Sunday, April 5, 2015

Car Rallies for Everyone

Who among you hasn't had the phrase "Paris to Dakar Rally" stir a little envy in your soul, or wondered just how these drivers could be so lucky, even though this race is now confusingly held in South America? Well, fret no longer, the days of the populist car rallies are upon us.

There has been a quiet revolution in the world of travel during the past ten years, and one that has opened up a number of new opportunities and options that lie far outside any normal concept of touring. Perhaps the corny, catch-all phrase “Adventure Travel” might do, but this moniker is so completely overused it has almost become obsolete.

We live in a “sharing economy”, we are told, and it is one that carries a very finely sharpened double-edged sword. Ecologically and intellectually, sharing our own unused capacities, as hosts, drivers, guides and other activities makes sense. “Waste not, want not”; the advent of the computer has allowed a rapid growth in services like Air BnB, Uber, Couch Surfing and many others. It is a brutal world; folks who have previously paid large licence fees to drive taxis and now being challenged by part-time students with a GPS; cities are realising the loss to their tax base as vast numbers of tourists stay in effectively tax-free accommodation.

And it will, of course continue to grow.

And there are other opportunities in this world of citizen-professionals; my personal favourite is the new breed of car rallies. Previously the domain of wealthy corporate teams, the idea of slogging across inhospitable terrain for days on end, camping in deserts and running out of petrol in  some dangerous and dusty backwater has gained followers, myself among them.

I am currently looking to put together a team of a dozen or so like-minded idiots who want to drive a school bus over the Sahara desert from Budapest (yes, I know Budapest is not even close to the desert, but that is where this expedition starts) to Bamako in Mali. Once safely (sic) in Mali, the school bus is donated to a local charity and we fly home, or off to the next adventure.

The Budapest/Bamako is just one such route. One I have been toying with as well is the London/Tashkent odyssey, restricted to cars that cost no more than £500, although the Murmansk Challenge also seems to have its merits. The UK-based company Dakar Challenge, is a fine outfit, coordinating a series of “crap car challenges”, for those willing to pick up some cases of vodka and pot noodles and head out in an old car (a "banger" in the vernacular of the British Isles) with a number of like-minded individuals to an almost certain series of misadventures.

Breakdowns, border controls, harsh weather, wilderness camping, deeply peculiar food, insects previously unkown to any of us and the general feeling of reclessness that will permeate every fibre of our beings just add to the fun. I can't wait.

So what drives this passion? Is it the pendulum swinging back to balance the ever more anodyne “six-star, all-inclusive” experience? Is it a reaction to our increasingly regulated working lives? Who knows! What I do know, however, is that the experience is going to be priceless.

So the planning starts; anyone wanting to talk to me about joining the gang, please contact me at  ; anyone wanting to assist by sponsoring this school bus, and donating to the cause (it will cost about $12,000 to buy the vehicle and take it down), I would love to hear from you as well …  and it all happens in January 2016!