Ok… the Dakar Rally is an annual, world famous, 2-week, off-road race for motorcycles, quads, cars, and trucks, that runs thru Argentina and Chile this year. It starts and ends in Buenos Aires. But, it runs up to the northern tip of Chile where we planned to catch a glimpse of the race. They race for a specific distance each day and setup a bivouac site each night where the racers eat, sleep, and get their vehicles serviced. This was also the halfway point and the racers got a 1 day rest in the Chilean town of Arica. So, we rode into town and found the bivouac site a day before the racers arrived. And, we pitched our tents just down the road from the racer’s bivouac area.
The course is kept secret and the actual racing usually ends well before the towns where they setup their bivouac sites. Then, they just ride or drive the rest of the way into the bivouac area at normal, legal, road speeds. So, catching a glimpse of the actual racing is more work than one might think. In this case we had to ride around 200 kilometers into the desert to see the end of the “Special” - the actual racing section. And, there were no gas stations along the route so getting back became a problem as my bike’s range is around 350 kilometers and the round trip was 400.
So, first we had to find someone who knew where the Special section ended that day - no small task since the course details are kept secret. But, we asked around and found a group of BMW riders that knew the scoop and followed them.
The trip thru town was unreal! Spectators on every corner cheering. We pulled in to a gas station to fuel up and were mobbed by folks wanting to take pictures with us and get our autographs. Quite a spectacle! But, it was all good fun and everyone seemed to be enjoying it.
We followed the BMW riders for around 150 kilometers before they decided to stop as they were concerned about having enough fuel for the return trip. But, being the bull headed adventure riders we are, we forged on passed the point of no return. And, after stopping several times to reassess our decision and agree to push on… again (just to the crest of the next hill), we finally arrived at the Special section where we could view some actual racing.
We watched the racers come thru for several hours. Then we decided to start our journey back early as we would have to use every gas saving technique we knew to make it back to town, including riding much slower than normal and coasting down hills with the motor off. But, before leaving the racing area, I managed to get 2 liters of gas from a fuel truck that was there for the racers. Then, we rode about 70 kilometers and stopped at a small town to have a snack. While we were there many racers came thru on their way to the bivouac site. One rider (Jose from Spain - #158) pulled over near us and got off his bike to adjust his gear and warm up before riding the rest of the way to the bivouac site. He asked if we wanted to join him for a cup of coffee and of course we accepted. We chatted with him for nearly a half hour - he was not concerned about making it back as he was a veteran at the Dakar and he knew he had 5 hours to make it to the bivouac site - plus, the next day was the mid-race, rest day.
Jose had crashed earlier in the day and showed us pictures he had taken immediately afterward - yep, he had a camera! He was as much a spectator as he was a racer! A really nice guy too. He answered our questions about the race and even invited us to ride along with him back to town as he had a full tank of gas that he would be happy to share with us if needed. We declined as we did not want to hinder his progress. In hind sight he probably could have used the company for the ride back. We saw him pass by us later, riding with another spectator.
There were so many riders there as spectators from all over the world. I met a Japanese rider, Shigeru Sato, who was near the end of a round-the-world trip, on a bike just like mine. Then, there’s a Russian, Vadim and his friend, who we keep crossing paths with on our journey south. And the 2 French guys we met on the way back from the Special (also riding bikes just like mine) that somehow managed to get inside the racers bivouac compound - an area secured by local police and military personnel. They must know somebody : )
Anyway, we camped out during the rest-day and had our photo’s taken many times with and by the curious residence from the town of Arica. This strange race had come to their small town making it the center of international attention, for a moment in time. It was really quite a treat for everyone.
This was an exciting trip for a number of reasons. It was over 30,000 miles thru Latin America and the Andes mountains, and I didn't speak much Spanish. There was also the small detail of the Darien Gap. And, then there was "Death Road" in Bolivia - supposedly the most dangerous road in the world.
Anyway, I blogged about the entire journey right here.