I have the bold idea in mind to take the old road “Yungas Road” to La Paz, which is also called “Death Road” because accidents have happened there so often. A few years ago, however, a solid road was built around it, so that there is hardly any traffic on the old road. However, this is very narrow, steep and still challenging. Landslides can still happen and in the fog one mistake is enough to fall; so I only want to drive the route when the weather is good.
The night in Yolosa is quiet and we are not disturbed after our climb into the Andes. I expected it to be cold at 3,000 feet, but it’s comfortable.
And another surprise is that there is not a single cloud in the sky. So no rain or thunderstorms for the time being. This makes it clear: we dare to tread the road of death. We have breakfast, I check the car again and buy water and bread. Then it can start, in bright sunshine.
WE HAVE THE DEATH ROAD AHEAD AND THUNDERSTORMS ARE FORECAST
ON THE “DEATH ROAD” THERE WERE ALMOST THREE HUNDRED DEATHS – A YEAR!
It is already steep at the beginning of the route, but there is no traffic and we have a nice view. The road is wide enough… Oh, there are sections that are a bit hairy. I was warned that the greatest danger these days, along with rain, fog and avalanches, are cyclists. The Death Road has been turned into a tourist attraction and hordes of tourists are carted in minibuses to the top of the trail in the morning and let them whiz down on mountain bikes.
Of course you let yourself be paid in advance, you don’t know who’s coming back. For cyclists there is a steep descent, both to the front and to the left. A special rule applies on the route: left-hand traffic! For me, that means the advantage of not only being protected in a tin box, but also being able to drive along the mountain face while oncoming traffic has to swerve into the air.
Surprise: there is left-hand traffic on the Death Road!
The route is not dead. It is still a normal street with houses and courtyards. There is a “special lump sum” for tourists only, which is intended to maintain the route and finance the rescue of overly daring adventurers. In the middle of the route, a chain blocks the way and a young man explains to me in detail the benefits of a financial levy at this point. He wants 25 bolivianos per person. But I read before that it is only valid per vehicle and I tell the man that I only pay once.
He tries again and then flips that “groups” and “families” have special prices… so only have to pay once. He enumerates again what kind of advantages we get from the payment, insurance, ambulance transport, coffee… coffee?? I want a coffee right now. Sara is clearly puzzled when I first go into the guy’s house who’s trying to rip us off and come out with a cup of coffee and take selfies with the guy and another guy who came in and actually wanted to sell something.
It goes on and the walls and slopes become steeper. Even a waterfall pours over us at one point. Many crosses mark the slope and some are not yet old. The cashier from before told me that just two weeks ago there was an accident between cyclists and a car.
I honk before every corner, like I did on other difficult tracks in other countries.
On the way we see a station where a zipline is under construction. The road is increasingly being developed for tourism.
I honk to warn of every bend
And then the hordes of cyclists really come. Luckily we are almost at the end of the Death Road. We reach a place with a few houses where an old cholita offers food, drink and toilets.
We take a break and Sara cooks lunch for Leon and us while more buses with tourists and mountain bikes arrive.
While I’m having fun with Leon outside, I get to know the Brit Tony, who is just crawling out of his tent on the viewing platform. He’s on his bike and still has the descent ahead of him. Tony says he’s been on the road for 11 years and started out with the bike but had to sell it when he ran out of money. Then he literally switched to a bicycle.
He is my age and has exciting stories to tell, but the weather is getting worse and clouds are gathering. We say goodbye to Tony and set off on the last short section over a pass to La Paz. What could possibly go wrong?