Biking the World’s Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia

Death Road Memorial

It started out as an idea.  What would be the coolest thing to see in Bolivia?  I’d heard and seen the dangerous road featured on SciFi and National Geographic programs, so getting a glimpse of the road was my objective.  I’d also heard about some other things featured on Sci Fi, like Puma Punku and Tiuanaku, but I’ll save that for another post.  In my search for information on seeing the world’s most dangerous road, I came across Gravity Bolivia, a high adventure extreme sports adventure travel site for the adventure traveler.  If you’re going to go… you have to go with them. Best in safety equipment and support.  On this one, I believe it does matter.  I usually don’t endorse, but on this adventure, you have to be extremely careful.

Death Road Bolivia

In their own words…

“Quite deservedly, this mountain bike ride is our most popular and World famous. Gravity has been featured guiding and riding this road in more than 60 magazine and newspaper articles, (as well as six television shows and on the lips and Blogs of almost every backpacker and adventure traveler in South America), this downhill mountain bike ride is not only famous, but so is GRAVITY!”

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My brother in law Jeff, who had never even been to South America joined us on this adventure.  He said it was absolutely the craziest, scariest, best adventure, day of his life.  He rode on the middle bar of one of our instructors this wasn’t the original plan.  They didn’t have a small enough bike, but they accommodated in a serious way.

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The ride is one of a kind with the most spectacular descent of 3,600m/11,800 feet from snow-covered high-altitude mountain ranges down to the Amazonian Jungle with most of the 64kms (40 miles) of downhill riding on the road locally known as “The Death Road” or “Camino de la muerte!”  The true stories you’ll hear are real.  This road is not a joke.  It’s serious with sheer cliffs with 3000 ft (1000 meter) drops.  The long ropes they carry aren’t long enough for the longest drops and there isn’t a survival rate on those drops either.

Death RoadRuta De La Muerta

Why would someone ride on a road called the death road?  For me, I wanted to do the investigation, read the stories and determine if it was something I wanted to do.  Initially I simply wanted to see what the fuss was about, but when I heard I could take it at my own speed and with instructors who would tell you about the turns along the way, and give you professional equipment I was slowly convinced I could do it.

On the site they say the ride is for “Confident beginners to experts, average fitness and above, and in particular, those looking for a long, world-class, downhill mountain bike ride.”  The Trip Advisor ratings for Braving the World’s Most Dangerous Road and scores for this ride were off the charts at the level of Chernobyl.  Here’s what I said in my review “I just got back from a whirlwind tour of 3 capitals in South America and the thing that stands out above all was my ride down the Worlds Most Deadly road. I was a little scared, but I did my homework and read all the reviews and looked into the various companies that do this ride.
First off Gravity is quality. The whole time my needs were met. Andy our guide watched out for us. He told us at each stop what to expect and how to handle it. He wasn’t pushy and allowed us to take things at our own pace.”

Death Road Cliffs of Bolivia

I don’t want to tell anyone they have to do this.  I don’t want any responsibility at all for convincing anyone to put their life in their own hands.  It’s liberating, and will scare you, but it’s also likely one of the most dangerous things I’ve done.  That being said, I know I was riding a good 40 miles an hour down the hill at times and feeling an incredible rush.  My front brakes needed to be adjusted part way down the mountain, and a guy in our party hurt his arm and shoulder scraping them on the road.

Road Rash

La Paz is an amazing place.  When we landed at the airport I was pleased to find they had reduced their visa fees.  I got a Bolivian visa for only $60.  Only 3 years ago I was looking at $160 x 3 since I was with my wife and baby and at the time none of us had the yellow fever shot.  This time we were all ready and got our visa on arrival and yes at the new reduced fare.  As of Nov 16, 2014.

La Paz Cliffs

When we got off the plane an older lady fell on her face, and after a quick jog, we were all dangerously out of breath.  Don’t push it here.  When you first get off the plane, the Swahili mountain words of wisdom come to mind… “pole, pole” comes to mind.  “Slowly, slowly.”  Chewing the cocoa leaves and sucking out the juice (a local remedy) do the trick for helping alleviate the high elevation headache, or bring your high elevation pills.  We decided to ride on day 2 of our stay in Bolivia.  That was intentional and smart.  It allowed us to acclimate at the world’s highest capital.

On Top of the World Bolivia

These cliffs are no joke!

Deadliest Road

The ride is beautiful.  The jungle really sucks you in, and the views are out of this world.  We stopped 15 times along the route to take pictures, drink liquids, and take in the amazing view.

The Death Road Crew

Michael Noel, Jeff Beaulieu, and Joel Oleson geared up and ready to ride.  Bike, gloves, jacket, pants, helmet and goggles all provided by Gravity Bolivia.  We all made it.  Incredible experience.

GoPro3 Youtube Highlight Video of our Crazy Experience

World’s Deadliest Road Highlights from Helmet and Chest Cam

“Mountain Biking for 64km down the World’s Most Dangerous Road (WMDR, aka Yungas Road, aka Camino de las Muertas, aka Camino de las Yungas) in Bolivia. The trip starts at an altitude of 4650m and ends at 1200m. I tried to edit this down to the highlights of the journey. Taken from my GoPro3 with myself, Joel Oleson, and Jeff Beaulieu sharing camera duty throughout the ride” uploaded and edited by Michael Noel http://sharingtheglobe.com

I facebooked a video of the narrowest part of the road as we drove back on the road.  In a lot of ways it was more scary riding the bus back on that crazy road than on a bike.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152932118078783

I’ll be uploading more video to my youtube channel in the coming weeks.  You can subscribe to my traveling epic youtube videos.  I’ve gotten over 1.4 million views across the channel.

Top 10 Must See in Baku Azerbaijan: Fire Temple, Mud Volcano, and Early Man sites


In my quest to visit every country I wasn’t sure what to expect with Azerbaijan.  What looked like a small country with a checkered past sprinkled with war and conflict with Armenia.  I was definitely interested in learning about the people, the culture and learning what Azerbaijan had to offer the world and for fellow travelers. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was blown away with the treasures of this land.

What I found was fantastic.  Azerbaijan is a very culturally rich country with a deep past.  A former soviet block country with it’s own history and it’s own identity, Azerbaijan is rich.  Rich culturally and figuratively with oil and very culturally rich.

Baku is in and of itself a stand out city that should be held up against the greatest in the region in comparison with Dubai and Doha .

1. Baku Zoroastrian Fire Temple – Ateshgah of Baku.

The Temple of Fire “Ateshgah” on the List of World Heritage Sites, UNESCO. It’s been a museum since 1975.  The fires use to come out of the top of the 4 corners.  This fascinating fire temple was a place of worship long ago and most of the history before 1700 has been lost.

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In front of the fire temple

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This recreated piece shows what it would have been like, complete with Zoroastrian pilgrims and Persians

Modern Baku – Baku is a fascinating city with many modern buildings that would boggle the mind.  I thought I was in Dubai or Qatar when I started seeing the array of modern, brilliant and fantastic architectures.

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2. Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center

– amazing example of modern architecture. The white building is a major landmark in the heart of Baku City.  The immaculately white building comes in the shape of waves. It is no doubt an impressive structure and an great achievement in field of modern architecture and engineering.  I can’t imagine trying to make the bricks for this.  No lines are straight!

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3. Baku Flame Towers

is a striking new addition to the skyline of Baku. Located atop a hill on the Caspian Sea overlooking Baku Bay and the old city center, the three towers were inspired by Azerbaijan’s ancient history of fire worshipping, and will illuminate the city and act as an eternal flame for modern Baku. 190 Meters… towering above old town.

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4. World’s 2nd Largest Flag Pole – National Flag Square

The flag square is one end of the boardwalk, so really you’re just on one end of the Caspian sea and 5K walk through the park across the street from the Old Town.

The flag you see was the largest in the world until Dushanbe Tajikistan took it over by just 3 meters.  Big flag.

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I suggest you either take the

5. Steps for City View Funicular and night time viewing of the Flame Towers

up to the top to get a close up view, or ask your taxi or driver to take you to the steps shown to get a close up view of the Flame Towers.  This is a must see spectacle lighting up the night sky with fires.

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6. Must See Sunrise and Caspian Sea and seaside boardwalk

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Baku is a beautiful city, and walking along the seaside boardwalk and heading for a jog at sunrise is incredible.  Beautiful sunrise creeping up over the Caspian sea.  You can see the oil residue in the water.  It’s not appealing, but the jog or walk along the the sea side can’t be beat.  I recommend Milli Park, which is right near the Maiden tower, which is in Old Town.  So very easy to combine visits to a bunch of this stuff.

Seaside Boulevard was opened in May 2012 and extends from the ‘Baku Sports Palace’ (Bakı İdman Sarayı) to the ‘National Flag Square’.

7. Mud Volcanoes

– The worlds mud volcanoes are in large part in Azerbaijan.  They say that more than 50% of the worlds mud volcanoes are in this country.  I don’t doubt it.  It hasn’t become the tourist attraction it deserves.  We had the whole place to ourselves.  Our driver really didn’t want to take us in his nice car, but we twisted his arm and the offroad dirt roads he took to get there, I now understand his hesitation.  It was probably my favorite thing we did there.  The mud was bubbling up creating cinder cones of mud, we played around.  It’s not hot to the touch, in fact it was cool.  Very strange and fascinating world.

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8. Gobustan Early man site and Petroglyphs – UNESCO world heritage site.

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Early man carved out these holes to capture water for drinking.

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Gobustan Rock Art – outstanding collection of more than 6,000 rock engravings bearing testimony to 40,000 years of rock art. The site also features the remains of inhabited caves, settlements and burials, all reflecting an intensive human use by the inhabitants of the area during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age, from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages.  The invading armies of Alexander the Great and Trajan also left some interesting grafitti.  We didn’t find this on our journey… may have been inside the gated area, but we really enjoyed what we saw.  So much there, but you’d likely need a guide to get off the route and see more.

There were a lot of petrogliphys.  We did the self guided tour, and later stopped in the museum that’s near the entrance of the park.  It was fascinating to see.  We combined seeing the mud volcanoes and the petrogylphys and early man stuff in Gobustan.

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Walking through the center of town you’ll find a fascinating walking street through the town. Be sure to take the underground walk ways when you encounter busy streets and obey the traffic signs.  The cars won’t stop for you.  There are lots of fountains and fascinating things to view walking through the city.

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9. Old City and Maiden’s TowerOld City (a UNESCO World Heritage site)

First thing to see in the city and likely where you should stay near… this mysterious and eccentric tower was built somewhere between the 7th and 12th centuries and may have served as a fire beacon, defensive fortification, astronomical observatory, or Zoroastrian temple

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Old City Baku

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If you like Sports… check out the 2015 European Games planning on Baku Azerbaijan as the host.  They are getting state of the art stadiums to host the games.

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10. Bibi-Heybat Mosque –

The Bibi-Heybat Mosque is a historical mosque in Baku, Azerbaijan. The existing structure, built in the 1990s, is a recreation of the mosque with the same name built in the 13th century by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad II Ibn Ahsitan II, which was completely destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1936. The Bibi-Heybat Mosque includes the tomb of Ukeyma Khanum (a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad), and today is the spiritual center for the Muslims of the region and one of the major monuments of Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan.

What I missed, that I wanted to see.

  • Go and enjoy the oil baths of Naftalan.  Seriously baths of crude oil… petrol!
  • The Baku Airport is one of the few in the world offering flights to Nakhchivan and travelers heading that way should book a flight from here.  My friend Michael who traveled with me was able to fit it in and spent a good day there.

Skiing in the Desert of Dubai & Road Trip to Oman

Ski Dubai

I’ve been skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in Dubai.  It’s a surreal experience.  I do recommend it.  The novelty factor is very high given the extreme hot temperatures in desert sandy HOT HOT conditions that Dubai and the UAE is known for.

A quick tour of the Ski Hill in the Mall in Dubai

 

I’ve had some incredible adventures in Dubai speaking at TechEd Middle East and at the SharePoint Conference.  My friends L-R Michael Noel, me, and Zlatan Dznic, took our turn at Snowboarding and Skiing the great slopes of the Mall in Dubai.  It’s really a decent hill, likely better than many mountains in the East Coast.  While the snow conditions were a little icy for my taste, I really really enjoyed the experience.  While it was a bit pricey, it was a blast and a great memory.  We all were glad we did it.  By the way, don’t worry about bringing your equipment to Dubai, it’s not that much more to get the full package of the full blue suit, and the gear.

 

Todd Klindt a popular SharePoint speaker went with me tubing, he didn’t want his first experience skiing to be in mall.  For that I don’t blame him.

Todd goes for a ride

Dubai is an amazing Oasis that is so much more than that now.  The world’s tallest building definitely stands out as a must see.  It is.  I saw it going up, and saw it after it opened up, and I’ve been so impressed with the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Dubai, both magnificent buildings. 

It says so much for what is possible with passion and a little money.  Give it a few years, we’ll see if they can hold onto it or if Qatar or Bahrain or Kuwait take on the challenge to push the limits.  I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone of those rich Arab Oasis were to take on architectural feats.  They are all doing amazing things with land reclamation, and the Palms, the Pearl, the World… All these water projects with architectural marvels are so incredible.

 

Not only did I go snowboarding in the snow, I did get out on the sand slopes and had my turn at Sand Boarding as well.  Everything is great until the abrupt stop at the bottom of the slope.  Getting out into the sand and fitting in some camel rides, and having traditional

food around a fire with some possible belly dancing and dancing a bit yourself may sound like a tourist trap, and most of it is.  Which is why I encourage you to track down the real berber experiences.  The multi day trips into the Sahara from Morocco are much more authentic.  Much of what you get out of Dubai is akin to the dude ranch things they put together in the US where they let you ride a horse and show you a farm.  It’s not the same as getting on a horse for a real round up or branding session.  You’ll have to decide what kind of dose works for you on that.  It was reasonable enough and I had a day to kill so I decided to do the touristy thing and go on an organized tour that included the 4 x 4 in the sand, In fact I rode in a hummer which was that much more cool.  That was a great ride.  The camel ride I’ve done too much at this point, but they had that as well.  I always appreciate belly dancing, so that was a great bonus… sitting out under the stars listening to traditional music with the sand in my hair… it was a blast. I must admit. 

There were some campy moments walking around the tents and trying on the apparel, but it was still awesome. 

It’s quite possible to jump in a rental car and drive to Oman, which Michael and I did.  We went all the way to the coast, drove along the beach, and played around a little.  In all we crossed 4 or 5 of the Emirates, and while in Oman we saw the different facial gear the Muslim women wear in Oman.  I was fascinated.  It had more of a metallic face guard looking thing I mentioned in my Qatar post.

I really enjoyed my time in Dubai.  It’s a beautiful Oasis.  The buildings are truly magnificent.  If the Emirates were trying to send a message to the Western World that they should pay attention, I think many many more are really listening.  We are a much more global world.  The days of the Sears Tower and the New York Empire State Building had their moments.  They had their day in the sun, and I think it’s great to see more representation around the world.  America needed to make itself known and now it needs to share that stage.  The more I travel, the more I do recognize the need for self actualization for many other nations.  We need to recognize the amazing qualities of every country and feel their pains and celebrate their wins.  Dubai and all of the UAE for that matter is an incredible Oasis of the world.  They have risen out of the Sand and are a real gem.  Cheers and Congrats on the Burj’s.  Great scenes in Mission Impossible.  Was cool to see where I was.

New Baby Penguin First Encounter Footage from Antarctica

Cute Little Baby Penguin Chick

Mother feeding baby penguin
Mother Gentoo Penguin Feeds Baby

The most popular comment right now on my baby penguin youtube video is an upset viewer comment saying… “I can’t believe you &^%$ stopped filming!”

A lot of the traffic I’m getting right now is traffic from my popular baby penguin video filmed on a trip to Antarctica where I met a baby penguin that has never met humans.  The baby penguin video has gone viral.  My encounter was surreal.  I was given the advice to not approach the penguins, but it was ok for them to approach me.  Additional advice was to kneel to as to avoid looking tall and intimidating.  I took the advice to the next level and laid on the rocky shore.  What ensued was an amazing encounter of man and bird.  We calmly spent an hour on the beach interacting with our new found friends.

Here’s a video where my baby penguin friends get comfortable and jump on my stomach.  Very close up footage of the baby Gentoo penguins.

Curious little baby penguins

These cute little guys were curious.  They pick at my clothes and in waiting for their parents to bring back food they are looking for anything they can get.  This little one jumps on my legs.  In the background on the water you can see a research vessel.  As well you can see the older penguins waddling around.

Chubby little gentoo penguin jumps on my legs. Sorry it’s only 23 seconds.

In this next video you get a more holistic view of the beach.  There’s Paul and Ricardo, with Michael off further in the distance having his own encounter.

Baby Penguins just chillin on the beach… not threatened at all. Just curious.

I hope you enjoyed the new footage.

Floating Islands of the Uros and Nazca Lines of Peru


The Nazca lines are unique in that it built or put together thousands of years ago and then only discovered when planes were invented.  These lines are not just one or even a handful of pictures that many cover miles and miles with incredible precision.  They are truly a mystery.  UNESCO added the site in 1994.  Even in visited Nazca I was surprised to find out there are more than just Nazca.  scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD.  The creatures are 650 feet across.

Nazca Lines from private flight the air.
Spider Geogliph
Spider Geogliph

The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines and more complex geometric lines to hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, llamas, and lizards.  Wikipedia entry on Nazca lines provides some more detail: “the Monkey is 93 meters (310 ft) by 58 meters (190 ft), and the Spider is 47 meters (150 ft). The extremely dry, windless, and constant climate of the Nazca region has preserved the lines well. The Nazca desert is one of the driest on Earth and maintains a temperature around 25 °C (77 °F) all year round. The lack of wind has helped keep the lines uncovered and visible to the present day.”  Figures are still being discovered, and there are many universities who continue to study them.  It’s amazing you can see them from google maps. Search for “nazca lines” and it will put you nearby the spider.  Zooming in and out you can see some of the geoglyphs are marked.

The PanAmerican Highway
The Pan American Highway

UROS

One of the most fascinating cultures live on floating islands.  An ancient culture with their own language, and a history that extends back before the great Inca civilization.  They survive because of their traditions.  They built these reed islands originally to avoid the Inca.  They could simply pull up anchor and shove off.  If there are ever any major family disputes they can simply be solved by carving off a piece of the island.  The islands themselves are continuously built and added on.  They do speak some Spanish, and some have learned a little English from tourists.

Getting up close and personal with the Uros people of floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca

I personally do worry this will become a tourist attraction and not be much of the authentic lifestyle, but today it’s still very real.  There is now one hotel/hostel/hut where you can stay.  A tour can be organized from Puno.

Uros Cultural Dance
Uros Cultural Dance

I was so surprised I hadn’t heard of this place until I started researching the area.  Believe me, there is a lot to see.

We also visited an island Taquile in the middle of Lake Titicaca that is another unique culture. There are a couple of other islands in this highest freshwater lake at 3,800 meters above sea level.  50 miles wide 130 miles long.  “The society of Taquile is still based on collective work and the Inca moral code “Ama sua, ama llulla, ama qilla” (do not steal, do not tell lies and do not be lazy). Taquile is best known for its textiles, the finest crafts, not only in Peru, also in the world.”  Hand weaved by 80+ year old men.

Uros Floating Islands
Uros Floating Islands

Viral Baby Penguin Travel Video Goes Mainstream


In my previous post, I shared how my traffic on my baby penguin video started to take off.  I was getting requests from various people asking them if they could use my video, and others looking for rights.  Analyzing the traffic was fascinating.  The 15 minutes of fame as one commenter mentioned continues as the baby penguin video really takes off.  I knew this was going big when I was getting requests from ABC Good Morning America and Yahoo.  What I didn’t know was when it would end and I sure wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to make it end early.

It was this morning, that I got a tweet from someone saying… they came across my video not only on Yahoo, but on their home page!!  I was super excited.

One thing I’ve been careful about it making sure to have them include this, my travel blog http://travelingepic.com in the credits.  I’ve been traveling for years, and have visited over 120 countries since 2008.  Many recent comments ask how that’s even possible.  Five years ago I left Microsoft to pursue more travel.  I was traveling once a quarter or so during that time mostly to Europe or Australia, and about once a year to Asia, but I was very anxious to see South America and more of Asia.  I left Microsoft and started at Quest Software where during the first two years there I was on the road over 200 days and travelled outside the U.S. during about half that time.  As a software evangelist, I would speak at over one hundred conferences of my choosing including nearby SharePoint user group communities. (SharePoint is the product I have built expertise in, and have been working with nearly 12 years.  Hence the name of my technical blog http://sharepointjoel.com, rated the best SharePoint blog recently by the community.)

The requests keep coming in.  Being on the homepage of Yahoo this morning was huge for me.  I was really hoping that the ABC World News Diane Sawyer would go through, but I’m sure some more important news bumped the penguin video.

I’ve been working on a new Video that I hope you’ll enjoy.  If you like Baby Penguins, you might like Wild Baby Monkeys from Bali.  Would you guess he jumps on my head?

This cute baby monkey surprised me by jumping on me and trying to take my camera

Here are a few other places where my baby penguin video has been showing up…

Serious Mainstream Press: CBS, ABC, FOX

including a few places in the UK.  ITN actually added music and voice over, the stories themselves have been getting richer and richer.

I’m really pulling for the Ellen Show or Tosh.0, if they are listening.  I’m in love to tell my story!