La Paz, the highest capital in the world. What else? I have been sitting over this for a while now and it might be that I’m not doing the city justice, but there is just not that much I can say about it. The sightseeing is extremely limited and the vibe of the city in general is not very inviting. By far the biggest plus of the city is its proximity to some cool and stunning outdoor activities such as the Death Road, a famous downhill biking experience and Huayna Potosi, supposedly one of the easiest ascends to over 6’000 masl in the world.
A cablecar connects the lower part of the city, which starts at about 3’200 masl, with its highest point called “El Alto” at 4’100 masl. The ride up to El Alto makes for one of the few activities in the city itself.
Together with my Swiss friend Hejko which I first met in Alaska and then again in Aguas Caliente near Machu Picchu, I spent a few days in the city. We also met his friend Emre and we decided to go on the Death Road adventure together.
We booked with Gravity Bolivia. They are the most expensive operator, but also the ones with the most experience on the route and the newest equipment. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling very well the day of the ride. Probably something I ate some of these days. I slept badly and didn’t have any breakfast by the time our two vans with a downhill bike for each one of us mounted on top of it headed out of La Paz and up to around 4’700 masl. The weather got worse as we kept getting higher and by the time we reached our stop it was ice cold and raining. We got out and everybody got assigned a bike.
From this stop we would reach the start of the Death Road after a few kilometers riding down the rural road. After ten seconds on the bike, my gloves were drenched, my fingers cold and my butt wet. The visibility was quite poor due to the heavy fog and our guides stopped the group at a road checkpoint which offered shelter from the rain. I leaned my bike to the side of the road and my view got blurry. The thin air of the altitude, the cold and my weakend immune system were too much; I passed out. Twenty seconds later – reboot. I could get up and soon felt better. Another rider passed out right in front of me.
We got some hot tea and soon we were back on our bikes. The Death Road was awaiting us.
The Death Road, actually called the Yungas Road, was notorious for being the world’s deadliest road until a new, safer road has been opened in 2006. The 65km long downhill gravel road meanders above steep cliffs and rarely has any crash barriers. Damn, it’s a hell lot of fun to ride it down! Step in the pedals, breaks loose and let the bike take the shocks while you race over gravel, small rocks and a few stream crossings.
I quickly forgot all about my earlier passing out and enjoyed every second of the way.
Once we got to the bottom, a cold beer was in order. Everybody made it, 100% survival rate. That was the first time!
Yeah alright, it wasn’t the first time. But it was still good that nobody got seriously hurt ( I say “seriously” because one girl fell three times durin the ride).
I’ve seen enough of La Paz. Uyuni and the Salt Flats are up next…