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Friday, January 20, 2012

DUST, DIRT & THE DAKAR

Well it is all over. Fifteen long days of endurance driving, with hours and hours through some amazingly tough terrain. And that wasn’t just us; the guys in the rally did many more miles than we did. They had to leave at the crack of dawn, and sometimes not get back until dusk, or later…

We caught up with the rally on Day 4. By then they had already driven over 2000kms. We literally stumbled across the long, long trail of bikes, quads, cars, trucks & service vehicles as they were driving a liaison section from San Juan to Chilecito in Argentina. We sat on our deck chairs and waved them on. Very civilized. The dust was yet to come. We walked miles into the start of the special stage to watch them take off. It was over 40deg C and we were continually covered in dust. We both had showers when we got back. Next time we will drive in!

We followed them to the bivouac and camped outside. No way were we allowed in without a special wrist band. A Kiwi guy we met told us that the spectator points were posted on the internet a day or two before each day. As the Wi-Fi at the bivouac’s required a password, we got Brad to look them up and text us the waypoints each day. Thank you Brad.

And so followed days of driving. From Chilecito we continued to Fiambala. We chose not to stay at the bivouac, but continue on higher up the pass. The bikes were supposed to cross over the pass that night, but this was cancelled due to snow. There was also a route change, meaning we ended up driving over 600km (a huge driving day for us) but it was filled with amazing scenery with heaps of fresh snow, blue skies & even an aqua lake. The border at the Paso de San Francisco was a bit tiresome. The Dakar vehicles had their own area, and we had to jostle with motorbike guys in the queue.

We got a hero’s welcome in Copiapo. The locals really cannot differentiate between GR2 and the Dakar trucks, so we gave in to pressure, and waved as they clicked their cameras, waved and screamed.  After again camping near the bivouac, we had a few nights away at the beach. First near the gorgeous Bahia Inglsea and then in the Park National Pan de Azuca. No, we didn’t miss the rally. It was their rest day.

From Copiapo we headed north to Antofagasta. Our viewing spot this time was right up a long valley (I’m sure you all saw us on TV as the helicopters kept flying over us). Then we continued north through the Atacama Desert, stopping again for yet more photos of “The Hand in The Sand”.

Again a bivouac camp spot, and on to Iquique to watch the Rally drive down a massive sand dune.  An amazing sight. We had to shuffle for a viewing point with 100’s of locals who were out in force. Their vehicles were all over the dunes. They are amazing how they try to drive on the actual track, and cross over the barriers to take photos. Then it is on to Arica, and the next day another border crossing to Peru. For us it takes an hour. For the Dakar guys just a few minutes. There is an Aussie car and crew in the Rally, and the crew have been updating us on events. Their car had to get towed out of one stage at the tiny cost of $20.000, and on another stage the driver & co driver had to camp overnight in the stage. But they did finish the rally – a pretty awesome feat.

The Peruvians were rapt to see us. By us I mean GR2 & the rally vehicles, and we were feted everywhere we went. At Arequipa we sat for hours in the crazy traffic (crazing driving in Peru is the norm) to get to the bivouac, and then parked with 100’s of vehicles to see the Rally come into Nazca. We left Nazca at the crack of dawn to get to the huge dunes at Huacachina to get a good spot, but 1000’s of locals had beaten us to it and the dunes were covered. It was stinking hot, so we drove to the side line. I could sit inside the cab while John sat on the roof. Again we decided to give the bivouac a miss and camped peacefully at Paracas National Park.

The final day loomed with a very short special stage of 29km. So we simply drove into Lima like celebrities. The whole centre of the city and the entry motorway was closed for “Dakar” traffic only. We drove in with the trucks, screaming fans everywhere. It was pretty special. Right at the centre we were peeled off from the competitors and put into a car park right in town. Sadly we couldn’t access the Plaza de Armas (it was barracked from us ordinary people), but we could see part of the victory lap and the commentary was broadcast very loudly everywhere. It went on, and on, and on.

What a great rally.

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