My time in Bolivia has been so busy and action-packed I haven´t been able to find time to write. I can´t believe I am about to squeeze all these good times into one blog post. Criminal. I will boil it down to just a few highlights to keep us all sane:
1. I have biked The Most Dangerous Road in the World
And I have the t-shirt to prove it.
You guys know I love to use my own photographs on this blog, but it was raining during most of my descent and I just couldn´t do it justice. So, I have stolen this pic from here: http://www.ubertramp.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/road/death%20road%20bolivia.jpg
Now that I have your attention… This road near La Paz is named The Most Dangerous Road in the World for good reason — it sees more deaths per year than any other on the planet. It drops away to 600m cliffs and has no guardrails. It descends 3,600 metres over 64 km. And, you can join a tour to cycle down it. Obviously, I signed up.
As we approached the road, we saw a sign giving the number of deaths so far this year: 43. Shit. At the beginning of the ride, our guide, in a very serious tone, uttered the quote of the day: “Respect the fuck out of this road.” Technically, this ride is not difficult, in my opinion. It is a gravel road, after all. My whistler friends could ride it with both hands behind their backs. But, if you make a mistake and go over the edge, game over.
(Btw, I spent the summer of 2008 in Whistler not working, just mountain biking everyday. Some readers might consider me a bum and that summer a waste of time, but I prefer to think of it as training for this ride and keeping me alive :)
The bike that was provided was excellent: A Kona Coiler. I have friends who ride this bike and have seen them clean some ridiculous lines on it. I consider it a lot of bike for a gravel road. At this point I don´t know what to expect, but I´m pretty sure no matter what happens to me, it won´t be the bikes fault. In the end, there were a few spills in our group, but none over the edge, so we all survived. What is most dangerous about this ride? I will tell you. It is not the twisty road, the loose gravel, the few streams that cross the road, nor the occasional bus — it´s the scenery. It´s so awesome, it is hard to keep your eyes on the road!
Incredibly, after riding down the road, we drove the bus back up The Most Dangerous Road in the World! Is this really necessary?!? Do we need to temp fate again? Craziness, I say.
2. I thought I had seen everything — then I toured The Salt Flats of Uyuni
In the southwest of Bolivia lies the world’s largest salt flat. Try to imagine a 12,000 sq km sea of salt, as far as the eye can see. The landscape is incredible.
Please god, don’t let our vehicle break down here.
Sunset on the salt flats
It was a 3-day jeep tour. The hotel we stayed in was totally made of salt, as were the tables, chairs, ceiling decorations, even the beds. Unreal. I am not a speed freak, but I must say, on those flats, I wish I had the sports coupe I used to own, or my motorcycle. It would be damn good time.
3. I have descended into the hellish mines of Potosi
Potosi, at 4060m, is apparently the highest city in the world. And it was once the wealthiest city in the Spanish Empire because the mountain there is filled with silver. Miners have been working in the horrible mines here for hundreds of years.
The miners make sacrifices to Tio (the god who owns the mine) and Pachamama (“Mother Earth”) in the hopes that these gods will keep them safe. My guide told me that Tio and Pachamama don´t eat, but they need to drink. So, every year they kill llamas inside the mines in the hopes that the llamas blood with satiate the gods, and they will not need miners blood.
These mines are a horrible place to work. The heat, the cramped spaces, the dust, the dangerous conditions,etc. It would be illegal in Canada (and whatever country you are in right now) for a 1000 reasons. And, you could never take a group of tourists down such mines. But, in Bolivia, anything in possible. I signed a waiver saying that I was entering a real, working, dangerous mine, and if I died, it was nobody else´s fault. Then I donned a hard-hat, ducked, and crawled into the caves…
Uhh, is that broken beam a safefty issue?
Just before entering the mines, we picked up a few gifts for the miners at a street stall. Here you can find soda, water, sugarcane alcohol (96% … tastes awful, trust me), dynamite, ammonium nitrate (for a little extra umph), fuses, and detonators (where all the magic happens)
My guide in the mines. Yes, that is dynamite. Yes, those fuses are lit. Run, you fools, run!
The tour of the mines was quite scary and real. A great experience. (Many thanks to Heather G for the heads up on this one.)
These mines lead me into my next How To video on the Unique Art of World Travel. This installment is not so much about how to travel the world per se, but shows a skill I learned while travelling the world: how to blow up dynamite. I think it works. Somehow, in my youth in Canada, I just never acquired this skill. Sorry I can´t stop giggling throughout the video. It was funny, trust me… you had to be there. Enjoy.
So, Bolivia, done. The natural landscapes of this country are incredible. I´ve left whole bunch of it untouched, but even perpetually unemployed guys like yours truly can´t get everywhere. I have a new (albeit rough) measure of a country: The ratio of how many pictures I take to the number of days I spent there. The larger the ratio, the more impressive the country. Bolivia excelled. Btw, if you liked the pics in this post, you should check these out.
I am now in Salta, Argentina, trying to catch my breath. I need another one of my patented traveler´s vacations, but there aren´t too many beaches here in the mountains. Don´t you fret, I will figure something else out.
Until next time, keep your eye on the fuse.