The road out of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, climbs three miles above sea level before pitching down like a terrifying roller-coaster ride.
A statue of Christ stands here, and drivers pull into the gravel lot to make offerings, praying they’ll make it down. Locals ask goddess Pachamama for safe passage.
Road signs usually point drivers to places, or alert them of impending congestion. Not on Yungas Road. The signs here are memorials to dead motorists, and this 40-mile stretch of winding single lane is peppered with wooden crosses.
Known as “The Death Road,” it’s estimated that up to 300 travelers lose their lives here each year.
Its reputation is helped by the awesome yet clearly lethal surroundings — narrow roads, sheer cliffs, dense jungle — and some very dubious driving.
When it rains, visibility is compromised, and the road turns to slime. The track can wash away.
There are few barriers. In places, the dirt road is just yards wide. Nonetheless, it’s a busy truck route. Falling rocks create a threat, as do the tropical storms. Hundreds of yards below, the skeletons of cars and buses lie mangled and charred beside the Coroico river.
A moment’s lapse of concentration can throw a wheel over the edge. Tire tracks that head into the void tell their own stories.
A bypass is being built, but it’s already 20 years in the making. Until it’s finished, drivers will hug the cliff face — and pray.