To get to the Dakar we had our own small rally to run to get to the start.
We were still in Ecuador working our way South when Elsebie one morning while doing some route planning mentioned that the Dakar rally will start in Lima, Peru this year. It was only about 2000km or so away. We made it in time to Lima with an afternoon to spare.
The day before the start of the 2018 Dakar, the 40th edition, we loitered around parc ferme in Lima overwhelmed by the Dakar porn around us. It was early Friday afternoon and we thought the place would be a ghost mall, well, it was not. Peruvians are obsessed with the Dakar. The place was crawling with people creating dust that hung in the air with a reddish glow as the sunset over the excitement and happy noise of people.
As we were salivating over the motorcycles lined up in their own area when we caught sight of Lyndon Poskitt still tinkering with his bike. He was the only rider still there that afternoon. The rest of the guys had all retired to their hotels to prepare for the start the next day. I called Lyndon to please come over for a photo and a chat, and with a big grin he called back to wait a minute he will be over soon, he just wanted to put the ‘condom’ over his navigation system. He is a friendly, well spoken dude, and happily chatted away for almost 20 minutes telling us how he felt. He unfortunately sported a severe case of the flu and had to see the Doctor everyday to get the all clear for the race.
Lyndon is one of the guys riding as a Malle Moto. Traditionally known as the Malle Moto class but rebranded as the Original by Motul in 2018. Less than 30 competitors are crazy enough to compete in this class each year. They are given an area to work on their own bikes and an area to sleep at each bivouac. They are also given transport for their packed-up tools, a parts locker and sleeping gear between each stage. Apart from that, the Malle Moto riders are on their own. They are doing what the Dakar was in the early days. They have no massages and back-rubs from crew. These guys are as hardcore as they come, Bear Grylls drink-his-own-piss has nothing on these guys and girls.
Walking past the line up of cars and seeing them for the first time in real life induced a severe reaction of horripilation. Their size and stance are intimidating and you feel like bowing your head in royalty type of respect. The main contenders like the Peugeot 3008 DKR are big cars. Just looking at them they have a wider and longer wheels base than a big double cab 4×4 pick-up like the Ford Ranger.
Their tyres are massive 37/12.5 – 17’s.
The South African Toyotas had a “ek-bliksem-vir-jou-boetie” attitude.
And the trucks!! The trucks were mind-bending brutal but beautiful monsters. I am sure every man I know would want one to drive as a daily! They have expensive tricked out parts like their suspension and the cabs inside are all made up of navigational sorcery goodies.
We indulged in a few official branded items, stickers and buff’s, before we humbly headed back to the hotel. We had an early morning start scheduled.
Starting day included the Dakar moving lock stock and barrel from Lima to a small coastal town about 200km South via the Panamerican highway. We decided to leave Lima and be at the start of the special stage in Pisco where they will do an easy 30km loop in the dunes as a nice bitchslap starter, just to awake the competitors. At 6am the next day, as we left Lima to avoid most of the traffic there were already small grid locks formed on the road by people in a festive mood heading out to Pisco. All along the 200km people were setting up food stalls and parking up with camp chairs and picnic stuff waiting for the Dakar parade to pass.
Going down the PanAm to Pisco, for some reason people thought we were part of the Dakar and waved frantically and were cheering us. It could be that our adventure bikes sporting us in our twat-suits looked like we somehow had to be part of the event.
The Dakar bivouac is a mobile city of lights, banner flags, busses, off-road transport trucks and temporary shelters. The start and finish for the 1st special stage was close to the bivouac so thousands of people drove into the sand dunes as far as they could to catch some of the action. Tents and anything that could offer shade were setup while waiting for the special stage to start. There were food vendors and fake merchandise sellers everywhere around the bivouac. Beers and cold beverages were consumed on mass and sun hats sold by the thousands.
The bikes were first and pulled away just after midday. The top riders did not disappoint, they got off the line like bats out of hell and even risked jumping the dunes catching huge air. Those light 450’s were floating away on the sand leaving a rooster tail behind. They jumped the dunes as if they were on a MX track and one rider had a pretty spectacular crash.
Game over day one!
The cars followed, what you see on TV is real, the cars are fast, really fast.
They accelerate from the pull away and pick up momentum on deep soft dune sand like a space shuttle launch. The howl of those V6 twin turbo engines drives goosebumps all over your body, floods the eyes with tears of elation. Some cars have their exhaust protruding before the rear wheel downwards. As they exhilarate the exhaust gasses blows a dust cloud up like an intense sand storm. Nothing else I have seen on race tracks prepared me for this spectacle. Like F1 this was the pinnacle of racing and technological fun. This was Geniel de Villiers 16th race and he completed all 16. Surely he is living what most of us only dream about.
Late afternoon the trucks gathered at the starting line and looked like a herd of Elephants playing at a waterhole. When the first one pulled off the line the desert went quiet.
People stopped what they were doing and snatched their heads towards the noise. If ever there was something where your brain does not believe your eyes it is witnessing those behemoths pulls-off and charge over the sand. They pick up speed faster than most garden variety crotch-rockets and it looks like a massive invisible hand is pushing them at an incredible velocity over the sand. The ancient Greek gods would have been envious to have such raw brutal power at their disposal.
I am sure the truck drivers even feel like gods behind the wheel of those monsters. Don’t think they will take it easy over the crest of the dunes, hell no!!!
They just lift off a bit and bulldoze through the sand with savage aggressiveness. Jumping those 9 ton V8 monsters is like a piano flying and still landing like a bee. The beautiful noise they make is otherworldly. It is a deep growling, angry noise that can be used to jackhammer concrete into dust.
Late that afternoon as the sun set over the ocean in the distance and the dust settled we decided to camp in the sand dunes with the massive lights illuminating the Dakar bivouac in the background. We were covered in fine dust and had to down quite a few beers to get the sand out of the teeth, and before long other international spectators joined us for the evening. It was one of those small pleasures to sit and talk shit with people you have never met before, but everyone just clicked.
Following the Dakar circus is a small Dakar race on it’s own. The information for the next day’s liaison and special stages only gets released late the evening around 8pm. Followers can get rudimentary info on the Dakar mobile app. It gives info on roughly where they start, where they end, spectator points, which are the special stages, liaison stage and the distances. We had to decide where we wanted to be and where the best viewing would be with the bit of information available. The Dakar normally starts at day-break, around 6am in the morning, but they can change it at any time.
So, for example if the liaison stage was 90km away we had to be on the road before 6am to where we think will be a good point to watch. As the routes are mostly tracks we were not allowed to be on them and had to go off-road to find places where we thought a good view could be found. Most of the tracks lead into proper off-road terrain where normal 4×4’s and our loaded overland bikes can not easily venture. Luckily, for the next two days the Dakar was based in San Juan de Marcona coastal town and we could wild-camp on the beach and make it to good spectator points about 60km away. It still meant getting up at 5am, packing our tents, finding water and food for the day, before we headed out to the desert
One stage was close to 70km from town and we could setup in the desert. The sand in the desert had a layer of hard small sized pebbles and stone which kept the powdery fesh-fesh underneath from turning into an eternal dust storm. But once the first front runners rip up and broke that layer it is a dust hell. The rear-enders have a huge disadvantage as they have to not only content with the dust and the track, but also ruts and invisible obstacles underneath this baby powder dust. Making it all the more challenging to navigate and ride or drive.
Our decision to stick with long sleeve shirts, pants and covering our faces and heads with our buffs and large rim hats paid off. The suffocating dust and sun could make for a long hard day standing around to see all of the competitors pass. This time round there were no spectator barriers and it was up to ourselves to stay out of harms-way while the racers go past at warp speed. It made for spectacular photos and exhilarating spectating.
There is a definite difference between the top sponsored factory teams and the privateers. The top teams will finish a 250km special stage in 2 hours or something close and head back to the bivouac for the rest of the day. The privateers take longer as they go slower and are generally more cautious and have to contend with the more difficult track and terrain left by the front runners.
We could only follow the event for 4 days but it was an incredible experience which I hope we can do again at least one more time. The mood, vibe and overall atmosphere was exhilarating stuff.
- If you do decide to follow the Dakar try and do it in a car.
- It is a very romantic idea to follow it on a motorcycle but it makes things just a little bit more complicated. We could not leave our loaded bikes on some parts of the highway unattended. With a 4×4 it is easier to go into places where a loaded bike would be more of struggle.
- Wearing bike kit all the day is not as nice as wearing lightweight, cool clothes and not having to haul bike kit along.
- Also for camping each night and carrying food and water a car makes it much easier. Having 2 or 4 people share the vehicle, the cost is less per person and each can help navigate and plan for the next day.