Bolivia – Manzana Smash

Drive with Destiny

North Yungas Road in Bolivia has been given the menacing title of ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road.’ The stretch of 60-plus kilometer highway, connecting the capital city of La Paz to Bolivia’s Amazon Rainforest, is estimated to kill between 200-300 travelers each year. Now, the Sip Advisor likes his occasional doses of danger, but this seems a little too treacherous. Buckle up tightly, cause here we go!

Bolivians refer to the road as El Camino de la Muerte, which translated means ‘Road of Death’. It has also acquired monikers like Grove’s Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, Death Road, or Road of Fate (the name which I prefer the most). While a couple of those don’t sound so bad, the last two are particularly worrisome. Interestingly, the road was built in the 1930’s by Paraguayan prisoners, during the Chaco War. I wonder how many died during construction of the hazardous route.

Old-Yungas-Road-Bolivia

I know what you’re thinking: if the road is so dangerous, why would anyone in their right mind ever take it. Well, it is one of the only routes that will get you into the Amazon Rainforest. Personally, I think I’ll take my rainforest in the Rainforest Café style, where I can have a nice wrap, fries, and beverage in a collectible cup instead! There is also a South Yungas Road, connecting La Paz to the town of Chulumani, that is said to be just as dangerous and the northern route.

After leaving La Paz, drivers will ascend 15,000-feet, followed by a 4,000-feet descent into the town of Coroico. The road is often only one lane wide and if you expect to see many guardrails, best of luck to you. That’s one “I spy with my little eye” game that will not yield results. The road is marked with crosses in many spots where vehicles have gone off the pavement and fallen off the cliffs, so that might be a better “I spy” item. If you do go off the road, you’re looking at a potential 600-meter fall.

As if things weren’t challenging enough already, during Bolivia’s rainy season, from November to March, rain and fog can severely obstruct visibility, as well as affect the road, turning it into a muddy mess and causing loss of traction. Falling rocks and dust from other vehicles can also be issues drivers have to deal with. Lastly (perhaps literally), if you get too close to the edge, the roadway may slip out from under you.

Yungas Road Traffic

Rules of the road include the downhill driver giving the right of way to the uphill drive, to ensure the faster moving downhill vehicles slow down when coming upon a car going in the other direction and driver’s having to be on the left side of the road (a contrast to the rest of the country), so they can view their outside wheels and position against the cliff when making passes.

In 2006, a project to update the highway was completed. Added features included widening sections of the road to accommodate two lanes, updated paving, new bridges, drainage, and even an entirely original section between the towns of Chusquipata and Yolosa, bypassing one of the worst portions of the old road. The work took 20 years to complete and yes, they finally added some damn guardrails!

Yungas Road Crosses

While North Yungas Road has become a death trap to many motorists, thrill-seeking mountain bikers have come to love the route, which includes a massive downhill portion of about 64 kilometers. There’s even tour groups operating to suit the needs of daredevil cyclists. Since 1998, 18 cyclists (and perhaps more) have not survived the Road of Death. It has also become a popular destination for those who want to try their hand (ahem, luck) at the treacherous route.

North Yungas Road has been featured in TV shows such as Top Gear, Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads, and World’s Most Dangerous Roads, as well as a Mitsubishi Outlander commercial – the first to ever be filmed on the death trap. We’ll depart (bad choice of word) with this chilling fact: the single worst accident to occur happened in 1983 when a bus left the road, rolling down into a canyon below and killing over 100 passengers.

Bolivia: Manzana Smash

Manzana Smash Cocktail

  • Muddle Lime and Apple Wedges
  • 1.5 oz Agwa
  • Splash of Apple Juice
  • Dash of Simple Syrup
  • Garnish with an Apple Wedge

While they weren’t killed by El Camino de la Muerte, this seems like as perfect a time as any to reveal that legendary outlaw duo of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died in Bolivia, following a long shootout with Bolivian soldiers. It’s believed one of the bandits shot the other to put him out of his misery after a fatal wound and then turned the gun on himself.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
There’s a bunch of really good recipes (particularly shots) at the Agwa site and I only wish I had more than two mini bottles of the liquor to try them all. The best part about this cocktail is how nice the Apple and Lime mixes. No wonder there’s an Apple-Lime Juice, which has become one of my favourite non-soda mixers!

Bolivia – Agwacadabra

Leafy Greens

In Bolivia, it’s common to see working-class folks drinking an illegal cocktail called Casquito (a mix of pure alcohol used for medical purposes and soft drinks or juices). The name translates to Little Helmet, describing the blue cap that the alcohol comes with, but I think it better describes the casket you may end up in after consuming the potent cocktail. And while that all sounds like an awesome experiment to undertake, that’s not the purpose of our stop in the country. So, let’s spin the wheel and learn about… the coca leaf!

Coca leaves are a cash crop for a number of South American countries, but are perhaps most notable in Bolivia, where they have played a role in the nation’s democracy, including the rise of the Cocalero Movement and that group’s leader, Evo Morales, becoming president of Bolivia in 2005. The movement was established in 1987 as the United States worked to crack down on drugs coming into the country.

coca leaves llama

As a result of the United States’ war on drugs, attempts to eliminate the coca leaf from existence have occurred with varying results. The Cocaleros have set-up blockades, attempted to write their own law proposals, and protest marches against the eradication of the plant. This has caused deaths, arrests, fights between growers and opposing forces, and even the Villa Tunari Massacre, which saw 16 Cocaleros murdered.

With Morales in power, new laws are being created and considered, with the elimination of the plant being scaled back. While other crops (coffee and citrus fruits) were offered in exchange for getting rid of coca operations, the profit return was dramatically less than farmers could get from their coca production and I’d be pissed too, if someone all of a sudden came in and told me I couldn’t make something that my family had been creating for years and surviving from.

Coca is also commonly used in medicines, usually in anesthetics and analgesics, providing relief from headaches, altitude sickness, and arthritis. In Bolivia, it is also used by locals to treat ulcers, asthma, digestion, and even malaria. Chewing on the leaves, or using them in teas will not provide similar results to using the drug cocaine. Although the same leaves do provide the psychoactive alkaloid for cocaine, it can only be removed through a chemical process known as acid/base extraction.

Drugs Draw the Line

Throughout Bolivia and other coca manufacturing countries, teas, granola bars, cookies, hard candies, and other items are sold in grocery markets. It is an ingredient in Agwa, the herbal spirit that we will be using during our pit stop in Bolivia. Most infamously, the coca leaf was used in the production of Coca-Cola from 1885 to 1929 and a similar product is used to this day, with the cocaine element removed from the plant.

The coca leaf is illegal in Brazil and Paraguay. In the United States, only one company brings the plant into the country (although others are registered to do so). The Stepan Company receives hundreds of tons of coca leaf each year, turning some of it into pure cocaine for medical use and the rest as a cocaine-free flavouring agent for Coca-Cola.

Bolivia: Agwacadabra

Agwacadabra Cocktail

  • 1 oz Agwa
  • 1 oz Gin
  • 0.25 oz Cointreau
  • Top with Cranberry Juice
  • Splash of Sour Mix
  • Garnish with Cranberries

I’ve never been a big Coca-Cola fan, preferring my mixers to come in the form of Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, but it would be interesting to take a trip (perhaps literally) in the ‘way back machine’ to a time when the soda contained drugs. I’m sure you’d have to down copious amounts of the pop to get any effect, but it might be an experiment worth undertaking!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
Mrs. Sip and I were lucky to stumble upon some mini bottles of Agwa in the Iceland Airport Duty Free, of all places. The Coca Leaf Liqueur is light and has a nice smell and taste to it. I absolutely love the name of this cocktail and it was very tasty with the Gin kicking in at the end of each sip. I had hoped to garnish the drink with a coca leaf, but no such luck.