So, it was finally the day to do one of activities that I had most eagerly anticipated when I booked my trip to Bolivia; cycle 'Death Road'. Like many people, this stretch of road first came my attention when the 'Top Gear' crew decided to tackle it - I had to get involved!
'The World's Most Dangerous Road' owes it name to the fact that, in the not so distant past, an average of 26 vehicles per year disappeared off the edge of the narrow (3.2m wide) gravel road cut into the sheer cliff face, with 600m drops to one side and few safety barriers.
Almost 20 cyclists have also died along the 64km trip (with a 3600m vertical descent). So we took the advice of our guide book and paid a little extra to ensure we were rolling with a company and instructors we could trust.
We listened good when our leader, Jeff, gave us some very welcome tips on how best to navigate the seemingly endless, twisty stretch of downhill fun.
So, with a quick prayer, a drop of fire water and all the latest cycling gear we pushed off to begin our day long trip along this infamous strip of road.
We quickly settled into our new set of wheels, figured out the best way to make the bikes go as fast as possible and established a natural order from fastest to slowest/best nationalities to the front (...get behind us frenchies!!).
There was a great buzz as we sped down the mountain road, resisting the urge to touch the brakes and growing in confidence all the while. The views across the valley were awesome and the massive drops and rapid onset of thick fog taught us at least a little respect for the well worn path. Waterfalls and small steams cutting straight across the road kept things interesting and encouraged us to get familiar with gears on our bikes.
It was all about getting from point A to B as fast as gravity and our legs would take us. The aim was simple; overtake everything (to include motor vehicle of all shapes) in front of you, no one wanted to give an inch - great craic!
It did us all some good to open up our lungs and get the heart rate up - too many long bus journeys and convenience food on the move make Sean an unhealthy boy! And couple of near misses didn't half help keep the concentration levels up either!
In return for our hard day's pedalling, we were rewarded with hot showers (often of luxury in SA), a tasty meal and an animal sanctuary.
The animal sanctuary was a real bonus. It was full of animals that had been rescued from the black market, abuse and the like. The most intriguing creature was a little monkey that had been trained to pick pockets. Sure enough the little guy was straight over when we entered to check if we had any coin, but he was out of luck on this occasion. Better luck with the rich yanks I guess!
It was only after all this that I realised that our not so small bus would have to drive back along the road we'd just cycled. Suddenly, the road seemed a lot smaller but thankfully our driver had driven it once or twice before. The drive home in the pouring rain was worth the admission alone.
So anyway, Death Road - been there, done it and bought the t-shirt! Not sure I'll ever wear it though - still trying and failing to not to look like a gringo! Whitest man on earth, ha!