Friday, February 08, 2008

Yep, Another AutoTrip!

The Yungas Road

Forget your local West Virginia road with the bad turns, the potholes or the narrow roads. Some people have real road problems.

There's that awful road in Russia from Moscow to Yakutsk (near the Yakutsk end) and a scary one in Nepal heading from Katmandu toward Mount Everest, and a few other horror stories from around the world, but the road from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz to the high-Andes region of Yungas beats them all hands down.

In 1995, the Inter American Development Bank called the Yungas Road the most dangerous road in the world and nobody argued with them.

For most of the 40 or so miles (about 60 Km) from Coroico to La Paz the road is no more than a winding track carved out of the side of a mountain. Single-lane width, extreme drop-offs, lack of guardrails and sometimes unruly traffic compound the problem.

Incredibly, the road, despite little more than 3 meters wide for most of its lenght, is a major route for trucks and buses. Imagine heading into a curve at night, in rain and meeting a bus coming the other way!

The road drops in altitude from a little over 14,000 feet (4300 M) to just over 1,000 feet, taking it from the high Andes plains down through the rain forests to La Paz. A local rule that helps to keep some kind of order is that up-bound traffic has the right of way. This helps slow downward traffic as they go into blind turns.

The road was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners. It is one of the few routes that connects the Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia, or Yungas, to its capital city. Because of the extreme dropoffs, single-lane width, and lack of guardrails, the road is extremely dangerous. Further still, rain and fog can make visibility precarious, the road surface muddy, and loosen rocks from the hillsides above.

On July 24, 1983, a bus veered off the Yungas Road and into a canyon, killing more than 100 passengers in what is said to be Bolivia's worst road accident. One of the local road rules specifies that the downhill driver never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road. This forces fast vehicles to stop so that passing can be negotiated safely. Also, vehicles drive on the left, as opposed to the right like the rest of Bolivia. This gives the driver in a left-hand-drive vehicle a better view over their outside wheel, making passing safer.


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