My hands and feet were absolutely freezing, but I didn’t care. Maybe that’s because I’m Canadian.
At 7 am on the top of Cumbre Mountain with eight other brave adventure-seeking comrades we were preparing to embark on an incredible journey down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road.”
I had heard that it was amazing from a couple people, but I didn’t really know what to expect. As a matter of fact, I have tried to keep my expectations low for this whole journey. High expectations leave you open to disappointment. Surely that leaves you open to fear of the unknown, but that’s nothing a little courage can’t fix!
At the top I was the first one to head out after the lead guide on our fancy full-suspension $3000 mountain bikes. The Canadian lead definitely had a lot to do with easing any of our fears. Along with giving us the rules and a loose guide for what was going to happen (with a great deal left to the imagination), this skinny west coast Canadian had us in stitches even as we were almost too tired to speak. Sure, I’ve been on many tours before, but there was something about this tour (and tour guide) that sticks out in my mind as one of the best tours in my life.
Rylan was from a small town in British Columbia of about 300 people in the wintertime and about double in the summer. After finishing training to become a tour guide, Rylan was emailed and offered a job as a tour guide. I can only imagine what kind of curve ball that throws into someone’s comfortable life in Canada. Nevertheless, Rylan picked up his life and his mountain bike, and headed to Bolivia for training as a guide for “The World’s Most Dangerous Road.” Two and a half months in, Rylan gives tours five days a week and manages to race his bike on his off days. Doing what he loves for a living in a far off and interesting land. Amazing!
I also was relieved to hear Rylan’s Canadian west-coast ski-bum-style accent and slang. It was a refreshing change since I’ve been so submersed in the British English during my stay in the flat.
“We have to do a ritual at the top before we go,” said Rylan to the bundled up bikers in a semi-circle in the fog of about 5000m. “I’m not too keen on human sacrifices, so I have a little 96 degrees for yas.” He then presented a fierce little bottle of 96% proof alcohol for us to drop on our tires, then pour on the ground, then touch to our lips.
After that we started down the windy road that hugged the mountain-side – wizzing down as fast possible (at least I was), while making sure not to look too longingly off the mountain for fear of turning out like Frodo in the sea of the dead before Mordor.
When we finished the first bit, we had the option of taking a bus uphill for 8km or biking. For Rylan, only one other group in his two months as a guide had opted for the uphill and it was on a bright sunny day. The four girls in our trip did not want anything to do with it, but with a little peer pressure the five guys all raised their hands in favour and we were off on our next adventure!
As soon as we started uphill the rain intensified, essentially escalating from a drizzle to a torrential downpour. I was soaked. Fortunately, I had my super duper awesome Arc-Teryx Goretex rain jacket and my upper half was dry. Still, my legs and feet were swimming.
The bike uphill wouldn’t have been so hard if not for the ridiculous altitude. Even after nearly two weeks in Bolivia, I still pant and heave during any walk uphill in the street – this was much worse.
Despite the discomfort it was 100% worth it.
During my trip to Israel, the tourguide took us on a number of physical excursions like hiking and cave crawling. The idea, he said, was that if you sweat on the land you are bound to be more attached to it. If Birthright Israel believes that exercise will get you to love and support Israel more, it better be right!
The rest of the trip down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” was epic. Challenging turns, rough terrain and torrential rains made the journey incredible.
The lower we got, the hotter it got. By the end, we were in shorts and a t-shirt loving life. A couple of the girls took slight tumbles off their bikes, but fortunately into walls or the ground and not off the side of the cliff.
Following the trail, the tour group arranged for us to visit a non-profit animal sanctuary to get some grub, see some tropical animals and recharge.
Other than the Zoo this was the first time I’d been up close and personal to monkeys and parrots. It is interesting that it didn’t really alarm me. Perhaps its because movies and tv are so good these days that you can experience without physically being there. However, the calm ambience of the lush forest was far more incredible than any movie (although Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011) come close). Living in La Paz for the past week has really stripped me from nature. The hustling and bustling concrete jungle has no parks or even much grass. Little planters in front of our apartment filled with grass are mostly used for dogs to pee and poo on rather than just as a part of the landscape.
There is something about being among the trees that cures all problems. Religions have been started in the forest and far too many visions (even without the help of hallucinogens) have given people an attachment with the Earth that we live on. One day I will own a cottage. Maybe it’s the Duddy Kravitz in me. I also want to go to the forest a lot more during this trip. Besides heading to Rurrembarque in the Amazon next week, I want to go into the Amazon in Peru and Brazil.
As I reflected on “The World’s Most Dangerous Road,” on the way back the Bolivian tour guide who assisted Rylan was playing his iPod in the bus and pretty much everything was a qué buen tema! Every song reminded me of my childhood when I made mixtape cds of songs that I ripped off of Napster. The songs from the late nineties to the early two-thousands had everyone mouthing the words and saying ohhh remember this!? Some examples were “No, No, No” and “Welcome to Jamrock” by Damian Marley, “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” by Offspring, Like a Stone by Audioslave and much more hip hop inspired and grunge songs. I was thinking at this time about the point in which we want to relate. I love relating to these people though this music, relating to the words of a song, relating to the people in my “flat” at the Bolivian Express, relating to people in a hostel. At the same time I want to be different, place myself in a setting that is different and rattle myself. I’m struggling a lot with this – whatever identity crisis it is. I need more time to formulate my thoughts and definitely a better Internet connection.