The World’s Most Outrageous Commutes
So your bus is stuck in traffic and you’re ten minutes late for work? It could be worse—as these mind-boggling daily commutes demonstrate.
From Reader's Digest UK
Los Pinos zip wire, Colombia
Forget the perils of bullies on the school bus—for the children of Los Pinos,
a village in the Colombian jungle, the trip to and from class holds rather more dramatic dangers. With their settlement cut off from neighboring communities by a 1,200-foot-deep gorge that takes two hours to walk around, the kids get across using 1,300-foot zip wires.
Every morning, around a dozen of them arrive at the launch pad, armed with their own pulley,
rope and—crucially—a piece of wood to use as a brake so they don’t slam into the tires on the other side at 40mph. Smaller pupils are bundled into hessian sacks and tied to older children.
Some 60 adults brave the trip daily, too, often transporting supplies. Nobody knows what the zips’ weight limits are, but locals have carried animals, large food parcels and even furniture across, and the steel cables haven’t broken. Yet.
Hussaini Bridge, Pakistan
If there’s one thing worse than navigating a rickety wooden suspension bridge, it’s having to do so while looking at its broken predecessor dangling alongside. But that’s the routine of villagers in Hussaini, northern Pakistan, who need to cart firewood, crops and livestock across the 635-foot-long structure to reach their farmland.
A strong gust of wind lifted up the old bridge a couple of years ago, then smashed it back down, dislodging most of the slats and rendering it useless. But the new bridge hasn’t had an easy time of it, either. A recent landslide caused the water levels of the Hunza River below to rise so much that the bridge was submerged for weeks. Indeed, even under normal conditions, the Hunza is no gentle stream. To put it bluntly, if you fell
off the bridge into the rapid-riddled torrent, you wouldn’t be sculling to safety.
Locals try to keep the bridge patched up as best they can, relying on bits of wood, twine—and hope. But it’s still not so much a serious river crossing as something resembling an Indiana Jones film set—or possibly the Bridge of Death in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Yungas Road, Bolivia
This mountain pass is also known as El Camino de la Muerte, or “the Road of Death”
—and the nickname’s not a jokey exaggeration. Up to 250 people a year have been killed on this 38-mile-long stretch since it was carved into the mountainside in the 1930s and became a key route for trucks traveling from Bolivia’s capital La Paz to rain forest settlements in the north.
The road is about as wide as a dining table is long—not ideal when you’re trying to creep a truck round a hairpin bend with a 3,000-foot sheer drop on one side. Add a smattering of landslides, torrential rain, and another truck coming in the other direction (even if there is
the occasional narrow passing place), and suddenly your local highway seems much
Since 2006, a
less-dangerous bypass has provided an alternative to the worst parts of
the route. But, even so, the memorial crosses and floral tributes that
appear at regular intervals along the Yungas Road show that it remains
far from accident free.
When it’s freezing cold outside, the thought of leaving your warm bed and waiting on a frigid train platform can fill even the hardiest with dread. So spare a thought for commuters in the eastern Siberian city
of Yakutsk—they regularly have to brave temperatures below minus -49°F.
Just starting a car in such conditions can, of course, prove impossible (wealthier residents use heated garages that cost around $32,000—some four times the average annual salary). But if travelers manage that, they then have to brave roads that are so thickly coated in ice that winter tires are little help. There are dozens of accidents each week, as cars skate across junctions and career off roads.
Waiting too long at the bus stop can be fatal, too—especially for older people, who can quickly develop respiratory problems. And permafrost means an underground tube system is out. The city will finally be linked to Russia’s over-ground rail network late this year, though, so at least residents will find it easier to get away.
Tokyo rail system, Japan
You know a city’s got transport issues when it’s coined a specific phrase, tsukin jigoku,
to describe “commuter hell”.
And Tokyo’s commuter lingo doesn’t stop there—or get much cheerier. White-gloved train pushers, known as oshiya, are employed to cram the rail network’s 8.7 million daily passengers into carriages. Meanwhile, sleazy travelers who take advantage of the cramped situation are labeled chikan—loosely translated as “train gropers”. As well as being sex pests, they also create paranoia. A girl recently caused chaos in
a carriage by spraying Mace at a number of innocent businessmen after she’d unwittingly straddled a clarinet case.
The fact that there are plans to reduce Tokyo’s train capacity to 150 per cent in the next two years demonstrates the extent of the city’s problem. The Tōzai Metro line frequently operates at 199 per cent capacity. Passengers
can just about grasp a newspaper, but there’s no chance of holding it up and reading it.
Singer Katie Melua claims that there are “nine million bicycles in Beijing”, but it’s the five million cars she wants to worry about.
Even in crowded international capitals like London, where rush-hour traffic crawls along at under 10mph, there are just three million cars—or 432 cars per square mile. In Beijing, that figure is 1,226 and, though Beijing is half the size of London, the average commuting time is around 12 minutes longer at 52 minutes.
The Chinese capital’s economic growth over the last decade or so has resulted in 1,900 new vehicles on the road each day, and poor public transport doesn’t provide much of an alternative. What’s more, you don’t get ahead in a country of 1.3 billion people by waiting your turn, so a traffic jam on a two-lane highway can quickly turn into four-lane gridlock as drivers nose into gaps.
Last August, a jam starting in Beijing grew into a 60-mile tailback that stretched all the way to Inner Mongolia and lasted nine days. For now, investing in a pair of sneakers and walking to work is probably the best option.