Alex and me are no strangers when it comes to the road trip. But with seven and counting under our belt, the truth is that they don’t get any easier.
It’s not so much the arguments. They come and they go. We kiss and makeup. I lose even when I win. No, the reason why I’m a hairs width away from shunning road trips all together purely comes down to our most recent driving experience, which took place in Peru.
Now, I’ve driven in Mexico. I’m no stranger to the way Latin-American passion and machismo bubble to the surface when rubber connects with the road. But Peru, sweet beautiful Peru, you have made me question my driving abilities.
Lima for one is a labyrinth filled with drivers that would sacrifice a side panel just to arrive at their destination a few minutes early, which would still be an hour late, given how anyone with Spanish blood sees deadlines and appointment times as a relative concept.
Driving in the city also requires you to pull in your side mirrors. In rush hour traffic, everyone’s tend to brush up against each other’s anyway. Smelling the breath of the drivers either side of you is common. It’s snug, and not in a good way.
The Pan-American Highway is only two lanes. Trucks don’t often go faster that 60 kilometres per hour and breakdowns are common. There aren’t many places to pull off the side of the road, so whatever lane they conk out in becomes the emergency lane.
In smaller towns, collectivos and buses stop without warning. You don’t blink, because loss of eyesight for even a microsecond could see you ploughing into the vehicle in front or in some cases, becoming airborne.
Indicating is an afterthought and overtaking on the left and right hand side of the road is allowed, police be damned. Bus drivers in double deckers with fenders missing, windows cracked and a rear bonnet swung wide open so the engine stays cool will practically straddle your car.
There was times when I felt acquainted with these kamikaze style chauffeurs, since they’d get so close their headlights would disappear and I was able to make out the colour of their eyes, which were mostly red.
Potholes also pose a problem. Especially when you’re travelling at 100 clicks. Swerving is out of the question, but last minute braking is totally acceptable. What’s one more blown tyre or split axle on the side of the road anyway?
Yes, driving in Peru was harrowing. I cursed, fumed and even peed a little. At times though, it was also disarmingly beautiful. Winding back down through the clouds from over 3,500 feet in the mountains as we left Huaraz was something I’ll never forget.
Being able to explore the coast at leisure and embark on solo strike missions for waves was another advantage that somewhat lessened the stress that comes with renting a car.
Hiring a vehicle for a couple of weeks in Peru is also comparatively cheap, costing as only 500 euro for the 15 days. Pretty much half of what you can expect to pay in Europe for a car that’s most likely much smaller too.
The best part about renting a car though? Well, that’d have to be returning it. By the end of the trip, it was all about survival. I’m sure they’ll never be able to remove the sweat infused handprints I left on the steering wheel, courtesy of my death grip.
Thanks for the good times Peru and thanks for the trying moments. I won’t be renting a car their again, but I’ll be back. Maybe when you have a north to south railway line.