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YUNGAS DUST

Zeger pedals off on a rollercoaster bikepacking adventure, looping from La Paz - Bolivia’s capital - through the Yungas jungle on the infamous Yungas Road. Expect stunning snaking dirt roads, smiles, lush landscapes and alpacas...

Leaving the snakepit that is La Paz, the first challenge is a climb up to La Cumbre (4562m), and after a few hours of cycling I found myself immersed in the big, peaceful mountain surrounds; that is until drunk alpaca shepherds chase me to steal some bread. A funny or a scary experience, I am still yet to decide. I pitched my tent just before the mountain pass – out of sight of shepherds –  ready for the descent from the col to the crazy valley road infamously called ‘the Death Road’ (Yungas Road) due to the record number of casualties plummeting off the steep road cliffs over the years. Now the area makes a touristy downhill biking attraction. The shreddy 60-kilometre 3300m descent is a goodun by bike, watching the vegetation change and feeling the humidity pick up. Taking my socks off that night, I had my first visual reminder of what would become a permanent spray tan the coming week – the Yungas dust – humid and hot conditions in combination with dusty roads makes stuff stick as if you’ve just been powder coated.

Aside from the sticky conditions, the trip was a pleasant introduction into the green valleys of Bolivia. What a contrast to the endless barren and dry Altiplano! The people are super kind – I was met with smiles as soon as I took a turn off the touristy Death Road into the less explored small farmer villages of the region. It is the mountains, so – yes – there is a lot of climbing to be done; steepness awaits as the road winds through the coca fields and vegetation. On my third night, I couldn’t find a roadside camping spot due to the engulfing, dense jungle vegetation and ended up pitching my tent at an abandoned hotel that a wealthy German couple once constructed, staying for a day of rest and free algae filled swimming pool dips. No doubt there are some similar hidden gems in this dense pre-jungle. Unexpectedly, I was greeted also by the Afro-Bolivian community which is present in the Yungas; their attire and culture is an eclectic mix of African and indigenous Andean tribe heritage…

In these parts, the heat, humidity and altitude definitely works on your nerves after a while and even basic tasks like finding a flat spot to pitch a tent becomes quite a challenge amongst these steep, dense hills. Somewhat stressed and exhausted, I decided to leave the route and ride towards a small village called Taca, not far off it. Upon arrival, my voice cracked when asking a kind lady if I could pitch my tent. A cocktail of fatigue and relief kicked me right in the tear glands as I sat sobbing on a bench in the central plaza. I tried to explain my tears were happy tears. Here I was, the rough tough solo bikepacking adventurer crying next to his bicycle – no doubt quite an endearing but funny sight, as locals later told me I was the first tourist (gringo) to come through the village this year.

Before I had the chance to say I was alright, just a bit tired and relieved to be in a safe spot, everyone started bringing me snacks & drinks and the local teachers invited me for dinner that night in their small shared house. The less people have, the more they are willing to give. After some dinner, we ended up playing football in the schoolyard – “que pasa chicos this gringo knows how to play ball?!” – until after dark. The villagers warmly waved me out as I the next morning. I rolled away grinning ear to ear – never to forget this emotional spot where my vulnerability was greeted with the most beautiful hospitality. A taste of Yungas fairy dust…

From Taca, I was back on track and the bikepacking vibes were good as I climbed two more days to reach the last mountain pass over 4500m … from which point I’d descend back into La Paz with empty legs and a full heart. There were no trams, but awesome ski lifts to help avoid inner city traffic. After this first solo experience in the Yungas, I can confirm what many solo cyclists had told me before: the lows are lower but the highs are higher. ​Gracias las Yungas, nunca te olvidaré…

CREDITS

Words & Photos
Zeger Dox / @r.ookiemistakes

Route
Cass Gilbert – La-Gira-de-sur-Yungas – 370KM +12000M / @whileoutriding

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