How to survive the Dakar
A beginners guide to spectating at the world's most demanding endurance competition
Posted: 22 Jan 2014
We're not going to fuel up in Monte Coman. It's a one-garage town and the only garage is for the exclusive use of the Dakar race bikes and quads. It's a good sight though, so Robert dives out cameras clattering (well, he is a photographer) to capture the dust and chaos of 200-odd bikes trying to use four pumps at the same time. Uwe is impatient. He wants to get to press location 2, our chosen viewpoint for the day. I volunteer to go and pull Robert out. Somewhere we miss each. Now everyone is looking for me. 15 minutes later we're all back at the car. Uwe is tearing is hair out. That's OK, he's got a good thatch.
Turns out Monte Coman is a two-garage town. Whooppee! Even with Uwe driving 500km of fuel should get us through the rest of the day.
We're heading due south on the 179. The good roads seem to have run out and bad roads in Argentina are both temptingly clear and straight and packed full on unseen potholes that explode under the wheels like mines. At times it's actually better to drive on the dirt at the side of the road than on the patchwork tarmac itself.
Having to drive slowly raises another issue. It's a cloudless 38 degrees outside. Four blokes may fit in a Mini Countryman, but they sure as hell force the air con to work hard. It's not capable of the necessary feat. Robert's in the front and likes to have the window down. He's like the bloke on the aeroplane in front of you who reclines his seat. Giovanni and I suffer in the draught until the map and some other random papers that we're planning to wave out the window as ‘credentials' gust up into the air. There's a light border skirmish between front and back seats.
After 30 minutes of heading south amid arid fields with desert just beyond, we can see waving flags and banners in the distance. Odd, since my calculations show the press location is still 35km further on. It does at least show we're going the right way. We draw up beside a man wearing desert fatigues.
We don't have the right passes. Well, we don't have any proper accreditation as the race organisers charge thousands of euros for it and we thought we'd be able to wing it since we were with the X-Raid team and allowed in the campsite. Mistake. Basically we need more stickers on the side of the car. I get out of the car and try to reason with the obstinate Frenchman in his own lingo. I probably asked him for his aunt's pen or his uncle's desk or something. Uwe joins me. He tries the other method: speaking loudly and slowly. In English. Oh god. Obstinacy turns to aggression. A jabbing finger isn't far away when I take Uwe by the arm and steer him gently back to the Mini.
We've lost at least an hour and there's no other way of getting to where we want to go. Well, there is, but I reckon it's at least 180 miles round. Instead we spot another potential viewpoint...
We barrel back north, hitting all the same potholes we hit on the way south.