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MOUNTAIN BIKING IN BOLIVIA
Mountain Biking in Bolivia? It wouldn't have occurred to you. Cycling is a passion and Bolivia, the symbol for the distance. Realizing your dream, wandering and ending up in Bolivia.
Did you want to expand your territory with Bolivia? Also fierce and high. And because you are mountain biking again.
Of course you said yes immediately. You started training even harder - you are going to be part of our group, and you are going to feel like the joviality with which everyone everywhere would wait for you.
Explore and cycle the tour with a companion of a Bolivian guide. In La Paz you could just be able to tell us what to expect during our acclimatization days.
You have cycled a lot, but something like Bolivia we never thought possible. There are no roads, only 'roads'. You wouldn't get very far on a racing bike; this is the terrain for mountain bikes, and it is incomprehensible that they remain intact. Of the thousand kilometers of our journey, a hundred are paved; the rest leads over loam and mud, crushed stone where loose boulders stick up like thumbtacks, over bare rock and through deep pools formed by transverse mountain streams. You keep turning from one side of the road to the other, searching in vain for the trail that would save you from what you were just looking for here. On the narrower paths there is sometimes a ledge in the middle where the stones have slipped down and where you as a slackrope cyclist can stay on for a while, hoping that the inevitable loss of balance will not be too bad.
Some of the climbs are on such trails for tens of kilometers, but you wil find the descents worse. Bolivia is the chance to show your descent technique to a new audience. "You have to let your mountain bike direct the direction, let your handlebars dance in your hands," says one of our top guides - but he's an advanced mountain biker who doesn't brake for a rock ripple like we do, but uses it as a ramp for a long jump.
Sometimes you are going to laugh at those absurd roads, like in one stage, which starts with a mountain bike descent through the jungle to a ford in a gold miners river.
Bolivia is a beautiful and friendly country, ideal for a nice mountain bike ride. On the wider roads, overtaking trucks and buses will give us space, and if necessary on the narrow paths, they will wait a while. But most of the time we have the empire alone - us and our support vehicles; a jeep with supplies on the road, and with our luggage, and a pickaxe and shovel for the possible landslides.
Our fifteen mountain bike program stages start in La Paz at 3600 meters, and take us to altitudes of 5300 to 600 meters. Landscapes and climates alternate quickly - in one ride we descend three thousand meters, from the cold high plateau where we see rivers deep below us, to those rivers themselves; from herds of llamas to jungle roads where groups of beautiful butterflies flutter along with you.
Bolivia has the most indigenous population in South America and in the interior there are only Indians. Probably we end up in a fiesta; dancing in beautiful costumes people go through the street, and we were invited to dance. Boys with bicycles have not heard of Lance Armstrong, but there are potential Tour winners among the Inca descendants.
Some hotels are surprisingly luxurious. "Is this the suffering I paid for?" Says one of our clients disdainfully in a palatial dining room with sweeping views of Lake Titicaca. But sometimes we camp, with mountain streams as a wash place.
It is an incredible journey. You have to calculate in emotional kilometers here in Bolivia.
Our clients come from different sides of the mountain biking love; there are (former) cyclists and mountain bikers; the others are sporty travelers.
But no matter how beautiful and bizarre mountain biking in Bolivia is, it remains a sport.
You never know how far something is still here: there are no kilometer markers, and the few direction signs rarely show a distance. Road maps, with red dots next to the place names and kilometer numbers in between, do not exist in Bolivia. You cannot divide your powers; you just have to climb and wait for it to pass. But when the road in front of you turns into air, that's not the end of the climb, but a turn.
On the edge of a mountain village, which you actually reached, You could discover a coca field, and the pickers will give you explanations, leaves and seeds - God knows how big the bushes in their gardens already are.
The entire journey you are going to live towards the famous Yunga's Way, also known as the 'Devil's Way'; the 'Way of Death'; the "Most Dangerous Road in the World" - the latter designation of the Inter-American Development Bank, which finance a safer road. The death stage is included in our programs and itineraries, as a descent; between Caranavi and Coroico. It is one of the less demanding rides, but with a curious side: in Bolivia people drive on the right, but here they keep to the left.
There are more dangerous roads than the Devil's Road in Bolivia.
The Yunga's Way is about 150 kilometers from La Paz to Caranavi; the Death Road is the sixty-kilometer stretch between Unduavi and Yolosa. It runs along a deep ravine without a guardrail, and is only three and a half meters wide in some places. Yet there are trucks and buses, also at night and in fog, and with a combination thereof. If they meet each other on a narrow piece, they have to maneuver, and that sometimes goes wrong. Sometimes an evasive spot suddenly disappears, a speeding driver flies out of the corner or a drunk loses control of the wheel. And sometimes an overworked bus driver even manages to fall asleep here.
There have been years with two hundred dead. In one accident in 1983, there were more than a hundred. There is also a place where political prisoners have been pushed, and in recent years mountain bikers have fallen into the ravine. Also one of our mountain biking guides.
Our Devil's Road Day starts early in the morning. We reach Yunga's Road on a wide tarmac section, teams of cyclists descend from the La Paz side. Per group on identical bikes, wearing the same rain jackets and helmets. They were brought to the 4650 meter high pass of La Cumbre, from there they descended for 60 kilometers, the last thirty on the World Most Dangerous Road. Wimps. But a day of rolling on the Death Road has grown into one of Bolivia's greatest tourist attractions in the last years.
We cycle on; quiet, expectant dogs stand by the side. In them live the souls of devil's road users who have been killed, and that is why they often get something thrown at them. After ten kilometers the asphalt ends and the road splits into two stony paths. On the left is the new, safe road.
Right: the Death Road. The junction is full of vans, jeeps, mountain bikers. The atmosphere is giggly-scared, like a rollercoaster. Bolivian drivers sprinkle beer and other alcoholic beverages over their tires to beg the mountain gods for safe passage.
If we walk to the edge we can't believe what we see. A thin scratch has been drawn over the green, almost vertical mountain wall that stretches as far as the eye can see - like a frame on which no pigeon would dare to sit. Worse road engineering machismo is unlikely to be found anywhere in the world. You could immediately push an engineer who came to you with such a plan out the window, but the Bolivians also built that road. At least, they had Paraguayan prisoners of war do that in the 1930s. Slave labor with built-in revenge: "The Paraguayan sweat became the Bolivian blood."
Blocks move across the scratch: jeeps, minibuses, buses, trucks. And there we go. In the first corner there are already crosses and memorials. The road is not too bad; muddy loam with holes and loose stones. Braking is not a problem.
The memorial crosses on the ravine side are sometimes so close together that together they form a guardrail. Strange that they are put on the side where they can be taken by new accident cars, into the depths.
Men and women with homemade red-green turntables stand in a few cluttered turns. They are volunteers who have lost relatives here. Cyclists wave them on with a smile, they will take care of themselves. We are going to pass under a few waterfalls, cross a few mountain streams and then finally, after more than an hour of descent, reach a slightly more gentle slope. Undamaged we reach the bottom of the valley and the safe village of Yolosa.
Another option is to do the Death Road in reverse. This time up and in our support vehicles; the whole ride to La Paz, with that sixty kilometer climb from Yolosa to La Cumbre, would be too hard. Only now that you have every opportunity to watch, how spooky it is. There is still overtaking here too; The country's wise, the country's honor. About fifty meters deep lies a shattered truck - a thousand other wrecks lie deeper, hidden by the dense vegetation.
But it cannot be denied: our driver, who is not driving the Death Road for the first time, would become happier, looser, almost exuberant in the last kilometer. Like us. It's over, we survived the Death Road in two directions.
What a wonderful relief to cycle again a little later, over asphalt and in the increasingly thin air to La Cumbre, looking out over pale green fields and bare mountains with snow tops. On the cold pass, in the long descent to La Paz.
Another ride, you could cycle from La Paz, at 3600 meters, is to the Chacaltaya ski station at 5300 meters: a climb of thirty-two kilometers. It is a dying ski resort on a melting glacier.
The last kilometers, over bare rock, are almost too steep.
Later, back in La Paz, You are going to be aware of your best mountain biking adventure is over, the yearning begins.