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Dozens of black dogs sit stoically at the edge of the road, weathering the gloom of the winter morning, and as we drive by, their long snouts and obsidian-colored eyes swivel in pursuit.



I can’t say exactly when the first one appeared; maybe an hour outside of La Paz, but the memory of the ominous canines haunted me until we reached the last narcotics checkpoint at the mouth of the legendary road to Coroico. The dogs’ terrible poise was disquieting, but it was their eyes that truly worried me. They seemed to speak, and, as we approach the precipitous descent into the Yungas Valley, their gaze screamed “danger”.



For three and a half hours we wound our way down from the barren heights of the Cordillera Real northeast of the capital through the steep, forested slopes of sub-tropical Bolivia. Many consider this stretch of road, locally known as the “Highway of Death,” to be the most dangerous in the world. And with good reason: it drops 3,000 meters in less than 70 kilometers and has swallowed hundreds of travelers over the years. Makeshift crosses and piles of stones mark dozens of places where buses and cars have plunged over its sheer cliffs.



If anything merits such a hair-raising trip it’s Coroico, a picturesque town that clings to the side of a lush mountain covered with a tapestry of orange and banana groves, coffee and coca plantations. Coroico is popular among Bolivians and foreign travelers seeking a reprieve from the bone-chilling winters of the highlands. The climate is divine and the views from just about everywhere are arguably the best in the country. Moreover, inexpensive yet marvelous accommodations and restaurants pepper the village and surrounding countryside. Perhaps the best part of Coroico is its relaxed pace; nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities to hike and go horseback riding, and there is excellent rafting just a few hours away on the Rio Coroico, which has over 30 rapids that range in difficulty from Class II to Class IV.  


On account of Coroico’s unexpected splendor, coupled with a subconscious fear that the journey back to La Paz would be our last, we stayed for two days more than we had planned. When we finally emerged from the Yungas intact, if not a little worse for the wear, the black dogs were still there. They sat as before, unflappable against the wind and rain, watching us drive off towards the city. That night at a pub, a table of Bolivians overheard us recounting the day’s hazards and told us that “the dogs embody the souls of travelers who have perished on the road to Coroico.” I believed them. I believe them still. For whenever I remember Coroico, it’s not its superb climate or hotels that come first to mind, but the knowing eyes of the lonely black dogs.

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