Driving Bolivia’s Road of Death
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
The Wikipedia page for the South Yungas Road in Bolivia is well worth a read. In years gone by, this single road averaged over two hundred deaths per year, earning it the ominous award of “The World’s Most Dangerous Road”.
It goes without saying I’m driving it.
Immediately after turning off the pavement is a huge sign asking Señor Motorist to drive with care, and confusingly, to drive on the left. Huh?
The locals appear to ignore this making we wonder how many accidents this sign alone has caused. A couple of guys explain that driving on the left puts both drivers on the outside edge of the road, making it much easier for them to get within millimeters of the cliff edges. Riiiight.
After a few tame kilometers of standard gravel road I find myself right in the thick of a vertigo-inducing track seemingly glued to the side of the mountain. It’s barely wide enough for my little Jeep, has extremely tight curves and absolutely zero guard rails to protect the thousand-meter cliff edges. While I’m taking a few photos thinking it’s not all that dangerous by South American standards a fully loaded truck comes blazing around a hairpin bend with absolutely no warning of any kind.
Oh. Now I see.
Driving through heavy fog amplifies my already on-edge nerves, so much so I play a tune with my horn around every hairpin, hoping like mad someone on the other side will hear my approach and actually pay attention. At various times waterfalls cascade off the mountains above directly onto the road, causing me to fumble for the wipers. Ominously, many of the sharper curves are marked with plaques remembering those who have died. I descend further and further, leaving high mountain tundra for dense jungle, humidity and every conceivable kind of biting insect. At times the fog is so thick I can barely see the road in front of me, before clearing to reveal the upcoming curves for the next couple of hundred meters.
After a solid half hour of nail-biting tension the road mercifully yields, becoming wider and straighter before eventually turning into a standard gravel road once again. I didn’t have to deal with much oncoming traffic on the day of my visit, though I an easily see how just a handful loaded busses, suicidal motorbike riders and the odd clueless tourist would make this a very dangerous place to be.
Checkout the short video below for my driving perspective of “The World’s Most Dangerous Road”.