New cameras stashed safely in pockets, we’re on the road towards Coroico, trying to find the "Most Dangerous Road In The World". The only dangerous thing about the road we found was nearly freezing to death, or drowing from the copious amounts of rain being dumped on us. The road was supiciously wide and new and we realised, as we pulled into Coroico, that we’d missed the dangerous road completely and had cunningly found the new replacement. Damn. Still, a hostal with hot water and the hottest pizza in the world (or so Will thought) was sufficient consolation and we resolved to be more successful the next day.
The next morning we selected a different way out of town, located the the "MDRITW" (getting fed up of typing all those words!) and prepared to be suitably scared. "Most Dangerous"? Hmmm.
I guess you have to ask WHY it’s so dangerous. It might be because, for reasons known only to themselves, the Bolivian authorities have reversed the usual drive-on-the-right rule which no doubt complicates matters immensely. The name probably comes from the death toll on it…which is completely understandable when you realise that it’s a dirt track that has acted for many years as the main trunk road, carrying two-way traffic mainly consisting of heavy lorries and buses, neither of which are known for their manoeuvrability. The road is probably less dangerous than – for example – the road up to Kuelap in the north of Peru – that road had an infinitely worse surface (loose sand) and equally sheer drops. Still, the misnomer seems to attract plenty of "extreme" tourists, rolling bug-eyed down the road on mountain bikes as we clawed our way up, and I guess it does wonders for the economy of an otherwise remote and tiny mountain village.
Remarkably unimpressed with the MDRITW we froze over a pass at 15,300ft, drove through La Paz and out of the other side with an horrendous amount of hassle. Protests over contrabrand gas (or the lack of it) have brought main roads in the city to a halt, which, combined with the incredible geography of the capital (or it is the capital? Not sure) makes for very frustrating navigation, especially when directions consist of machine-gun spanish and a randomly-waved arm. It must be damn obvious that we don’t speak Spanish very well yet they show us no mercy at all – just wait till we meet them in the UK.
Eventually out of La Paz, we head south past Oruro as far as we can get before dark. As the sun dies, we ride along the edges of the salt plains, mountains swept back from the shores like piles of sand by a giant hand. The dying sun is spectacular, staining the sky red and orange as the temperature drops and we eventually find a tiny hospedaje for the night.
Next day we start early towards Potosi, the end of the paved road south, and then on towards Uyuni, the jumping-off point for the salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. We got incredibly lost (again) trying to find the road out of Potosi towards Uyuni – being a dirt track it’s not particularly obvious at all where the road goes – eventually, trusting the directions of a man with a theodolyte, we found the track and rode off into the desert.
What incredible riding. Bikes slipping on the sandy surface, sliding on the gravel marbles and clawing through loose soil – this has to be the best riding yet. In comparative safety it’s possible to maintain speeds of around 60km/h – excellent! A couple of amusing low-speed drops on sand – it’s hard to keep the front wheel straight! and another exhibition of Matt "DitchFinder General" Bye’s talent later, we dropped off out of the chilly Dartmoor-esque moorland plateau, through a military checkpoint (had to bribe the guys to let us through…cheeky sods) and down towards Uyuni, squatting at the edge of the salt flats. After being complimented on our Spanish by a local tour guide – she couldn’t believe we’d only had eight days of lessons (preen!) we located both a hotel and a superb pub/restaurant – with a real wood fire! – before bed.