La Bruja Road Challenge
by Louis J. Barbier (BHS 57’)

A little story about La Bruja Road Challenge. Remember how kids have no fear! Yes, remember how you learned to swim in the Canal Zone. In my case while fishing, I was thrown out of the boat. Fortunately, I just started dog paddling. But I remember as a kid, that most kids don't know fear. If they did, they wouldn't do have the stuff they do on a bet or just to see if they can do them. Why? It's the Challenge. No Fear!

Most of us are ready to try anything once! At least as kids we did. Look at all the broken bones little kids get from falling out of trees or worst. The following is a short story about the "Bruja Road Challenge."

The Challenge while attending Cocoli Grade School was not really found in the classroom but right off Bruja Road.

Yes, the Bruja Road had an off shoot that snaked up the hill behind the Cocoli Dispensary. That winding road had more turns than a cork screw on Saturday night.

The summit contained some rainfall measuring instruments that the public work field workers would check every week. The readings were recorded in a log. These measurements were than turned into the Public Works Officer. From there I don't know what happen with these statistics. But that is not why we huffed and puffed to climb this hill that stood up like a tree in the middle of the tropical rain forest.

No, it was for the wild ride down the hill through dead man's turn that was the challenge! We would attempt the ride in a go-cart contraption built to our own specifications. I used a red woody wagon out of the Panama Canal Commissary Sporting Goods and Toy Section. Then I would add some upgrades. Like reinforcing the braking mechanism. The choice of go-cart was up to each challenger.

The ride began simple enough with some easy switching back and forth like an iguana tail as we approached dead man's turn. The surface of the roadway was a bumpy blacktop with gravel shoulders at dead man's turn. The idea was to take the wicked dead man's turn hugging the hillside and avoid being whipped out into space by excessive speed.

One mistake on this hair pin turn would mean really fast flight down the side of the hill without a guarantee of a safe landing. Some kids who missed the turn were lucky to be caught by branches of trees on the way down the hill side. Some ended up in the emergency room at Gorgas Hospital.

But every year a few hardy souls would pickup the gauntlet and take the deadly ride down the slope. If you got through dead man's turn, the ride got very interesting with the almost perpendicular grade for the final slope. You would now be flying with two or more and sometimes all four wheels leaving the surface of the roadway. Applying brakes to slow the ride down was futile. You were on your own.

At the bottom of the hill your ride would cross Bruja Road. We usually posted two or three kids to flag down the traffic. At the moment of impact on Bruja Road your go-cart or wagon would again go airborne. Your destination now was "Sleepy Hollow" family housing subdivision. You were flying! There was a gradual grassy slope going away that you flew over for 20 or 30 feet in the air.

The bone jarring impact would destroy the undercarriage of your wagon or go-cart. Most times you would lay there with the wind knocked out and an expression on your face of total pain. People would run up asking you, "How do you feel? Say something? Where does it hurt? Don't move him. Should we call you an ambulance?"

Finally you got your breath back and you would say, "That was one hell of a ride! Did you see it? .....Did you see it?" And you would limp home wondering how you would explain to your mother that your clothes were all torn to shreds.

And somebody would say, "How about telling her that we ran into a bogeyman. Naw, my mother is not going to buy that. How about this......... the clothes must have been in the warehouse in New Orleans so long that they got dry rot so it was inevitable that at the first signs of stress they would fall apart by themselves. Yea, that will work."

Years, later I visited that small winding road off  Bruja Road in Cocoli and you know it was still as steep as ever and dead man's curve was still a regular cork screw. Of course, now the jungle had started to move in and the surface of the road also had some doozie potholes! And as I stood there perfectly still, I said to myself, "I must have really been crazy to try a stunt like that." Yea, no not really. God was really watching out for me that day. Yea, as I looked back, I thought that was one hell of ride! "Wow, the Bruja Road Challenge........No way!"

Well, take care. God Bless you and yours.

BHS 1957