Diary for 2017 Year of Fun

Cycling La Paz’s Death Road and the race against the clock to get to Ecuador

2017-08-24 to 2017-08-30

Upon arrival in Uyuni we got a night bus to La Paz - the administrative capital of Bolivia. About a month before this, my mum had expressed interest in visiting the Galapagos, and within 10 minutes we had decided to make this part of our itinerary, and she had booked her flights to join us for it. The dates we gave her were meant to be provisional to get an idea of price for her flights over from the UK. But before we knew it those dates were fixed. Whilst this was incredibly exciting, it also left us just 1 week to get from Uyuni in southern Bolivia, all the way up through Peru and into Ecuador, where we would meet her in Guayaquil. Knowing this, we had to prioritise what we wanted to do in this time and just get it done fast.

Ever since I heard about The Death Road in La Paz many years ago I’ve wanted to cycle down it. If you don’t know what it is, google it right now (and then you will have new found respect for James and I!) Yungas Road is commonly known as The Death Road due to the incredibly high amount of deaths that occur on it each year. The second we arrived on the Death Road and mounted our bikes (we went with an amazing company who gave us protective clothing and ensured we are all safe by taking it at our own pace and cycling in a group) we could immediately understand the reason for the name. The road starts at 4650m and descends to 1200m, which in layman’s terms means it’s super steep. You’re basically cycling (or free-wheeling because it’s just a vertical drop) along a thin path on the cliff edge. If you go too fast it’s likely that you will lose control of the bike and end up cycling over the edge, and will certainly be met with an instant end. Along the cycle the guides told us of many of the deaths that had occurred exactly where we were cycling. There were so many make-shift grave sites and crosses in memory of those who died on the road, each one told a tragic tale. One story that stood out to me was when a bus driver with a coachload of people saw two children playing on the road. He stopped the bus and got out to look for the children, only to realise he hadn’t put on the handbrake. The coach rolled backwards over the cliff and there were no survivors. The driver realised that these children he saw were ghosts. Haunted by the deaths on his hands, he came back to the road a few years on and jumped off the edge.

Putting all that aside (we had to if we wanted to enjoy the bike ride for what it was), it was a brilliant but scary ride. The scenery was exhilarating, and at times it was hard to concentrate on the condition of the road and staying alive because the view was breathtaking.

When the whole group made it successfully to the bottom of Death Road we all celebrated with a well-earned beer, though my heart continued to race for a while longer. We were taken to a nearby hotel where we had an all-you-can-eat buffet (a backpacker’s dream), and obviously, we didn’t hold back. The second highlight of the day (the first was completing the Death Road!) was when they handed us a brand new t-shirt celebrating our feat! We haven’t worn new clothes (or clothes that we can be certain of its cleanliness) for a long long time, and we both smelt great in it!

Back in La Paz we visited the local Witches Market, famous for selling local clothes at a good price, and llama fetuses. The latter is a local tradition, and one we were happy to bypass in favour of buying ourselves ponchos, which we of course look fabulous in, and just like locals.

La Paz is fantastic city and actually very different to others we have visited on this trip, mostly because it sits in a basin with beautiful mountains surrounding it. Alas, time was creeping upon us so we had to curb our exploration and get on a 28 hour bus to Lima, capital of Peru.

A 28 hour bus ride sounds horrible. Throw in a very long and slow border crossing and the fact that James had food poisoning and could barely stand, it was horrendous. The icing on the cake was that we bought some sliced plastic cheese and a loaf of bread for the journey - you couldn’t bring any fresh foods over the border so making a packed lunch proved very difficult. By the time we were on the bus long enough to make plastic cheese sandwiches, the loaf of bread had turned to crumbs - and I had to resort to squishing the crumbs to make a solid chunk of bread and then wrap the plastic cheese around it. However a very ill James was very hard to please, so it turned out to be a make-shift ‘cheese wrap’ for one.

We had less than 24 hours in Lima before our next long-haul bus, and with James still in agony and spending much of his time in the bathroom we didn’t get a chance to see any of Peru. The following afternoon we boarded a 29 hour bus from Lima to Guayaquil in Ecuador. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘I’ve never heard of Guayaquil’ let that thought come and go, and if you ever get the opportunity to go on a trip to Guayaquil - turn it down.