02/23/2012 06:05 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2012

Bolivia's Flying Men: Al Jazeera Travels To The Yungas Vallley

"People say we spun spider webs together across the valley. But that's not true. We're the flying men of the Yungas. On our ropes we're like birds. We're faster than astronauts."

In Bolivia's Yungas Valley, Al Jazeera discovered, men don't walk to work -- they fly.

The men are Cocaleros, or coca harvesters, and they use ropes to travel from hill to hill and transport their goods. Where it takes 30 seconds to slide from one hill to another, by foot it would take an hour, the network reports.

The cocaleros' cables are made of thin wires normally used for fencing, and they attach themselves to the pulleys with cloths. Accidents happen. Maria's husband lost his balance and fell to his death, 200 metres below.

"It's always a rush, and that's when you might have an accident from hurrying so much you might get careless and fall," cocalero Alex tells Al Jazeera. "That's why the cables aren't as reliable as they say ... it's like Russian roulette."

The crop these men harvest, coca, is a sacred plant that grows in the Andes and acts as a mild stimulant, the Associated Press explains. But it's also the basis for cocaine.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer and a former coca-growers union leader, has defended coca production and its use for medicinal and religious ceremonies, according to Reuters. The United States wants Bolivia to cut back on its coca production, arguing that most of it is destined for the drug trade. As the world's largest consumer of cocaine, the U.S. is deeply invested in eradicating coca production in the Andes, the BBC reports. Yet Bolivia says it cannot tackle drug trafficking without a reduction of cocaine consumption in the west, The Guardian points out.

Click here to read Al Jazeera's full report on the Yungas Valley.