7th November 2003
The cycle ride starts at La Cumbre (4800m) and descends 3250m, to finish near Coroico, 64km later. The first section is on tarmac with sweeping curves and we decended quite rapidly.
At the top we had every layer possible on to ward off the cold and wind, knowing that as we got lower , the windproofs would come off and eventually the sun lotion would get slapped on.The tarmac gives way to graded gravel and we whizzed through a tunnel before coming to the Bolivia Polices drug checkpoint. Here all vehicles are checked for drugs and the chemicals needed for the refining process. No photos allowed!
The scenery is breathtaking with dramatic mountain peaks and plunging valleys on all sides. We stopped for lunch just where the road gets really rough. From here on in its a windy gravel/mud track, just 3.2m wide in some places (room for only one vehicle) and sheer 1000m drop-offs. There is a great view of the track winding its way down the valley through the jungle covered mountain slopes.
If you dare to take your eyes off the road and look over the edge at the scenery, you are rewarded with fantastic views, the vegetation getting more and more lush and tropical as you drop in altitude. As you get warmer you pass under a couple of waterfalls to help cool down.
To add to the excitement, this is the only road in Bolivia where those travelling downhill have to drive/ride on the left - the side of the sheer drop-offs. When a lorry is coming in the opposite direction, you have no choice but to stop at the side of the road and wait for it to pass. There are a number of passing places so it is best to wait up at one as soon as a vehicle is coming towards you. There have been a number of casualties recently - one where a woman was pushed over the edge as she waited for a truck to pass her and another when a guy was going too fast, lost control and went over the edge.
As we decended we had a couple of hold-ups on the way. The first was a truck with a bulldozer on the back, that got itself stuck in mud as it tried to go around a very narrow twisty bend. Its outside wheels were over the edge of the track, so it couldn't get any grip and another bulldozer had to come along to push it from behind. We were back on our bikes again after about 20 minutes. Further along the track, we were just having a rest when we heard a loud bang and rumble. It wasn't until we rounded the corner shortly afterwards that we saw a landslide blocking the road. The bang had been workmen blowing up some rock above the road, which in turn had caused the landslide. They then had to use a bulldozer to push the landslide over the cliff and clear the debris.
We had great weather the day we went and that meant that the track was incredibly dusty at the lower levels - as other vehicles passed us, visibility was reduced to next to nothing and we had to wait a few minutes for the dust to settle before moving on. This also meant that by the time we reached the bottom we were absolutely filthy. A couple of beers quickly resolved the parched throats and then it was back on the bus to drive back to La Paz.
Gravity do make sure that you ride within your capabilities and frequently check the bikes - brakes etc - to make sure everything is ok during the ride. To demonstrate how some companies don't have a similar regard for safety, when we arrived at La Cumbre, ready to start the ride, a minibus pulled up with a small group of people. We couldn't believe it when they got onto their fairly grotty looking bikes and one man strapped his baby onto his back in a papousse! Unbelievable that a parent would be that irreponsible and that a tour company would even allow it.
Trip statistics: Ed reached a top speed of 56 kph. I was a tad slower.....