Tag Archives: adventure

Flashback Friday | A Christmas Miracle

I tightly clutched my St Christopher’s medal, and whispered a prayer “protect me”.  Even though I consider myself Catholic, I’m not a very good one.  Perhaps all this time in these heavily Catholic countries is wearing  off on me.  I gave Christopher one last squeeze, and tucked him safely under my shirt.  In reality, I was praying for a miracle.  A miracle that I would 1. finish and 2.not crash.

I took a drug test [they don’t let anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol ride], took a swig of some vile-tasting alcoholic beverage, [oh, the irony] sprinkled some of the same liquid on my bicycle tires and the ground, and said a prayer to PanchaMama.  I wouldn’t want to go pissing off Mother Earth with my prayer to the patron saint of travel.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

I  loaded up on the safety gear…elbow pads, knee pads, helmet, bright safety vest, wind-suit….  Had there been more, I would have put it on too.  What in the world had possessed me to sign up for a 40+ mile bike ride from La Paz, Bolivia to Senda Verde, Bolivia…a bike ride that changes in elevation from 15,900 ft to 3600 ft…a bike ride that travels a road with the moniker World’s Most Dangerous Road?  Did I mention that I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 18, and I have never been very graceful on 2 wheels? Did I mention it was Christmas Day? In Bolivia?

To be fair, it’s technically not considered the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” anymore. Due to the construction of a new highway close by, which directs most traffic away from its path, they’ve recently upgraded the trail’s nickname to a much more simple, passive and inviting moniker… “The Death Road”.

I’d hate to see the new road that has earned the name of World’s Most Dangerous Road

The ‘Practice’ Death Road

The start of the Death Road is located around an hour outside of La Paz, high up in the mountains.

The road’s twists and turns through the jungle as it winds down the steep road make it a scary path to travel. There are very few barriers stopping you from falling off the edge which makes it more dangerous than roads in other mountainous areas. The dirt road is full of potholes and scattered gravel meaning you have to stay focused for the entire four hours it takes to bike the road, bouncing over dips and bumps.

It was cold and rainy and as we sped down the highway I became soaked to the skin and started wondering why I’d even signed up for this in the first place. It was so misty that I could hardly see the view of the valley below which gave me a false sense of security because I couldn’t see how steep the drop off was to the right side of me.

All of a sudden there was a large BANG!

The tire of the person who was riding in front of me burst and rubber flew into the air.  As a side note, whenever I am driving on the interstate, this is my worst fear.

We pulled over and the we had a look a the damage. The tire had completely exploded, leaving nothing but loose rubber flapping around the metal rim.

At the top of the Death Road we received another briefing.  “Try not to stand up on your bike if you’re not a confident mountain biker. Try not to grip the brakes the entire time. Leave a good 10 meters between yourself and the person in front of you. Stay alert,” our guide told us.  I mentally calculate how far 10 meters is.  [about 30 feet or so for those wondering]

Under the guide of our tour leaders, we rode slowly five minutes further down the road before stopping for a sandwich and getting a new tire put on the damaged bike.  We piled into the van after this biking practice and snack and set off for the Death Road. It was eerily quiet as we drove.

I’m not sure what was going through everyone else’s head, but I had visions of my tire bursting and me losing control of my bike, being thrown to my death in the valley below.  Or someone else taking me out.  Either would be bad.

Dramatic, yes.  Out of the realm of possibility, absolutely not…

What they don’t tell you:  The Death Road is Quite Stunning

Perhaps one of the biggest dangers of the Death Road is that it’s so damn beautiful.  Valleys of green surround you and with each twist of the road there’s a chance you’ll come across a waterfall  or two cascading down from the top of the mountain.

When the rain stopped and I got hot from the exercise, it was easier to notice the beautiful vistas around me.  But I didn’t want to look too hard – I needed all my concentration to stay safe on the Death Road.

As we bounced down the beginning of the dirt track on the most dangerous road in the world, I began to realize that it was near impossible NOT to hold my brakes the entire time.  I’m the girl who rides my brakes on the Swamp Rabbit Trail; I most certainly was doing it here.  As soon as I let go, I picked up speed and felt as though I was going to lose control.

So the whole way down the mountain I gripped the brakes. Gently at some points and more vigorously at others.

Perhaps this gives you an idea of why I clinched the brakes so much.  At times, I could hardly see the rider in front of me.

My hands are not the strongest part of me.   So listen to me now: gripping mountain bike brakes for four hours was extremely painful.  Excruciatingly painful, but necessary.

So many times I was tempted to give up and ride in the van that was slowly following us down the road, but I held out.

No, we did not all fall over the edge of the cliff…we’re just taking a break.

Almost the end of me

The only time I managed to let go of the handlebars was when I wanted to fiddle with my camera which was slung across my chest…

And this was nearly the death of me.

I’d been recording video on my camera for awhile and wanted to preserve the battery life. So I let go of the handlebar with my right hand and, while looking down, I tried to feel for the off button.  BIG mistake.  

HUGE MISTAKE.

All of a sudden I found myself on the other side of the road, dangerously close to the edge. As I tried to swerve away from the cliff below, I jerked the handlebars too hard and fell towards the edge.

I felt as though I was moving in slow motion.

I think I screamed and tried to right myself but to no avail.

I was falling.

Thud.

I had landed on a patch of ground that jutted out over the cliff. Just behind where I’d fallen, entangled in my bike, was the open air leading to the bottom of the mountain.

In front of where I’d fallen was a sharp drop.   I watch the camera tumble over the cliff.

I’d literally fallen within centimeters of my death or serious injury.

“OH MY GOD. Are you okay?” the guide pulled up behind me, out of breath.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I tried to laugh. It sounded strangled.

“You scared me!” he said as he helped me up.

“Sorry!” I replied.

The End of the Road

I was shaken after my fall but not too shaken to keep on going. With hands tensed on the brakes, sending shooting pains up my arms, I managed to finish the Death Road with the other people in my group.

It felt like a massive achievement.

But the biggest reward for me was that I was still alive. My fall was a close call and really put a new spin on the term ‘living on the edge’.

Is it an experience I’d ever repeat?  Hell no.  Am I glad I did it when I did?  Absolutely.  Let’s just say I was never as happy to see a suspect swimming pool as I was when we got to Senda Verde lodge.

The Olympics and an Adventure

I freaking love the Olympics… everything about them… pageantry, sport, and adventure all rolled into one huge event. In an effort to make 2006 a much better year than 2005, I decided to a few things differently. One, I’ve moved.  For the first time ever [other than as an infant or study abroad], I’ve moved away from South Carolina.  I love South Carolina, but right now, SC has too many bad memories.  Death of a parent, a lying, cheating bastard X 2 that I dated. Pretty much everywhere I went had some kind of memory attached to it.

The Olympics… in Atlanta… Cool

I also haven’t been on a vacation since 2002 when I returned to Mexico.  After having lived in Mexico, and traveling all over the country and dipping my toes into parts of central America, not going anywhere for the entire time I was in school was hard.  I have wanderlust so bad I can hardly stand it.  As a means to that end, in December, a mere two months ago, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday in Italy.  Why Italy as opposed to *Spain*--where I’ve wanted to go since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona?

The Olympics or better yet, the Winter Olympics which I’ve never seen.  Hell, until very recently I’ve never even seen a hockey game much less seen anything like curling, luge, bobsled, skiing, or any number of other winter sports.  But in only two months time, I’ve managed to snare a ticket to the opening ceremony in Torino, a plane ticket from RDU–>Zurich–>Roma–>GSP, a train ticket from Zürich to Milan, a train pass for Italy, and tickets to olympic events in Cesana and Bardonecchia.  Oh and a place to stay those first five days I’m in Italy when the world’s cameras will be joining me on my Italian adventure.

I CANNOT WAIT.

*Spain is still high on my travel list.  I would love to hike the entire Camino del Santiago or explore Andalusia.  Or Barcelona.  Or Galicia. Salamanca. Really, I’d love to find a way to move to Spain  to live for a year or so.

That time I went to the Galapagos Islands

I don’t know if I ever mentioned that time I went to the Galapaos Islands.  I think going to the Galapagos Islands are one of those things that are on nearly everyone’s [ok maybe not everyone, but every traveler, animal lover, and science nerd I know] bucket list.  My own adventure to the islands involved a bit of serendipity and a lot of  meclizine.

Flashback to 2010:

It was September 2010, and I was working for an ecological research/preservation company.  The original plans were for me to split time between the Mindo Cloud Forest, the Lalo Loor Dry Forest, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest.  I did all that and more. But the highlight of my conservation internship was when I was asked to spend 10 days on a research boat on the Galapagos Islands tagging turtles.

galapagos islands turtles

These guys are huge and can live up to 175 years in captivity or 100 years in the wild

galapagos iguanas

and checking on these guys

galapagos island marine iguanas

don’t forget about these fellas

galapagos island sea lions 1

and revel in the cuteness of these lovable lions

My home for the 10 days was spent between living on a boat [not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as easy as I do while on a boat] and spending time at the Charles Darwin Research Center. There were not a whole lot of tourists on the islands. I don’t know if it was due to it being the low season [September] or the fact that back in 2010 there weren’t a whole of of tour groups coming to the island.

galapagos research station

Before he died in 2012, Lonesome George was the center’s most famous resident. He got his nickname because he was the last surviving member of his species. Scientiests tried mating George with several different ladies who were genetically close to George but nothing happened. He died without having reproduced and with his death, his species became extinct. I feel a little bad for him, living his last years in comfort but without the friendship of someone of his own kind.  George was also known for being a little bit of a recluse.  Each time I saw him, he was hiding behind something or behind the trees, but always munching on grass.

The giant tortises like George can weigh up to 800 pounds fully grown.

galapagos island baby turtles

Hard to believe that these little fellas will still be with us in 2180 and will be 800 pounds. I’d be lucky to survive to 2080.

One of the cool things about being a ‘researcher’ is getting to go where is usually off limits to tourists. And when you are in places not often frequented by human, you catch animals, or in this case turtles, having sex. I’ve never thought about tortoises having sex before, but I sure didn’t imagine them doing it ‘doggy-style’.

more turtle sex
Tortoise style

It must have been giant tortoise valentine’s day or something. I found another couple doing the same thing.

even turtles do it

All that tortise sex results in lots of babies, and it was because of the babies that I was there. See that yellow writing on the shells? That’s my handiwork…tagging baby land tortises for future scientific research.

baby land tortises

giant turtle
These guys have such personality. And they are only found on the Galapagos Islands. A lot of the creatures on the islands are like that. Being located over 600 miles from mainland Ecuador equals not a lot of genetic diversity. And that is a good thing especially from an evolutionary point-of-view.