Leaving La Paz wasn’t the cruisey ride I’d pictured. To begin with, we had some heartfelt farewells and heartwarming moto-hugs to dispense. Oscar reluctantly let us go and sent us on our merry way into the bedlam of downtown La Paz. Getting out of the city meant getting well and truly stuck in it first. Busy with barminess, I hovered over and hit my horn like I was signaling Morse code: ‘Get-me-out-of-here!’ A veritable racket and tantamount to ten times the danger of Bolivia’s disreputable Death Road. Sandwiched between Toyota Town-Aces and Hi-Aces, my panniers scraped and scratched like nobody’s business. A fit of fury stuck halfway down my throat, like a sneeze that refused to come. Mind unraveling to become somewhat discombobulated, I gritted my teeth and remained undeterred, at least outwardly.
An 11,000-foot descent, sheer drops and 200 plus deaths a year: welcome to Bolivia’s Road of Death, the terrifying route tourists love to two wheel down. Its official name is Camino a las Yungas but it’s best known as La Carretera de la Muerte, the Road of Death. It’s not just a name either: the gorgeously lush, winding 64-kilometre route that links La Paz with the town of Coroico was and is still considered one of the deadliest roads in the world. Just one of many in Bolivia.
With the misadventure of missing the Dakar from Salar de Uyuni having passed, we wished the moto Olympians well for the remainder of the race (from afar), and scampered back to Sucre with a tail between our legs. Refuelled and rested in Bolivia’s constitutionally recognised capital, we scurried the 200 odd miles over rutas 5, 23 and 7 leading us into the urban sprawl that is Cochambamba. The streets were saturated with photocopier shops, crammed in between kiosks bursting with processed junk, chips and salsa, banks of candy and great walls of electrified soda.
Background (Courtesy of the official Dakar website)
The Dakar Rally Raid: The adventure began back in 1977, when Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Saved from the sands in extremis, he returned to France still in thrall to this landscape and promising himself he would share his fascination with as many people as possible. He proceeded to come up with a route starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers and crossing Agadez before eventually finishing at Dakar. The founder coined a motto for his inspiration: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” Courtesy of his great conviction and that modicum of madness peculiar to all great ideas, the plan quickly became a reality. Since then, the Paris-Dakar, a unique event sparked by the spirit of adventure, open to all riders and carrying a message of friendship between all men (and women), has never failed to challenge, surprise and excite. Over the course of almost thirty years, it has generated innumerable sporting and human stories.
“Break the boundaries of a limited mind and body. Experience bliss throughout yourself and around yourself. Find yourself in the Ultimate.” I’m beginning to identify with Swami Purna’s reflection.
New Year in Salta cost us several arms and legs. Jason’s fuel pump had given up the ghost, not favourable on our budget but one of those hidden costs we’d simply have to take on the chin and write off. Ruta 51 from Salta kick-started the New Year at the crack of sparrows with a 100-mile ride along Rosario river, fun sections of dirt and asphalt to a rest-stop in San Antonio de los Cobres. We were headed to La Quiaca via an old section of the ruta 40 where the rugged ripio eventually meets the smooth run of ruta 9. An overnight stay in the dusty desert town and two melt-in-your-mouth meals consumed at San Antonio’s Quinoa Real cafe later, gave me the energy to jump straight back on Pearl and tackle the 58 miles of thankless tract, which grew mostly rocks, hand blisters and busted hopes.
A friend recently enlightened me to the fact that the science behind everyday life does indeed lead to human progress. Christmas is a pertinent time of year to combine these merits with the festive holidays. While currently in South America, personalising greetings cards online – comforted in the knowledge they’ll be delivered on one’s preferred date to the front door mat of anyone worldwide – has been a breakthrough.
“There’s no Antarctic ocean on the maps. The cold waves that beat against the Antarctic continent are from the southern portions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, and in their flow around the ice-rimmed land they mingle to form one vast gale-swept wilderness of water.” Russell Owen observed as he nailed the essence of where we were headed.