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Epic Drives: The Trampoline of Death Road, Mocoa to Lago de la Cocha, Colombia

This post is part 2 of 2 in the series Epic Drives

The Trampoline of Death road in Colombia is said to have taken hundreds of lives due to the dirt road’s dangerously narrow, winding, eroded, and often foggy conditions. Of course, we had to this epic drive (and film it).

Driving the Trampoline of Death Colombia

On Colombia’s Trampoline of Death road.

Driving the Trampoline of Death road

The Trampoline of Death is also known as the Devil’s Trampoline (which sounds even grimmer in Spanish: Trampolín de Diablo), the Most Dangerous Road in Colombia, and Adios Mi Vida (Goodbye My Life). It was built in the 1930s to transport troops through mountain terrain in Southern Colombia and it remains a narrow dirt road (single lane in some places) with blind corners and hairpin turns often rendered even more perilous by descending fog and periodic washouts.

Trampolin de la muerte Colombia

The Trampoline of Death cutting a swatch through the jungly terrain near Mocoa.

The most notorious road in Colombia is just 45 miles (70 km) long and rises (or descends, depending on which way you’re traveling) between 1,968 feet (600 meters) in Mocoa, at the edge of Colombia’s steamy Amazon, to 9,120 feet (2,780 meters).

Then the road drops 2,000 feet (600 meters) into an inhabited valley where it becomes paved and is no longer The Trampoline of Death but just another mediocre Colombian road. Beyond the valley, the road climbs again to the route’s high point of nearly 10,700 feet (3,261 meters) before dropping down to Laguna de la Cocha at 9,200 feet (2,800 meters) and finally to the city of Pasto at 8,300 feet (2,529 meters).

We embarked on our Trampoline of Death drive from Mocoa at 9:30 am on a drizzly Saturday morning with the usual excitement from Eric and gnawing apprehension and crossed fingers from Karen. Water bottles were filled. Engine fluids and tire pressure were checked. We even charged up our walkie-talkies thinking Karen might have to scout ahead and direct Eric over particularly perilous patches.

Trampoline of death Colombia

It look innocent enough from a distance…

We were prepared for steep grades, blind corners, and narrow stretches where two vehicles can’t possibly pass. Pot holes? No problem. Rock slides? Been there. Precipitous drops? Our middle name.

You call this a death road?

What we weren’t prepared for was a recently graded surface, helpful safety signs alerting drivers to particularly narrow spots, and what appeared to be newly installed guard rails along many of the sketchy sections. Guard rails? What kind of a death road has guard rails? There were even a few pleasant turnouts…

Trampoline of Death dangerous road Colombia

“Danger Narrow Road”

Still, we drove slowly and carefully. During our four-hour drive on The Trampoline of Death we saw about 40 other vehicles including motorcycles, private cars, taxis, minivans, and medium-sized cargo trucks (no 18 wheelers). Some areas were washed out by the many waterfalls which tumble onto the road and yellow tape, helpfully printed with peligro no pase (danger don’t pass), was up in areas where road erosion was particularly bad. There were also numerous roadside shrines marking spots where loved ones lost their lives.

Trampoline of Death shrines

Just a few of the roadside memorials to those who lost their lives on Colombia’s Trampoline of Death road.

There were many blind corners and long one lane stretches hugging the cliffs. More than once the road was so narrow that we sat for a few minutes and waited for an oncoming truck to chug past us before continuing. This concept of “discretion is the better part of valor” is very anti-Latin. Most drivers just continue moving until they’re face to face with a truck or bus at which point a game of chicken ensues until one driver backs up to a wider spot in the road so the vehicles can pass each other.

After four hours we reached the end of The Trampoline of Death without incident. No trampolines, no death, and we never even used our walkie-talkies.

Check out our dash cam video of our Trampoline of Death drive, below to see this infamous road (and some close calls) for yourself.

Even the guys at Top Gear took their chances on Colombia’s Trampoline of Death road.

From the death road to a hotel inspired by The Shining

Six hours after leaving Mocoa we arrived at Lago de la Cocha. About an hour from the city of Pasto, this is a glacier fed reservoir which is the second largest body of water in Colombia behind Lake Tota.

Lago de la Cocha Colombia

Lago de Cocha, the second largest body of water in Colombia.

We splurged on a room at the Hotel Sindamanoy. On the outside its got a Swiss-ish chalet look and feel with a bit of old-school US National Park Lodge style tossed in, all shaken up with a dash of inspiration from The Shining. Inside it’s like a time machine back to the 1970s:  Carpeting, rotary phones, gingham curtains, creepy red towels. We half expected a Thousand Fingers massaging bed with a slot for quarters. No luck.

Hotel Sindamanoy Lago de la Cocha Colombia

Swiss-ish Hotel Sindamanoy on Lago de la Cocha.

However, the hotel is right on the lake and has great views. Unfortunately, the weather was too wet and cold to make the boat transfer to La Corota Island in the lake which is the smallest national park in Colombia. But we did venture out to a nearby restaurant for a trout dinner, a local specialty.

 

Here’s more about travel in Colombia

 

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Travel Tech Review: GoPro HD HERO Camera

You can’t hardly leave your house these days without a GoPro HERO HD camera strapped to your head. These ubiquitous cameras have been used to document everything from jackass stunts to adrenaline-filled sports like skydiving, rappelling, surfing, waterfall kayaking, mountain biking, rally racing, snowboarding…You name it and it’s probably been GoPro’d. Now GoPro has become a bit of indispensable travel tech on our little road trip.

GoPro Hero2 HD product shot

One of the most unusual uses of the camera we’ve seen so far was at the recent Festival Imperial in Costa Rica where Cypress Hill band members wore GoPros and studded the stage and instrument kits with the cameras. We noticed at least seven GoPros on stage and only later learned that they were using them to produce this cool Cypress HIll performance video.

Because our Trans-Americas Journey is a road trip (and we’re not 17-year-old extreme athletes or members of a band), we use our GoPro HeroHD slightly differently. For the past two years ours has been attached to the windshield of our truck where it captures thousands of miles of our Trans-Americas Journey.

We’ve set it up to take a still image every 10 seconds. We then turn those images into time-lapse video which documents our driving route as we travel through Central and South America. We put the finished video, which covers two hours of driving time per one minute of video, into our monthly “Where We’ve Been” posts so you can see what we see out there on the road, like this one below.

 

We’ve also used our GoPro to capture some bumpy quad riding on a coffee finca in El Salvador, swimming with whale sharks in Mexico, SCUBA diving with hammerhead sharks and riding in a submarine to 300 feet below the surface of the ocean in Costa Rica, as well as whitewater rafting and zip lining.

What makes the GoPro so popular? It’s easy to use, super small and light-weight, comes in a sturdy waterproof housing, shoots video or stills in a variety of formats and can be mounted just about anywhere thanks to the wide array of accessories and mounting kits.

In addition to the standard mounting hardware we’ve used the vented helmet strap mount, which is great for mounting the camera onto helmets. The head strap mount is good for wearing the camera on your head or for securing to a helmet without air vents. We also find the head strap mount useful for underwater use as the wide elastic band doubles  as a wrist strap. The handlebar mount is great on bikes and motorcycles. We also use the tripod mount to attach our GoPro to a tripod.

We originally thought the suction cup mount would be best for attaching our GoPro to the windshield of our truck, but it took up too much windshield real estate and in the Central American heat it didn’t always stay in place so we switched to the flat adhesive mount and it works like a charm.

GoPro in our windshield shooting time-lapse

Our GoPro sitting  in our windshield shooting time-lapse video. We wired the GoPro directly into our truck’s electrical system so it has power whenever the engine is on.

 

A word of warning underwater

If you want to use your GoPro underwater (and you do) you will need to make sure it’s in a housing with a FLAT front. We found this out the hard way while diving with hammerhead sharks in Cocos Island, Costa Rica where we assumed our GoPro would take video of our dives since the standard housing that came with the camera is waterproof to 180 feet (54 meters)

Turns out, the standard housing is only meant to be used above water regardless of its depth rating. The round lens on this housing actually blurs footage underwater as can be seen in our video of sadly blurry hammerheads from Cocos Island (below). If you have a HERO or HERO2 be sure you buy the underwater housing accessory before shooting underwater. Sure wish we had known this before we set off on this once-in-a-lifetime trip…

 

New and improved

GoPro recently released the smaller, lighter, higher resolution HERO3 series of cameras which are 30% smaller and 25% lighter. They also have a sharper lens improving image quality and performance in low-light shooting and built-in Wi-Fi, plus the housing has a flat lens port so you don’t need a separate housing for underwater shooting.

Take a look at the user-submitted GoPro Video of the Day and GoPro Photo of the Day to see how people are using their HD cameras. And we want to know: How do you go pro with your GoPro?

[cj url=”jdoqocy.com/click-4117670-11217739″ img=”tqlkg.com/image-4117670-11217739″]Buy a GoPro[/cj] for your adventures and travels now!

 

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Where We’ve Been: March & April 2012 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see a map of our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route for the months of March and April 2012. And don’t miss the time-lapse video of our travels created using pictures taken every 10 seconds by the GoPro Hero HD camera mounted on our windshield.

We only drove 745 miles in March since we spent the first two weeks of the month on the Bocas del Toro Islands in Panama while our truck was parked on the mainland. After our time on and around Bocas, we returned to Almirante, Panama to collect our truck, then drove to beautiful Boquete before crossing the border back into Costa Rica where we drove up the coast and into the Central Valley. From there we traveled high up into the cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota to check out (more!) quetzals.

In April we racked up even fewer miles since we spent 10 days on a boat 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, bobbing and SCUBA diving around Cocos Island National Park.  Upon returning to dry land, we reunited with our truck and drove into Nicaragua. We stayed on the beach in San Juan del Sur, then explored the volcanic island of Omatepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. From there we drove to the beautiful colonial city of Granada where we ended the month of April.

We’ll blog about it all soon. In the meantime, see what we saw! Our entire driving route in Costa Rica and Panama in March 2012 has been condensed into the short video, below. And here’s our exact road trip driving route on a map generated using GPS data gathered by our Spot Satellite Messenger.

March 2012 Driving Route – Panama & Costa Rica

Our entire driving route in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in April 2012 has been condensed into the short video, below. And here’s our exact road trip driving route on a map generated using GPS data gathered by our Spot Satellite Messenger.

April 2012 Driving Route – Costa Rica & Nicaragua

 

Read more about travel in Costa Rica

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Where We’ve Been: February 2012 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see a map of our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route for the month of February 2012. And don’t miss the time-lapse video of our travels created using pictures taken every 10 seconds by the GoPro Hero HD camera mounted on our windshield.

We started the month of February outside of Turialba, Costa Rica where we visited the Guyabo archaeological site and the Irazu Volcano. From there we headed over to the Caribbean Coast, stopping at Rainforest Adventures just outside of Baraulio Carilo National Park. Then it was off to Tortuguero National Park, which is only accessible via boat.

Next we were drove down to the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca area to explore Costa Rica’s beautiful Caribbean beaches – Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Cocoles, Punta Uva and Manzanillo. We ended the month with yet another border crossing (our 38th so far), this time heading into Panama (country 10 on our Journey) to explore the Bocas del Toro archipeligo.

We’ll blog about it all soon. In the meantime, see what we saw! Our entire driving route in Costa Rica and Panama in the month of February 2012 has been condensed into the short video, below.

And here’s our exact road trip driving route on a map generated using GPS data gathered by our Spot Satellite Messenger.

February 2012 Driving Route – Costa Rica and Panama

 

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Where We’ve Been: December 2011 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see a map of our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route. Our newest “Where We’ve Been” feature is time-lapse video created using pictures taken every 10 seconds by our GoPro Hero HD camera mounted on our windshield.

Since we had to get to Costa Rica before Christmas to meet visiting  family we covered more territory in December than we usually do. This unusual run also required three border crossings as we touched a record (for us) four countries in one month.

We began the month of December 2011 in Alegria, El Salvador where we visited its namesake volvano and crater lake. From there we drove down to the Pacific Coast to visit the beaches of El Cuco and Play Maculis before heading back into the mountains for our last stop in El Salvador, the town of Perquin which was a rebel stronghold during the civil war in El Salvador. The nearby town of Mozote (site of a gruesome masacre) provided poignant reminders of just how bloody that war was.

Then we headed back into Honduras where we explored the capital,Tegucigalpa and visited Yascaran and Danli where we toured one of the region’s famous cigar factories. With time running out, we crossed the border into Nicaragua where we spent just six days (we’ll return and do it right in the spring),  visiting Jalapa, Esteli, Masatepi and Rivas.

Then it was over yet another border and into Costa Rica where we headed to the capital, San Jose, to meet visiting family members. From there we headed off on a little family vacation to the beaches of Mal Pais at the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula, the famous cloud forests of Monteverde and the hot springs town of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano (which, by the way, is not erupting at the moment).

We’ll be putting up full posts about these destinations soon. For now, here’s the time lapse video of where our Trans-Americas Journey took us in December 2011 (complete with a soundtrack featuring the official Trans-Americas Journey theme song)…

December 2011 Driving Route – El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua & Costa Rica

 

2011 Year End Recap Map

We only drove 8,028 miles during the entire year, making 2011 the lowest mileage year of our Journey. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get anywhere. We began the year in Guatemala, drove through practically every inch of road in Belize, Honduras and El Salvador then dipped a toe into Nicaragua (we’ll be back) before ending the year in Costa Rica where our explorations continue.

Here’s what a year on the road with the Trans-Americas Journey looked like in 2011.

Trans-Americas Journey 2011 Driving Route

 

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Where We’ve Been: November 2011 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route. And we’re continuing with our newest “Where We’ve Been” feature: time-lapse video created using pictures taken every 10 seconds by a GoPro Hero HD camera mounted on our windshield.

We started the month of November in the moutainous, coffee-and-flower-growing Ruta de las Flores region of El Salvador. From there we drove down to El Tunco Beach on the coast, then back through San Salvador to go falconing in a park on the edge of the capital city. Then we returned to Suchitoto before heading north to Metapan where we went white water rafting and nearly visited Montecristo National Park (the road was closed).

From there we drove across the Northern Mountains to La Palma, with a stop along the way where Eric got thrown from a horse and fractured two ribs. This was, officially, his worst birthday EVER.

That injury meant that we had to drive back to San Salvador for x-rays, doctor appointments and rehab. When we finally left the capital city went drove back to the coast to recuperate in Costa del Sol, the port city of La Libertad and Barra de Santiago. From there we visited El Imposible National Park (yes, that’s its real name), then headed back to Santa Ana to visit our friend Chalo and his wife.

We ended the month by finally heading to the eastern half of El Salvador to visit the town of Alegria and its volcanic crater lake.

Here’s time-lapse video of where we drove in November, brought to you by our GoPro Hero HD camera. You can thank extraordinary musician and friend Scott Metzger for writing the Official Trans-Americas Journey theme song which you hear in this video. NOTE: Eric fractured his ribs and Karen took over the driving at around the 8:20 mark…

 

November 2011 Dring Route

 

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