I really, really, really like driving through South America. This is one of my favorite things to do. Lately, since we have children now and my life has changed somewhat, this does not happen as much as I would like, but every now and then I get to hit the road again. Last December I got lucky, a good friend of mine, Johan van Rijswijck, asked me if I would like to come on a trip with him to scout out part of a rally he was planning. Johan owns Sapapana Travel, a Dutch tour operator specializing in Latin America. We often work together, however, on this particular rally we had decided not to (Class Adventure Travel have a large Dakar Rally event at roughly the same time), but of course I was more than happy to help out and be Johan’s co-driver on the journey from Lima to Cartagena.
The trip was supposed to take place at the end of September, but during the previous stretch (Buenos Aires-Lima) Johan and his other co-driver had had a streak of bad luck ending in a blown-up engine some 300 miles before arriving in the City of Kings. Both he and I had to fly back home (I was already waiting for him in Lima) as repairing the engine of his 1968 Volvo Amazon was going to take quite some time. Parts are not really available in Latin America these days and most had to come from Germany and Sweden. Luckily there is a Volvo Club in Lima and its then president, Karl Spihlman, himself a totalVolvo aficionado, was of enormous help and rebuilt the engine from scratch. At the beginning of December we both flew back to Lima to begin our journey.
The new engine also meant that we had to take it easy for the first 1,000 km: 80kph max. While the almost perfectly asphalted open roads really invited us to drive faster. But there was no way around it - we weren’t going to break the engine again - so we settled for a nice long drive in the Peruvian sun. The coastal desert road we were following sometimes gave way to stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and other times took us over impressive sand dunes. We were already driving in the dark before we reached Trujillo, but we weren’t at our destination yet. The driving was good, but after Trujillo we entered a more populated area so the traffic increased and made it difficult to push on through to Chiclayo, our planned destination for that day. We finally arrived past midnight, found our hotel, checked in and hit the sack immediately. We had a 9am start the next day.
Sunday started like a breeze, we had Chiclayo behind us and were back on the Pan-American Highway in no time. The road was in perfect condition, but we still couldn’t drive over 80kph and could only change the oil and filters after a minimum of 1,000km. Still, we managed to reach Piura in the early afternoon, picked up some snacks for the road, filled the tank and found a garage to change the oil, before hitting the road again. We decided to push the engine a little and see how fast we could go, so we made some good mileage. We left the coast behind us and drove northeast. Slowly but surely the landscape changed; the desert morphed into more tropical surroundings and we even passed some rice-fields. Around 4pm we reached the Ecuadorian border. It was a great setting, a river meandering down from the mountains, crossed by an old bridge, bordered on one side by a large gate saying ‘Peru’ and on the other by a huge sign indicating one was entering Ecuador. Formalities on the Peruvian side only took 15 minutes and it seemed we would have a similarly easy entry into Ecuador, but that turned out a little bit differently. The customs officers were as charmed by the old automobile as everyone we had passed along the way and the stamps in our passports were arranged within minutes. Only when we tried to check in the car it turned out that there was only one officer that was allowed to give clearance, and the said gentleman was out for lunch with his girlfriend in a village nearby… So, there was nothing to do but wait and we started up a conversation with an Argentine couple from Mendoza on their way to Caracas (Why not? Nice drive!). Luckily it only took half an hour for the officer to return to his post and formalities here turned out to actually be as easy as on the other side; after 15 minutes we were back on track.
To be continued...