A Devilish Ride

I continue my ride down memory lane. This time literally. You may have noticed that the last couple of blog posts, I have been writing and showing images from past experiences. Two reasons for this: First of all, I have been re-organizing my analogue photo archive, and then we have this travel ban imposed on all of us, so if nothing else, I can at least travel back in time.

This time, I will take you to Bolivia and a mindboggling bike ride I did quite a few years ago. The ride took me down what used to be the main road between the capital La Paz and Las Yungas, the lowlands north in the country, the spring of the Amazon. Today a new road has replaced it, but back then the Inter-American Development Bank designated the old trade route to be the world’s most dangerous. Every year, around 100 people lost their lives on this important but life-threatening trade route.

The bike ride was organized by a local tour agency and the group was brought to La Cumbra pass at 4700 metres or just under 15500 feet. Ahead of us was a 65 kilometres (40 miles) winding road down 3600 metres (11800 feet) of altitude difference.

The first part went along the new road already under construction, paved and just pure fun. The biggest danger was dogs chasing the bikes—not something you want to hit at a speed of, at the most, 90 kilometres per hour (56 miles per hour).

About halfway down, we enter the old road, caved out along a steep mountainside. Many places the dirt road cut straight into the vertical rock wall. Several hundred meters of free fall to one side made it a trembling experience. In some places, the dirt road is actually narrower than some of the trucks, which used to use it. Most accidents along the death road happened due to truck drivers who had to hurry to earn enough for a living.

While we had sun the first part of the ride, when we enter the old road, fog came in from the mountains.

After a while, I could see absolutely nothing. The fog was like wet cotton. The last remnant of sight, the torrential rain took away. I knew the abyss was there, just a metre or so to the left of where I now raced down a bumpy and muddy dirt road by bike. 300 metres straight down.

As we descended into the valley, the temperature rose. After a few hours we were met by the steaming jungle. As we came out of a narrow gorge and the valley opened up, the fog and rain eased, and soon the sun would be shining from an open sky again. The last kilometres would be pure victory ride.

61 thoughts on “A Devilish Ride

  1. A great trip and I would say you have good memory. You remember many details about the trip. A nice thing about pictures is they help adding memory. Visual aid is powerful. Love your last 2 pictures. The second from the last, you can see the face of the man that he looks like he is having a great time. The big smiling face in the last picture just brings the story told before to a much clearer view.

  2. ugh!! i shall immediately put this sort of bike trip on my ‘things NOT to do in life’ lol
    amazing! great shots!

  3. I met bicyclists riding through the Canadian Rockies and I was amazed and had great respect for them. This is a great series of photos that well documents the stages of the grueling journey.

  4. Your photos are fantastic and the adventure breathtaking. Literally! I can’t imagine, but I enjoyed it all vicariously. You have a backlog of wonderful and exciting memories, Otto.

  5. It was quite an adventure! Otto, You’ve got some nice pictures at least. I enjoyed the images and the explanation.

  6. Your description brought to mind two auto trips in my life. The first was with my family during my grade school years: driving across what passed for highways across the Continental divide, when guardrails and wide lanes weren’t yet in use. The other was my own trip across northern California’s “lost coast” on logging roads that most surely weren’t meant for a Toyota sedan. Sometimes, even a relatively mundane trip can raise the blood pressure and heart rate, especially if you have no idea what’s going to lie around the next curve!

  7. Otto, thank you for taking me along with you vicariously. The “world’s most dangerous road” would probably not be a road I would dare ride my bike…not brave enough for that. But I am glad I can experience it through your photos and descriptions. Bolivia has been on my travel wish list for many years, but I don’t suspect we will be making a trip there anytime soon. I loved that last photo of the guy covered in mud splashes, his smile showing great satisfaction with himself and what had been accomplished.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Gilda. Even if the bike ride is not for you, Bolivia does have so much beauty and interesting history to offer that I really recommend a travel to the country. But yes, right now it’s a little difficult.

  8. What a great adventure! These have the dark contrasts that a lot of your present work has. Were these processed recently or did you explore this processing style back then?

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