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Published: February 27th 2008
The Death Road - La Cumbre - Coroico
Blind corners and sheers drops are everywhere on this road.
Much to the probable disappointment and worry of my mother, after climbing Huayna Potosi, i had a renewed sense of adventure which had to be filled in Bolivia. How to keep the adrenaline flowing? Well, when you have reached 6,000m, the only alternative is to go down.....quickly. Enter, the world´s most dangerous road.
To the North of La Paz, the high levels of the altiplano drop off rapidly to the low level pampas, continuing into the amazon jungle beyond. On the way out of La Paz, the road climbs up to a point at 4,660m altitude. In this area, you are surrounded by snow capped mountains all around, and the wind and snow blow through like an Aberdonian winter day.
From this point, the road drops, quickly, to the low level pampas area of Coroico. Over a distance of 60km, the road drops almost 3,500m in altitude to tropical humid heat. Whats more, a large proportion of this road is dirt track, and only just over 3m wide in some parts. The road clings to the sides of the valley as it plunges down, with sheer drops down one side of the valley of almost 1,000m at some points.
Further, in many points, waterfalls fall onto the road, loosening the road surface and making it less stable.
Now you might think reading this, that doesn´t sound too safe to drive along. You´d be right. In fact, in 1995, the road was named the most dangerous road in the world. Regularly an average of 26 vehicles a year would plunge over the side- busses, cars, leading to multiple fatalities. BBC News article on WMDR
Now as alert as the Bolivians are, they realised something had to be done. So they built a new tarred road to bypass the old one (It only took them 25 years to complete it.....and you thought the M25 Heathrow section took a long time!) So now the old La-Paz to Coroico road doesn´t get a lot of traffic, only a few lost trucks trundling up the hillside. What can we do with it instead then?
So the Bolivians decided it would be a great idea to charge gringoes a lot of money to mountain bike down the road! And stupid gringo that i am, i thought fantastic. So off i went.
Its an awesome ride. Covering 60km in around 3 hours on a mountain
One of the many crosses lining the death road
All reminders of the roads grisly past. This one marks where a lorry with 100 people in it went over the edge.
bike! The inital bit is on asphalt, which is really fast as you drop from the snow covered peaks. But then the real fun starts when you join "the death road" (As it is known in Bolivia) proper. Its just totally mad. The surface is really bad with loose stones everywhere. And it really is about the width of a decent sized bus in places. All along the road are the crosses, marking the spots where various vehicles have gone over the edge. And there is still some wreckage to be seen at the bottom of some of the hills.
At one corner on the road they show you a spot where a truck, filled with people in the back went over the edge. The driver and around 100 people were killed when it plunged 100´s of metres below.
The drops are dazzling along the road. But i was trying not too look too closely as i biked down, in case i would be next! But the amount of drop on the road itself is huge, so you get some real speed up on the bikes. And i survived in the end, as did all my group, for
Wheelie´s on the side?
Its much safer doing wheelies when you are standing on the ground!
a beer in the jungle.
After then spending a night in Coroico to recover from the experience, i hoped on a bus for a 19 hour journey further North into the jungle, to Rurrenabaque. Now, given the name of this blog, sitting on a bus doesn´t sound too dangerous. But i can tell you this was probably the most frightened i have ever been on a journey.
I think its fair to say this road must have been a pretty close second place in the "Most dangerous road in the world" competition. But its still used today. I wondered why when i bought my ticket, the lady told me i had a special seat with a great view, and then grinned at me.
In places, this road was only as wide as the death road. And i was on a double decker bus, by the window, looking straight down 500m drops to a fast flowing river below. We kept meeting banana trucks along the road, and had to back up to pàssing points along the narrow parts of the road, sitting right on the edge of the road as they squeezed through on the other side.
The road is frequently washed away in places
Not a great spot to wipe out on a fast downhill on a mountain bike!
Check out the video i took of one time. Thats us against the cliff on the right hand side, and straight down the valley on my side.
I have to admit, i have never been so scared after 5 hours on that bus. Especially after hearing all the stories of vehicles going over the edge on the death road! Luckily the drops reduced a fair bit for the night time part of the journey, or i just couldn´t see them any more. I´d highly recommend the bus to Rurre as a great way to see the scenery of Bolivia though. But i am definitely flying back to La Paz! I can´t endure that bus journey again.
So next up, its the jungle.
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