March 23, 2013
Struth! The Road of Death
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that if you complain at election time about the condition of some of our country roads, consider the lot of those who have to use the North Yungas Road in Bolivia – known locally as El Camino de la Muerte, or The Road of Death.
Running 60-something kilometres from the administrative capital of La Paz to Coroico in the Amazon rainforest region of the country's north, the road rises as high as 4650m in some places and drops to around 1200m in the mountains at its final destination.
But it's the way that it clings to the mountainous cliff-sides that have earned it its gruesome nickname, coupled with the fact its just 3.2m wide, has no guard rails, and in most places falls 600m or more into valleys below.
Add to this the torrential rain that can make the surface like glass and its little wonder that before an alternative road was built, the North Yungas Road claimed between 200 and 300 lives a year, including in one horror accident more than 100 passengers in a bus that fell off the side into a ravine below.
And yet despite being only 3.2m wide, heavy trucks that still use the road actually pass each other – bizarrely each travelling on "the wrong side of the road" to do so, but meaning that the driver of the truck heading downhill is on the outside of the road, and therefore can see just how close his wheels are to the 600m drop below him.
While fewer trucks are now using the road, its still popular with thrill-seeking holidaymakers in 4WDs – and in recent years has been luring increasing numbers of mountain bike enthusiasts who are catered for by local companies that take them and their bikes to the highest point of the road for a 50km-plus, heart-stopping downhill ride that's dubbed The Dice With Death….