Not that Deadly but Definitely Dangerous

Ross arrived in Alto Plano in La Paz at the world’s highest airport. The planes on route here don’t have a descent so much as they just land. After getting through immigration Ross waited for his bag because in South America shaving razors are considered too dangerous to carry on. After two and a half months of painfully peeling his face off in Southeast Asia with cheap razors Ross decided to bring his Dollar Shave razor and replacements which had slowly built up over time. Not daring to lose them and return to daily self torture and also having a proper ticket that included a checked bag, Ross opted for the safe option.

After landing, picking up his bag, and making his way toward the exit a man prevented him from leaving into the terminal for some reason. Ross knows some Spanish but it is far from conversational and the man had decided fast mumbled Spanish was appropriate for a foreigner with a dumbfounded expression. Watching two native speakers go ahead of him Ross realized the man wanted to see the receipt sticker normally reserved for when you lose your bag. Surprised and impressed Ross pulled out his phone. Fortunately he had developed a habit of peeling off the sticker and slapping it to the back of his phone. Today it seemed a decidedly much better habit than the previous one which was to carelessly lose track of it. After entering the terminal Ross picked up a local SIM card with 5 gigabytes of prepaid data for about $20. The alternative to data off wifi with his carrier, Verizon, is either $40 dollars a month for a pathetic 100 megabyte or $10 per 24 hour period for unlimited data that gets violently throttled after 2 gigabytes. Thanks but no thanks Verizon.

Next was getting a cab to the hostel to meet Dave and Jess who had already spent a couple of days in La Paz and had organized bicycling down Bolivia’s deadliest road for the following day. The rest of the current day was spent visiting the tour agency to get sizing for bikes and bike equipment as well as getting a spark notes version of a walking tour they had done earlier around La Paz. It was mostly relaxing as no one wanted to get too put out the day before an activity with “Deadliest” in the title.

Checking into the hostel Ross was assigned a bed which was unkempt and attached to a locker with someone else’s lock on it. All forms of logic and deduction would lead a rational person to the conclusion this bed was not actually available and a simple accounting error had been made for the bed. The hostel employee insisted the bed was open however, and said the bed would be made shortly and Ross should just use the locker for the top bunk bed instead. At the end of the day Ross retired to the bed only to be woken around 2 AM because some girl was missing some kind of headwear which was probably left in her bed. Her bed happened to be the one the hostel employee had carelessly given Ross. Fortunately the girl did not blame him for taking her bed or losing her headwear so he was able to get back to sleep after a quick search of the bed turned up nothing and she was able to get back to the well deserved chastising of the hostel staff.

Ross woke early the next day. The meeting place for the groups was a great but pricey cafe where Dave, Jess, and Ross first met their guide for the Deadliest Road, Scott. Next we got on the bus to the top of the starting point for the day. We got to know each of the passengers in the bus a little. The most memorable of which was a Lithuanian girl traveling alone on vacation doing the Road in part to conquer her fear of heights. The starting point was actually several kilometers before the official Deadliest Road. This was part because the section of road had a considerable history of deaths as well but also part because it was paved and wide so it was a good time to get used to being on the bikes. The bikes themselves were excellent bikes with great suspension and powerful brakes. Scott said the bikes cost about $4000 USD brand new.

After a comprehensive rundown on what the day would entail and how to properly handle the bikes we began our decent. The first few sections went smooth enough, but disaster hit at about the fifth section. Ross noticed a girl on the ground by the side of the road being tended to by two men who looked like they were tour guides. Jess slowed down as she recognized the girl. Remember the Lithuanian girl? We do because she somehow fell from her bike and broke her fall with her face. She was bleeding generously from a broken nose and we later learned she lost three teeth and chipped off a large part of a fourth. The guides were able to recover the three complete teeth but the tooth fragment belongs to the Road now. More guides showed up and told us to continue down the hill so we did.

Perhaps a little rattled by the site of the other girl, and due in part to her experience on less intense bikes, Jess pulled too hard on the incredibly powerful and responsive breaks when going over some of the large bumps that blended into the pavement and spilled over her bike. Jess was far luckier than the previous girl and suffered a mere bump to her head and an impact to one of her arms. The bump did swell to the size of a baseball though. In an abundance of caution Jess decided to go to the hospital to get scans done. Dave joined her and left Ross to finish the Road on his own.

Later Dave and Jess would tell Ross of their car journey with the poor Lithuanian. She was either in shock or hit her head hard enough for a concussion or both. During the drive to the nearest hospital she would ask what happened, if her nose was broken, and if “she was the worst” over and over on a five to ten minute loop. After arriving to the hospital Dave and Jess learned Bolivia either doesn’t have an HIPAA equivalent or doesn’t care. The doctors examined the girl and her X-rays in full view and within earshot of Dave and Jess, allowing us to relate the story in greater detail for our dear readers. While the Lithuanian girl’s results confirmed a broken nose and concussion, fortunately all of Jess’s tests came back negative. She would only be plagued by a sore arm and Dave would be plagued by accusations of being an abusive husband as the impact formed quite the black eye on Jess.

Back on the Road, Ross finally arrived to the deadly section. Yes, unfortunately Dave and Jess never actually made it to the official “Deadliest Road” for a sweet photo opp with the sign. The rest of the ride was uneventful as injuries go but the views were beautiful descending the mountain. The guide would continue to stop the group several times to give a run down of the next series of turns and a bit of history of the section of road we were on. The explanations of course included stories that lead to the Road being titled Deadliest. The common factors were often some combination of drunk locals driving at high speeds with low visibility. There was a section of road wide enough for only one car at a time, that also had water dripping from above to make it slippery to boot. This was the deadliest section of the deadliest road. On average 500 deaths a year would occur at this one spot, though that number has dropped off in recent years. Our guide said once a tourist brought a drone and flew it down the cliff side. The number of car wrecks at the bottom were literally countless. Even at the most narrow part of the road there was still plenty of space for a bicycle. For an alert and careful bicyclist the road was not deadly at all. There were still bicyclists who died on the road. The most common factor was carelessness or recklessness around turns and other areas of the road. There were several sad stories, though, where it seemed like it was just bad luck.

Making it safely back to La Paz after the Road, Ross rejoined Dave and Jess to find them in good health and good spirits. With an hour to spare they all headed to the bus station to take a night bus to Cochabamba, the town for foodies in Bolivia.

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