Sand, sand, sand… Sand as far as the eye can see, and beyond. Whatever scenery I was expecting from my first week in Peru, 500m high dunes, desert oases, and hundreds of kilometres of arid coastline was not it. And if the landscape has changed dramatically from Ecuador, so too has the pace of travel. Gone are the leisurely days spent exploring colonial cities, going on lengthy solitary mountain hikes, or perfecting the art of dolce farniente sipping on a pineapple cocktail at the beach. In their place was now a high octane automobile adventure featuring three almost-complete-strangers, 2,800km of questionable roads, multiple attempts at police extortion, and enough extraordinary sights in southern Peru to fill a six month trip. We have wheels, we have limited time, and we mean business: we are on a road trip.

I first met Pascal in Quito six weeks ago thanks to the ever-reliable Couchsurfing, when two consecutive evenings of beer appreciation and travel discussion convinced us that travelling together might be rather amusing, and we agreed to coordinate our travel plans to start a joint adventure from Lima a month hence. A native of Cologne (The Greatest City In The World ™ ), Pascal would bring German steel and efficiency to the structure of the trip and long hours on infinitely straight roads. Fernando and I were part of the same Lost City trekking group in Colombia nearly three months ago, but had not been in contact until he very randomly walked into my hostel in Montañita a week before I was due to fly from Ecuador to Peru. I explained the plan, he booked the flight, and two became three. His Andalusian charm would be key to negotiating the cost of both our accommodation and Peruvian transport police bribes, whilst his silky driving skills would come to the fore on the night driving stretches in the High Andes.

The dream team enjoying sunset desert activities on day 2, still looking fresh…

With admittedly limited driving aptitude, but possessing otherworldly skills in monitoring the reliability of Uber drivers’ trajectory management, a highly developed nose for small town premium ceviche restaurants, and a pH neutral music library neatly bisecting the two drivers’ alkaline and acidic aural preferences, I was to be responsible for navigation, daytime food & beverage, and the sound system. What could possibly go wrong? With minimal knowledge of the local highway code, a first transport police fine->negotiation->bribe flow chart within two hours of departure for not having our lights on in broad daylight, that’s what. But other than this unfortunate start and another surreptitiously slipped couple of bank notes into policía pockets the following day for a “dangerous manoeuvre”, the mechanical and logistical side of the trip was to pass without a hitch over the next two weeks, remarkably. Which meant that we could enjoy the ride and the sights.

And what a ride it has been. And how many sights have been seen. The limited time available to Pascal and Fernando, due to imminent onward travel to Colombia and home to Spain respectively, meant that we needed to visit an area of Peru equivalent to the size of France, in two weeks. The first week passed in a blur of kilometres and adrenaline that we did not even feel until we reached Cusco after eight days. Six different lodgings in seven nights meant that no unpacking and packing was even necessary: keep what you need for the following day at the top of your backpack, stuff the current day’s apparel down the sides, make toothbrush and toothpaste easily accessible, and go, go, go… Sandboarding in desert dunes at sunset, pisco winery tours, light aircraft flights over geoglyphs dating back more than 1,500 years, hiking the world’s second deepest canyon and then driving to the very top of it to view condors in flight at sunset. So much to see and do, either side of many long hours at the wheel, with huge credit to Pascal and Fernando for their stamina 24 hours a day.

Flying over the Nazca Lines on day 4, with our mirror road trip team from Mexico

And linking all of these sights together, almost as impressively as our daily destinations themselves, was more than 2,800km of breathtaking scenery. As desert and sand gave way to grassland and mountains at the beginning of week two, Peru’s true landscape magic revealed itself with each vertical kilometre ascended. The true luxury of the road trip is being able to stop the car at an altitude of 4,500m to witness a Quechua shepherdess lead her flock of alpaca across the grassy highlands, or to stop and marvel for five short but treasured minutes at a lake that no tourist will ever see in a bus travelling on the main roads. And to while away the long hours on the road: out of tune singalongs to 1980s classics and Taylor Swift, head-lolling siestas, and the fun and innocent banter of three guys spending minutes, hours, and days together for the first time, and loving it.

Alpacas being herded, ice blue lakes at 4,500m, volcanoes erupting in the distance as we drive across the Andes, catching up with our Mexicans for the third time – all part of the glory of the road trip…

After eight momentous days of bouncing along potholed Andean roads, we reached our final destination as a trio: the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. With Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and a number of other high ranking sights to be visited locally, we would be staying in the city for a total of six nights, with even more to see than during our first week, if that is even imaginable. But the wonders of Cusco merit, and will receive, a separate chapter in this story. As for our dream team, staying in the same city for almost a week might have meant a stable base and some welcome rest, but for our final and near desperate search for some semblance of nightlife after two intense weeks of sightseeing but minimal evening entertainment. Good things come to those who wait, as they say, and our third and final hostel in Cusco delivered the ending that our road trip had more than deserved. Writing this evening for the first time in an eternity, alone in the hostel as my travel buddies have departed, it is only as the words appear on the screen before me that I realise how much we have seen, done, experienced, enjoyed, and achieved – as three almost complete strangers. These will be cherished memories indeed, and this is the magic of the road trip.

The victory roar on our last night together, which may have involved a cerveza or two…

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