Thursday, January 04, 2007

The World´s Most Dangerous Road

Written by Gilles

The World´s Most Dangerous Road--La Cumbre to Coroico, Bolivia.

What you need is 64 kms of paved and unpaved road, cold, rain, hail, dirt, mud, 1000 meter drop offs, lots of cross´s commemorated the dead, some traffic and a change of underwear.
An hour outside of La Paz starting point for this so called "Danger ride" is a place called La Cumbre, at an altitude of 4670 meters (14260 ft)!! it feels like being on the moon, a bare landscaped and this particular morning it was blanketed by a thick fog that added to the ambiance and.....DANGER!!!

We are high in the Andes, high enough that when I tried to ride up a small hill with my newly rented Rocky Mountain (Canadian made bike) that within 25 meters I felt like my chest was being crushed and my lungs and legs were begging for oxygen!!

Not a good start, but lucky for the 7 of us it´s all down hill and requires very little pedalling, or so we hoped. A couple of minutes warm up and off we go down the paved section of the road for 30 kms of cold, rain and hail. We are all a bit frozen by km 10, toes and fingers have no feeling left and all we can do is keep descending towards the warm jungle of Coroico in hopes to regain sensation in those parts. It´s a pretty simple descent snaking it´s way down the mountains, the views are spectacular and the altitude of course breathtaking. It´s a very uneventful and safe 30 km descent that most people could do quite easily. We did however manage to hit about 65 to 70 kph on these clunker bikes which added to the fun. After a quick snack we stop at the dirt section of the road and where the "official" Worlds Most Dangerous Road begins and listened to some wise words from our tour guide.

In 1995, the Inter American Development Bank (?) christened it the most dangerous road in the world, there have been many articles written about this road and one of the most recent was in the BBC. It paints a pretty grim picture of the road which we just paid to ride down for fun doesn´t it?

Aside from the BBC article, riding the road on a bicycle is a complete other story. A story which of course includes DEATH!, so I guess it really isn´t all that different. Anyhow, according to my guide at Down Hill Madness over the last 5 years or so, 6 or 7 deaths on bikes have occurred. Different types of people have lost there lives to the road from a young 21 yr old Israeli girl who just rode off the cliff, not paying attention, to a section of the road that is now called Italian Corner for two Italians racing down the hill and not making the turn completely, the bike stayed up but one of the riders did not..there´s a cross bearing each of there names there now.

Being an ex racer, the road is pretty easy to descend while riding at a controlled pace and a good guide keeps everything in check and the riders safe especially in the blind corners. One can certainly understand how accidents happen, it doesn´t take more then a second of not paying attention in the wrong area and you can go flying off a cliff of a 100 meters or less. It´s easy to be distracted by the beauty of the surroundings and getting caught rubber necking at the carnage left below of the cars, trucks and buses that have driven over the edges. I´ve caught myself a couple of times day dreaming about how easy it would be to fly over the edge and corners coming up at you fast. Our guide makes us stop every 20 odd minutes to regroup and to tell us the horror stories of the road. You actually get to a point where you don´t want to stop anymore in order to avoid the gruesome details of the roads victims, like this next one!!

3 months ago was the last big accident on the road, of course exactly at the spot where our guide chose to stop and tell us about it. A bus carrying around 60 passengers drove right off the cliff, 30 some odd died and 20 some odd managed to live by jumping out the windows while the bus plummeted to it´s final resting spot. As we look down we see the remnants of the bus and can only image the horror of the descent. We thought that was the end of his story but no, he proceeds to tell us in his non chalant Bolivian manner that the very next day he had to guide a tour down this road and where the bus had met it´s maker (GOD if you´re wondering) and all the decapitated bodies where still on the road because it took rescue teams more than 2 days to retrieve the dead!! He said the group he was guiding was horrified and that it was a slower (and SAFER) ride down than usual. No kidding.

What makes matters worse on this road is that we the bikes have to ride on the left side of the road while the cars and trucks have the right of way closest to the actually mountain hugging it as tight as possible. But now that the new road is open just of last week the traffic is insignificant and not really a hazard at all. It takes a way from the Danger aspect and it looks like "The Road" will lose it´s title in the end to some other road in Tibet.

A rank it high on beauty, adreneline and horror stories..glad I survived.

Gilles Champagne reporting, live from Coroico, Bolivia- Good Night and Good Luck!


Kimiko said...

Congratulations Gilles! Glad to hear that you're still in the land of the living. Must have been quite the ride! Kimiko

Bernie said...


Glad to read that you did not wind up as the, um, subject of your guide's numerous cautiounary tales. Yikes! As well, you have spared me from a lifetime of kitty allergies, as Gail would have marked your passing by grabbing Jeke's furry butt and bringing said feline to live with us. I am sure that over time, she will learn to live with the disappointment. ;)