I can’t believe that it could be all over… again!? There’s been so much that’s happened over the last few days that it’s difficult to know where to start. From Puno on Lake Titicaca in Peru to the Island of the Sun – then onto La Paz and now……maybe home.
So starting at the end… we’re now in La Paz, waiting to hear from the insurance company on how and when we’ll be repatriated back to the UK due to the extent of Claire’s injuries and the risk associated with our onward travel plans.
For those of you who’ve not heard the story yet let me explain……….. It starts with a legend – The main road between Bolivia’s capital city – La Paz and Coroico (a large Coco farming area) was for many years considered as the most dangerous road in the world…. with 350 – 400 people a year dying on it and countless more being injured. This single track dirt road weaves its way over the high Andes mountains hugging the cliff edge often with sheer drops of over 500m, a true legend in the motoring world. In recent years a new superhighway has been built allowing cars safe passage via a different route and reducing the amount of traffic and fatalities on the road significantly, allowing tourism to have taken off in a big way so that adventurous souls such as ourselves now have the chance to head down it on high-tec off road mountain bikes to experience the thrill of “the world’s most dangerous road” aka “Death Road”.
A small slither of the famous “Death Road”
Of course the road itself hasn’t changed much since the new highway was built but still it claims a couple of lives each year to tourists making their way down. Still this is something which I’ve read about in motorbike magazines for years and have also heard about from fellow travellers on route. We booked on with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, recommended by friends and by the Lonely Planet guide book, reputed to have the best equipment, guides and safety record of all the companies available – what could possibly go wrong!
We chose Gravity, because they had the highest safety record (i.e non of their group had died on the worlds most dangerous road!)
We met up early doors with our guides and the rest of our group – twelve 19 yr old Norwegian girls & their teacher, then headed off in the minibus to our start point – La Cumbre at 4,700m above sea level.
Our start point at La Cumbre with all the group looking fresh and eager
Bikes ready to go…..
Looking cool in a high-viz vest… Hmmmm
Team Pacel ready for action
A briefing from Paddy our Irish guide… ride within your limits, don’t be a dick…and have fun!
After a quick briefing and getting fitted onto our bikes, we started with the downhill road section to build up some confidence… this entailed basically following the guide, pointing down hill and tucking in so that the bike free wheeled downhill through the twisty turns at about 60km/hr for approx 63km. After heading through the police checkpoint and buying our permits we got onto the dirt track at last.
The conditions were pretty tricky, with recent rain there was plenty of rubble from landslides and the rocks etc were still damp making it quite slippery, this combined with the thick mist caused by the clouds we were in made it “interesting” to say the least. However I’d got some experience in off roading over the years on motorbikes with my mates at home so I was flying down at the front of the group grinning from ear to ear!
You can see the mist is pretty heavy, luckily this disguises the huge and scary drop off
More scenes of us heading into the mist, notice how narrow the road is, not much room for error
Time for a rest and a photo opportunity at postcard corner – this gives you an idea of the kind of drop offs we were cycling next to
So far so good!
After about a quarter of the trail we pulled over to get the group together again and seemed to wait for what seemed like forever… only 4 of us were with the lead group and there seemed to be an unnaturally long gap between us and the rest of the group…. I began to get that funny feeling in my stomach… where was Claire? She was just behind me a few minutes ago!
After a few minutes the Norwegian teacher arrived (a trauma nurse by profession)….
“The others are coming, there was a bit of an accident (she turns to look at me) your wife has come off her bike near the waterfalls and is following in the bus, I think she’s quite hurt!”
OMG, my stomach dropped, a million things started running through my mind – I looked up the road and waited for first sight of the minibus, which after about another 5 minutes came bouncing down the road over the rocky surface.
I raced to the bus and as I looked inside I saw Claire laying on her side across a bench seat, eyes tightly closed and holding her arm close to her body… her breathing was shallow and rapid, a slight whimpering noise coming ever so often. This was serious!!!!
We were lucky enough to be in the company of quite a few medical people – a trauma nurse, 4 physiotherapists and a guy from the red cross – Who’d a thought it! We agreed that Claire should be taken to hospital asap, (OMG a Bolivian Hospital, this didn’t sound good!)
However, getting to the hospital would be the next adventure – heading back up Death Road on a minibus, bounding over every rock and lump on the way, then the long road back via La Cumbre to La Paz, about 2 hours in total.
After 2 x-rays and an examination from the specialist the prognosis was a dislocation of the shoulder, 2 fractures around the shoulder and another bone displaced. Gutted!!
Claire was put into an upper body plaster cast which resembles a straight jacket to avoid any further damage and was discharged the same evening.
The shocking proof
You can see the swelling & initial bruising here…and on the positive side the very clean/nice hospital (phew!)
Claire in her cast – aka the straight jacket…pretty uncomfortable!
Despite banging her head quite hard Claire remembers what happened fairly well, after turning a steep corner and braking she flew over the handlebars onto the boulders beneath her, with the bike landing on top of her – ouch!
We’ve spent the last couple of days laid up in La Paz speaking to the insurance company and working out what happens from here… their advice is that based on the injuries sustained together with the travel plans we’ve got their is a risk of further damage to Claire’s shoulder, so in their view we should come home. Argentina & Brazil would have to wait for another trip, bad times….
So it could be all over…. again!?
I’ll try to put on some photos of the other things we’ve done recently like Lake Titicaca, the Island of the Sun and La Paz, I’ll also put on another blog asap to let everyone know what’s happening, but until then it’s just a waiting game.
To be continued……………………………………………?