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A death a day on the world’s most dangerous road

The following week, offerings of 96% alcohol potable to Pachamama kicked off my bike ride of the World’s Most Dangerous Road, in the mountains above Bolivia’s capital, La Paz.

“Remember, this road is not called the World’s Most Dangerous Road for nothing,” said our guide Dan, as he poured the alcohol over his front wheel, then took a swig. “At the height of its notoriety, the road took 320 lives in a year – that’s almost one a day. Thirteen tourists have died cycling it – and two of those were just in the past month.”

191116513qnywox-lI was glad to duck out of the alcohol ritual. Riding that road required deep concentration – it was steep, narrow, all loose stone, with a sheer 1,000-foot drop on the left. At 40kmh, my front wheel jolted on a loose rock and my rear tyre kicked out violently. It took some effort and heavy braking to avoid going over the edge.

“The same thing happened just last week to a French girl in my group,” Dan delighted in telling me. “She went straight over the edge, but luckily was stopped by a ledge 10 metres down. She had a badly broken arm and a twisted ankle. And it’s a bumpy three-hour ride to the nearest hospital.”

Crosses littered the roadside, signalling more horror stories. One Israeli girl who had gone with a cheaper tour company had been constantly complaining about her brakes. As her group waited for her on one corner, she sailed straight through them and over the side. Two Israeli guys who had been playing practical jokes on each other throughout their travels refused to calm down during their tour. As one stood on the edge of the road, the other suddenly shocked him. He, too, plunged to his untimely end.

The locals play arguably more benign practical jokes at the end of the route, where a “speed bump” gains several inches in height whenever they are drinking at a nearby bar.

“The number of people I’ve seen wiped out by that after successfully cycling the World’s Most Dangerous Road is untrue,” marvelled Dan.

I asked the Kiwi owner of our tour company about the recent death with his firm – the first in his whole 10 years of operation.

“Well, it was a strange thing, because there was nothing wrong with the bike, and no sign he’d struggled to stop, but he went right over the edge. It’s not exactly CSI Miami out here – so all they could determine was that he wasn’t drunk.”

This is extracted from Mat Ward’s excellent ebook, ‘Around the World in 80 AA’s where he tours the world investigating the phenomenon that is Alcoholics Anonymous.’ Buy it now.

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