace, but now I've others to follow.
I've ended up in the last group and just in front of me there are some girls, hurrying upwards. At the last moment I have my legs turned into a rythm that my breath can follow and fall back, but only for short, then they stop one after another. I haven't much to do with up here, but what I've got I know how to make use of exellent.
At a time still on the asphalt, comes a wide part where it's missing, and I'm frightened becausse I'm going much too fast. I'm in time to think: This is never going to work, then I've passed without any trouble. It wouldn't have been possible on my own bike, but this has suspenders in front and that makes the difference. So I get bolder, but to keep up with the fastest, I can't. Once the front wheel slids on a stone things are dangerous but I reach down with no wounds.
For sometime it's sheer mud we're going through and everyone has a new tan. It's hard on the bikes, my rear shift doesn't work properly, and it's like that for most. But the brakes are disc brakes and THEY work. Someones chain is broken. I'm riding Homer, there's a small etikette on each to distinguish between them. "Dough..." But Homer works allright. After some time the slopes get steeper and steeper, until they're vertical and water from time to time spashes over the road which goes on a shelf. How far is it to the bottom, 500 m?
The upgoing traffic has the right of way and go to the left towards the mountain side. The road is just one lane with meeting points, where cars can pass each other. The downgoing will have to back if they meet in a one lane part. We all reach Yolosa safely, at least one has been flying a bit, and most seem quite exhausted. I feel fine, but why shouldn't I. Now I've reach a height where I can breathe.
Now the minibus leaves for La Paz but we who want to can stay. I actually came down first, so one of those standing at the roadside with the bikes must have been the leading guide, I didn't recognize him. Some from the trip yesterday are waiting in Yolosa telling that I just HAVE TO stay in Coroico for the night, and I had planned to, so now it's finally decided. Besides me there's an australian couple and a guy from Israel (a very self-righteous one, but I'm not saying anything about israelis in general) that wants to stay. There's a pickup that for 5 BOB takes us the 7 km to Coroico and on to Hotel Esmaralda, which is situated a bit up the mountain.

Coroico - La Paz 29.08.02 (minibus)
Now I'm once more on the shelf at the mountain going back to La Paz in a minibus. I feel safer when I'm going by myself. The australian couple is there too, I've been talking to them, dining with them, they're really nice. It couldn't be told if there was a bus at 12 or not, so we had to rely on the minibus at 8, it should (and was) reliable.
The owner of the hotel was german, I spoke to him last night. He didn't open his mouth when he talked and seemed a little drunk, but was allright beside that. His father was a bolivian, that's how he ended up here. The hotel was of international standards, but also the most expensive I've stayed at, except Los Molles. I've tried to keep lodging expenses to a low cost on this long trip, but compared to european conditions, is 200 for the luxury suite with a panorama view and dinner and  breakfast not much. And all this fertility. The mountains are draped in green but without being unpleasant tropical. That won't be until further down in the lowlands.

We're still going on the most dangerous parts and right now a truck has to back so we can pass. There're 14 passengers plus a smaller boy in the minibus. I wonder how many the driver is allowed to transport? But he knows the road that's obvious. Down to the smallest rock. There, we were almost torpedoed by an eager downgoing. The cars are standing front to front. We have twice overtaken trucks in front. You go into a dust cloud that gets thicker and thicker to end up quite massive. Only the driver might be able to see anything and after some honking the truck in front moves to the right and we see the daylight again.
We're in a part where the driver sticks to the rocks - reassuringly. It feels more scaring to go here today with time to look down. Yesterday one was occupied looking down the road ahead.
We've now crossed 3000 m and have passed the worst part, then we're through and have to keep to the right again. The rest of the trip passes without problems and I check into my "old" Hotel Milton 00.10 p.m. But I'm offered a room with a poorer view.

In the tourist office are 3 people, asking about something. At first I think the one who's speaking have a danish accent, but a second later he sounds very english. It's not until they speak together, that I'm sure they're danish. I consider minding my own  business, but in the end I can't keep from saying something in danish, and we talk a while about Chile and San Pedro and flamingoes, and what to see in Bolivia. I tell about the trip to Coroico, but doesn't recommend it. I consider them to be elderly people,
what they are too, but apparently not 10 years older than me. Sigh. But I don't FEEL old. Because in this hotel they've got an elevator. The "chairman" gives me his card in the end telling me that if I visit Great Britain, he'll be able to help me finding a hotel. If it's for a special prize I don't know, but he actually lives in England and have besides addresses in Denmark, Andorra and Spain. So I met danes in the end.