This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution click to the left or right of an image in blog mode. The images were generated from video to give the best possible view of the journey.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Death Road - El Camino de la Muerte

The summit of the Yungas road

We originally drove up the Yungas Death Road the evening before in pitch darkness, coming up in the land cruiser from the Beni lowlands already through winding precipitous gorges. We had chosen the evening because Teresa knew you can travel up only at night and down only in the day to avoid any head on collisions or people falling off the road trying to pass one another.

Google map of the road between La Paz and Coroico showing the death road pencilled in 
as a straight line at 'kilometer 20' and the new road as '3' to the left. (click to the left of the image to enlarge)

Video of the death road journey

I had wanted to stop the vehicle and step outside half way up when water came cascading over us and I realized we were under a waterfall, but Teresa snapped "No don't do that! This is the most dangerous place on the most dangerous road in the world and if you step out here you will fall a couple of thousand metres to your death!"

This whetted my appetite, so next day I resolved to take a minibus down the same road in the day.  Initially I had a ride in the front seat, with quite good views ahead but switched to the open window on the outside when we came to the scary part so I could film over the edge.

The first part of the journey out of La Paz at the time was on a sealed modern road which offers good views of the mountains and huge escarpments towering aboue as we pass through the high summit area.

There is a shrine with statues of Jesus at the summit and multiple white pained slogans of the road side cliff faces Cristo viene, Cristo te ama - Christ is coming Christ loves you!

As we begin the descent there are a series of hairpin bends, particularly on the older road winding below.

The road then winds into a high alpine valley before hugging the hills on the left side passing through tunnels and a coca police check point.

Coca check point

The chasm on the right then becomes deeper as we come to the edge of the place where the Andes fall away. The road was now a dirt and shingle road, not the good sealed one we had come on till now (although the new road now runs all the way down on a modified course, leaving the old death road just for visits to the little town of Coroico and for adventure cyclists).

Suddenly you come to a right turn and there before you in panorama you see the "death road" clinging to the side of an absolutely enormous and precipitous forest clad mountainside running for thousands and thousands of metres down from the Andean summits.

Four panoramic images of the "death road".

From this point on I was hanging out the side window trying to keep a view both ahead and down and back up the the summits towering above us, while the driver, knowing I was filming swerved the minivan ever closer to the edge as we weaved down the dirt road.

Many places the fall away is literally thousands of metres and around 300 to 400 people a year were regularly killed on the road when it was the only through route to the lowlands.

Long view back up to the summit mountain

Just when you think you have passed the most dangerous section the drop becomes really sheer and the road only barely enough to just fit a single truck across it.

The you eventually come to the massive cliff with a small continuous rain of a waterfall from a small stream far up the cliff hat keeps the road wet and full of puddles and douses the vehicle as we drive through.

Vertical panorama of the big cliff with the little waterfall

Two images with streaks of waterfall water raining down

The minivan is doused

Erosion probably from gold mining

A panorama looking back towards the summit

Gold mining tailings dumped down the mountain side

Mining tailings and coca fields

Serious mining impacts on the rich biodiversity of the Yungas

Looking across to our destination  Coroico in the distance

When we got to the little cross roads town before Coroico, we found that the cowboy driver veering to the edge had been traveling on a flat back tyre, making the van unstable so its a wonder we didn't go off the edge in his frenzy.

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