Tuareg Rally, Day 8: The Finish

When Stéphane called at 7:30 on Saturday morning, we were just 10 minutes away from the ferry station. They’d already debarked and were waiting for us in a parking area near the entrance so that Edouard could check over the Protruck before they headed out for the 110 km run to the Finish in Mojácar.

It didn’t take long. Everything was in order, and after an inspection of the hubs, everyone was ready to grab a coffee and breakfast before getting underway.

Across from the ferry station was a small unremarkable bar where a number of regulars had already arrived for coffee or whisky (at 8:00 am!). When we first got there, there weren’t too many people, but by the time we left, the place was packed with participants from the rally. Breakfast for two cost 5€ including coffee and toast with ham, tomatoes or tortilla (potato pancakes) and some of the best orange juice we’d ever tasted. Driving back to Switzerland the next day, we’d think of that orange juice as we drove alongside kilometers of orange groves and palm trees around Valencia in Spain. That orange juice tasted like a glass of sweet sunshine: no sugar needed!

Back at the ferry, some of the competitors were already taking to the road. There was no specific start time for leaving Alméria; the competitors had several hours to arrive at the start of the single Special of the day, through a gravel wash that lead from the mountains down to the beach just south of Mojácar. There they gathered for the parade to the Finish.

We set off early with the idea that we’d try to stop at the start of the last Special to get some photos, but when we saw the track from the road through the mountains on the way and realized how far from the Finish it was, we decided to press on, find a good place to park the truck and check into the hotel before the competitors arrived. We weren’t the only ones. Check-in took almost an hour at the hotel, because many of the teams had sent someone ahead with stacks of passports to collect the room keys for all the team members in advance.

We ate lunch on the sunny terrace of a pizzeria not far from the hotel and then headed back to wait for the parade. This time the wait wasn’t long.

Kris had the best seat in the house.

We watched from across the street as all the competitors passed, a few cars being towed by fellow participants.

There was a joyous celebration at the Finish line.

The Orga was efficient and had done their job to make sure the results were ready and the winners could be announced right away.

No one on the Swiss team received a prize, but the objectives had been achieved. Stéphane and Caro had been able to asses the performance of the Protruck in real race conditions, including the soft dues of the Sahara in addition to the dirt tracks where the truck excels in speed. WIth this experience, they’ll be able to make the right modifications to tune its performance to the terrain they expect to encounter in future events.

Florian and Yvan had successfully achieved their objectives. It was their first rally, and their first experience driving in the desert. Not only had they finished, but they’d had very few problems with the Jeep Cherokee they’d prepared themselves in the evenings after work. A very respectable performance, indeed.

This was our first time at the Tuareg Rally, too. Overall, we were impressed by the efficiency of the organization, although there were a few problems that might have been avoided: It was regrettable that the service teams had to take a different ferry than the competitors. We feel sure this wasn’t the organizer’s first choice, but it did have a non-negligible impact on the team. Also, in our opinion the facilities in Missor were not adequate to handle the number of people participating in the rally. Although the hotel did it’s best to accommodate everyone, the level of cleanliness and hygiene was definitely affected. Most of the other problems we noted were minor in comparison, and despite these few misgivings, we came away with a very positive image of this rally. Attention to safety was high, there were few injuries, and those accidents that did occur received rapid attention and assistance, which is after all the most important job of the Orga. They deserve a great deal of congratulations for everything that went off without a hitch, no small achievement for a rally of this size and complexity.

We’d definitely recommend this race to anyone looking for a challenging, affordable rally experience. The Tuareg Rally remains dedicated to amateurs, but the difficulty and the level of preparation is high, making it a serious alternative to some of the other races. Without the need to meet FIA regulations, or the attention of the big constructor-sponsored teams, the rally offers the serious amateur or aspiring professional a chance to participate on the same level as the more experienced teams.

We noticed a large number of competitors who were participating for their second, third or fourth time. We hope we’ll be able to join them again next year.

The Winning car.

Tuareg Rally, Day 7: Service Teams In Exile

There are those who like to drive at night: often there’s less traffic and less hassle. When you’re well-rested and driving on a well-maintained divided highway, it’s not so bad. You can make good time, and the people you meet at regular rest stops are at least interesting, if not actually friendly. The route we were taking through Morocco wasn’t like that at all.

When the alarm woke us up at 12:30 am, the lights had been turned down in the hotel lobby and there were fewer people huddled in groups talking than when we’d crashed on the sofas an hour and a half before. We got our things together and were quickly underway, Eduouard and Pascal in the Rubicon and the two of us in the MAN KAT. We didn’t have a map of Morroco loaded in the GPS, since we’d mostly been navigating using coordinates and a cap, and it wasn’t as easy to find the turn onto the narrow two-lane highway as it had been in daylight on the way down. For a while we weren’t sure we were on the right route. The milestones were set back farther from the road and more difficult to read in the dark than usual.

There was a surprising amount of traffic, and we passed a number of cars in the oncoming direction. The road was narrow and the MAN KAT’s original headlights didn’t carry very far; we had to remain alert. The plan was to drive relatively slowly to reduce the risk of running headlong into an unseen danger. At 60 km/hour, we’d have time to react in case of something unexpected. Even at this speed, sometimes we’d come up behind a slow-moving car or truck without rear lights, and once we had to brake suddenly for a van that had parked on the road without actually pulling over, the two right tires barely off the pavement on the shoulder. Twice we had to slow down even more as we passed through banks of dense fog, where the visibility was no more than a few tens of meters at best.

After an hour or so the traffic dwindled, and it seemed that we were the only ones left on the road. From time to time we’d see an animal, usually a hedgehog, crossing the road in front of us, and once we drove past two hitchhikers with a few sheep who tried to flag us down. These are the critical moments: fighting sleep, struggling to concentrate. Every two hours, or when one of the drivers started to feel tired, he’d get on the radio, and we’d find a place to park safely away from the road for a 15-minute “power nap.” When the iPhone alarm went off, we’d set out again. In this way, we made our way north to Nador arriving on the outskirts of town just as the sky started to lighten.

We stopped at the first open gas station we saw to fill the tanks and grab the only coffee of the trip. Pierre and Corine stopped there too, having passed us on highway along the way during the wee hours of the morning. After our improvised breakfast, we all started out together toward Melilla to pass customs and take our places to board the ferry. The process wasn’t exactly the same as when we’d arrived, but it didn’t feel very different or take much less time.

By the time we’d gotten through customs, found the ferry terminal, and exchanged our tickets for boarding cards, we didn’t have long to wait until the controller motioned for us to drive into the hold. We’d timed things perfectly. Once we’d gotten the key to our cabin and stowed our belongings, we went out on deck under overcast skies to take one last look at the African continent.

Once the ferry was underway, we had lunch. The crossing took only about six hours, but we still had a time for a hot shower and a welcome nap. When we woke up, we were just off the coast of Spain.

It felt as if the Rally were over. The competitors had over 350 km to drive that day, with a fast stage and two specials. For us, it was time for rest once the boarding was completed. There weren’t many other service teams on the ferry with us. We’d heard at the briefing in Missor that some of the teams had serious technical problems and wouldn’t be able to continue the race without their service vehicles close by during the day so the Orga had managed to find some extra space for them on the overnight ferry the competitors were taking. That ferry didn’t leave Nador until several hours after our arrival in Alméria. We were cut off from all the action and from the rest of the group.

What would we do overnight while waiting for our teams to arrive at the port the next morning? Unbeknownst to us, Rainer had already reserved rooms for us in the hotel on the beach front at the Finish in Mojácar, but he’d forgotten to tell us at the briefing and Mojácar was over 100 km away. We needed to meet our race drivers at the port in case they needed service in the morning, so it didn’t occur to us to press on to the Finish once we’d finished debarking.

We set out for the campground not far away where we’d stayed on the drive down. We got there in time for dinner before the restaurant closed and then headed straight to bed. With the fatigue and the feeling of distance everyone seemed tense, so we were happy to crawl into bed in the bungalow for the first full night of sleep we’d had since the rally started.

Delayed Posts From Tuareg Rally 2012

Welcome to everyone coming to look for new posts about the Tuareg Rally!

It’s been a few days since we’ve been able to add anything new. There are two more posts on the way to reach the end of our story. We’ve also got lots of unpublished photos and some video, which we’ll try to get up as soon as possible too.

Unfortunately, since our return we’ve had a few distractions as well as a nasty flu that makes it hard to feel like writing or curating photos.

We’re sorry about that. With luck, we’ll be able to get everything up in the next week or two, so please check back in a few days.

Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or send a question.

Tuareg Rally, Day 6: Return To Missor

It seemed we’d hardly stayed long enough to enjoy the dunes around Merzouga when it was already time to pack up and leave. On 6th day of the Rally, we began the long trek toward the Finish in Mojácar, the first leg retracing our route over 400 km from Merzouga back to Missor.

The Road Book took the competitors through a short stretch of dunes in the Erg Chebi, and then led them north on dirt tracks with several liaisons over stretches of paved highway. The service route ran closely parallel, so we packed up camp and set out before the official start in hopes of arriving at the photo points in time to get some pictures of the action.

We got as far north as Erfoud when Stéphane called. They needed assistance near the Start, so Edouard and Pascal went back in the Rubicon while we waited for them with the MAN KAT in the village. We changed a worn tire on the trailer while waiting, and took advantage of the good Internet connection at the Hotel Riad Salam to post some news on the blog.

By the time Edouard and Pascal got back, we’d lost two hours and ended up well behind all our race drivers. There wouldn’t be any exciting pictures for us today. Since the liaisons were over some of the same roads as the service route, we were overtaken from time to time by the cars and motorcycles that were farther behind than the leaders of the day.

We skipped the first CheckPoint, but stopped at the second one to check the progress of the race. All of our drivers had already passed through, so there wasn’t much to do but get back in the truck and keep driving.

The road took us through Errachidia, which in addition to a military base, is home to a large student population, with a spacious campus for the Faculty of Science and Technology, as well as the National Institute for Agronomic Research, visible from the road through town.

The route wound along the valley, the lush palms of the Tafilalt Oasis thickly blanketing the river bed, a striking contrast with the barren rocky slopes on either side. Fed by the Ziz river, the Oasis is one of the largest in northern Africa and was historically important as a trade route and crossroads, in particular for the gold trade from western Africa to the Islamic world during the Middle Ages. The turquoise lake created by the Hassim-Addakhil dam is an amazingly beautiful sight.

We were among the last of our group to reach the camp in Missor. It had rained on the way, and the thin layer of wet mud stuck much too easily to our shoes as we got out to put things in place.

Florian and Yvan didn’t need to make any repairs, but Raoul had broken the support for the shock absorber during the day, and it had to be welded again.

Edouard checked the hubs on the Protruck. Everything was clean. The seals they had made the day before had solved the problem. However there was some play in the ball joint of the upper A-arm, which affected the suspension and steering. Unfortunately, the repair would be more complex than the team was prepared to make so close to the end of the race, so Stéphane and Caro would continue to the Finish before fixing the problem back in Switzerland in the workshop.

No one had eaten a meal during the day, so everyone was hungry and couldn’t wait for the buffet at the hotel, which wouldn’t be ready until another three hours or more. Stéphane and Caro had time for a hot shower and shampoo to get all the dust out of their hair before the group went out for dinner at a nearby restaurant in Missor.

Later, at the briefing, we got the final instructions for catching the ferry to Spain. The service team would return on the same ferry from Melilla to Alméria, which left at 13:00 local time. Rainer reminded us that we’d have to leave no later than 3 am to reach Nador and pass customs in time, but he’d forgotten the time change to European Summer Time at 01:00 UTC. That meant we’d have to leave no later than 2 am! We’d made the trip from Nador to Missor in 6-7 hours on the way south, but since we’d be driving at night, and in Morocco you should always expect the unexpected, we decided to build at least an extra hour’s margin into the trip.

We hadn’t reserved a place in the tent at the hotel that night, but we were tired, so it wasn’t too hard to fall asleep on the sofas around 11:00 pm despite the lights and noise in the lobby. When we set out for Nador about two hours later, we were glad we’d make the decision to start early.