The night before was a heavy one. It had started in a curry house with the world’s most dangerous vindaloo, and deteriorated into drinking games using the 98%abv rum I’d picked up inPotosi. In the morning I was woken when a shoe flew across the room and hit me on the head. My snoring has been known to wake people down the hall before, and with the noise we had been making when we stumbled in, it wasn’t surprising someone had had enough. It did nothing to help my headache. The body struggles at 12, 000 feet, but with the abuse I’d been giving it I truly had a bastard between the eyes.
I was now at the summit of the mountain just outside of town, sat on a mountain bike for the first time since I was thirteen. Ahead of me was The World’sMost Dangerous Road. A perilous journey all the way to Coroico. An insane route that somehow summed upBolivia. Dangerous and crazy, but a hell of a lot of fun.
The week before a tourist had died after careering off the infamous slopes. According to our guide this was because he’d been out partying and doing coke the night before, which only heightened my sense of immediate peril as his preparation sounded far too similar to my own. He’d gone with another company, but I’d chosen Gravity, who I was told have the best safety record of them all, I hoped. The rest of my group, seven in total, were all athletic types. Men and women. Seasoned bikers. Fitness freaks fromAustraliaandAmerica. As a pure pleasure tourist, I felt a little out of place.
For some reason the guide had decided that I should be the one wearing the one bright orange helmet. To make my body easier to find I should imagine. We got a couple of minutes to familiarise ourselves with the bikes before setting off. I fell over twice.
It all started off nice and smoothly. Tarmac road bending and twisting downhill. I decided to hold up the rear. Not at all because I was slow and wobbling everywhere, but because of the position’s strategic importance to the safety my group. The drivers round these parts have a reckless and fearsome reputation. If anyone was going to have to deal with them, I felt it should be me.
The trouble started when we turned onto a gravel dirt track. It was a bloody nightmare to control the bike on.
“Now guys, this is more like the surface you can expect on Death Road, only this is in better condition!” the guide said as we stopped for a break.
“Worse than this?!” I thought, “I’m totally fucked!”
After around half an hour we got to Death Road we got our final safety briefing: keep to the left (the side the drop is on), ride fast but not too fast (?), and most importantly of all, don’t go off the side of the sheer 600 foot cliff edge.
I went round the first corner and I could see that I was no more than a foot away from a sheer drop down the ravine.
“Shit!” I cried and wobbled all over the place.
“Think I’ll slow down.” I was only going five miles per hour. I must have been the slowest gringo inBolivia! The guide was doing some filming and you can see me tootling along like some old pensioner on their way to church.
I managed to lurch my way down to the first stop. I was last, of course.
“Just making sure you all have plenty of rest.” I said. It continued like this for quite a while. Careering down the road. Panic flashes as I lost control and got perilously close to the deadly edge.
“We’re coming to the bridge a guy high on coke came flying off,” called out the guide. “Broke both legs and a collar bone. When the hospital did a blood sample the coke showed up so his travel insurance wouldn’t cover him. Had to do a runner from the country.”
The bridge must have been ten feet wide. How he missed it I’ve no idea, he must have been off his head.
We’d been on Death Road for half an hour, and all these stories of calamity and death were having a disastrous effect on my nerves and I went unsteadily round the next corner. I hit a large rock in the road and lost control. Swerving wildly on the loose surface I struggled to regain control. I slammed on the breaks. This didn’t help. The bike wobbled even more and continued to plough forward. “Shit” I cried as I abruptly came to a stop pointing head on not 3 inches from the edge. “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take” I thought to myself.
We ploughed on for another hour. Through ever tighter bends. Ever steeper drops. Through the San Pedro Waterfall, which spilled out onto the road, making it more treacherous.
“See that house there” said the guide, pointing up some sort of driveway “That was the last hiding place of Klaus Barbie.” “Small wonder he managed to hold up out here for so long” I thought. We fast approached the next corner. Fortunately it was the last one.
No sooner had I gone round the corner, I was confronted by a bunch of five, maybe six idiots from another tour group, cycling back up the hill; and heading straight for me. They were lined up across the narrow road, swaying from side to side. Like an attack pattern! Hell bent on sending me over the edge. The bastards were coming for me and I had no idea who they were. I needed backup, but my group were long gone. They’d learnt early on not to hang around for me. I’d been separated from the pack and now they were hunting me down.
“For Christ’s sake get out the fucking way!” I screamed at them; whoever they were. Still they came. “Move!” I cried, and still they came. There was nothing for it. I had to swerve to the left. So close to the edge it was untrue. My left leg hung over the side. My tyres sent the loose gravel careering off the edge. I held my breath. Was this it? Had my desire to experience everything, my incessant chasing of pleasure, the search for total freedom literally driven me over the edge? Was it worth it? Worth dying for? Should I have stayed at home? Safe and comfortable in my house, my career, my routine. Smothered by suburbia. But then I was past them, I swerved back to the right. I’d made it. Just in time to realise I was heading straight to a stream. I tore though it sending water everywhere. I turned round to confront the group that had nearly killed me, but they were long gone up the hill. I was absolutely drenched. By this time we’d dropped a considerable amount, the air was thicker and it had started to get warm. But the soaking was still an annoyance.
We stopped at a nature reserve for lunch, all inclusive of course. They had hot showers which we all promptly made use of before making our way to the main hut and picking up the ice cold, hard earned beers that were lying around. We were handed our ‘I survived The World’sMost Dangerous Road’ t-shirts, and finished up before heading into town to stock up on beer and cheap rum.
We piled into the minibus and began the wild journey back up Death Road in the hands of our driver. Our fate was totally in his hands. Peering out of the window we can’t have been a foot away from the edge. He ragged it round there like it was some racetrack. No regard for the danger by our side. “This must be where most of the deaths occur,” I figured, “On the way back!” Not that we minded. We were getting nicely pissed on the rum, cheering every time we got an inch from the edge, and clapping if we sent gravel flying off the side. “Imagine if we did go over,” I said “and they recovered our bodies, all in t-shirts that say ‘I survived The World’sMost Dangerous Road.”
Having negotiated his way up death road and back toLa Paz, our driver dropped us back at our guide’s house. What was to follow was a visit to the infamous Route 36 cocaine bar and a mammoth drinking session at Ram Jam