When I wish I could shrink BERTA, our overland vehicle

Or Yasha’s idea for a short to-the-point title:

Oops, we did it again!

If I had known earlier about the route from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca, the PE-8B, I would probably have chosen a different title for our post about the PE-3N. Both are very narrow white-knuckle roads and require extremely careful driving. That’s why I thought, I wish I could shrink Berta, our overland truck .

When I wish I could shrink BERTA, our overland vehicle - like on the PE-8B in Peru. This was probably the narrowest road we have ever driven.

When I wish I could shrink BERTA, our overland vehicle – like on the PE-8B in Peru. This was probably the narrowest road we have ever driven.

Ahead of driving this road, a fellow overlander told us that the PE-8B is one of the ‘most dangerous roads in the world’; I googled this claim and couldn’t find any supporting entries. Nevertheless, if you are a careless or reckless driver it can certainly be very dangerous… In Cajamarca we met a Peruvian man (who now lives in the States) who confessed that his legs had been shaking for most of the drive – so it can be really scary! And he was driving a regular Toyota 4WD…

Most of the PE-8B between Chachapoyas and Celendin is a single lane road. In some sections, turn-outs to let vehicles past are few and far between. But there is a big difference between it and the previously described PE-3N : almost all of it is asphalt and in decent condition. On the PE-3N I had to concentrate on potholes and was always afraid that the truck might slip sideways along wet and muddy parts of it. A sealed surface provides better grip and takes one worry away.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

The other difference is that we encountered much less traffic. The mountains in the east of Peru seem to be less populated. Due to many blind bends and and narrow road bits, it still meant that we always had to be ‘prepared’ for traffic. I concentrated on the road immediately ahead and Yasha tried to look further ahead and tell me in advance if she spotted any vehicles, including motorbikes, coming our way.

Yes, in parts (long parts) the road is really too narrow for a motorbike to pass us. Typically, for impatient Peruvian drivers, they tried but hardly ever succeeded first go. Often the tarred bit was so narrow that I had both wheels on the white line – left and right. Then there’s no room for anybody to get past us.

These were exactly the moments when I wished to have smaller truck. At least our box (the converted shelter) on the back is a tad narrower than the front, so I didn’t have to worry about it hitting sharp rock bits sticking out from the often vertical sides left or right.

On websites specialising in Overland trucks, I often see posts where people want the widest possible camper box on the back. Have they ever driven narrow roads in foreign countries, or do they only know wide highways in the USA and Europe?

So, to let the cat out of the bag, I already started to look for a little smaller truck to transfer our shelter onto. After South America we plan to travel more – all to be revealed when the time is right…

Enjoy the photos! Almost all were taken by Yasha, who is getting better at ignoring the steep drops and trying to capture the moment.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

A follower on our Facebook page commented that we should have one photo with Berta on the road, to get a better feel for the proportions. Well, we didn’t feel that it was a safe thing to do. So there’s only one picture of Berta next to the road, where it was a tad wider, and another of us meeting cows on the road *). Both photos should give you some idea how wide the road is!

Well, not only motorbikes, pick-up trucks, and freight trucks on the road - occasionally you get held up by life stock.

Well, not only motorbikes, pick-up trucks, and freight trucks on the road – occasionally you get held up by life stock.

*) less than 100 meters before the cows we had met 3 small vehicles at once. It was a real squeeze! I guess they had also been held up by the cows, and that’s why they all came at once…

Google satellite view of the route going into Balsas. It's the light coloured line following the the mountain contour.

Google satellite view of the route going into Balsas. It’s the light coloured line following the the mountain contour.

Google satellite view of the route going out of Balsas.

Google satellite view of the route going out of Balsas.

Practical Information

There is no alternative route if you want to visit both, Cajamarca and the interesting ruin sites around Chachapoyas. The PE-8B goes across two high passes, both at over 3,600 metres. The town of Balsas, more than half way from Leymebamba (where we stayed overnight near the museum), is in a river valley at only a little over 800 metres altitude. It’s steamy hot in Balsas, and mango plantations line the road.

We were glad that the final section of the PE-8B from Celendin to Cajamarca was obviously recently upgraded and nice and wide. On our paper map it showed the same classification as the previous narrow bit, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

Ha, I don't even believe that somebody who knows the road, can drive it in under 6 hours.

Ha, I don’t even believe that somebody who knows the road, can drive it in under 6 hours.

As long-term travellers we are very happy with the space our overland truck offers. But occasionally I wish I could shrink Berta, because our overland vehicle is rather wide. Like when I have to drive a road so narrow that the wheels run on both sides on top of the white lines. This happened on the PE-8B, and worse: often we had a steep vertical drop one side... See our photo gallery of this scary mountain road in Peru!

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Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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4 Responses

  1. Igel & Paola says:

    so you are looking for a DüDo??? ;-)
    for some inspiration what is possible without 4×4, have a look at our 2017 Morocco videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/igel0paola/videos
    P.S.: DüDo width 2,10m

    • Juergen says:

      Yes, either a Düdo or a newer Vario (with Euro 4, green sticker). We’re looking for a chassis to put our shelter on. Pricewise there doesn’t seem to be much difference anymore; most Düdos with H-plates seem to demand a premium price… I know the older Düdo fairly well, as I had one for over 100,000kms. That was my van I went to Morocco with – in 1985! (Yes, it’s been this long).

  2. Bron says:

    Too scary for me but made a very good read and great pictures

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