In the world’s most dangerous roads ranking, it rightfully holds the first place. The section starts near the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, and ends in the city of Coroico. Almost 70km of adrenaline, insanity, but also adventure and challenge. This is what the “Death Road,” where even today, dozens of people lose their lives, offers.
In the past, it used to be the main road between these two important cities. Hundreds of drivers and passengers drove through it every day. However, many of them never returned home. Some of them have not been found in the unwelcoming terrain even today, and in a place where their lives were cut short by death, a sad cross rises from the ground. It is both a memory and a warning…
Today the road is closed, and only a bunch of enthusiasts and adrenaline lovers go for it. Only buffs from all over the world come here to fulfill their big dream. Before they slide down from snowy peaks of Bolivian mountains, they have to sign a statement that they acknowledge all possible risks; even the deadly ones…
The rain mixed with snow and the temperatures just above zero, at an altitude of about 4500 meters above sea level, bodes nothing pleasant. Poor visibility and glaring respect in the eyes of anyone who got on their bike to overcome the “Death Road.”
Before we pressed the pedals for the first time, the instructor willingly offered us his coca leaves with the words: “Have some, it will be easier” A narrow stone road rippled in front of us until it disappeared somewhere in the fog. On one side it was ascending, and on the other, there was a huge abyss. The clouds completely covered the view so we could not see the end. We were all itching to see it. At the last minute, an older lady from Canada changed her mind and got in the van. Her husband crammed a little more coca into his mouth and got to us to begin the trip. Let’s go!
You need to ride on the left. This is the side closer to the abyss – the one-way ticket. If someone takes over, that someone needs to shout that is taking over and also the side is riding at. It was challenging to bypass at some road sections. I still do not understand how cars could have driven through there. The road that is carved to the rocks on one side and on the other side, the unpaved edge has cost many their lives.
When we descended a little under the clouds, the tops of the hills were rippling in front of us, surrounded by the deep jungle and the bunch of the most diverse plants.
I remember how the instructor warned us: “If you fall into the abyss, no one will even look for you. It’s useless”. When I look at it, I’m not surprised. The bare rocks around the road have been increasingly changing from smooth sand to perfect botanical collection. Many times the water from small but also big waterfalls poured over our heads. With increasing air temperature, it was a delightful refreshment. We also crossed some rivers we found on the way.
There are several planned stops during the trip. The stops serve to count people and to find out if nobody is missing. In case this happens, the instructor contacts the van at the end of the group where the broken bicycles are repaired. Thus, the origin of any disappearance can be verified (in the best case).
In the lower altitudes, it was possible to watch not only banana trees but also small factories that everybody and at the same time nobody knows about. As I later learned, coca is being processed here and is thus illegally turning into psychotronic and narcotic drugs. At the next stop, I wanted to pick a banana and get to one of these “establishments.”
When I returned, the guide immediately began to question me about what I saw and whether they saw me; I assured him that nobody had seen me. Yet he angrily urged us to immediately depart from this place, in case someone would have seen me, I could get into unpleasant circumstances.
I not only survived the world’s most dangerous road but also absolutely enjoyed it. Even today, after a couple of years, I have goose bump when thinking about this adventure. It was the craziest experience that definitely belongs to the best in my life!
Text and photo: Aleš Tvrdý