THE CLIMB REMINDS US OF THE HARSHNESS OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS
THE SECHURA DESERT DRIVING EXPERIENCE IS FANTASTIC
TOP IT OFF
That sneak peek at the lower Andes has all of us pumped, as does the first couple of hours punching north up the motorway toward Cañete. The Discovery’s supercharged V6 is effortless in its ability to push the big rig along the motorway, accompanied by glimpses of the Pacific to our left. Surprisingly, the chunky Goodyear Duratracs are relatively quiet; there’s little discernible tyre noise entering the cabin, which could also point to effective sound deadening. This is excellent on two levels: it means a quiet in-cabin experience for me and Gonzalo Raggio, my Peruvian co-driver; and it means my iphone’s playlist of 80s/90s rock music is uninhibited. Sometimes, life is very good.
We turn inland at Cañete and start our gradual ascent to the dry, dusty mountain country. Initially we follow a river valley, passing through a few towns and small villages, before it narrows into what is locally known as River Canyon, in the Yauyos Province. The road surface alternates between sealed, gravel and dirt, with potholes becoming more frequent as we move further into the canyon. This part of the drive is incredible; the canyon walls are near vertical, as is the drop-off from the roadside to the wild river beside us. Needless to say, it is preferable to be the passenger through here, simply to be able to take your eyes off the road and enjoy the gigantic bronzed cliffs that shadow our ascent. Confirming this region’s oft-wild weather, we are stopped, for the first time, by a road crew removing huge boulders that have dropped from above – the result of rain eroding the cliffs. Another hour on, we are stopped again, with more road crew resealing a torn-apart section of the road. The road itself is an amazing feat, cut through the canyon as it is, but equally worthy of admiration are the hard-working local road crews who must be out here most of the year fixing sections of this route.
Climbing out of the canyon, the terrain changes again. Bare, hard granite cliffs and mountains surround us as we drive above the tree-line into breathtaking vistas that reach across to barren peaks that seem to march close together toward the higher snow-clad mountains beyond. Our climb finishes at 4600 metres, showcasing how Peru’s landscape can change in what is a relatively small geographical area. It also reminds us of the harshness of altitude sickness; we’ve travelled from sea level to this height in roughly four hours and a few of
our party are emptying the contents of their stomachs here, while the hardier of us wander around taking in the view and sucking in the very thin air.
From this lofty viewpoint we drop down, crossing a landscape not dissimilar to the Scottish Highlands; alpine tarns dot the rolling hills and exposed rocky summits loom above. It’s an amazing contrast to the more rugged and dry western side of this mountain range. As we descend, signs of civilisation start to reappear, and we spot a few hardy shepherds and their flocks of alpaca as we get close – and then pass through – the town of Chaquicocha before reaching our overnight destination of Concepción and the welcoming Huaychulo Hotel. Looking at the route on our GPS – and allowing for its ability to show contour lines – it still doesn’t come close to showing how dramatic the day’s change in terrain was. From coastal resorts on the Pacific to deep river canyons and then Highland-esque vales, the route packed in just about everything. And Peru hadn’t finished with us yet.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
I am sitting in the Discovery driver’s seat all too aware that around one metre to my left is a vertical drop of – at a rough guess – at least 500 metres. There’s not even a tree or rock in sight to break your fall – it is straight down. Magnifying awareness of our lofty position is the fact the ‘road’ (note the emphasis) is sealed, but only in the literal sense; the surface is close to being totally covered in potholes of varying depths. The Discovery’s tyres are thumping and bumping no matter how much I manoeuvre – always with that drop in mind. I am just thankful that I am not driving this road in my 2003 Td5 Disco. The new Discovery’s steering is doing a brilliant job of muting the bumps and vibrations through the steering wheel, allowing a modicum of accuracy as I carefully thread the potholed needle.
We had climbed steadily since the morning, reaching a beautiful alpine plateau at 4350 metres and passing by more shepherds and their
CANYON WALLS ARE NEAR VERTICAL, AS IS THE DROP-OFF
EVIDENCE OF THE VOLATILE WEATHER IS ALL ALONG HERE
flocks as well as three pristine alpine lakes: Pomacocha, Habasccocha and Jeronimo. After the plateau it was down to the town of Muchac, the following valley towns of Pomamanta and Layainiyoc, and then the Comas District, which signalled the start of our current cliffside drive. Precarious road aside, the drive is exhilarating, with plenty to occupy the driver including swapping over to manual-shift mode – the rarefied air has affected the engines slightly and, for the best performance, shifting manually is the go. There is plenty to see from up here: the valley below is patched with towns, terraced fields of different shades of green, and topped with the Andes’ ubiquitous jagged spires. After a blast across another high plateau, we drop down once again into a totally different landscape: the Peruvian jungle.
The river valley is clad in dense vegetation, with the only breaks in the wall of green coming from the roaring waters of the Rio Pampa Hermosa and the dirt track we are following. It is bumpy with riverstone and washouts, and it is here we see just why one of the original sections of this LRE trip had to be rerouted. Evidence of the volatile weather in this region is all along here, with landslide damage and the resultant holes in the road reminding us of the high rainfall this area cops.
Still, it is incredibly scenic, with the river gouging through the mountains to punch its way down the valley to our left, and, with the wall of trees and cliffs on our other side, it is true jungle country. The bumpy surface is just that, without being overly jarring. The more challenging part of this section is the clay-like surface covering said bumps and rocks – only a moment of inattention from me (okay, I was gawking at the view) sees a slight drifting scenario. The Disco’s traction and stability control, combined with a subtle steering correction and those grippy Goodyears, soon see the big bopper back on the track.
The bottom of the valley means a return to civilisation, and we time our arrival at the villages dotting our way to Satipo with school children returning from their long days of learning. These kids often travel two hours each way to school, by foot and on the bus.
ALL GOOD THINGS MUST END
A relatively benign sealed-road drive from Satipo, looping back around to Huancayo, signals the end of our journey. Even though relatively straightforward, this day’s drive still springs some unforgettable moments – the sight of a toddler aboard a tricycle, holding up our Discovery convoy as he gleefully hammers down a major highway, foot furiously pushing his trike to maximum speed and completely oblivious to the traffic behind, won’t be easily forgotten. Neither will the manoeuvring around, beside and (nearly) over the ubiquitous three-wheeled mototaxis in every town we drive through, or getting slightly lost on the last day just before lunch. I could try and blame Team South Africa for this one but, err, maybe I just shouldn’t have followed them down that one-way street – and, to be fair, it did look like the right way, one-way signpost be damned.
Surprisingly, for this resident of Australia’s most aggro-driver city, for all the beeping of horns and oftcrazy swerving, we see no accidents. The Discovery’s bulk is only slightly noticeable in the narrowest streets, and the still-reasonable outward visibility means we’re always aware of what and who is driving near us. We cop plenty of stares – the Discoverys do stick out like the proverbial – but also plenty of smiles and waves, a reflection on the Peruvian people in general.
Dodging through Huancayo’s heavy traffic, I still have time to reflect on what we’ve experienced. Peru’s amazing variety of terrain – desert, canyons, alpine plateau, and the jungle – and the different driving experiences in each, are a standout, as is the organisational skills of the LRE staffers. Local guide Juan Dibos, LRE leader Marvin Verheyden (see the World’s Best Job breakout on page 73) and the rest of the crew were absolutely brilliant, leading us through a country that would have to rate as close to the perfect touring destination. Now all I have to do is wait, patiently, for a couple of years to see where the next Land Rover Experience lands – and somehow make sure the Editor is stuck in a planning meeting when that invite lobs in the
4X4 Australia office.
A sealed section of our route meanders through a spectacular valley, potholes though becoming all the more too frequent.
Above: A mini Golden Gate suspension bridge? Below: The convoy did cop plenty of looks.
Clockwise from right: The Discovery’s bulk was only slightly noticeable in the narrowest of streets; The 2017 Land Rover Experience Peru group shot; On the motorway, the Discovery’s supercharged V6 was effortless in pushing the big rig.