As some of you know, I started a trek in 2007 to ride the entire 14,741-mile Pan-American Highway by bus. Last month, I finally accomplished this goal. The final stretch was from Lima, Peru, northward, to Turbo, Colombia. The Darien Gap, a roadless stretch of jungle between Panama and Colombia, prevents the highway from running contiguously from North to South America. Turbo is the northern terminus of the South American portion of the highway.
Here are my observations and experiences from Lima to Ecuador.
I landed in Lima, at about the same time as the Pope. His jetway was all white and topped with a tiny yellow Vatican flag. I had not been to Peru in seven years. All of the cars, old and new, were approximately seven years newer. Korean marques dominated, and there were a lot more Chinese passenger cars. I even saw a few Mahindra trucks and SUVs.
And just like my previous visit, my hotel picked me up in a black, natural-gas powered Hyundai. On the way to the hotel, we had to get some fuel. The stations were all full-service and the attendants were invariably women wearing colorful track suit uniforms. I had to stand on the perimeter of the station, for my safety.
I stayed in the fairly posh Miraflores neighborhood in Lima, and spotted this Pininfarina-designed Brilliance BC3…
…and this old Plymouth.
For the first leg of my bus trip, I thought I was going to ride in a luxury coach for three-and-a-half days from Lima to Cali, Colombia. I was anticipating meal service (with my choice of beef, chicken, and vegetarian), bingo games, and smartly dressed stewards and stewardesses. I was mistaken. I ended up riding an above average bus with spotty Wifi and a restroom for Number One, but not Number Two.
The funniest thing that happened before we boarded was that they had a drug sniffing dog go through all of our luggage. Who brings drugs TO Colombia?!
Within 15 minutes of leaving the Lima station, our bus broke down. Busted radiator hose.
We waited by the side of the road for three hours. Thankfully, we were right next to a gas station convenience store.
The mechanic in this Hilux took a while to get to us because the Pope was holding mass for over a million people at an air force base a few miles away.
Because the mechanic did not bring any parts, he thought he could improvise a hose by cutting a section of a soda bottle he found littered on the street. That did not work. So off he went to get the right part.
The sun had set. And it was like a firemen’s brigade there. One guy hauled a big bucket of water; another guy filled up a soda bottle with the water; and one of our three drivers poured the water into the radiator, using another soda bottle. Everything worked and we were off.
I woke up the next morning somewhere between Lima and the Ecuador border. This is what it looked like out the window. Because a bus full of people recently plunged down a cliff into the Pacific, killing 51 people, the Peruvian president banned all buses from traveling next to the Pacific. So we had to take the inland route.
This is Chiclayo, one of the few towns we drove through in northern Peru. It reminded me of Kashgar in western China, circa 2004. It was arid and full of tuk-tuks and shoddily constructed buildings.
Our bus kept plugging along and crossed the Ecuador border without fanfare.
Then, it happened. In the middle of the night, in the Central Highlands, the bus stalled. And we coasted to a stop. This was the view out the window.
After a brief bit of tinkering, the bus started again. And after a few miles, it stalled again. This was getting worrisome. The bus started again, and we pulled into a BBQ joint while the bus drivers tried to figure out the problem.
Because my number one fear on these bus trips was an upset stomach, I did not dare eat any cooked foods along the way. I brought two cases of Luna bars for the ride. So at the restaurant, I just consumed beers and eyed the fancy display of imported Chilean Noble toilet paper.
(Images Jim Yu / Hooniverse)