Before volunteering in Bolivia I had very little knowledge of the local culture and attractions that draw thousands of backpackers to the South American country each year. I hadn’t even watched the 2011 episode of Top Gear: Bolivia Special that would have given me an insight to the extremities of the 40 mile-long Yungas Road that I dared to cycle.
What begins as a concrete road fit for two lorries to pass by, turns into an unguarded 3.2 metre narrow gap that a Volkswagen campervan merely maintains contact with all four wheels. Cycling fast speeds around deceiving corners with a 2,000 ft drop have resulted in 18 deaths by bike since 1990; that is in comparison to the average of 300 fatalities that occur on a yearly basis in vehicles. That is why I was so surprised when a European couple came face to face perched in their over-sized motorhome against the tour company’s mini-bus and 30 cyclists. Fortunately, parts of the road have been expanded to allow vehicle passing, but that didn’t take away the strain of observing the motorhome tilt at a distressing angle.
The first hour involves a drive out of La Paz city up to a remote layby 4,650 metres above sea level, followed by a safety talk and the fitting of protective clothing that included a motorbike size helmet. Trust me when I say it can get pretty chilly cycling into the wind at such height. Then enters the precipitation phase on uneven ground where balance and control is essential, before arriving in a jungle-like atmosphere where the narrowest part of the road belongs.
20 miles in and you’ve found a comfortable pace of your own; what’s great is that tour companies have a lead man to control the speedy ones and a rear man to follow up the rare accident, as well as regular meet-up points. Be sure to take in the natural surroundings and get a glimpse to the left of the forestry that expands for miles into the distance. With only a few miles to go the humidity of Coroico is upon the group and we decide to take off a layer of clothing, along with a cheeky photo to celebrate surviving the world’s most dangerous road. Feet standing on the ground, we enjoyed a well-deserved beer and the exchange of travel stories with new friends from across the globe.