Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ruta de la muerte (The Death Road)

Five minutes after I flew from the bikes, the bike mechanical man came to aid, with not too much success, I must add...Asaf Chen is on the left, checking his bike just in case...


Notorious for it´s death toll, the Death road is one of the most common attraction in La paz, and even though I tried as I could to deny my involvment in such a crazy ride, a nice couple managed to convince me it´s all about pure fun. Turned out that they were absolutely right!

OK, there is so much to say and i've just entered the hostel 10 min ago but I had to convey the sights, voices and most importantly, the feelings of this unusual trip...Hannah and Gerald, an Austrian-french couple, have decided to this tour and asked me if i'd like to do this trip with them...Even though most ppl of this hostel have done this gig, Ive decided this is too much to go over the edge of the common sense...but, when this nice couple told me that, I have started to think...and even though I was more worried about my family and friends (and less about myself), i've thought about it, and after one hour i've decided that I would do it! I've talked with my spanish teacher the next day and announced her that I will not be coming on Thursday, as Im gonna do the Death road, or, Ruta de la muerte.At 16:00 I've met the two in the 'Downhill Madness' agency and after a shot explanation and pictures I've went straight for the signing agreement...This form releases this agency from any responsibility to anything that would happen to me (or my equipment) while doing this tour...Very reassuring, I thought for myself...After signing this form, we chose which bike we would like to have: the more sophisticated, the more you pay, of course...Hannah and Gerald chose the cheapest, with from suspension. I've decided that if im gonna risk my neck here, better be with good equipment (would you go to a battle with a pistol or a machine gun??). I've paid 13 USD more, and got similar bikes but with hydraulic brakes instead of regular cable brakes (both with discs brakes, of course). The difference is in the comfort of use: Hydraulic brakes need only a slight squeeze in order to brake while the cable ones need more force...Now, think that you are suppose to break constantly for 5-10's very tiring, and might even be dangerous...Today at 7:15 we left the hostel and went for a fast coffee and fruit salad before going to the agency...At 8 am there were lots of ppl, mostly german, and the bustling countinued on in the garage, where we were equipped with helmets, nylon trousers and biking gloves...with that, we climbed the bus, and at 9 am we headed north toward La Combre, a high Andes pass situated at 4670 meters. We stopped by a nice lagoon, near the starting point, which is an asphalt road that connects with the dead road. Like a gate to some forgotten place, this downhill start was located between two hills, on the left was a saint statue with his arms spread asides, and on the other a cross..and in between, a void with clouds swifting fast across, a reminder of the height of this place...After 30 min of reorganization, safety rules and acquiring the bikes themselves, we started the 1st part, which was the asphalt part. Excitement was in the air....This section was of course, very fast, zooming down hill at about 60 KMH (max) past locals, some houses and beautiful to imagine scenery of the immense cordillera mountain range..the paved road was in good condition most of the time, and not long, and I was forgetting my fears and concentrating solely on the road and of keeping my profile low in order to lower air resistance and gain more speed...a thrilling and pure one instance we (the leading group, mostly Israelis..ELA MA?!) were stuck behind a truck, and our guide found an opportunity, and darted past the truck, all of us right behind him, shouting like crazy ppl on two wheel metal machines...Near the second part, things got a little bit tougher, as we had to climb for a couple of km (4 km, actually) and this was a hard job to do, if remembering the height of this section (somewhere above 4000 m)...In the last climbing part, I was so breathless, that I've got off the bike and started walking with them in hand....Till noon I've still felt the ache of my torso...We had a long stop at the highest point and some snacks before continuing..clouds were all around us and it seemed like a dream, where a couple dozen bikers were trapped within...This clouds were the beginning of a heavy shower followed by wind, that took us on the downhill ride, with clouds closing on and limiting visibility for ten meters away at most! the heavy shower on my sunglasses was bothering even more, as looking through those water droplets was a nightmare in this dreamy-gray world...Finishing this leg, we came upon a T junction, full of trucks waiting for the unknown...The death road starts from here...more safety tips (riding on the left side, closer to the edge of the cliff!) and the first group (again, mostly israelis, but also me, Hannah and Gerard..) started her tricky part of this tour...It was not raining, but clouds were still hovering around us and the mars of last rain was visible by the very muddy, I indeed felt what is it like to ride on two 3 cm wide wheels near the edge of a straight 500-1000 m cliff...IT WAS FUCKN FRIGHTENING!!! the width of this cursed road was not more than 5 meters wide, at most...when visibility was for a 50 m we slided to the center, but most of the time the cloudy green abyss looked at us, indifferent to our existence, and we dared not to look at her back...As it was dangerous, it was amazingly beautiful...
Amazingly, theoretically the bike needed only 30 cm of path, but practically, riding 20 kmh on slippery mud and on the very edge of an ever green forest was beyond any logic and was the mind who controlled everything, and it was the one who eventually would lead you to safety or to oblivion....I dared to look at scenery as much as possible, sometime getting too close to the edge...But things were not really that smooth...From the start, I gripped that my bikes are not that much good as I had some problems with the switching of gears (which is less important on downhill, but still..). The major problem, however, was something like an hour into the death road section...I was going down the road, talking with an Israeli name Asaf Chen (coincidence??) and took a slippery left turn..Im not sure what happened when at the center of the curve the bike slipped under me and I was thrown hands forward into the center of the road landing on my two hands and rolling over my backpack which took most of the blow, luckily...I was on my feet in a second, feeling great, as this fall was with no scratch at all (damn good gloves!!)Asaf pulled over and check with me...after I have told im cool, I wisely checked the brakes front brakes were dead...Im not sure whether the brakes went dead before the fall (and causing it..) or after but it didn't matter and still doesn't...We were trying to figure what to do when one of the tour agency mechanic pulled beside us...after several tuning and checking, I was Informed that the front brakes were broken and I must change bikes..the only problem was that the backup bikes were on a car 20 km up road, and it would take it a lot of time to get to my position...the guide offered his bikes, a less equipped bikes (like the standard ones that most bikers used). Reluctantly, I agreed, as going down this road with only the back brake was true madness, as if unfortunately you loose the back ones also you gonna find your self deep deep in the forest, 1000 m or so under the road...I took his bike, and found that the sit was too high for me (I know, im problematic and pedant...such is life..):)As some unseen force wanted, the guide didn´t had the right tool to open the screw of the seat, so, I had to manage with unfamiliar bikes, hard brakes, unadjusted seat and even better, riding all the way to the next stop point with no guide and rain that started few minutes before me and Asaf left the mechanic with my cripple bikes...It wasnt dangerous as it seemed but I was alert and maintained most of my attention to the road, as in any case, i couldn't see too much for the rain on my glasses...It was one of the least parts that I liked because I had no trust on this bike (they served me good, but they were not comfortable at all!).
BTW, every possible error happened to this bikes: flat tires, chains broken, front and back brakes broken....but except for my self, nobody hit the ground (to my best knowledge..)Finally, we found our group stopping at the memorial stone of Mor Shoam, a 31 Israeli, that went over the nearest curves due to malfunction of here brakes (sounds familiar..?). This is a stop point for many agencies doing this gig, mostly to remind all of us that death is near and the abyss are patient more than we when going zooming down the dirty road with waterfalls splashing water in your head...Talking with the leader guide, I understanded that I would have to suffice with this bikes till the next stop....And, we continued on really hard ground, and It was quite hard for me (braking and also the quality of the front suspension was questionable...)...Luckily, on our next stop in addition to our branch (12:30) I got a new bike...The way from here on was wider and less dangerous and by 15:30 we were at a nice lodge, having a nice shower, good buffet and some relaxation..we left back to La paz at 18:00, near sunset via the death road, only now up and in the comfy minibus...Although most ppl says this is the most frightening part, I was awed more than afraid, as I have seen the abyss really really close..We breath much better when we left the death road back to the main road...Well, that's enough for one time...picture are also supplied so finally u gonna see some pics...Chao for nowChen

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