Monday, August 12, 2013

Danger AHEAD - Part II

My day on Yungas Road...
I tried to figure out the best way to write this and after awhile, I thought I should write it in a time sequence form. It describes my feelings at each stage and what we actually did.
This was an amazing and dangerous thing I did that day and after this, I feel like I've done enough crazy things! So don't worry, I have no desire to jump out of an airplane. I'd rather use it to get to one location to the next!
If you have any questions about taking the ride of your life there in Bolivia, feel free to ask me! I'd love to help in any way that I can. :)
6:20am - Alarm goes off. The day I have been waiting for. *Strangely, I was quite calm when I woke up. Complete opposite of my normal self when facing a thrill such as this one. Should I have been nervous that I wasn't nervous doing this at all?

7:30am - Find the friend I made the other night and off we go to find the cafe for what could be our last breakfast and then group meeting.

8:30am - Paid my $9 for insurance before the ride.

9:00am - Leaving the cafe with the guide, Clinton/group, and headed out to the rode before Yungas.

9:30am - Arrive at our meeting place where other people are picking their bikes, testing their bikes out, getting the 411 on how to ride/brake/control & pick up speed/what not to do/rituals/just breathe. My first bike was just a little too high for me. It made me extremely nervous. I tested it out and the peddles were a little hard to reach. I'M SUPPOSED TO TAKE THIS ON DEATH ROAD?! AHHH! I attempted to try and get on/off the bike as our guide was showing us (bike in motion) and I kept missing and falling off the bike and to the ground. Painful. I begged Clinton to please give me a new bike!

He said he would try the best he could but he couldn't make any promises.. I saw that this guy had the bike that was the perfect size for me and for this other girl but he was refusing to give it up! He obviously was a little too nervous! Finally Clinton took control, took his bike away from him, gave it to me, gave my bike to the girl who needed mine, and gave her bike to him. He wasn't happy but he had to suck it up and deal. The girl freaked out and wanted my bike and claimed she wasn't going to ride. The bike she received was perfect for her. Case of the nerves? Clinton, our guide, finally told her to just try it out before she makes the decision to quit. She tried it and said she was fine. THIS IS WHAT THE DEATH ROAD DOES TO YOU! Crazy, I tell you. 10:30am - Clinton assures us we will be fine, take your time, DON'T BREAK HARD OR YOU WILL FLIP AND WHO KNOWS WHAT'LL HAPPEN... Tells us about a ritual one does before riding on the road. We each took a sip from the bottle, poured one drop on our front tire, and one on the ground to pay tribute to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ensure we come out alive. It's time. 10:45am - Our ride does not start right away on Yungas road. You have to ride the regular road for, I want to say it was anywhere between 10-15 miles, until we reached death road. *I have to say I oddly thought the ride to death road was scarier than the ride on death road itself. I think my reasoning for this was the fact we were going fast down the road whereas death road is also downhill but you are riding on a dirt road which somehow helps in the speed of the ride.

*Times from now on are assumed*
 ~11:00-11:15am - We continue our ride to Yungas road. Around this time, I was hoping that we'll reach death road soon because I wasn't liking this ride. I was still calm but was kind of tired continuously breaking while going downhill. Again, should I have been nervous for not being nervous doing this ride?
And then it happened...
I watched my friend FLIP OFF HIS BIKE, SPLIT HIS CHIN, AND SPRAIN ONE OF HIS WRISTS! This WAS NOT EVEN ON DEATH ROAD! He braked hard going downhill and because of that + the high speed = to him flipping off his bike. He didn't move at first and everyone who saw, including myself stopped, made sure he was okay, and waited for our bus to arrive to check him out. He was done. His ride was over. He was bandaged up and had to sit in the bus until they were able to send him somewhere else to get to a hospital. I felt really bad. He was really excited and looking forward to this day. What a bummer..

After this, we continued our ride.. I'm supposed to ride on Yungas road AFTER seeing what I just saw? Just crazy. :/ At that point, I had to put it behind. I was not going to give up and I could not worry about it any longer. I'm on my bike. I was at the point of no return.

Continue on...

We hit our last town before the tunnel/the road for our last bathroom break and to pay our fee which helps to repair/better Yungas road. Kind of hard to explain, but I actually don't want them to repair the road. Yes, it is painful for many families who have lost loved ones on that road but at the same time, the road has history. I say just don't have anyone ride it anymore. Maybe I'm wrong? I don't know. We then hit a tunnel. We were told we won't be riding our bikes in the tunnel because it was pitch black and for obvious safety reasons so we rode our bikes on the road just around the tunnel. My first taste of riding on dirt. And it was weird. The road was bumpy, rocky, and I was having a hard time braking without skidding. I hoped then that it wouldn't be like this on the death road because if it was, I would be in trouble. After that, we hit up the street again for a few more miles before we finally made it to the road known as....

~12:00pm - One more discussion before we started the ride. Since we were biking downhill, the cars going uphill have the right of way. Meaning: We would be biking on the side closest to the edge, NOT mountain. If a car were to pass us, we would have to stop biking and stay near THE EDGE of the road. Yeah, don't think anyone was happy about doing that but that's the risk you take when you do this bike ride. Oh and DO NOT ride the person's a$$ in front of you. If you do and YOU crash into them and something bad happens, it's your fault, and they will try to rescue/take care of THAT person, BEFORE you! Take your time and enjoy the ride.

~12:15-4:00pm - Let's go! At first, the ride was fine. I was suddenly feeling more comfortable riding on the dirt and getting used to it. I had better have gotten used to it because that was where I was going to be for most of the day! Then the edges were in plain site. I looked down. Normally I would say DON'T LOOK DOWN, but it actually did not affect me. Not normal if you know me. But what in the world! It was like I wasn't myself that day. My heart should have jumped out of my chest after my first glance of dead air. Anyway, I tried my best to avoid biking near the side. Remained at my own pace. Wasn't fast, but wasn't the slowest in the group.

Riding straight downhill is definitely not easy. Maybe on the street, yes, but on dirt and thousands of feet above, no. My hands went almost completely numb/tightened up by stressing over braking the whole time. We finally had our first break and the first thing I did was focus on my hands. One because it hurt, two because I didn't want them tight the whole ride, and three, because I wanted to take pictures of the scenery with my camera because the views were absolutely incredible! I just constantly opened/closed my hands, kept them moving, and finally after a few minutes, they loosened up and started to feel normal. Funny that by the time we continued our bike ride, I realized how much FUN I was having. It was right after I took my concentration away from my hands, looked at everyone in my group, and the gorgeous views that I had SO MUCH FUN DOING THAT INCREDIBLE FIRST RIDE!

The tables have now turned after only one section of the ride...


I was ahead of the pack. I was swinging around corners, Devil's drop, Collar Bone Road (known to be so bumpy that people have fallen of their bikes and end up breaking their collar bones), and another corner, which the name I can't quite remember, but it must have had death or devil in it!

I remember stopping to take a picture at a famous point known for many fascinating pictures and right after, I hopped on my bike and was about to go when I could hear Clinton shouting/laughing: "STOP! Wait for your guide!" Right after he told me that I had worried him because I mentioned previously before the ride that I was deathly afraid of heights and falling and thought that I would be taking my time and be the last one in the group. NAW! Last thing he thought I would be doing was going crazy and flying all over the place! He thought it/I was pretty cool. Especially because I overcame my fears and gave the road everything I had. After all, you will probably only ride this road once in your life, so you don't want to ruin the experience!

Honestly, this experience was incredible. Rarely in my life I have ever felt that free as I was flying down the mountain. JUST for the record, I told my parents everything when I got home! Didn't want to worry them. My dad's face turned white and my mom, of course was like, what were you thinking and just shook her head. She took it well while my dad, not so much! Scaredy cat!

There was a point where we started to hit big rocks on the road, which I'm assuming were due to recent landslides. We were told that the day we went was an absolute perfect day. Couldn't have been better. No rain and no clouds. Road was visible. Anyway, I skidded a few times and realized I had better slow down because I may skid again and fly of the mountain. By far the hardest part of the ride was trying to avoid the rocks on the road.

I can go on and on, but it would be forever! Literally, you will spend majority of the day biking. You will be tired, exhausted, and go from the extremes- very cold weather - cold - nice/chill - warm - hot/humid. Different elevations, as you know, bring different weather conditions and it is very neat to experience them all in one day. Just for the record, going with Gravity and I'm assuming most other bike groups, you will be given a snack and lunch to stay refueled and energized during your ride. So don't worry, you won't starve.:) Also bring a change of clothes to wear under your warm clothes because it is freezing at the start. Once it warms up, you can take off your layers as you go.

And finally we made it to the wonderful town of Coroico, which is part of the Amazon Rainforest, one of my favorite places on Earth! We biked through the town where we saw plenty of locals, houses, and beautiful nature. Love your Pachamama! We stopped at a local refuge where we saw plenty of monkeys, wildlife, and bugs! What would the Amazon be without the scary bugs?!

~4:00-6:00pm - We enjoyed an early dinner, had a chance to go swimming with the monkeys, and take a nice hot shower. I, as well as the others, were exhausted, sleepy yet somehow alert, felt healthy, brave, and accomplished with what we did that day. It was now time to relax...

Wait...Relax? Oh no, my friends!
I ALSO signed up go Zip-lining in the rainforest! Yes, you can now call me crazy. After everything I did that day, I thought my heart wouldn't be able to take anymore, but somehow it had some room leftover for flying in the air. I found the ziplining to be a little nervewrecking but enjoyable at the same time. For one thing, I don't think I'll be able to not be nervous when ziplining over open space. I still think Costa Rica is the best place to zipline because you can't see the ground there. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the long ziplines that Bolivia offers.

Really allows you to thoroughly take in your surroundings as you are zipping thru the air. I remember just looking around while I was flying to the next post and just feeling at peace. Like everything was moving at slow motion. There were only a total of three lines but I happen to think it was worth it because the lines were long and the package was affordable. Here are just a few pictures of that adventure below.

~6:00-11:00pm - The ride home. It was late and we were behind schedule. The other two groups were probably almost in La Paz when we finally left Coroico.

And how did we get home?
So for some reason, I thought we would be heading back to La Paz another way but boy was I in for a treat! We rode up death road AT NIGHT. Pitch black status. Now that was a new adventure I had not planned on doing or was ready for emotionally. Everything was fine until I watched Clinton open the bus door and sat on the edge, looking down over the mountain. Out of control. And then I thought, once in your life, and I sat down and joined him.

Of course there was railing there and YOU KNOW I held on for dear life. And you want to know something? It was absolutely thrilling to be sitting there and looking of the edge of the World's Most Dangerous Road. I was like a kid in a candy store! He had to have thought I was a cool one to hang with. Heck yeah! Did I forget to mention he was SO cute? :)

Is there anything else you can think of that could top this adventure? Yes, there is in fact..
The driver stopped driving and Clinton and I had to get up. There was something wrong. Seriously? On the death road? Another van was blocking our way on the road and our driver couldn't and I'm glad that he didn't try to drive around! The van was stuck on death road. Why?

Because one of their tires flew off their van and down the mountain it went. The problem? Well, there were two woman and two men in the van and the men were drunk. I was not okay with that. I thought one of the men were driving and that didn't settle well with me. You are on the death road, you can't do that! After we started a conversation in Spanish with the group, we found out one of the women were driving, THANK GOODNESS. That was a relief.

Of course they were having a hard time putting the spare on because the men were too busy playing around to be paying attention to what was going on. I soon watched as the two women turned on their flashlights and started walking towards the edge of the road and look down to see if they could find/recover their fallen tire. Then I saw them starting to work their way down the mountain in hopes of discovering it. I remember saying: "No! Que no es seguro! No!" ("No! That is not safe! No!").

Our protests finally worked and they stopped. Our driver finally put their tire on, we said our good-byes, and they drove away. And we continued on. Everything died down and we were soon all half-asleep. So hard trying to stay awake! We finally arrived in La Paz and parted ways.

What a story I will have for the rest of my life. I will never forget this day. The day I survived the World's Most Dangerous Road.

*As for Gravity, I 100% recommend them. I felt safe, secure, and was in good hands. Our guide, Clinton, was knowledgeable and you could tell he loves what he is doing with his life. The other guides I saw that were with the other groups seemed to also be just as wonderful as Clinton was. I was able to have fun, bike how I wanted, and felt confident enough doing what I was doing. I was amazed at how I was able to quickly learn how to ride a dirt bike and ride on dirt with ease and control. I never felt pressured and I didn't feel like I was held back. The money value for the ride was completely worth it. Go with Gravity.

**Note: I wish I had an active camera to make a video while I was biking or at least stopped to take more pictures. There was nothing but breathtaking views that day. I made videos on my camera but were made in the van, not on the bike. I'm going to see if it shows enough to put on a post.

Would you take the challenge and bike on the World's Most Dangerous Road?