Last Sunday, the 26th, seemed to be a typical day out on the road. My group was somewhat slow, but everyone arrived at the bottom safe and sound. We were a bit late leaving La Senda Verde, still, no big deal.
I had some Irish lads in my group and they proceeded to buy a bag of 20 beers. Between them and everyone else the bus kicked off one of the better parties I’ve seen in awhile. I anticipated quite an enjoyable evening drinking beer and talking to Mike, one of my clients, about philosophy, music, psychology, and life in general.
And then something unexpected happened. About an hour and a half after leaving we began to encounter snowflakes. Fifteen minutes later and we were in a full on snowstorm. And in another ten minutes we were stuck. As in the bus won’t go any more kind of stuck.
With no daylight left we had to make a choice. Steve and his group were in the bus behind us, and collectively we decided to give our clients the only two options we had; stay in the bus overnight, or get out and hike. The upcoming trek possibly could be a total trip of about 14 km in the storm. Yet, both our groups quickly decided that hiking, even if it took 4 or more hours, was preferable to remaining in the bus.
We handed out jackets, pants, and orange safety vests from our stash of riding gear. Then Steve and I got out one of our ropes from my rescue kit, doubled it back on itself, and we had everyone grab hold of the rope.
I led out, hiking at first with my headlamp on and then eventually turning it off as we left the 30 odd buses and cars stuck all within the same half km of road. We moved slowly, stopping semi-frequently because one of Steve’s clients had altitude sickness and was throwing up. After about 2 km one of the random tour buses became unstuck, turned around, and headed back up the road toward us. A few clients managed to get on the bus, including the guy who was sick.
I'm pretty tired here. If you look close you can see that I have a huge wad of coca in my right cheek.
We continued on and at La Cumbre, to my surprise, German, Battle Cruiser driver extraordinaire, came on the radio. He was almost to us and he brought backup in the form of a Policia Nacional pickup truck! They had let him through the road blockade about 10 km below, where I thought our original destination was going to be.
We quickly filled the Battle Cruiser and about 7 clients got on another tour bus coming by that had gotten out of the snow. I climbed in the bed of the pickup with Mike, by far the coolest guy I’ve ever had in my group. We continued talking politics and philosophy as the snow and wind swirled around us; my wet feet and hands finally feeling the cold with the absence of physical activity.
After about 20 minutes we arrived at the blockade and the police would go no farther. It was sleeting and we were having trouble getting through to a taxi company. Finally we came across a guy who was willing to brave the trip down through the sleet; so Mike, a couple of the Irish guys who rode in the cab of the pickup, and myself all piled into the poor guy’s car. Only the driver’s side wiper worked, and not very well. We spent most of the trip down on the left side of the road with the guy hanging his head out trying to see the left edge.
10 minutes later we came to a halt. Flat tire. Luckily we were down in the upper reaches of La Paz and the sleet had turned to rain. We gave the guy 50 bolivianos and apologized for overloading his car, and in all likelihood, giving him the flat. Then we hailed a cab and continued on our journey.
Finally, after burning CD’s and dropping off what little gear I managed to collect from clients, I collapsed into bed at 1 AM. But it was a good day, hell, it was a great day! We had adventure, and snow, and we managed to work together and get out of it. One of the more memorable experiences I’ve had since coming to Bolivia.
The next day Ben, Phil, and Alistair tried to go out with groups but they had to turn around, the snow was still too deep and the road was effectively blocked. It's only the second time in almost twelve years that a trip has been canceled. (The first was for protests involving dynamite).
Yesterday I worked again and the road was clear and dry. There was still snow covering the mountains and it was beautiful riding at the top.
There’s nothing better than a little adventure to break up some of the more monotonous moments of life!