Dec. 3/12 – It really wasn’t that scary, until I looked out the window and over the edge and saw the vertical drop of hundreds of feet looming only a few feet away from the window with no guard railings at all! My heart beat as fast as when I was riding the roller coaster except that the ride on this Death Road was much longer. This is by far the most dangerous road I have ever travelled.
I asked Deon, “Are you scared?”
Then, in Chinese, he said, “No, I am not. I am just a feet away from dying.”
I said, “Oh really, but I am very scared.”
Then he said, “Mom, I was just being sarcastic.”
Why is Death Road called Death Road?
· Most of the road is no wider than 3.2 meters (10.49 feet) wide and is navigated by trucks and buses.
· There are constant steep drops of at least 600m (1968 feet) without any barriers or guard rails.
· Extreme dust clouds from vehicles in the summer and fog all year round often reduce visibility to almost zero.
· Rain in the winter months often washes away parts of the road, reducing visibility as well as causing landslides and the loosening of rocks from the hillsides above..
· In many places, the road surface is muddy with loosened rocks from the hillside above.
THE DEATH ROAD – The North Yungas Road is by far the most dangerous road on the planet, so dangerous that it has earned the epithet ‘Death Road.’ The road covers a 70km stretch between La Paz and Coroico over a decent of 3,600m (11,811 feet) with ridiculously tight hairpins and narrow passages to navigate, all while rider try to avoid a steep 800m drop.
The Yungas road was built by 10,000 prisoners during Bolivia’s 1932-35 war with Paraguay. For many years, it was the only route linking northern Bolivia to the country’s capital.
It is legendary for its extreme danger and in 1995, after some disastrous accidents, the Inter American Development Bank christened this route “The Most Dangerous Road in the World.” This was based on the macabre ratio of death per mile. Each year since it was built, up to 200-300 people have died on this highway: coca-growers, soldiers – and the odd tourists. Until a new road was constructed in 2006, this narrow unpaved “highway” – a major artery linking the capital city with the Bolivian jungle – was responsible for hundreds of deaths per year, with cars and buses falling over the sheer cliff sides at the rate of one every other week. Since the new road has opened in 2006, traffic on this original section is very light these days with mainly bikers and tour vehicles for visitors only.
Ironically, the danger of the road made it a popular tourist destination starting in the 1990s, drawing some 27,000 thrill seekers each year. Mountain biking enthusiasts in particular have made it a favourite path since there is a 64-kilometre (40 mi) stretch of continuous downhill ride with only one uphill section, which is a short one. There are now many tour operators offering this activity, providing information, guides, transport, and equipment. Nevertheless, the Yungas Road remains dangerous.
Since the 1990s, companies have offered tourists the opportunity to mountain bike along this hair-raising highway with stunning scenery and a healthy dose of adrenaline. Unfortunately, the Death Road has not spared cyclists; at least 18 cyclists have died on the ride since 1998.
I have heard about The Death Road Tour from a backpacker in Mendoza so since adrenalin is my drug of choice, I decided to go. The agent I contacted told me the biking skill level required is “comfortable beginner” so Deon practiced really hard to achieve this level so that he can do this tour with me. When we showed up in the morning, the tour guide was so surprised to see him. He said they don’t normally take kids under 18 years old or unless the child is very experienced with mountain biking. Deon and I both had never been on a mountain bike which feels quite different from the bikes we would have from the street bike rental places. Obviously, the agency I went through just wanted to make a sale to us. So misleading. I don’t think anyone should consider mountain biking on this road unless they have had some experience in mountain biking or at least at the advance level in street biking. In the end, Deon travelled on the Death Road riding the tour bus instead of riding the mountain bike. Much safer indeed. Good decision.
The tour we joined started on the mountain that is 4700 meter (15,419 feet) above sea level and we went all the way down to 1200 meter (3937 feet) so a total of 3500 meter (11,482 feet) of descent. Oh, btw, Vancouver’s Gross mountain is 1200 meter (4000 feet) only. A guide was in front all the time and another guide was in the back of the group while the bus and supporting vehicle followed the group the entire time. The total tour spanned 63km (40 miles) and about 4 to 5 hours long but because I was riding downhill at 50 km/hr while it was pouring rain, thunder and storm, it was freezing. At this time, I was only 1/3 into the tour only but I needed to give up as my fingers felt numbed already. I was going to get back after I joined Deon to rest for a while but then there was landslide which made the Death Road even tougher to tackle so I decided to just continue to enjoy the road and the beautiful scenery on the bus instead. It turned out even better because all the bikers were so focused on the dangerous road condition that they didn’t get to see as much as Deon and I did. There were a lot of markers on the road to mark the spots where vehicles have fallen. We passed crosses, names, dates and fading flowers. These gave me feeling of sadness for these people and those that they left behind.
We are really happy we experienced travelling on the world’s most dangerous road, nonetheless, quite a thrilling experience. Definitely not something we will forget. I am happy to recommend it to anyone who is travelling to this part of the world.
Originally posted on Amy’s travel blog: TravelwithAmy.ca