‘The End of the World‘, ‘Gateway to the Amazon‘…’The Trampoline of Death’; Mocoa does produce some dramatic names, doesn’t it?! But whilst the Trampoline of Death conjures up images of some nightmarish, dystopian children’s birthday party gone awry, it is in fact the ‘affectionate’ (but not so much) nickname given to the road that connects the capital of the jungle department of Putumayo with it’s Andean/Pacific neighbour, Narino.
This road is famously dangerous, and is often called the most dangerous road in the entire country, and one of the worst on the continent. Shrines to the lost litter the roadside, and people have a nerve-wracking habit of crossing themselves and offering up a small prayer when the bus begins to undertake it’s winding journey. I can only assume that the worst days of the Trampoline are behind it (it’s lost some of it’s bounce you might say) as, and with all due respect to those who have suffered from it’s more dangerous aspects, I have definitely experienced more dangerous-seeming conditions on other roads, and, perhaps due to it’s reputation, to me the bus-drivers seemed to be exercising plenty of caution negotiating it’s hairpin turns.
To show due deference to both sides of the coin, the road is also often called one of the most beautiful in Colombia, and with this information I can only agree; the journey (particularly the 3 hour section coinciding with the most dangerous part) is absolutely breathtaking, and not just because of the steep climb from Mocoa’s 600 m.a.s.l. to well over 2,000. The road winds rapidly upwards through jungle to cloudforest and ultimately to paramo, with mist-shrouded waterfalls seemingly tumbling from the forest at every turn, and often engulfing the rough, unpaved road itself in their icy waters. At the highest section of the road you are driving blind as it were, as the clouds completely cover the road, and make the advancing headlights of an oncoming truck the only clue as to the way forwards.
That’s the other key point about this road; those oncoming headlights are just that…oncoming! The road is a simple, one-lane affair, with nothing but some small metal barriers to prevent a vehicle veering towards the edge. Therefore, when a huge oil truck does round the corner the driver is forced to sharply apply the brakes and reverse until a suitable passing spot is established. This, as well as the area’s proclivity for landslides, is the root of it’s dangerous reputation.
But there’s beauty in danger it’s said, and this road lives up to that phrase (which, even though I may have just coined it, seems appropriate); as the mountains loom, large and green and shrouded by mist, in the never-ending mountainous distance, I honestly can’t think of any road I’d rather be on. Eventually it all eases up, two lanes appear, and we pass through Sibundoy, out of Putumayo, past the Laguna de la Cocha, and into Pasto. But that fabulous first three hours remains fresh in my memory. So don’t be put off by the descriptions, and don’t backtrack from Mocoa to avoid this journey; assuming you are relatively strong of will and stomach, bounce along the Trampoline of Death, it’s a hell of a ride!