Monday, February 18, 2002
No time for breakfast; it's time to ride. We checked out of our hotel and arrived at Eco Jungle Tours at 7:45. The bike tires look WAY better than the minivan tires, so I think we've made a good decision. We were happy to learn we're in a very small group. It will be just the two of us, a Swiss couple, our guide, and the driver of the support vehicle. The Swiss couple, Rolf and Claudia, said they want to go slow in order to take lots of pics, which is certainly good with us, but they're from mountain country and bike regularly, so we'll see.
On the van ride to our starting point we stopped a few minutes while the driver paid a toll. Now, Tom and I had already gotten a full complement of inoculations before our trip. But if we had not, it was comforting to know that yellow fever shots are readily available from a random guy with a cooler by the side of the road.
We begin our ride at La Cumbre, 4700 meters. That's 15,400 feet in real distance. Here the adventure begins! Today we will be hurtling down a grand total of 11,800ft/3600m in 80 kilometers. Eighty kilometers?!?! Good Lord! That's 48 miles. It's a good thing for us that 95 percent of the ride is downhill. We will end our ride in Yolosa, 3600ft/1100m. There we will catch a ride in the van up to Coroico, 5250ft/1600m, where we will spend the night.
La Cumbre is a wind-swept pass with fantastic views of several snow-covered peaks. It's sunny and clear and gorgeous, though it's still fairly frigid at this altitude. We better enjoy the cool air while we can, because by this afternoon we'll be hot and dirty. Thank God we aren't stuck in a minivan!! We have the greatest views of everything, and we don't have to sit on each other's laps.
Ariel, our guide, gave us a little instruction before we set out. He said to use the rear brake, not the front brake, or we'd flip over, and to stay behind him. He said if he shouts "alto," to shout "alto" to the person behind you, then pull over to let the traffic pass. I was sort of expecting a little more direction, but he didn't speak English, so it probably wouldn't have helped anyway. The bikes aren't the greatest. They're a little small for our American and European bodies, and we all had trouble finding a suitable gear. But as long as we're going downhill, who cares? Anyway, off we went.
Una Montaña que Causa Miedo
The ride started off wonderfully. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. We descended rapidly down a twisting paved road amongst mountain peaks, grazing llamas and alpacas, and small villages. The air was cool and the ride exhilarating. We stopped every few minutes for photos.
Una Vista Estupenda
Then, at about 13,000ft/3420m, about an hour into our journey, the weather turned ugly. It was cold. Then it was raining. And then it was raining harder. We could only hope it wouldn't be this way all the way down. Then, as if life didn't suck enough at that point, we hit the uphill portion of the trip. They should have at least waited to do the uphill part until we were at a reasonable altitude. We were wet and breathless and freezing.
Then, at about 10,000ft/3050m, we ran out of blacktop, and road conditions really took a turn for the worse. This narrow dirt and rock road which is carved precariously into the side of the cliff has infamously been dubbed "The World's Most Dangerous Road." There are shear drop-offs of thousands of feet to our left, and unfortunately when we meet traffic, we're supposed to pass on the left. By this point I was really in no mood to deal with that, but damned if I'd quit.
Shortly after the road turned hairy, it was time for lunch. We stopped at a shack by the side of the road and were each fed enough for three or four people. They served soup, fried llama, a fried egg, potatoes, and rice. Good grief. We couldn't eat all that and still be physically active. We had to get back on bikes after all!
Lunch was good and resting was better. But we were all chilled and soaked to the bone, and the longer we stayed, the colder we got. It was POURING by the time we left.
Back on our bikes and in misery, but eventually the sun came out, and everything was GORGEOUS! It's all been worth it! Anybody who would miss this bike trip is a huge schmuck! The views and the thrill are indescribable. Just do it!
Unas Cascadas Hermosas
Our last hours on the bike were wonderful. The flora became more and more jungly as we descended. We rounded a corner, and without warning, we were biking through waterfalls. You don't do that everyday. At least we don't. It was wild.
Bananas y Montañas
Alas, eventually we were at Yolosa, where we quit riding. We stopped at a stream just outside the village and cleaned the mud and grime off of ourselves as best we could, then the minivan carried us on up the last four miles (7km) to Coroico, our sub-tropical paradise. It was beautiful.
Too tired to think straight, we walked with Rolf and Claudia to the hotel they had chosen, Hostal Kory. We highly recommend it! We had a double with a private bath, hot shower, and balcony. There were cheaper rooms available if we wished to share a bathroom, and the staff seemed a little surprised that we would spring the full $13 for the best room in the house. The view from our room is STUNNING, and we can see the road we came in on. They washed our muddy clothes by hand for practically free, and they got stains out of Tom's jeans that had been there since before we left Knoxville.
El Camino de la Muerte
The bottle of water we finished at La Cumbre pass looked as if it had been crushed and the cap replaced, and my watch crystal imploded from the altitude change! Click here to have a look. We sat drinking tequila and fresh strawberry juice and admiring the view from our balcony until we were too exhausted to keep our eyes open. Life is good!
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