La Paz may not be the prettiest city in Bolivia, but it offers plenty of activities. One of my first stops was Chacaltaya, an abandoned ski resort about an hour from the city center. The resort is closed due to climate change; there is no longer enough snow on the mountain. Now, instead of skiing, travelers can climb to the peak.
My tour group was dropped off less than a kilometer from the peak, which didn’t sound like a daunting climb on paper. But, wait, wait: don’t forget the altitude. The air was noticeably thinner at 5,300 meters. I wheezed along the path, barely able to catch my breath. At the pace I was going, a sloth could have beaten me to the summit.
When I finally trudged up to the peak, I lost my breath again when I saw the views. Colored lagoons dotted the slope below.
Huayna Potosi, which stands at over 6,000 meters, was also visible.
Many travelers opt for a three-day climb to the summit of Huayna Potosi. The trek sounded cool – especially since hikers got to use an ice axe – but I wasn’t going to tempt fate. If I could barely get to the top of Chacaltaya, I doubt I would have made it past the first day of the Huayna Potosi trek.
Instead of climbing Huayna Potosi, I decided to get my adrenaline fix by biking down Yungas (aka “Death”) Road with Ride On Bolivia. Now, keep in mind that most of my biking experience consisted of weaving through the mean streets of suburban Minnesota when I was in elementary school. What could go wrong?
My Death Road group consisted of five young Dutch travelers who were all born on bikes, a brawny Polish guy…and me. I was screwed before we even stepped onto our bikes.
We started on the newer half of Death Road, which was paved. Whizzing down the road was easy and exhilarating, and the views were magnificent.
“This is cool,” I thought. “Why do people freak out about Death Road? I can do this, no problem.”
But, after a couple of hours, we made it to the original, unpaved Death Road. Oh, man…I will never be the same. Bouncing over pebbles and rocks battered my wrists and knees. I never let go of the brakes, and my palms got sore from gripping the handlebars so tightly. Even though I was inching down the road, I was still convinced I was going to fall off my bike and topple down the hill.
Of course, my group mates flew down the road without any problem. Whenever they stopped, it would take me at least two minutes to catch up to them. Thankfully, they were good sports about waiting for me.
Somehow, I made it through four hours of biking without falling. If I didn’t believe in miracles before, I do now.
I’ve already said this a few times during my travels, but it ‘s worth repeating: I’m glad I got the chance to bike down Death Road, but I’ll never do it again. Not even for another free t-shirt (but thanks for the nice tee, Ride On Bolivia!).