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  You are here: Home > Travel Stories > South America

Travel Story by Jo Atkinson and Andrew Hearn

  The world´s most dangerous road

They drive like the Brits!

Gravity jolted and jarred us from chilly uplands to the steaming jungle of the Yungas, dropping 3000m, whilst fingertips were glued to the brakes for the whole 5 hour descent. Jo now sports painful stigmata. The "death" road clings to a crumbling cliff face. It is a deeply rutted dirt track and in places it is only 3ms wide, with a 1000m drop into the incredible abyss below. It is just wide enough for a fearless coach to scrape its way uphill, but all traffic descending the road must pull out onto sliver thin turnout ledges hanging over the precipice. If they meet head on, the downhill vehicle must do a crazy reverse manoeuvre, until a sliver is reached. On average 26 vehicles a year go for a cordless bungee spin over the edge. We passed wrecked cars, numerous crosses and a Hebrew memorial as an attestation to the roads danger. In places waterfalls spill onto the track adding to the peril. Kids with red and green paddles provide rudimentary signals for stretches of the road (watching the chain of command across the valley).

We plummeted down the lower reaches of the road at breakneck speed after initial caution on the more hairy sections. It does not look as scary from the road itself, except on hairpin bends, when the earth seems to just fall away beneath you. The ride was bumpy, causing jolting vision, burning thigh muscles and a very dry mouth. Passing vehicles and other bikes kicked up dense clouds of dust coating us from head to toe. We needed face masks to breathe.

The road simply seemed to fall away into the mist as we watched other cyclists descend ahead of us. The experience has become such a tourist attraction that at times it felt like the London to Brighton cycle ride, with the masses flocking to get a 'been-there done-that' t-shirt, with which every finisher is bestowed.

Thankfully, it was not till we were safely chumping down a hearty feast in a balmy jungle hideway near Coroico, surrounded by macaws and monkeys (unfortunately leashed for touristic gawping), that our guide Jose told us that 7 people, of various nationalities, have riden over the edge into the gaping abyss. However, this information gave Jo more than indigestion. the journey back up the "death" road in the dark was more terrifying than our comparatively breezy descent. Jo is not ashamed to admit that her palms sweated profusely. Our driver enthusiastically overtook camions (lorries) piled with people and bundles, buses and a petrol tanker on the thinnest of slivers, inducing a permanent near heart-attack state. The trucks in front churned up so much dust that these stunts were performed in visibility that was reduced to an orange glow. Oncoming headlights kept coming until near collison, before supplication into reverse. Snarl ups involving 5 or 6 vehicles required long strategy planning sessions by the roadside (well, if there was a roadside!). Terrifying. Jo agrees with the Lonely Planet statement, that if you travel along this road at night you must have a death wish.

Click on photo to enlarge

Honking of horns and flashing of lights- who can blame them?  These brakes have been checked continously  Reckon a fence would do good here?

Date Submitted: 19 Nov 2006

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