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Death Road and a Bus Journey from Hell / El Camino de la Muerte y un Viaje en Bus Infernal

Death Road and a Bus Journey from Hell / El Camino de la Muerte y un Viaje en Bus Infernal

South America ¬Ľ Bolivia ¬Ľ Death Road By Mark and Marias Great Adventure

March 21st 2006

La Paz/ Coroico

Mark & Maria

 

This is gonna be a piece of cake / Esto va a estar chupao

NOTE: The original of this article can be found, with all of its photos here. The pictures marked with (*) are courtesy of Gravity Bolivia. Some of them were not taken on the day we rode, but the guys kindly included them on our ride's CD for our enjoyment - and they help illustrate rather well some of the things we talk about!

**************************** Arriving in La Paz we took a taxi from the airport and asked the taxi driver if he could recommend a cheap hotel for us. The place he took us to seemed at first glance to be rather expensive, but our now tried and trusted "Oh, errrrm, do you have any cheaper rooms?" managed to cut the price by more than 50%! For anyone other travellers reading this, we'd really recommend trying this, as we've often noticed that after being shown a room and using ‚Äúthe line‚ÄĚ, we'll get an identical room just down the corridor at a much lower rate.

We didn't spend long in La Paz, just enough to find an agency to take us down ‚ÄúThe Most Dangerous Road In The World‚ÄĚ (aka ‚ÄúDeath Road‚ÄĚ) on mountain bikes. We also paid a visit to the Post Office to send a parcel home with things we weren't using (like our expensive roll mats) and a couple of souvenirs. Although the parcel passed the anti-drugs police test and the customs test, it doesn‚Äôt seem to have passed the anti-theft test as it never made it home. Several attempts to get compensation via email have fallen on deaf ears, so if anybody is going to La Paz in the near future, could they please pay a visit to our friends in the Post Office and give them a slap for us.

We were a bit luckier with the agency. We chose to go with Gravity Bolivia, who are reputedly the best (also the most expensive) ones, and the nutters who started it all. We went with them, not just because they have the best reviews, but most importantly because their equipment is well maintained and the very best you can buy, with powerful disc brakes on all their bikes and, for an additional fee, you can have rear suspension which can make it a lot easier to sit down the next day (we both went for this option). They also allow you to choose which side you want the front brake to be on (did you know that most countries use their left hand for the front brake?). Whereas some of the cheaper companies are known to use bikes with very dodgy brakes, which we assure you is not what you want going down this hill...

You start from a point called La Cumbre at an altitude of 15,400 feet/4,700m; surrounded by snow-capped peaks it enjoys high mountain climate (brrr, it was chilly up there), cycling down past 3,300 feet/1,000m+ sheer drops to one side in places, you eventually arrive in down at Yolosa, which at an altitude of 3,600 feet/1,100m enjoys a subtropical climate (phew, it was warm down there). You do the maths: a vertical descent of about 2.25 miles/3.6km along a distance of approx. 35 miles/60kms, and a change in temperature of what felt like 27-36¬ļF (15-20¬ļC). Sounds like fun, uh? You're probably wondering why this road has such colourful nicknames. Well, it's due to the lower section of unpaved road that is only a single dirt track, hugging the edge of mountain that is in places nearly vertical. The road is mainly used by trucks, and if there isn't enough room for one in most places, imagine for two. Those coming down the hill have to give way to those coming up, meaning that they're often reversing backwards around blind corners, perilously close to the cliff edge, and from time to time they simply fall off.

They’ve recently built a new, 2 lane relief road that is all tarmaced, meaning there is much less traffic on the old road, but it is a toll road, so you still get tight fisted drivers and those going to the more remote villages choosing to dice with death every day. But, hey, as they say, if you’re not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space. The pictures of the vehicles hanging off the edge are not from the day of our ride, luckily we didn't see any serious accidents. Cyclists get injured every year going down this road. Although our guides were quick to tell us that no-one had (yet) died going down with them, they do regularly have minor accidents - one poor guy had not gone 50m when a dog crossed in front of his bike, he didn't have time to stop or swerve, and he fell off and broke his leg. Now, that's unlucky! Unfortunately other accidents are more serious.

Somewhere on the road there is a Star of David marking the spot where an Israeli girl fell to her death. Apparently it was an unfortunate accident which happened when she didn't obey one of the basic safety rules: ‚ÄúKeep your bike between yourself and the cliff edge when you've dismounted‚ÄĚ. The group had stopped on a 90 degree corner to wait for a truck reversing back up the hill. She must have felt the truck was getting a bit too close for comfort, so she took a couple of steps back, without looking behind her, and disappeared off the edge, falling for 800 feet before coming to a stop. We were told she was still alive when the rescue team got to her, although in tremendous pain, but died before she got to hospital; as she was in such a very difficult place, it took quite some time for help to get to her. The road is dotted with Christian crosses that serve the same sad purpose. But back to our ride.

During the initial briefing, a quick look at the skies told us we'd better put our waterproof gear on. And sure enough, just as were setting off the heavens opened and emptied on us. It was honestly raining with a vengeance. At least the first part of the ride is on tarmac, which is meant to allow you to get used to the bikes and, if you've got enough confidence, to go really, really fast. This meant that suicidal Mark was keeping up with the leaders, whilst Maria who has a lot less confidence (or, to put it differently, who's a bit of a chicken) on bikes was hanging around at the back of the pack.

There's one detail they don't mention in any glossy brochure and that's the tortuous uphill half way along the tarmac section, which seems to climb forever, especially when you believe you‚Äôre going to be free wheeling all day. This, combined with the atrocious weather (apparently the worst one of our guides, James, had seen after working there for more than 2 months), meant that the goggles we were using to stop our eyes from streaming were constantly misting up; this is something that would cost Maria dearly later on. Back on the downhill section, and just before the start of the ‚Äúinteresting‚ÄĚ bit of road (where the tarmac ends and you join the real "dangerous" dirt road), Maria was having real trouble with her goggles; pouring rain and condensation basically meant she couldn't see a blinking thing. She wisely decided to stop to try and clear the goggles. Forgetting that her saddle had been moved higher up for the downhill, she kind of miscalculated the distance her leg needed to travel before touching the ground and fell down heavily on her left cheek, in a rather undignified way with her right leg still over the other side of the bike. Luckily, she had managed to put enough distance between herself and the rest of the group, so nobody witnessed such a pitiful display of clumsiness.

By the time James (who was at the back with another rider) reached her, she had managed to pick the bike up and regain her poise, but her funny walk kind of gave it all away and she had to go in the support van whilst waiting for the pain to subside. And boy was that bottom hurting. She actually had to take a painkiller and sit on the edge of her seat with the injured cheek hanging off so it wouldn't hurt more when the van drove over a hole on the road. Going down the next section of the road means you constantly have a cliff wall on your right hand side and a terrifying drop to your left, whilst at the same time an unpredictable collection of loose rocks and water under your wheels.

You'd think that the safest thing to do would be to keep close to the cliff and away from the big drop, but at the start of the dirt road you’re given a second safety briefing, where the guides go through the new rules you must remember, one of which is to keep to the left so that other traffic can see you and you can see them more easily. This can really knock your confidence if you stray slightly wide of the ruts made in the road by the trucks, as it's covered in loose gravel which makes it feel like you're riding over ball bearings. It’s a very scary moment when you’re sliding on gravel and there’s only a few feet between your wheels and a long drop.

Once the painkiller kicked in (we were on the dirt road section by then), Maria decided to give it another go. The rain was coming down lighter now, but the road was still very wet and slippery. Trying to stop her bike from going what felt like 100 miles an hour down the curves, she kept applying the brakes, but doing this a little too hard, and a little too often, her back wheel kept skidding and dangerously slipping out in the direction of the precipice. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm dead meat‚ÄĚ she thought to herself, so she tried to ride a little closer to the right hand side of the road, whilst James was shouting himself sore repeating time after time "Move over to the left!"; "Ease off the back brake!"; "More to the left!"; "Don‚Äôt break so hard!". "No way, mister! There's a big cliff on that side, haven't you noticed! I'd rather drive into a truck"; "What do you mean, don't break so hard! I'm flying here!" she kept thinking, whilst trying to figure out how and when she had let anybody convince her that this was a good idea. So after a while she had to concede defeat. It's a simple equation really: Insecure Rider with Injured Backside + Twisty, Steep, Slippery Road (with huge drop on one side) = Disaster Waiting to Happen. So she went back to keep the van‚Äôs driver company and enjoyed admiring the scenery and taking some pictures instead. Possibly to prove that Maria wasn't being over dramatic, one of the riders who had constantly been one of "the front runners" had a slide of his own going around a right hand bend. He made a classic mistake when one of your wheels slips out, and that is to panic and squeeze both brakes really hard. This meant he locked both wheels up and flew over the front handle bars leaving the bike behind. Mark was just a couple of riders behind him when he fell off and clearly saw the guy landing face first onto the rocky dirt road. Fortunately no real damage was done, other than to the guy's pride (and a gash on his right eyebrow which the guide said might need stitches), so after a brief break in the van to settle his nerves, and to keep Maria company for a while, he was back on his bike again for the rest of the journey.

If you look carefully at the group photo picture, you might be able to see the plaster on the forehead of the guy with red hair. Meanwhile, Mark was doing his best to keep up with the front of the pack, which basically meant going just about as fast as he was comfortable with (unless you're a very experienced rider you won’t feel like the guides are holding you up at all). After getting used to riding the bike on the slippery dirt road and coming to terms with the differences between riding his old motorbike and a mountain bike (like not leaning your weight off the side of the bike), he was having a great time. Unfortunately a bit of overconfidence and tiring muscles resulted in his rear wheel sliding out whilst going around a right-hand corner and with a big drop to his left, it was a miracle he managed to stay on the bike. At the next stop the rider behind him congratulated him on what he described as "an awesome recovery. I don’t know how you managed to stay on"; but he was just happy to still be on the road and decided to take it a bit easier until he got to the bottom. It was also at this stop that the guides warned everyone to start being more careful as "overconfidence and tiredness commonly cause accidents during this last part of the ride", well, thanks for the warning!

One thing Mark did miss out on was the breathtaking scenery that flashes past your eyes as you hurtle down the hill. The lush, green mountains that surround you and the spectacular drops off the side of the road can make the journey really enjoyable. However, if all your concentration is devoted to keeping yourself on the road, you really miss out on all this and have to make do with taking it all in during the few stops you have during the ride. Fortunately Maria had more time to look around, and of course took the opportunity to take a few snaps, so Mark could see what he missed later on. All too soon the ride is over and you‚Äôre at the bottom of the hill covered in mud and feeling knackered but very happy. They say anybody can complete the ride (well of course agencies would say that), as you do it at your own pace and nobody forces you to go any faster than you feel safe, and perhaps this is true on a clear, dry day. However if it's pouring down and as wet as the day when we did it, then we wouldn‚Äôt recommend if you're a nervous rider, as people frequently have minor accidents (like on our trip). But for well practised riders, speed lovers and maniacs in general, it is a tremendous thrill, absolutely exhilarating and a definite ‚Äúmust‚ÄĚ on any visit to South America.

After a beer and a photo session to celebrate having made it all the way down in one piece, you are back on the van for the uphill section to Coroico, the final destination. Here you get the opportunity to shower and have a meal to recover your strength at a nice hotel, where many people also choose to stay for the night. It was a bit pricey for us and also a bit overcrowded, so we bid our goodbyes and went looking for somewhere else to stay. We ended up finding this hotel with only one other room taken, so we pretty much had it all to ourselves. It was lovely and peaceful, with superb views over the hills and condors flying in the distance taking advantage of the thermals. We found out the next day that two bombs had gone off in La Paz the night of the day we did our ride, in two different hotels which happened to be literally round the corner from where we had stayed ourselves! Not sure whether this news reached you, apparently they left 2 people dead and several injured, and the perpetrator turned out to be a deranged American guy who had already been sentenced for criminal activities in Argentina, acting alone or with an accomplice, but without any links to any terrorist organisation nor criminal group. They caught him a few hours later so it all ended there, however the country bumpkin they’ve elected as president didn’t waste time in making absurd declarations, like Bolivia was going to become "America’s worst nightmare" for “sending terrorists to his country" and other similar drivel. Bet Bush was pooing his pants about this (hmmm....). Later that day we saw a children’s parade in the village, all dressed up (the little ones in costumes) and holding signs, we thought it might have something to do with the bombing, but no, apparently they were celebrating the "Day of the Sea", and the signs read things like "Give us our Shores Back". Bolivia has been a land locked country since losing land and access to sea to Chile during the War of the Pacific (1879-1884).

This is all fair enough, but what we couldn't understand is why the band was playing "El condor pasa (If I could)" (the song made famous by Simon & Garfunkel in the 70s, originally a Peruvian melody that has nothing to do with the sea) to commemorate this occasion. Any ideas? So after a couple of days recovering and planning our next steps, we decided to head north to an area known as Las Pampas. To get there, we had two options: A) continue by bus or B) return to La Paz and catch a plane. Our guide book said most people continued by bus and returned to La Paz by plane afterwards, by didn't say why exactly. Apparently as far as enjoying incredible views both options are well worthwhile, so we figured people did it to have the best of both. So being budget conscious and after seeing the bus they promised we’d be travelling in, we went for option A and set off for Rurrenabaque ("Rurre" as the locals call it). The bus arrived 2 hours late and looked nothing like what we thought we’d be getting (it didn’t even have a toilet for this 14 hour journey). After fighting with the officials for 15 minutes because some locals had taken our reserved seats, we sat down on top of the back left wheel, which would be an unfortunate piece of luck as we would later find out every time the bus drove over a hole. To make matters worse, our driver must have thought of himself as an aspiring Schumacher, judging by the speed he was driving at despite being on a road that seemed the continuation of the death one, which left all passengers constipated for a couple of days.

Maria was sitting by the window on the cliff side, and from time to time when passing other vehicles she would tug at Mark's sleeve saying in a squeaky voice "Mark, I can't see the road, I can't see the road!", and Mark would look over her shoulder and see nothing but the precipice either; we think the whole bus was trying to remember how to say the Our Father that day. It is no exaggeration that the pot holes on that road where so huge that at such speed it caused our behinds to leave our seats on repeated occasions. Maria went almost flying a few times; Mark had it a bit easier as he is heavier, but this pint-sized guy who was sitting to his right literally sat on his knee a couple of times. Naturally everybody found this very funny at first; guess we all thought it would get better, but after 14 hours of torture, and not being able to sleep, you could distinctly hear cursing in a variety of languages. To be woken up violently at 3am by your neck cracking in several places when you were just managed to fall asleep again, doesn't make you feel like laughing particularly. To make matters worse, the bus decided to break down in the middle of the night and we were stuck for 3 hours. Maria jumped at the opportunity to get some sleep, but Mark, who's like a little kid and needs to know everything that’s going on, got off the bus and helped the guys by holding his torch so they could see what they were doing. Apparently the accelerator pedal rusted through at the hinge and had fallen down through the floor, after several attempts to fix it, they just wound it all up with a bit of wire and what looked like strips of inner tubes and off we went again.

As the break-down meant we were now 5 hours behind, the driver decided to go even faster to make up the time, so he covered the rest of the distance at neck-breaking speed (after all, it was only people he was carrying!) and managed to get to our destination only 2 hours behind schedule. During the last hour of this nightmarish journey, Maria swore she could feel her internal organs moving from side to side; funnily enough she was not the only one to comment on this later on. Everybody got there in a rather bad state, multiple back and neck ache complaints all around and, not surprisingly, the general comment coming out of everybody's mouth was: "I'm flying back, and sod the budget!" Now we understood what our guide book really meant! Well thanks for warning The road to Coroico / El camino hacia Coroico The road to Coroico / El camino hacia Coroico us guys! After a hearty breakfast and restoring sleep, that afternoon we went out looking for an agency to take us to Las Pampas… if you like animal pictures don't miss our next blog! [come back in a few days to see a couple of videos!]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

VERSION EN ESPANOL: {NOTA: Las fotos marcadas con (*) son cortesía de Gravity Bolivia. Algunas no son del mismo día de nuestro descenso, pero los chicos de la agencia muy amablemente las incluyeron en el CD de nuestra bajada para nuestro disfrute - y ayudan a ilustrar bastante bien algunas de las cosas de las que hablamos!}

**************************** Cuando llegamos a la Paz decidimos dejar la visita tur√≠stica para otra ocasi√≥n y nos dirigimos a una agencia a reservar un "paseo" en bicicleta por "El Camino de la Muerte", trayecto tambi√©n conocido como "La Carretera m√°s Peligrosa del Mundo". Elegimos ir con Gravity Bolivia (p√°gina en ingl√©s me temo), no s√≥lo porque es la agencia que m√°s tiempo lleva haciendo esto (en realidad fueron los chiflados que lo empezaron), y tiene las mejores cr√≠ticas, sino principalmente porque tambi√©n tiene las mejores bicicletas, con el √ļltimo modelo de frenos de disco y, por un costo adicional, suspensi√≥n trasera, que aumenta la comodidad y disminuye las agujetas. Costo adicional que bien merece la pena, a opini√≥n nuestra.

Por la tarde nos acercamos a correos a enviar un paquete a casa, con cosas que no est√°bamos utilizando y alg√ļn que otro souvenir. Paquete que a pesar de pasar la inspecci√≥n de drogas y la de aduana, nunca lleg√≥ a su destino. Varios emailes m√°s tarde intentando procesar un reclamo han visto muy poco fruto (vamos, que me han ignorado completamente), as√≠ que si alguien va a La Paz en un futuro pr√≥ximo por favor que se acerque a correos y les de una colleja de nuestra parte por chorizos.

Al d√≠a siguiente nos levantamos bien temprano para emprender la excursi√≥n en bici. No sabemos si lo de "la carretera m√°s peligrosa del mundo" el literal del todo, pero lo de "el camino de la muerte" tristemente lo es. Con nombres como estos ya os har√©is una peque√Īa idea del estado / condiciones de la susodicha carretera, y de los instintos suicidas que tiene que poseer uno antes de emprender la bajada. Intentar√© describirlo lo mejor que pueda, aunque la verdad es que es una de esas cosas que hay que hacer en persona para poder apreciarla en toda su magnitud.

Desde La Paz te llevan en furgoneta hasta un punto llamado La Cumbre, a 4.700m de altura, rodeado de picos nevados y con clima de alta monta√Īa. Aqu√≠ te dan una introducci√≥n acerca de lo que te vas a encontrar, te dan instrucciones y consejos acerca de como hacer la bajada de manera m√°s segura, y te ajustan la bici a tu medida hasta que est√°s satisfecho. Luego empieza un descenso que, aunque algo pronunciado, es sobre asfalto; √©sta es una buena oportunidad para acostumbrarte a la bici y para ir a una velocidad de infarto si tienes la suficiente habilidad (o valent√≠a). Aqu√≠ es donde perd√≠ a Mark, yo me qued√© al final y √©l sali√≥ disparado hacia el frente. En un punto determinado, se coge un desv√≠o que te lleva al Camino de la Muerte en s√≠; a partir de aqu√≠ se acaba lo f√°cil y empieza un recorrido por un camino de cabras, lleno de curvas y con un precipicio vertiginoso de 1.000m a tu izquierda en ciertos lugares, hasta llegar a Yolosa a 1.100m de altura y con clima subtropical. Haced las cuentas: 3.600 m de descenso a lo largo de unos 60 sinuosos kms (y un cambio de temperatura de 15 as 20¬ļC). ¬ŅDe locos? Pues s√≠, un poco. Sobretodo si en los √ļltimos 5 a√Īos o m√°s s√≥lo has montado en bici un par de veces y eres un cagueta como yo - mala combinaci√≥n. Pero en esta vida hay que probar un poco de todo.

Para mayor seguridad, la furgoneta te sigue todo el camino, por si acaso hay alg√ļn accidente y te tienen que llevar a un centro m√©dico, o por si simplemente te cansas y prefieres hacer el resto del descenso de manera m√°s c√≥moda.

Este es, en resumen, el recorrido. Cuando lo pones as√≠ parece f√°cil, pero os aseguro que no lo es, y menos cuando las condiciones clim√°ticas no acompa√Īan. Cuando llegamos al punto de partida hac√≠a un fr√≠o de tres pares de narices (as√≠ nos veis en la foto bien arropaditos), y los cielos amenazaban lluvia. Al poco de salir los cielos cumplieron su amenaza, empez√≥ no a llover sino a diluviar, nosotros al menos est√°bamos cubiertos de arriba abajo con chubasqueros pero otra gente del grupo se cal√≥ hasta la m√©dula en cuesti√≥n de un par de minutos.

Aunque secos, el problema con la lluvia era la falta de visibilidad. Casi llegando al final del asfalto, y con agua chorre√°ndome por la cara y las gafas completamente empa√Īadas de manera que no pod√≠a ver un pimiento a tres cent√≠metros de distancia, decid√≠ que con tan poca visibilidad no era buena idea continuar, as√≠ que intent√© pararme para limpiar las gafas. No s√© qu√© porras hice pero al intentar bajarme de la bici calcul√© mal la distancia al suelo, perd√≠ el equilibrio de la manera m√°s tonta y aterric√© pesadamente sobre el cachete posterior izquierdo, en una postura de lo menos digna (con la pierna derecha a√ļn sobre la bici), ¬°qu√© tortazo m√°s idiota! Por suerte no hab√≠a nadie a mi alrededor as√≠ que no hubo testigos de semejante muestra de patoser√≠a, y aunque para cuando James (el gu√≠a que iba al final de la cola) me alcanz√≥ ya me hab√≠a levantado y recuperado la compostura, mis andares de burro cojo me delataron. Aunque no me hice nada en realidad, el trasero me dol√≠a como un demonio, as√≠ que siguiendo los consejos de James me tom√© un paracetamol y me sub√≠ a la furgoneta mientras se me pasaba el dolor, para reanudar la bajada en bici m√°s tarde. Mark mientras tanto, como es un suicida, iba a la cabecera del grupo a toda pastilla disfrutando como un mono.

Después de un rato en la furgoneta, sentada con el culo medio fuera del asiento para mayor comodidad, y aunque me seguía doliendo el cachete cosa mala (el paracetamol no pareció hacer mucho), intenté continuar en bici, pero al poco hube de tirar la toalla, no sólo porque el dolor de pompis me impedía controlar bien mis movimientos, sino principalmente porque bajaba más acojonada que nada.

Resulta que como la carretera es tan estrecha y las curvas en algunos sitios tan cerradas, para poder divisar mejor posibles veh√≠culos que te vengan de frente te obligan a circular por la izquierda - que es donde est√° el precipicio. Aqu√≠ es donde entiendes por qu√© lo llaman el camino de la muerte - cuando dos autom√≥viles se cruzan, el que baja tiene que ceder paso al que sube, y como la carretera es estrecha, esto significa que el que baja tiene a veces que recular, sobre la curva y con las ruedas pegadas al borde del precipicio, y algunos claro calculan mal y se van al fondo. La carretera es frecuentada por camiones, apenas hay sitio para uno, as√≠ que para dos ya os lo pod√©is figurar; al parecer hay accidentes mortales cada dos por tres. Aunque han construido una carretera m√°s ancha y con menos curvas al otro lado del precipicio, es de peaje, y muchos por no pagar la tasa prefieren jugarse el cuello. Las fotos de los veh√≠culos colgando del borde no son del d√≠a que bajamos nosotros, por suerte no fuimos testigos de ning√ļn accidente grave.

Aunque nuestra agencia no perdi√≥ tiempo en asegurarnos que nadie se ha matado con ellos (todav√≠a) en todos los a√Īos que llevan haci√©ndolo, s√≠ sab√≠an de muertes ocurridas con otras agencias. En un punto del recorrido hay una estrella de David marcando el lugar donde una chica israelita se cay√≥ al vac√≠o. Al parecer el grupo se hab√≠a parado para dejar a dos camiones que se hab√≠an cruzado hacer sus maniobras, pero ella cometi√≥ el grave error de colocar la bici entre su cuerpo y la carretera en vez de entre su cuerpo y el precipicio, as√≠ que cuando el cami√≥n que reculaba se le acerco m√°s de la cuenta, se asust√≥, ech√≥ un paso atr√°s y no par√≥ hasta caer 200 metros m√°s abajo. Cuando los servicios de rescate pudieron alcanzarla a√ļn segu√≠a con vida, pero muri√≥ m√°s tarde en el hospital. El camino est√° salpicado de cruces que sirven el mismo triste prop√≥sito.

Otros se caen porque despu√©s de varios kil√≥metros de bajada se conf√≠an que sus habilidades son mayores de lo que lo son realmente, y esto a√Īadido al cansancio significa que errores menores pueden convertirse en fatales. El peligro es MUY real. Algo as√≠ le pas√≥ a un chico en nuestro grupo. A√ļn siendo un ciclista experimentado, que hab√≠a estado a la cabecera casi todo el tiempo, cometi√≥ un peque√Īo pero grave error cuando yendo demasiado r√°pido en una curva cerrada le entr√≥ el p√°nico, apret√≥ ambos frenos un poco demasiado fuerte y al bloquearse estos sali√≥ disparado por encima del manillar y aterriz√≥ de cabeza. Por suerte se qued√≥ en eso (bueno, y en una peque√Īa brecha sobre la ceja derecha), y tras recuperarse del susto en la furgoneta continu√≥ en la bici algo m√°s adelante.

Total, que as√≠ bajaba yo con m√°s miedo que verg√ľenza. Las curvas son tremendas, la inclinaci√≥n bastante pronunciada, y con el suelo mojado y la rueda trasera patinando cada vez que tocaba los frenos, me pregunt√© c√≥mo y por qu√© me hab√≠a yo dejado convencer de que esto era una buena idea. Y con James detr√°s de m√≠ gritando hasta quedarse af√≥nico "¬°no te vayas tanto a la derecha! ¬°suelta el freno! ¬°m√°s a la izquierda! ¬°no frenes tanto!", y yo pensando "¬°a la porra con la izquierda!, prefiero peg√°rmela contra un cami√≥n que caerme al vac√≠o‚ÄĚ, y ‚Äú¬°c√≥mo que no frene, si voy volando!". En fin, que aunque dicen que cualquiera puede hacer la bajada, turur√ļ. En condiciones atmosf√©ricas m√°s clementes quiz√°s, pero en las que tuvimos ese d√≠a yo digo que no es un paseo para principiantes precisamente, a no ser que tengas mucha m√°s confianza en tus habilidades que yo o est√©s en una misi√≥n suicida y no te importe partirte el cr√°neo.

Para los experimentados, valientes o dementes sin embargo, es una verdadera gozada y definitivamente algo obligado que hacer en una visita a Sudamérica, como experiencia es "una pasada". Aunque ir en la furgoneta tampoco está mal, que conste, al menos puedes dejar de poner toda tu concentración en la maldita carretera, disfrutar del paisaje, que es increíble, y sacar fotos. Aparte del mío y el del otro chico, no hubo más incidentes así que todo el mundo llegó a la meta algo cansados y cubiertos de barro hasta las orejas (menos yo, se entiende), pero en una pieza y contentos.

De aquí a Coroico, nuestro destino final, hay una buena subida, para esto todo el mundo se vuelve a subir a la furgoneta y después de una ducha y una comida para reponer fuerzas cada uno nos fuimos por nuestro lado. El hotel donde nos duchamos era algo caro y estaba abarrotado, así que nos buscamos otro que resultó tener sólo otra habitación ocupada así que era de lo más tranquilo y gozaba de unas vistas magníficas, desde la habitación podíamos ver el valle con cóndores planeando en la distancia aprovechando los vientos termales.

En el pueblo nos enteramos que en la noche del d√≠a de nuestro descenso hab√≠an explotado dos bombas en un par de hoteles en La Paz, ¬°a s√≥lo unos metros de donde nos hab√≠amos alojado nosotros! No sabemos si la noticia llegar√≠a hasta all√≠, al parecer hubo dos muertos y varios heridos, y el autor result√≥ ser un americano chiflado que ya ten√≠a antecedentes en Argentina, y act√ļa s√≥lo o con un compinche, sin estar ligado a ninguna organizaci√≥n terrorista ni grupo criminal. Le pillaron a las pocas horas y no pas√≥ de ah√≠ la cosa, aunque el palurdo de presidente que han elegido empez√≥ a amenazar con convertirse en ‚Äúla peor pesadilla de Am√©rica‚ÄĚ por mandarles terroristas y no s√© qu√© otras tonter√≠as. Vamos que deb√≠a estar Bush cag√°ndose de miedo.

Al d√≠a siguiente nos encontramos con un desfile de ni√Īos y j√≥venes sujetando campartas y pensamos que estar√≠a relacionado con el ataque, pero no, las campartas dec√≠an "el d√≠a del mar" y "devolvednos nuestra costa". Al parecer es una campa√Īa que realizan en el pa√≠s reclamando su salida al mar, que les quit√≥ Chile durante la guerra del Pac√≠fico (1879-1884). Lo que no acabamos de entender es por qu√© la banda tocaba "El C√≥ndor Pasa" (la canci√≥n que hicieran famosa Simon & Garfunkel en los 70, que originalmente era una melod√≠a peruana y que no tiene nada que ver con el mar) para conmemorar semejante ocasi√≥n. ¬ŅQue alguien nos lo explique?

Después de un par de días recuperándonos y planeando nuestros siguientes pasos, decidimos dirigirnos hacia el norte a visitar la zona de las Pampas. Para llegar allí teníamos dos alternativas, A) continuar por carretera o B) volver a la Paz y tomar un avión; al parecer ambas opciones son muy buenas en lo que a disfrutar paisaje se refiere, de hecho decía nuestra guía que la mayoría de la gente sube en bus y regresa en avión, pero no decía por qué así que imaginamos que sería por hacer las dos cosas.

Siendo conscientes de nuestro presupuesto limitado, fuimos por la opci√≥n A. Y as√≠ a los dos d√≠as emprendimos el camino hacia Rurrenabaque (‚ÄúRurre‚ÄĚ para los amigos) por tierra. El bus lleg√≥ dos horas tarde y no se parec√≠a en nada al que nos hab√≠an prometido (y tampoco ten√≠a ba√Īo a√ļn siendo un viaje de 14 horas). Despu√©s de pelearnos con los empleados porque los asientos que ten√≠amos reservados estaban ocupados por unos lugare√Īos que se negaban a moverse, conseguimos que los desocuparan, pero por desgracia estaban al fondo sobre las ruedas traseras, lo que result√≥ ser una peque√Īa fatalidad como descubrir√≠amos pronto cada vez que el bus se met√≠a en un agujero en la carretera. Encima nuestro conductor se deb√≠a creer Schumacher porque a pesar de ir sobre una carretera que parec√≠a la continuaci√≥n de la de la muerte, iba a una velocidad de v√©rtigo, de tal forma que nos dej√≥ a todos los pasajeros estre√Īidos durante un par de d√≠as. Yo, que iba junto a la ventanilla en el lado izquierdo del bus, no hac√≠a m√°s que decirle a Mark "¬°que no veo la carretera, que no veo la carretera!"; y Mark que miraba por encima de mi hombro no ve√≠a m√°s que precipicio tampoco; yo hasta intentaba recordar como recitar el Padre Nuestro y todo (creo que no era la √ļnica), menudo cague.

Si os acord√°is de los payasos de la tele y su canci√≥n "en el coche de papa...", os acordar√©is que cada vez que el coche se met√≠a en un bache te ten√≠as que levantar del asiento y decir "aaaaayyyy"... bien, pues si Miliki nos hubiera podido ver estar√≠a orgulloso de nosotros. Os juro que no es exageraci√≥n que los boquetes en esa carretera son tales que a la velocidad que iba el condenado conductor nos despeg√°bamos del asiento. Mark que pesa m√°s no tanto, pero el se√Īor que ten√≠a al lado, que era un poco canijo, se le sent√≥ en las rodillas un par de veces. Por supuesto al principio resultaba hasta divertido y todo el mundo se re√≠a, pero despu√©s de 14 horas as√≠, y encima de noche mientras intentas dormir, que te despiertes porque se te ha dislocado el cuello no da risa (cada dos por tres se oian perjurios en una gran variedad de idiomas). Yo me despert√© un par de veces porque la cabeza se me cay√≥ tan violentamente que me crujieron todas las v√©rtebras, no s√© como no salimos todos de all√≠ con collar√≠n.

Al menos tuve la oportunidad de dormir un rato cuando se rompi√≥ el acelerador y nos quedamos tirados 3 horas. Mark, que es como un ni√Īo y tiene que enterarse de todo, se baj√≥ del bus y les estuvo ayudando con su antorcha para que pudieran ver lo que hac√≠an, al final no pudieron hacer otra cosa que sujetar el pedal de cualquier forma con una banda el√°stica algo precaria, yo me alegro de no haberme enterado hasta el d√≠a siguiente.

Total, que con las 2 horas de retraso inicial y ahora 3 m√°s de aver√≠a, √≠bamos con 5 horas de retraso as√≠ que el conductor, no queriendo llegar tan tarde a su destino, decidi√≥ que ser√≠a una buena idea ir todav√≠a m√°s deprisa, total, son s√≥lo personas lo que llevaba en el bus, as√≠ que el resto del viaje fue posiblemente la experiencia m√°s dolorosa de nuestras vidas, imaginaos a que velocidad debi√≥ ir cuando recuper√≥ las 3 horas perdidas durante la aver√≠a y s√≥lo llegamos 2 horas tarde. Durante la √ļltima hora del trayecto est√°bamos todos a punto de llorar ya, juro que yo hasta notaba mis √≥rganos internos movi√©ndose de un lado para otro (no soy la √ļnica que hizo un comentario al respecto al llegar a nuestro destino). La espalda y el cuello nos dol√≠an a todos un horror, y no sorprendentemente, el comentario general que se o√≠a de boca de todos los turistas era "¬°yo me vuelvo en avi√≥n y a la porra con el presupuesto!". ¬°Ahora entendemos lo que dec√≠a nuestra gu√≠a! Ya nos pod√≠an haber advertido los malditos.

Tras un buen desayuno y un sue√Īo reparador para recuperarnos de la pesadilla de viaje, por la tarde salimos a buscar una agencia que nos llevase a las Pampas... si os gusta ver fotos de animales, ¬°no os perd√°is el pr√≥ximo blog! [¬°volved en unos d√≠as para ver un par de pelis!]


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