DAKAR – It’s an Adventure not a holiday!
First we need to get our 2 land cruisers from Valpariso (Chile) to Buenos Aries (Argentina).
Well actually first we need to get the paperwork done so I could be authorised to drive Gregs Landcruiser into Argentina. A whole day of visiting various offices in Santiago got us a piece of paper with all the stamps. Special mention to our agents who made this so much easier.
We picked up the vehicles just outside Valpariso (mental note beautiful place I must get back there with some more time to spend) and headed off to BA. Only 1500km but the small obstacle of the Andes to get over. See photos of some of the climbs, 29 switchbacks and then a 3km tunnel. Cool.
After all our effort the border control didn’t want to know about the paperwork. [But imagine if we hadn’t had it]. There was a queue of about 7km of vehicles waiting to cross into Chile. Down the hill on the other side and to our overnight in La Paz. (No not the capital of Bolivia, La Paz Argentina! population 1189, one of five towns called La Paz in Argentina)
Next day went well for the first spell, then a small mechanical problem meant the rest of the trip from there to BA was a bit of a train trip. Did I mention the tropical thunderstorm? Good thing there were not too many corners, but we got there just before midnight so we could enjoy the new year festivities by the harbour.
We met up with the others at our hotel in Buenos Aries and after changing some money and other chores, went down to the exposition and saw the fields of competitors parked up. Next morning we visited the start and watched the procession of Bikes (136) Quads (45) Cars (111) and Trucks (55) leave on their way to the prologue stage near Rosario. Turns out this prologue was cancelled due to an accident caused by a Chinese competitor.
We overnighted in BA and then drove to meet day 1 near the end of their day only to find that stage too had been cancelled due to weather and road conditions (well we could see how that could be, having driven through it the other way).
Chile had refused to take the rally, and then, only 4 months before the start, Peru also refused. Without the Atacama Desert and the Andes stages, the rally was mainly based in Argentina with lots of fast stages on closed narrow tracks WRC style, and a noticeable lack of stages in open terrain with difficult navigation.
By now we are on well known territory at Villa Carlos Paz, where the WRC is based in Argentina. Using a combination of the event map (a very poor indication indeed) and an electronic mapping programme Greg selected an intermediate junction to spectate at the next day. Good thing he did, as the organisers shortened this stage too, and it turned out we were at the start of the stage. Great spectating though and we got to see the whole four fields on the first actual stage. We saw them at about 600m into the stage they had a further 520km to go to the finish! The total for the day for competitors was 858km.
So, after watching the DAKAR we had a further 400km to get where we going: Termas de Rio Hondo
The next day went from Termas de Rio Hondo to Jujuy across the Salinas Grandes – racing on salt flats where we found a water splash, and again on the way home high view over valley as they came to the end of the stage.
Jujuy – Jujuy
Jujuy – Uyuni
Left our hotel at 5am to head north to the border crossing into Bolivia at Villazon before the DAKAR vehicles arrived. When we got there we found the border was closed to everyone except the DAKAR who had already been pre processed. So there we were, 9 am, and had to wait “until the next day” to cross. Eventually we were allowed through about 4.30 pm – and we were the first through. There were at least 200 backpackers and other normal users in a queue waiting (not all that quietly). Taking just one vehicle into Bolivia it was only 300 km (6 hours) to get to Uyuni. We headed up the direct route which was initially a sealed road, but after Tupiza we turned onto a gravel road – pretty much like a little used NZ rural road – twisty and in need of a grading, complete with washouts. This is very close to the place where Butch Cassidy and Sundance met their end. Anyway we had not travelled more than 40 km of this when the traffic (trucks & 4wds) started coming back towards us and told us the river crossing ahead was already 1m deep and rising, and it was still raining.
With no alternative we had to backtrack for 40 km and drove about 20k of that down the riverbed which was in better nick than the road. By the tracks the locals preferred this to the road too. At Tupiza we rejoined the sealed road and headed for Uyuni via Potosi – 253 + 204 km (7 hrs) detour. By now it is starting to get dark, and the road climbs to 4600m though falling snow. As we descended the weather changed to just heavy rain again, i.e. streams running down the road rain. It was about 2.30am when we arrived in Uyuni.
Watched the Dakar on the salt flats at Uyuni at 3600m altitude (Mt Cook is 3724m) (Uyuni is six times the size of Bonneville), including a spectacular effort by one of the trucks to flatten a photographer. Toured past the Salt Hotel.
Anticipating the same lack of organisation on the return trip Greg changed our route and we overnighted in Potosi instead and made an early start for the border at Aguas Blancas. Brilliant! we crossed and nearly made it 20km when we were stopped for flooding! Fortunately land cruisers can cope – although the current would not have needed to be any stronger, we made it through.
The service crews were not all as lucky – as the sun set again we returned to our other vehicle, had a late meal (shared with a wedding party) and then drove on to Salta arriving at 1am.
Salta – Rest Day. Not before time!!
stage 8 Salta to Belen – Riverbed with small jump
stage 9 Belen to Belen Mid stage point off road and finish control.
Aimogasta 2 nights – worlds best tyre repair
stage 10 Old Riverbed – desert – way point most like driving on sand – dust storms
Belen to La Roija
stage 11La Roija to San Juan wide sandy track then later narrow stoney track
Chatting to one of the service trucks filling up – did you know it holds 1600 litres of diesel!
stage 12 San Juan back to Villa Carlos Paz – We drove for 75km in a straight line down a clay road that looked to have maybe 2 sets of tyre tracks before us. This took us to the back of the Parc Nacional, followed by a spectacular climb up the 500m uplift at the edge of what was once Gondwana through the jungle to intersect the stage at Las Palmas. We followed the tail cars out of this stage and then drove past the famous Mina Clavero and El Condor (Rally Argentina stages) to get back to Villa Carlos Paz.
Stage 13 and only 700km to go. We positioned ourselves to catch Australian Toby Price as he completed his final touring into Rosario having won the event for bikes. We even made it to the finish ceremony, through the throngs of people asking for free t-shirts and caps. Thanks to all my fellow passengers – you made it a memorable trip.
Our final trip back to Buenos Aries was notable for the size of the the procession of the de Rooy truck fleet heading to the port for export. We had never seen them all in one place before and they made quite a spectacle.
If you want a holiday where you get up have a leisurely brunch, watch one stage and be in the bar by five this is not the trip for you. If you want to experience in small part the effort of actually being a part of Dakar and think sleep is overrated, have a desire to weather conditions including snow, torrential rain, flooding, lightning, high winds, temperatures up to 44 in the desert, and -2 at night, altitudes up to 4500 m, like travelling hundreds of kilometres in constantly changing scenery then this is you. Your reward? Getting to see some of the top drivers in the world in the most challenging terrain fighting the machinery and the conditions – against other drivers and riders, many whose only goal is to say they completed the course. And those boys riding quads are nuts.
Thanks Greg – Another spectacular trip – Roll on Dakar 2017. jk.[The rally was won by Toby Price from Australia [bikes], continuing the KTM dominance. Patronelli brothers dominated in Quads (this time by Marcus), while Peugeot returned with a better car leading from the first real stage till the end of the rally. In his first try Sébastien Loeb dominated the first week, but in the end the car victory went to Mr. Dakar Stephane Peterhansel. Gerard de Rooy won the trucks again, putting an end to Kamaz dominance. Mikko Hirvonen managed an excellent fourth in his first attempt.]