Over 300 lives are lost on the Death Road in Bolivia every year. However, three teams of truckers decide to take that route. Catch their journey on “IRT Deadliest Roads”
The camera zooms in on a mangled truck lying in a valley. Near the coiled skeleton of steel is a human skull. Next comes a flurry of images capturing patches of green earth that are crowned with crosses — these are spots where vehicles and drivers have fallen and disappeared. It's difficult not to get macabre while trying to capture the essence of the 61-km-long “El Camino de La Muerte” — which means “Death Road” — that has been carved out of high mountains in the Amazonian rainforest region of Bolivia. The hearts of drivers — mostly truckers transporting cargo from La Paz to towns and cities on the other end of the road — skip a million beats as they tackle this narrow strip of a road, which has natural rocky walls on the one side and steep drop-offs, up to 1,800 feet, on the other.
The camera then introduces three two-member teams of truckers that take on the Death Road — in season two of “IRT Deadliest Roads” on History TV18, premiering on February 8 at 10 p.m. These truckers are aware of the chilling statistics — around 300 travellers falling to their deaths every year — and one team, consisting of Hugh Rowland and Rick Yemm, appears to revel in the built-in dangers of its mission to transport 40,000 pounds of concrete posts in a huge truck to the Amazonian town of Rurrenabaque.
These tattoo-ridden veteran truckers pump their fists and say, “Death Road!” As they begin to go down the snaking path, they keep laughing almost all the time as if this is a walk in the park. But, at some point, they will be tested by loose stones and other unforeseen factors along the way.
The other two teams are headed for the same town, and are transporting consignments of cement and barbed wire, both weighing the same as the first one. Trucker Lisa Kelly, who teams up with Dave Redmon, is scared of driving a truck at forbidding heights, and is out to face her fears. Dave has come to garner glory. If he manages the dangerous drive, he will have something to look back on with pride.
The third team — the least experienced in such drives — is one of contrasts. Tim Zickuhr swears like a sailor and speaks words of bravado, and his team mate Tino Rodriguez is a quiet, deeply religious man, who admits to doing this for his children. Tim accompanies Tino who goes to offer a prayer at a place of worship. For Tim, it is just a ritual — and later Tino comes down on him for belittling the role of an all-powerful supernatural being in human lives. On the Death Road, Tim swears less, and fear is more evident on his face. In one tight situation, he comes close to believing that he should not have directed barbs at Tino's faith.
Elsewhere on the road, Kelly is scared to death. Pale-faced, she admits she can't drive anymore. Her partner takes over, but the team ultimately gives up. Later, Kelly says: “I lost count of the number of times we died!”
In stark contrast, nothing seems to stop Hugh and Rick, as they reach the end of the road and get ready for the final challenge — driving their humungous trunk on to a raft that would take them across a river.
(“The Death Road” experiences of the three teams constitute the first two episodes of season two of “IRT Deadliest Road”. The following episodes present adventures undertaken at other forbidding parts of South America).
FEAR AND COURAGE
Lisa Kelly, who yields to her fears on the Death Road (officially known as North Yungas Road), returns in Episode 4 of “IRT Deadliest Roads” as a more confident and seasoned trucker. In this segment, Kelly drives with G.W. Boles on the 64-km South Yungas Road, another source of connectivity between the Amazonian rainforest region of Bolivia and the administrative capital of La Paz.
“Known as the ‘Death Road', North Yungas Road gets the lion's share of attention. When you factor in the blind corners and oncoming traffic, even the South Yungas Road can be as deadly as the North Yungas Road,” says Boles over the phone, admitting to having developed cold feet when the going got tough. In contrast, Kelly displayed an ability to take charge of difficult situations.
Kelly and Boles come across as a cohesive unit in the episode. It took some effort to forge unity and create trust. “In the beginning, she appeared to be scared of me. The fact that I put on a brave front by speaking highly of myself did not help matters. In the past, she wanted male truckers to treat her as an equal. As a result, they were indiscrete in their conversations when she was around — Kelly was not comfortable with this. She thought I would talk the same way,” says Boles.
Along the way, Lisa was delighted to find out that Boles believed that a woman can be as good a trucker as any man, and that a woman trucker deserved to be treated like a lady.