After two grueling and extremely long stages the racers looked a little road weary as we weaved around the usual line up of vehicles awaiting their launch time. Today Robb opted out of driving the Desert Warrior to Arica in favor of his first true ride in the Magic Mushroom. The Iquique to Arica Stage (10) runs 377km beginning with a scenic sandy beach section and onward to more dunes and the inevitable silty “fesh-fesh”. For us on the liaison assistance route, we travel about 350km and this morning we’ll we’ve through the beach resort town of Iquique in search of Chile Express so we may retrieve the brake pads shipped from Santiago by our legendary fixer, Cristian.
After some weaving around the high-rise hotels, condos and wide meandering boardwalk including fitness equipment, sculptures and manicured foliage, for a second perhaps this could’ve been Hawaii or California, but just a few blocks off the ocean front we’re reminded once again that this is South America and we’re still in Chile.
After a week of eating canned foot, soggy and sweat cereal bars, greasy chips and more sweet cookies, we began to resent the meals.
We found the Chile Express after some negotiating and luckily found parking in front of its offices. Things couldn’t go smoother and with a flash of a passport and a signature we had brake pads in hands. Before I could get the key into the ignition, however, I was created by a good looking woman with a tender smiling face and a strange hand held electronic device. Her uniform wasn’t that of a cop but I soon realized she was parking enforcement. Asking for a handful of pesos, her portable printer spit out my receipt and we were on the way to Arica.
We climbed out of Iquique and headed east while watching paragliders with amazing precision and finesse float from thousands of feet above to the beaches below. The winding route took us through the Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal, an arid park known for its rock paintings and petroglyphs from civilizations lost long ago. Amazingly and like an oasis amidst this dry desert, we rolled through the remains of what was once a massive forest of tamarugo, a scrubby but tall plant that once blanked these lands.
After some time we cross the coastal range and cruise along the beach where the team regrouped for lunch grabbing shade under a bridge and lived our bivouac lifestyle here on the road. That is, each day before heading out on the liaison or on stage, each Dakar bivouac resident is given a bag lunch. For the first few days our team endured, if not enjoyed these lunches, but after a week of eating canned foot, soggy and sweat cereal bars, greasy chips and more sweet cookies, we began to resent the meals. Ben would growl and then howl like a cat, a pointing reference to the notion that we are eating cat food, a practical joke we feel played upon us by the French organization running Dakar. But arguably, it is food and we must sustain.
It was nearly twilight when we rolled into Arica and as customary during our Dakar cruise, we pulled into a local gas station for refilling. That’s when the madness and reality of our near rock stardom reared its head again. Hundreds of people crowded the pumps as race cars and support vehicles vied for its daily gulp of diesel. Thrusting papers, flags, photos and more into the cab of the Mushroom, I must have signed two dozen autographs before putting in the clutch and downshifting. One young girl asked me to sign her arm. While the woman gravitated around Robb and I in the front seat, Tara was greeted by a contingent of male fans, some needing the attention of a dentist. She was a bit nervous and hesitant to roll down her window, but other than bad breath and just a huge dose of curiosity, these fans are harmless. “Foto, foto, please mister, foot.” I wonder what are they going to do with all these photos. Will we be immortalized on some Chilean’s Facebook page, never to be tagged? It’s all good. It’s the spirit. And we’re living Dakar.
Before passing through town and setting up our nightly camp at the bivouac, we decided to try to secure some real food at a local supermarket, Hiper Leader, here in Arica. More like a massive Wal-Mart, Robb spotted a bicycle that only cost about 37,000. “We need this for the bivouac!” he declared. He sat on the bike and drove it from the toy section to the panderia—the bakery where we stocked up on bread. I thought Tara was going to blow her cool as her eyes cast disapproval on Robb’s in-store antics. She whisked away to find more “cosas” (things in spanish) to keep things clean, fresh — including a handful of squishy chewing gum.
I took the wheel of the bicycle and cruised over to the vegetables and cured meats. Wow! Just a a bit of cheese and wine and I’m sure the France will be jealous—touché to your cat food!
The bicycle certainly provided entertainment and made for cruising around the bivouac faster and easier. Why didn’t we think of this earlier? Oh? Wondering about that 37,000? That’s pesos. The bike was barely $70 and our plan is to give this to a young child who may have always dreamed of a bike, but could never afford on. The exchange would be made after we arrive in Lima later this week.
The race action saw Spanish Joan Barreda Bort win his first special stage of the 2012 Dakar by beating Coma and Despres by 1’32″ and 3’39″ respectively. But Coma was the star taking 2’07″ back from Despres and moving within just 21 seconds of the French leader.
Gordon was doing so well and leading the stage until just before the end he came off the course and damaged his vehicle and losing enough time that Peterhansel flew by, but not fast enough as Nani Roma showed the French just how fast the Spanish can be and whisked to a win over both Gordon and Peterhansel. But for Gordon his unfortunate circumstance cost him lots of time and now after 10 stages here in Arica he dropped the third place with some 20 minutes behind Peterhansel and just 46 seconds behind Roma.
It’s here in Arica that everybody in the bivouac must go through a special tent set up for customs, immigration and agricultural inspection for tomorrow’s crossing into Peru. Based on our experience in coming from Argentina into Chile, I’ve got to hand it to the Dakar A.S.O. organization for the swift and simple procedure for cleaning customs and taking care of the passport stamping and immigration minutuae — so much easier than I’ve ever experience in more than 50 overland border crossings. Good job!