We Drove the World's Most Dangerous Road.....

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

.....and survived! The WMDR (apparently designated as such by the Inter-American Development Bank) was not originally on our itinerary, but how could we be in Bolivia and pass up such a challenge! Although very scenic, driving certain sections of this road between La Paz and Coroico is an intense, nail-biting affair. In places less than ten feet wide, deeply rutted and muddy from the ever-flowing waterfalls, and with sheer drop-offs of three thousand feet into the valley below, this famous road had our hearts beating at three times the normal rate. These days, the latest adrenaline rush for extreme adventure-seekers is to head off down this road on a mountain bike, but even we think that's going a little overboard!

To be perfectly honest, we've probably traversed similar or even worse roads in the past, but the greatest danger here appeared to be the macho, often sleep-deprived or even inebriated drivers who pay scant attention to the established protocol. Signs indicate that downhill drivers should keep to the left - so that they can best see how close their wheels are to the crumbling edge. Drivers going uphill have priority, and also keep to their left, allowing them to hug the inside track nearest the mountain. Downhill drivers are expected to pull into the occasional narrow layby when meeting an oncoming vehicle, supposedly being guided by the few flagmen strategically placed at blind corners. It's definitely not for the faint-of-heart! A local policeman who hitched a lift with us, regaled us with stories of the dozens of buses and trucks that plunge over the precipice each year - not exactly the type of statistics we needed to hear at the time!

What a relief to finally reach Coroico, a small, semi-tropical village perched on the ridge of Cerro Uchumachi. Had it not been for the dense fog swirling up from the steaming depths below, we might have experienced even more spectacular views. Situated part way between the mountain slopes of the highlands, and the humid tropical jungle further east, Coroico provided the much-needed laid-back pace to allow us to relax somewhat before tackling the return uphill route the next morning. We were fortunately not delayed long at the narcotics control post - after all, this is one of the main routes for coca leaves heading for Peru.

Pleased to have this unique experience behind us, we made our way west to Copacabana, situated in a picturesque bay between two hills. After the bleak and desolate surroundings in southern Bolivia, it was especially encouraging to see the relative prosperity of the villagers who had chosen to make their homes close to the shores of Lake Titicaca. The nearby looming range of snow- capped peaks of the Andes Cordillero Real provided a scenic backdrop to many apparently thriving communities. By coincidence, we passed through the area on graduation day when all members of the family seemed to be out celebrating - dancing in the plaza and offering lavishly wrapped gifts, but unfortunately, also drinking themselves into oblivion.

Copacabana is dominated by a Moorish-style cathedral with multiple sparkling white domes and colourful ceramic tiles. Perhaps we should have decorated DC3 with all manner of ribbons, garlands and fresh flower petals, and lined up in front of the cathedral with all the other vehicles awaiting the priest's cha'lla - an alcoholic ritual blessing. At $1.50, it's definitely a cheap alternative to purchasing car insurance, but making a claim on the insurance might be another thing! Should you at some time wish to indulge in this intriguing ceremony, we would definitely recommend you make reservations at Hostal La Cúpula. Martin and his staff will certainly give you a warm welcome, and you can choose from any of the seventeen creatively-different rooms with gleaming white domes, all with views overlooking Lake Titicaca - ah, pure bliss!

We have referred in previous entries to the significant presidential elections being held on December 18th. Since all transportation in the country was suspended for the day, it was interesting to observe everyone walking to the polling stations, all clutching their small transistor radios in hopes of catching some of the early returns. Election day fortunately passed without mishap, and for the first time ever an indigenous candidate received the necessary majority vote. Only time will tell whether president-elect Evo Morales and his 'Movement Towards Socialism' party will be capable of bringing about the vast changes needed to develop the country, but they will certainly be yet another thorn in the side of the Bush administration.

Just a quick boat ride away from Copacabana lies the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) - our next destination. As legend has it, this enchanting island is not only the birthplace of the sun, but many Aymará and Quechua people still believe that the first Inca mystically appeared here. Over the next two days we hiked some of the island's numerous trails connecting tiny Quechua villages, remnants of Inca complexes, sandy beaches and scenic bays. We felt immersed in a distinctly Mediterranean atmosphere, and the only thing short of making it an idyllic experience was the constant struggle to acclimatize our lungs to the 13,000 foot altitude - perhaps just another reminder that we're not quite as young as we used to be!
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