Lima Peru 12/27/2019
Good food, the Nazca Lines, the Inca ruins of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, these are the parts of Peru that most foreigners are familiar with. However, this country’s love of all things automotive becomes apparent with the first breath of fresh air outside of Jorge Chavez International airport. Lima is loud and slightly humid, the air around the airport smells like fuel and engines.
Like all cities, Lima has nice parts and less than nice parts. Jorge Chavez International Airport is located in the rough industrial district of Callao, and Callao is the first experience of Lima that greets all of Peru’s visitors. My family and I have been going to Peru since I was a baby, and I have learned that there is no slowly acclimating to this country. The simple act of getting to my families’ house is an event. There are four ways to get home. The first way home is a clean black airport taxi, they are usually Toyota Camrys which are safe, but expensive and not ideal for hauling lots of bags. More often than not one of aunts or uncles ends up coming to pick us up, no such luck this year.
Having just gotten out of an inadequate American Airlines coach seat, and lacking the courage to brave Lima traffic in a rental car, my parents opted for the only way to cruise Lima in style, a black Jac. JAC is one of the many increasingly popular Chinese manufacturers that have been aggressively targeting the South American market. Despite their reputation for poor quality the Jac swallowed our bags and got us across Lima without drama and far more comfortably than the jet we just got off of.
Peru is a delightful place for a car spotter. Chevrolet used to produce Camaros, Impalas, and Corvairs in Peru not to mention Citroen and Peugeot still sell cars in Peru.
Better still, there are all manner of obscure Brazilian produced Volkswagens, in addition to world market Fiat and Toyota models that are not sold in the United States.
Peru’s cars are as fascinating for car enthusiasts as the gastronomy is for foodies. Like Peruvian cooking, interesting cars are not confined to a price point. For example, one of the first interesting cars my stepdad and I got to experience was my uncle’s, Toyota Prado. The Prado is Toyota’s modern interpretation of the Land Cruisers Pablo Escobar used to cruise around Medellin in. The Toyota Prado is sold all over the world including the United States where it is branded as the Lexus GX. However Peruvian Toyotas do not share the boring obvious choice reputation of their American counterparts. In Peru Toyotas like the Prado are available in trim levels to suit every budget and they are just as respected as BMWs and Mercedes.
For example, the Toyota Prado is a quiet comfortable and mean-looking SUV. However, unlike its Lexus counterpart, or the German SUV offerings, the Prado blends in with Lima traffic. A Peruvian Prado could just as easily belong to a construction foreman, salesman, elected official, attorney or even the occasional drug dealer. In this instance, my uncle who happens to be an attorney was behind the wheel while my stepdad and I got to play the scary gringo muscle on the way to the beach.
Lima is a city of side streets and expressways. There is only one true freeway in Lima, the Panamerican Highway. The Panamerican Highway is a legendary road that starts in Alaska and goes all the way to Patagonia. A road trip on the Panamerican gives tourists an accurate simulation of what it would be like to be a War Boy on Fury Road. Traffic on the Panamericana includes everything from the normal family sedans, our Prado, all kinds of buses from glorified minivans to enormous long haul double-deckers and that’s just the passenger vehicles. On the Panamerican, there are also tons of sooty hazmat toting big rigs and that is just the four lanes of traffic. The shoulder is always be full of Tuk Tuks, small motorcycles, and quads from Lima to Nazca. These vehicles are all either not road legal or too slow to keep up with the traffic on the pavement. There is never a dull moment on the Pan American.
Like all good car guys, Peruvian enthusiasts are consummately dedicated to their machines regardless of condition or status. As we rolled off the Panamerican to the beach house we passed one of the many classic work trucks that still travel roads of South America. This particular truck was earning its keep taking out the trash making it the only truly classic garbage truck I have ever seen. I like to think that when these gentlemen got the contract to remove garbage from Maradentro they said something along the lines of, “if we are going to be garbage men at least we can pick up the trash in style.”
Here in the United States the 1969 through 1972 series of GM pickup trucks are coveted classics, the perfect platform for building 450 cubic inches of GM freedom. However, in Peru, one of these trucks is currently being used by the staff of my uncle’s beach subdivision to pick up the trash. This particular Chevy is one of many classic American trucks that are still at work for similar jobs across the country. Unlike many similar Peruvian work trucks, this particular Chevy was remarkably clean, largely free of rust with relatively nice paint, dual rear wheels, a manual gearbox, and a hearty V8 rumble. The Garbage men thought I was out of my mind going out of my way to get a picture of this old beast. When it comes to Peruvian summer fun the beach is the place to be and offroading is the thing to do. Our fun had only just begun.