The notorious Death Road was survived (just about!!) even though I fell off half way down! La Paz is also the city where they used to run tours round the notorious San Pedro Prison thanks to an English drug smuggler. They no longer offer the tours as they were made illegal by the Bolivian government. We were however told you could probably get in there illegally but you would probably not be able to get back out due to either getting your documents robbed inside or if you were ‘smart’ and didn’t take any documents, not be let out for the same reason.
The Walking Tour
The tour starts outside San Pedro Prison which actually just looks like a normal building as it’s a converted monastery. After going through what the prison is like now where people don’t automatically get a cell, you have to pay the mafia, yes, the mafia. The government pays nothing towards the prison so just like the outside you have to either buy or rent a cell. The less money you have, the more people you are going to share with.
They run businesses in there, hairdressers, cafes and almost anything else you can think of on the outside, its right there inside the prison. Coca Cola even provide the people wanting to set up a cafe with tables, chairs and umbrellas so they can stock their product! Crazy but interesting place.
The tour goes round the central plazas and to San Francisco Church before going to Mercado Lanza to see the parking lot type building full of local food places including juice bars.
You then end up at the witches market where you can buy Llama foetuses (for spiritual ceremonies, you don’t want to know what they are!!) and potions for pretty much anything. To make someone fall in love with you, for help in the bedroom once they have ‘fallen for you’ or even for that promotion at work. Weather they are just sugared sweets I’m not sure but I think the placebo effect is high on the ingredients list.
El Camino de la Muerte (Death Road)
Aptly named due to the amount of people that died creating the road and since then the amount of people that have died trying to navigate it. It used to have a fearsome reputation with families holding spiritual ceremonies before a loved one was to navigate the road. It took many lives, the worst of which was a bus full of 100 or so people going over the edge to their deaths. There is almost a 600 meter sheer drop in places, so survival is slim to none.
So you guessed it, now there’s a new ‘safer’ road open, it’s now mainly used for tourist bike trips but still takes traffic up and down, just not as regular. We started off by sipping 96% alcohol as a offering to Pachamama (mother earth) which you might deem a little crazy when we were about to navigate roads with a 600 meter drop to the left and little to no barriers.
You start off on tarmac where you get a little taste of the new road that was built to stop people dying on the old road. You get some crazy speed up as it’s all downhill while the water from the road is splashing into your face! Then it started raining which made the situation a hell of a lot worse. You can hardly see as the bikes we had didn’t have mud guards!
Once you have got used to the brakes on the tarmac you start on the old road which is all dirt, mud and rocks of varying sizes. After a quick briefing of what to do if you are faced with a huge rock we were on our way. A little disappointing that the clouds and rain had took over but the road was still spectacular and the views were equally as good, although would be much better on a sunny day.
After about 20KM of riding down the dirt road I came round a corner, hit a huge rock and was sent flying off the bike towards the edge. Luckily not too close and I only got a few surface wounds on my knees and arms. The jacket they provided on the tour came off badly and I left parts of it on the rock my shoulder hit.
A little more adrenaline through the system is probably not a bad thing on this road though and I was back on my way immediately. We stopped a few times for some history and to see the site of the worst fatality in the roads history where those 100 people fell to their deaths. It’s an amazing road but one that demands your total respect and concentration the whole way down, there is no time for selfies on the bikes or such like as you might be the next one over the edge.
We all got to the bottom in one piece after riding through a river right at the end. We were very wet and very muddy so after getting a shower and some food decided to get some drinks in. We celebrated survival of the worlds deadliest road by drinking rum and coke in the van on the way back to La Paz stopping many many many times for the ‘Bolivian baño’, the side of the road.
Amazing experience, just take it slow (ish) and get to the bottom. There are plenty of these tours that end badly so if you do it, be safe.
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