El Camino de la Muerte – The Death Road

In Bolivia I kind of entered with my left foot. At some point on the left lane there were some big commercial trucks stopped, so all the traffic was deviated onto our lane. And even though they saw us coming, they wouldn’t wait for us to go first, they would keep coming onto our lane, to the point where we were stuck. No one could go any further. And guess what: they started honking at us, to get out of their way. On our lane! There was no shoulder, so we could not go by them, so then Vasile started going in zig-zag, squeezing through the cars. I tried to do the same, but unfortunately my panniers are much wider than his, so I touched with one of them the wheel of the truck on the left, which made me lose the balance and drop the bike on the other side. The right mirror, which had been broken when I had my crash a few months ago and that Vasile had jb-welded came off. I was so pissed off and so frustrated with these drivers, when the truck that was coming on MY LANE blew the horn at me. The guy had lost the patience as Vasile came to help me pick up the bike and we were checking to see if everything else was ok. I guess that was his was off saying “Oh I am sorry you fell because of me, since I am driving on YOUR lane and did not leave any room or options for you; are you ok?” I could not believe the cheek of him! Both Vasile and I started yelling at him at the same time “What, you don’t have patience? Continue on your lane then!” It was for the first time in the whole trip when we yelled at someone in traffic. But as we could see later, it became something absolutely common for Bolivia.

As the mirror was not a fix that could be done on the side of the road, I had to continue riding without it. On the highway it’s not too bad, but as we got to La Paz, it became very sketchy. Remember this is a country where passing is done on whatever side you feel like, there is no personal space, green light doesn’t mean anything (everyone is running red lights), rules are bent in whatever direction you may please and riding without a mirror felt quite unsafe. We passed through La Paz and went straight to Achumani to find the KTM dealership, as Vasile wanted to do some major maintenance on his bike here, hoping to find a hotel in the area as well. We found the dealership pretty fast. Achumani is a beautiful little town by La Paz where I am assuming only rich people leave. Some sort of West Vancouver of the Lower Mainland. Unfortunately no hotels at all in the area. So after Vasile talked to the guys at KTM, we had to turn around to La Paz and try to find a hotel.

Our friends Chris and Stephanie (which we split from in Cuzco, as they had to take care of some more stuff) had arrived in La Paz the same they. Apparently we passed right by them on the way to Achumani. Chris jumped on the road to wave at us almost being hit by a car. But I guess he wasn’t flashy enough, or we were too frustrated with the traffic (we both almost got squished by cars every five minutes, so we had to have all the attention on the road) and we didn’t see him. In the meantime he had sent us a message where they were, so we were heading back to find them. The ride back was even more horrific. Thick heavy traffic barely moving at all on steep, narrow streets, cars moving onto our lane as if we were not even there, honking, yelling. Again, for the first time in this trip we started using our middle finger for other purposes than just throttle and clutch. At some point I told Vasile to just stop at the first hotel on the way, and we could find our friends later. “Look, there is one right here, why don’t we just stop here” “Oh, actually this is the hostel Chris was telling us about” Perfect timing. So we stopped and we met there Alison, another fellow rider that we had heard about but haven’t met before and soon after Debbie showed up, the girl on a BMW 650 that we met in Medellin. We chatted for a few minutes and then we decided to go and check in a hostel one block up. I was feeling so tired and exhausted  as I could not eat anything for almost three days and I was completely dehydrated too plus the crazy traffic and all I wanted was to eat (NOW!), have a shower and have a good sleep. I could not even get back on the bike and  ride one more block, so Chris took my bike to the hostel and he showed me where the restaurant was, so I can go straight there and eat, hoping that this time my body would actually keep the food in.

The next day Vasile and Chris went shopping for bike parts as Chris needed to fix a few things on his bike.

In the evening we met another fellow rider, Dwight, riding on a KLR. A really nice guy from New Brunswick, Canada, with a lot of interesting and funny stories to tell. Dwight has met Chris earlier in this trip and they met again here in La Paz. What a small world! Turned out it was his birthday, so we ended up having a great party with beer, wine and tequila shots.


The next day Vasile went and did the maintenance on his bike. He went to the KTM dealership and they let him do all the work there and made available to him all the tools that he needed. Fernando, the KTM owner/ distributor for Bolivia was super helpful. He brought all the parts that Vasile needed and he drove around town for hours to look for oil and coolant for Vasile’s bike, while Vasile was working on the bike.

Turns out that Fernando also has a Tour Agency that organizes mountain bike tours. He offered us a great deal on a tour on the famous most dangerous road in the world, the Death Road (El Camino de la Muerte). This was something that I wanted to do from the first day we got to La Paz. So when Vasile got to the hostel and asked me if I wanted to do the tour I was jumping up and down with excitement.

We had to wake up at 6 am in the morning and get ready as they were supposed to pick us up at 6:30. Even though I am not a big morning person, I was up before the alarm rang. It was raining, but that didn’t cool down my excitement at all.

This ride was one of the most fun things I’ve done in this trip. I loved it! Even though throughout the ride we had fog, hale, rain and wind it was still a lot of fun on one of the most spectacular and scary roads in the world. Here are some snapshots.

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The guide and the driver were a lot of fun too (the name of the agency is Madness). At the end we stopped for a refreshment and guess what: we meet again Nela and Minerva, two Romanian girls living in Chicago that we had met on Machu Picchu. We were climbing the Waynapicchu and we heard “Wow, Romanians”. I was wondering who was able to recognize the Romanian language there and then they told us they were Romanian too. They are great, fun girls, we had a good chat as if we’ve known each other forever. And here we are bumping into each other again! They have done the same tour, just with another agency. This time we managed to exchange email addresses so we can keep in touch.

We got back to our hotel all soaked and cold but so happy to have done this.

Now the next plan was to go to Oruro, the folklore capital of Bolivia, about 2-3 hours south of La Paz, for the famous carnival that dates back more than 2000 years. Looking online for lodging we realized it was all booked and the prices were about 5 times higher than regular. Now plan B was to ride there, find a place to leave the bikes, go see the carnival, and then go out of Oruro somewhere and camp. But everyone advised us against it, as it would be crazy busy and it would not be a good idea to take the bikes there. So we decided for plan C, to take a bus from La Paz, go see the carnival and come back to La Paz. Unfortunately this morning when we went to the bus station, there was a humongous line-up, we waited in line for a couple of hours and when we got close to the kiosk we were told that we needed IDs in order to buy tickets and we didn’t have them with us. But it was quite late anyway, they were selling tickets for the 11 o’clock bus now, and with 3 hours drive there we would’ve gotten there pretty late, so we were not too upset.

Tomorrow we will be heading south towards the salt flats and then soon towards the warm Argentina. The cold got too deep into my bones, my lizard body needs a sun break:)

Categories: Bolivia | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “El Camino de la Muerte – The Death Road

  1. Cristinelul

    O.M.Godddard! I thought Bogdan was the only one flipping the finger to people while riding. You should take some footage of the traffic in the city. Sounds pretty intense – a bit too much more me. I’ll stick with New York, Switzerland and L.A. this year 🙂

    • Unfortunately you can imagine all the attention had to be on the road, we could not afford to take pics:) I wish we could, it would have been something.

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