Sunday, August 9, 2009

And you call that the Death Road!?

This is the infamous Death Road outside of La Paz, Bolivia. Dozens of people used to die here when this was the major highway connecting La Paz with ... well, with some other city in Bolivia, and buses going down the narrow, twisting, unpaved road would occasionally plummet down the canyon. These days, there's a nicer, safer, paved road and this one is mostly just for tourists to bike down. And receive a t-shirt saying "I survived the Road of Death" ... if you make it, that is - over some 20-25 years that tourists have been pedaling down this road, a little over 20 have gone over the edge of the cliff, reinforcing the whole Death Road moniker, a little. Naturally, I went, while in La Paz back in May. Now, fast-forward to early August, all the way up to Lake Tahoe in Northern California, (or actually on the Nevada side of the lake), and I was once again powering my way across the mountains on a bike. Except, up here, I was on the Flume trail, which looks like this:

That would be about a 3rd of the average width of the trail we had back in Bolivia, certainly unpaved, with occasional other riders passing in both directions, and the same, unwelcoming cliff edge on one side. Of course, on the other side, you get this view of Lake Tahoe:

All in all, I had to conclude that if you were to let hordes of unruly backpackers onto the Flume trail (especially the Israelis, who are renowned all over South America for being especially bad at following instructions, and thus comprise over a third of the total number of fatalities on the Death Road), the guidebooks might have to reconsider the name 'World's Deadliest Road'. Fortunately (for the insurance companies that cover the people who rent the bikes?) the backpackers don't generally make it up to Tahoe, so I shared the trail with some calm and safe American tourists, and as far as I can tell, noone has ever plummeted to their death off the Flume trail... Instead, we all got to enjoy spectacular views of Lake Tahoe - the largest alpine lake in the US, apparently... proving that with enough qualifiers you can be regarded as the best in some category or another.

I ended up spending about a day and a half (one night) at Tahoe, doing a bit of hiking, a bit mountain biking, and a good bit of driving around the lake. And resurrecting the Russian tent for the night. So, a few more shots from Tahoe:

At the top of 10,000+ ft Mt. Rose, the highest peak around Tahoe

Rocky beach at the side of the lake

beautiful azure water, as looking down from the Flume trail

As for getting to Tahoe... after about two weeks of relaxing in San Diego, I finally concluded that it was time to move closer to facing the real world back in Seattle. Not wanting to rush things too much though, I bypassed the airport, instead hopping on an Amtrak train and making my way up the coast slowly, with a couple of stops along the way (thus adding the US to the long list of countries that I had crossed overland). By the evening of Day 1, we were in Oakland, which was my first stop - a few days of sightseeing around San Francisco, while catching up with friends there, and a side trip to Tahoe. The highlights of Tahoe were above, so on to a few shots of San Francisco:

Downtown San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Biking was somewhat of a theme around here, so I rented a bike and cycled across the bridge, stopping for a picture on the far side

Passing by Alcatraz island along the way - over a week waiting list for the tours of the actual former prison! I had to settle for a few long distance shots of the island

Another shot of the bridge - the weather eventually got better, but on this day, we had the standard San Francisco fog hugging the tops of the bridge

Weather clearing up over the other side of the bay

Sea lions - the stars of the show on Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf

Occasionally, ok very occasionally, I can pretend to be a little cultured - so a trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

And those were the highlights of Northern California - from there, further on up towards Seattle, more on that in another post.


b mathew said...

The art piece - is that Kiki Smith?

Alex said...

I think you may be overlooking the 'very occasionally' part of the being cultured statement, if you think I can answer that... Lott, claims yes, it's one of his early works, but he, of course, has no idea what he's talking about