By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist
Back in 2004, there was only one way to get from La Paz, Bolivia to Caranavi, Bolivia. One tiny road called El Camino del Muerte – which translated means “The Road of Death.” This one-lane road held two-way traffic, and it snaked through the mountains descending 8,700 feet in altitude. It was estimated that between 200-300 people died on this road each year, which isn’t surprising because there are at times cliffs of up to 2,000ft with no guardrails.
In 2004, it just so happened that I needed to get from La Paz to Caranavi, so I needed to travel Death Road.
I remember the morning clearly. My music ministry group and I arrived with all our gear at the designated spot to catch a bus down Death Road. I remember the fear I felt when I stepped onto that bus. I was about to travel down what was later to be named the Most Dangerous Road IN THE WORLD. Sometimes the bus drivers were known to have a drink or two before they got behind the wheel for this trek to help ease their nerves. I was 22 and wanted to live for many, many more years. I wasn’t sure this was a good choice.
The bus started and we began our journey. At first the road was like any typical highway, but then it got smaller and narrower, and soon we were on a one-lane gravel road. I was struck with a deep fear. I found myself oscillating between holding my breath, praying that the driver was a good one, and then going on to envision our bus careening off the edge.
Somewhere during that first hour I realized I had to let go. I had to release my fear and rest in the truth that God had already numbered my days. He knew if Death Road would be my end, or if I had decades to go beyond that day. When I started to let go of my fear, I began to look around with eyes of wonder.
The dry, cold, high-altitude of La Paz gave way to jungle. There was green everywhere and new plants and trees that I had never seen before. The mountains rose sharply on our right, the carved-out walls that nearly touched our bus dripping with small waterfalls or covered in cascading vines.
But if I peered out my window and looked straight down on my left…well, I couldn’t see the road under us. All I could see was thousands of feet down. Just writing about it now, 14 years later, my feet still sweat with fear! I had to give over my fear again and again and again on that bus ride.
It was all worth it. The glory of God’s creation I saw in those mountains remains unmatched to this day. And the people we met when we arrived in Caranavi still take up space in my heart. God was waiting to show me amazing things. I only had to open up my hands (hands that were so tightly gripping my fears!) and use those hands to hold onto God’s.
If you’d like to see a few images of Death Road, check out this National Geographic video, or if you’re feeling particularly brave, here’s a link to two cyclists using their GoPro as they bike down Death Road.