It’s already our second weekend in La Paz and time for an adventure! The North Yungas Road, suitably titled “Worlds Most Dangerous Road” or WMDR for short, is a renowned downhill mountain bike ride and formerly the only road through the mountains from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas valley. Nowadays the dirt road is primarily mountain bike terrain with a new less dangerous road running through a different valley for vehicles. The ride starts an hour outside of La Paz at La Cumbre Pass with an altitude of 4.670 meters, and ends just outside of Coroico at 1.200 meters – a descent of almost 3.500 meters or 11.300 feet!
The mostly single lane road starts in the cool altiplano and ends in the rainforest as it winds through steep hillsides sometimes with 600 meter drop-offs and no guard rails! Within a mile of the start of the ride, we peered over the edge to see a mangled bus on the valley floor contributing to the many deaths that occur yearly prior to the new road. Our ride day would have been treacherous for large motor vehicles because low cloud created very limited visibility – fortunately the only vehicles that use this road now are for bike support, tourists, and from the few pueblos located towards the bottom of the road.
The ride started with twelve kilometers on a sealed surface which the new and old roads share. This was great downhill riding and got us used to the sharp turns and the downhill bikes, although didn’t do much for the terrain to follow. The day’s disappointment for me was to come when myself and a couple of others were outvoted in the bid to ride or drive the next eight kilometers of uphill riding! I need hills right now for La Ruta and perfect training would have been to do this entire ride in reverse.
Twenty plus kilometers done and the ride would now begin in earnest with my favorite loose gravel. Ever since wrecking hard on La Ruta last year I’ve been careful on gravel, especially with borrowed bikes! I guess I could always stay back with Andrea and take it easy – haha, no way that’s going to happen. We stopped every four to five kilometers so everyone could regroup, and David, the guide from Gravity Bolivia, could explain about the turns and obstacles in the next section.
A serious amount of damage could be done with one wrong turn or slip, and with many different tour groups and their support vehicles all along the road we had to take it easy. I wish we had this road entirely to ourselves and didn’t have to watch for anything coming in the other direction! I did get to duel it out with three Aussie guys which made the riding fun and the pace faster than being on my own.
The end of the line seemed to come far too quickly but our arrival in Yolosa meant free beer, well one provided by Gravity Bolivia. Is this the reason why we chose this company or was it their reputation, or maybe the free tee-shirt? Either way the support and guide were great from start to finish. Maybe we should do the ride again but in clear weather giving us the chance to see the monster drops instead of just being aware of them – the low cloud did give the ride an eerie feeling.
Senda Verde Animal Refuge
Prior to taking a taxi the short ride to Coroico we hopped back on the bus for showers and lunch at the Senda Verde animal refuge, a locally owned facility providing a safe home for rescued monkeys, bears, birds, etc.. It was great to clean up and refuel, but the highlight was seeing the work that the refuge does for animals caught in the trafficking trade. Bolivia has a law stating that rescued animals cannot be reintroduced back into the wild due to spreading disease, and even though most of the animals roam free on many hectares of land they know where their food and shelter come from so very rarely stray outside of the boundaries. It’s sad but they still have incidences where people throw stones at the macaws to try and dislodge them from the trees so as they can sell them in the surrounding markets – maybe the monkeys are smart enough not to stray too far so they don’t end up back as street performers or worse.
We changed at the last minute from two nights to a single night at the Sol y Luna Ecolodge so as I could head off to climb Huayna Potosi on Monday and Tuesday. The lodge is set on a beautiful hillside a couple of kilometers from town, and provides amazing views of the countryside and the Death Road – if the cloud hadn’t lingered around all afternoon we would have had the most amazing views from our completely open room, “Jatata”. Maybe we should have stayed for two nights after all!
Our arrival was later than planned and we hoped that tomorrow would bring clearer weather, and based on the evening temperature, warmer too. We had packed for one night and I only had shorts with me so dinner was going to have to be a hot and spicy affair, dictated by the menu at Sol y Luna – we need not have worried as it was packed full of different dishes! We had also been offered a fully enclosed room after Andrea showed her concern about freezing to death, although I had other ideas. I was adamant we were getting this room as it was completely open to the elements and lying down in bed we could see an outline of the opposite mountains and the lights from the town below. Luckily for us there was a chest with additional blankets that ensured we both slept like logs.
The morning bought with it more cloudy weather but by the time we had finished breakfast hints of blue were appearing, eventually with more blue than cloud – it was going to be a great day for a hike. We left on the waterfall route taking us past fields of coca planted on the steep hillsides, and providing we didn’t take photos or pick any we were good. The locals are supposedly very wary of westerners due to previous presence of American Drug Enforcement Agents in the bumper crop growing Yungas region. Bolivians are hard-core coca chewing people but with the legitimate coca growers there are obviously the farmers who grow to supply the cocaine cartels. The locals seemed fine to me with my English accent, but were very wary of the southern drawl coming from Andrea’s mouth! We even snapped a few photos…
Waterfalls are a major letdown for us now that we’ve seen Iguazu and this one was really no different. The hiking was fun, the scenery spectacular, and lunch at a German café in town was scrumptious, all making for an enjoyable stay in Coroico. We made the 4pm microbus giving us the opportunity to enjoy the three hour ride back to La Paz in daylight, that is if three hours of slow and winding road can be classed as enjoyable!
August 10 – August 11 2013