THE CLIMB RE­MINDS US OF THE HARSH­NESS OF AL­TI­TUDE SICK­NESS

4 x 4 Australia - - Drive -

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.

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