Continuing the journey is out of the question, as the rainy season is expected to last for another month or so. The friends park their faithful travel companion of the past seven months and decide to go on a backpacking trip through the Amazon rainforest for a few weeks. They get to accompany two brothers of indigenous descent as they search for crocodiles, read tracks and sustain themselves. In the middle of the jungle, caution reigns – and above all, radio silence. When Kevin and Lars leave the Peruvian jungle and once again have contact with the world, they learn that the coronavirus has spread, becoming a pandemic. Their Mercedes-Benz 300 TE (S 124) is six days away by river, upstream in Pozuzo.
A waterfall in the Peruvian jungle.
The well-known “Death Road” in Bolivia was a joke compared to the narrow mountain roads of Peru.
The settlement of just under 1,200 inhabitants is the only Austro-German colony in the world. At least that’s what it says at the entrance to the village. Quite an off-road adventure, as there is only one unpaved road along steep slopes, which constantly needs to be cleared of mud that has slid down during the rainy season. “There, east of the Andes, we left behind our camera equipment, laptops and many other personal items before the trip into the jungle,” Kevin tells us. And that’s the way things will stay, for now. For the friends from Stuttgart, there is now only one option: fly to the capital Lima, go into quarantine there for a fortnight and then fly to Frankfurt am Main via London on a British evacuation flight. A horrible end, just halfway through the journey. A little over a year later, the two return, but more on that later.
Kevin did an apprenticeship with a German tour operator before the trip. He liked to go for a walk during his lunch break, and his route took him past a car repair shop every day. “One day there was an old Mercedes-Benz in there with 154,000 kilometres on the clock, in the whitest white I’ve ever seen,” says Kevin. The now 26-year-old was desperate to buy this model with a six-cylinder in-line engine and 180 PS (132 kW) – as were many other interested parties. It was owned by an elderly lady, to whom Kevin described his Pan-American Highway idea. To back up his plan with facts, he shows her photos of a road trip through Canada in an old E-Class – and manages to convince her. Back in 2015, he travelled across the country with his brothers and father.
“The longevity of Mercedes-Benz has always inspired me. I also love the brand and think that the old models still look really cool today,” says Kevin. His buddy, with whom he has been friends since primary school, immediately says yes when he suggests a trip on the longest road network in the world. Lars quits his shared flat and permanent job for the adventure – the 25-year-old is now studying industrial engineering in Reutlingen. “We live a kilometre apart as the crow flies and have always had the same interests and hobbies: sports and travel,” Kevin reveals. “Our parents are also friends. We are, I would say, two very normal young men,” says Lars and the two laugh. As friends tend to do.
It was particularly windy on the Atlantic coast in Patagonia. Kevin and Lars always aligned the roof tent with the wind.
Together they convert the 300 TE from 1991 into a camper. In the rear, they remove the bench and place a wooden panel on the surface. On top of this, they develop a drawer system with a second level for tools, spare parts and spare tyres. To sleep, they climb into their 1.30-metre-wide roof tent, and they cook in the large boot. Personal items have their place in aluminium boxes. The maxim of quick access always applies to everything they convert: “We have recreated a complete flat in the interior of a vehicle. Things we need every day are always to hand, but less important items like hiking poles are not,” Kevin explains. A short time later, in August 2019, they set off for the port of Hamburg. There they board a cargo ship – and together with ten other long-term travellers and 30 crew members, they sail for five weeks to Montevideo in Uruguay.
“Flying would have been cheaper, but we really wanted to stay with our car,” says Kevin. They use the long journey to exercise on the deck, lift weights in the weight room, be offline and, above all, to learn Spanish. Kevin’s mother is from Brazil, Lars’s mother is Finnish, and his father is half Finnish. Foreign languages are important to the school friends. Seven months later, they will agree: “The Pan-American Highway not only broadened our horizons, but also taught us another language.” In the weeks that follow, the twentysomethings travel from Uruguay through Patagonia to Ushuaia, Argentina, one of the southern most cities in the world. There they start their Pan-American tour along the Andes through Chile, which is sparsely populated in the south. They continue their journey through the northern provinces of Argentina to Peru. In the Andes, they drive from sea level to an altitude of 4,700 metres, conquering one of the highest passes anywhere in the estate model.
Thin air: Kevin (left) and Lars pose at 3,500 metres above sea level in the vicinity of the ruined city of Choquequirao in southern Peru.
No bridge is too narrow for the 30-year-old estate model, no road too bad – it masters simply everything.
“Our car always had power. We could overtake other cars at any time,” says Kevin. The two are also particularly impressed by Argentina. “We met so many people there who were totally happy without material wealth simply because they live together with their family,” says Lars and shows photos of an extended family on horses, with whom they took a short break in the barren steppe. It only takes a few days for them to develop a routine in choosing a place to sleep and setting up. “Never arrive in the dark,” they agree. And: “Anything that takes longer than three minutes gets on your nerves,” Kevin says, showing a photo of the awning they were nervous about setting up. On such a long journey, you get to know each other and each other’s quirks even more intensively, say the Baden-Württemberg duo, who take regular turns driving. The only thing they didn’t agree on was their sleeping rhythm, but their friendship easily coped with that.
It is May 2021. The rainfall is transforming the rainforest in eastern Peru into a tropical humid wetland. It is dry on the coast. Kevin and Lars have landed in Lima, rent a car and set off for their Mercedes-Benz.
“It was a big culture shock. On our first trip, we had already been on the road for many months, but this time we flew,” Kevin tells us. “We saw lame dogs, even more children selling chewing gum on the street,” says Lars, trying to put the mood into words.
The presidential elections were coming up, the pandemic had led to an economic crisis, and there were hardly any tourists. From the capital on the South Pacific, they travel almost 500 kilometres north-eastward to the colony on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. Pozuzo, the village with alpine-style wooden houses, lies 750 metres above sea level. In 1857, Rhinelanders and Tyroleans had set out for Peru to help expand the settlement. Many descendants of the emigrants still live there today, speak German and serve Wiener schnitzel with potato salad. At village festivals, they wear dirndls and lederhosen.
Lars (left) and Kevin smile into the camera with relief. It took more than a year before they were able to travel back to Peru.
Arriving with innkeeper Hans, who has hosted the “Benz” for the past year, a weight is lifted off their shoulders. Their travelling companion stands under a carport, framed by flower pots and climbing plants. A fine layer of red sand has settled on the white paint like a veil. Kevin and Lars fill their empty suitcases with the items they had to leave behind back then. The second half of the Pan-American Highway awaits them, but first, there are just enough days to take the S 124 for a little spin. “Sometime soon, my father will perhaps fly to Peru, take the car to Colombia, then ship it to Panama and drive it to friends in the US,” Kevin reveals. It will stay there for now and accompany the boys on holidays in the States. They still dream of the Pan-American Highway. One day, Kevin and Lars will finish it, picking up exactly where they left off.