Monday, August 5, 2013

Danger AHEAD! Part I

I'm in the mood to do something adventurous! I haven't rapelled down any mountains lately or swung on a vine in the rainforest in a few years!
I'm craving something different!
What can I do here in Southern California?
I think that'll be my challenge this week! Find something adventurous in my state of California!
Until I find what I'm looking for, I thought I'd post two back to back posts about what I think is the most dangerous thing I've ever done in my life. I've posted a picture of the place here and mentioned it a few times in my ABC's of Travel questionnaire:
Bolivia's Yungas Road
Also known as: El Camino del Muerte, Death Road, and the Worlds Most Dangerous Road
This road is long, high up, extremely curvy, NO guard rails for the road. The width of barely two cars side by side.
Thrill seekers, especially those who love to bike, come here and take the challenge of biking down Yungas Road and hope to live the tale of surviving the day here. The extremes, different weather conditions from top to bottom, rocky and sandy road conditions, and the unforgettable landscape.
The ONLY thing I regret was not having a video camera to show the footage of the road. I have two videos on my camera and going to hopefully look that them soon and see if I captured the road well!
So part I of this post will be about how I even came across this  road, my thoughts, and what made me book the plane tickets!
So I survived Yungas Road. The World's Most Dangerous Road. By bike and by vehicle. During the day by bike and during the night by vehicle.
I've heard about the so-called 'Death Road' throughout my life but the first time I really remember talking/hearing about Yungas Road with others was through an Australian newlywed couple whom I met at a hostel in Brazil during Carnival a couple years ago. I left Brazil to return home and they continued on their journey to Bolivia and further on after that. It sparked my interest.
It also frightened me because I'm deathly afraid (not anymore) of heights and falling. YES! The adventurer does (did) have some limits. Inquisitive minds, well mainly mine, wanted to know the reasons behind this madness and the only answer I got was "You can't go to Bolivia and NOT do it." Enough said. I agreed.
Eventually weeks passed and I saw their pictures. They survived and wow the pictures were incredible. A definite bucket list check off. Put it in the back of my mind and continued with my quest for adventure throughout the last couple of years on other paths. I was then trying to figure out the whereabouts of my next vaca..oops I mean adventure, and decided that when I head over to any part of the eastern hemisphere, that I'll make sure to have more time to truly experience the culture, environment, and, oh yes, food in each country.
So where to go?
I thought about Peru but realized that I didn't want to go there unless I had time to hit every place that is important to the Peruvian culture. Thought about Bolivia, which I had heard the outdoors and nature there are stunning, and the fact that it would be affordable was a huge plus to me. I travel to experience and don't care much for spending money. I like my low budget. Helps me appreciate and value life outside of the USA more than I already do. But put it aside because the aspect of it being the least developed country in South America, not going to lie, worried me a little for safety reasons and the unknown, so decided to search more and try to stay open-minded.
Thought about returning back to Central America to step foot in the remainder countries that I didn't hit last time (2 more remaining) but I felt that I needed and had craved a bigger adventure. I think the main reason I wanted to head back there was the fact I was and am still bummed that being stuck on an almost deserted island prevented me from spending time in the one place I wanted to explore in Panama. Spent a total of 3 hours in BOCAS DEL TORO before I had to continue with the adventure. Had a taste of it, which was incredible and full of gorgeous sites, islands, nature, and craving it more.
And one day it hit me. I was watching TV. Really?
While minding my own business and just watching Iron Chef, it just hit me. A commercial that is. So odd and random just thinking about it now but yet so right. Perfect timing. 
They 'wanted to show how amazing their new automobile was by taking it on the World's Most Dangerous Road'. How it turns with ease on the needle-thin path. Etc.. More importantly, they showed the actual road, how narrow it was, how beautiful it was, and how close to the edge they got! My heart was racing with so much excitement you could just hear it pounding out of my chest. My eyes widened. My adrenaline broke through the roof. At that moment, I felt gutsy, adventurous, fearless....
Mitsubishi: Behind the Scenes
The next day, I booked the plane tickets. Bolivia was my destination. And Chile, but of course, I'm not exactly a planner and well that didn't happen. Peru popped up. But that's another story to tell later. That's how gutsy I am!
And then I started to feel uneasy, insecure, and uptight over my OWN crazy adventure plan! What was I thinking?! I can't ride a bike on this road. I can't even look over any edge! 5 feet up on a ladder = 50 feet to me. You know the huge rocks at the beach where people like to hop on and climb? I can't do it because I fear of falling in the cracks. Silly, I know, but that's just my fear. My eyes widen. I get shaky. My heart pumps with intensity to the point of exhaustion EVERY time I'm high up and I look down, but I can ride on Yungas road and be fine?
Mitsubishi Yungas Road Rituals
My brain was constantly on work mode after this plane ticket purchase. Just walk on the road if you get nervous. Or how about skip it all together and just forget about it. The ONLY thing I decided against was I could not use the option of just riding in the bus to avoid biking it if I went through with this. Out of the question. But thinking back to what my Australian friends had told me, there was NO WAY in you know where I was going to Bolivia and not doing this. Naw.
I decided to turn this into a positive and decided to research and prepare for this.
What did I do? And what I recommend doing for those who get nervous when thinking about heights and falling..
I asked my friends just what they thought about it. Asked them how narrow the road is? If I'm biking downhill (which is pretty much all you'll be doing), will I fly off the road or will I be able to break and swing around the curve just fine? What company should I go with/how much money to spend to do this?
This is your life and you should take care of it and care about yourself. Don't take shortcuts.
This may sound annoying but really, it wasn't to me at the time. If you have fears, talking about it is the best way to overcome them. Hiding your feelings doesn't do any good for you.
They really didn't mind at all and were actually very helpful. I think it also brought back their own memories and were happy to share and help out in their own way. I won't get into exact details about what they told me but they basically reassured me I'd be fine, to be cautious, go at the pace I felt comfortable at, and don't get too close to the edge!
They also said: DO NOT GO CHEAP and DON'T TAKE SHORTCUTS. There is a reason why some companies are cheaper than others. THIS IS YOUR LIFE. RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK BUT BE RESPONSIBLE AND MAKE SMART CHOICES.
Don't go cheap because you don't want to spend the money. The cheaper you go, the less you get out of your bike. And the bigger risk you take in putting yourself in danger.
They told me this because that is what they did. They were fine, except there was only one guide for their group, which was, I believe they said, around 7-9 people. So basically the guide leads the pack and doesn't pay attention to the ones who take their time. There was only one female in the group, which happened to be my friend who was pretty much left behind by the guide. And because they went cheap, it showed through the bikes. Her chain fell off multiple times and had to constantly stop and fix it. Not cool and not a good experience to have when it's the only time you will take the ride of your life.
What also helped in this situation was to stay calm and not worry. I felt that if I worried, it would ruin my whole experience on the road and it would end up being a waste.
So from then on, I didn't worry about it anymore. Didn't worry about it here at home, didn't worry about it while on the backpackers trail, and didn't worry the whole ride itself. It really truly helped me and made the experience feel the way I wanted it to feel---WILD, CRAZY, FUN, ADVENTUROUS, DARING...!
So I took what they said to heart, what I saw online, researched the companies, ended up making the decision to go with Gravity, and put money aside. I dared not to go near it the whole backpacking trip until I was emotionally ready to sign up for it and also pay the $9 insurance in the case I didn't make it out alive! Some serious business had to be taken care of in order to do this.
So I packed up, headed out on my adventure, and changed things up (that story about Peru, which I'll again tell another day) due to the bad weather conditions. So because of this, I wasn't able to bus on over to Chile and with a push, well, no push really, made the decision to go to Peru! This affected plans (in no way bad at all, of course) because my priority was to make sure I took that ride on the wild side.
Did things on this trip that I have never done before in my life. I went a few days with NO BED just to make sure I could see the salt flats and check out Yungas Road.
The day I came back to Bolivia from Peru, I booked the Gravity bike tour before I could change my mind, then booked a bus ticket for that night to head down to Uyuni, spent time there where I'm surprised I didn't get pneumonia because IT WAS BEYOND FREEZING but astonishingly beautiful of course, booked another bus ticket back to La Paz, and finally had a bed and able to rest for a day before my journey on El Camino de las Yungas.
 I sacrificed the Amazon to do this by only seeing it a few hours instead of a few days, but I'm okay with that and lucky I was even able to fit what I experienced with no plans even in. There was no way I was going to leave Bolivia WITHOUT riding on that road! Inexplicable. I just don't have the words to state how disappointed in myself I would have been if I had missed that opportunity. So with all this: planning, stressing, learning, preparing, changing, and every other word that explains how I felt, leading up to the death road, was.... ....beyond worth it. Stress free was the way to be that day.
Part II is when I fully describe what it was like that day on Yungas Road.
What is the most dangerous (or adventurous) activity you have done in your life?