The Mystery of Nasca. The Madness of Dunes.

It’s a race to the finish. That is, who will finish.

With the partial results floating in, the German x-Raid team of Mini Coopers and BMW’s are still holding strong with Peterhansel’s nearly 4 minute jump on teammate Coma in Arequipa, the Frenchman sits 22 minutes ahead of his teammate and more than 2 hours ahead of Robby Gordon who has now slipped to 4th place due to problems with his suspension on the 10th stage.

But the motorcycle battle rages strong here at 2012 Dakar With Cyril Despres winning his 4th stage of this year’s rally and gaining even more time over Marc Coma. Despres now holds the magic number of 2 minutes and 22 seconds ahead of Coma.

With Robby Gordon, Darren Skilton and Ned Suesse the only American’s still competing in the Dakar 2012 Edition, our sights and vibes are set on these teams. Skilton’s team showed their raggedy and tired edge in the Bivouac in Nasca. They were out all night, had no sleep and had to jump right back into the race this morning. I’ve wandered the bivouac for days, and while I’ve seen Suesse on stage, I haven’t been able to find his camp in the bivouac. While I’m sure Gordon is upset about his current 5th place showing, and Darren and team are frustrated with the Revolution VI buggy and the problems that have plagued them, they are proving that the race isn’t always about winning, it’s about enduring—and finishing—ervery stage along the way.

But today it’s all about dunes. The motorcycles get a big of a break after their long stage yesterday, but the cars and trucks will have a total of 657km to run including 245km of special stage — most of this through dunes, some topping over a mile high. Our team and convoy of three vehicles continued our crusade up the coast toward Nasca, famous for the Nasca Lines (sometimes spelled Nazca) a series of ancient geoglyphs stretching for miles in the Desert that shares its name. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the lines are made up of undress of geometric shapes and dozens of zoomorphic designs of animals including a monkey, llamas, condor and more. Discovered in 1927 by a Peruvian archaeologist, they are best seen from air, though they were discovered when the archaeologist was hiking nearby hills.

The Dakar Rally won’t be raging across these mysterious ancient lines, rather they’ll cruise along the cost and then topping those massive dunes. Since Dakar moved to South America four years ago, there have been nothing like these dunes seen by the competitors. Talking with many of the drivers who’d competed in both Africa and South America, it was unanimous that these dunes were closest to what the teams face in Africa — if not even bigger.

The section of massive dunes is continuous for more than 20 kilometers. To negotiate the dunes drivers must carefully perform the “Mauritanian swerve” in order to ascend, crest and descent without incident. The “curve” requires ascending the dunes at an angle and then navigating into an ever so slight decreasing radius, giving driver and co-driver alike a chance to read the opposite side of the dunes. The whipping winds cause these dunes to change in just a moment, so reading the dunes is the most important aspect to successfully navigating without getting stuck, rolling down them or end-overing a vehicle after cresting the opposite side.

We almost had a four-alarm fire when Tara declared an emergency when she discovered her coveted bag of make-up was missing
The route for Dakar changes every year, but the terrain has been fairly consistent. Those who have raced before are well familiar with Argentina and Chile. But this is Peru’s debut, and nobody knows what to expect. While cruising along the cost we passed through the tiny town Tanaka where locals have thrown up an ad-hoc sign stating “Dakar Afraid of Tanaka Dunes.” I decided to stop to learn more about this strategically placed sign that shared a view of the rugged coast and and endless sea of dunes.

It’s possible that A.S.O. considered Tanaka for a dune stage of Dakar, but opted for dunes closer to Nasca. The locals believe that Dakar chose, perhaps, easier and a shorter distance of dues more north. Perhaps feeling stilted or not having the opportunity to host the Dakar competitors, the locals have decided to make a statement. As we gazed out on the dunes, the shapes and windblown geometry reminded me of the Sussevlei dunes in Namibia in southwest Africa.

A rambunctious group of locals, several who’d already had a bit too much to drink this afternoon, were happy to see that we stopped, communicated and inquired. The usually cadre of photographs and autographs followed with a constant reminder that “Dakar is afraid of the Tanaka Dunes.” Harmless and passionate, we bid our friends farewell and cruised up the coast, all along flaking dunes or one type or another. A few hours south of the Bivouac we regrouped with our entire convoy and shared yet another box lunch of questionable “cat” food, chips and more. Peering over the cliff of our lunch spot we noticed a sole shack, a dog and man wandering about. Prime ocean front real-estate we all agreed. But I wondered if raging winter storms wreak havoc on the feeble shack. We waved and cheered and tried to egg the dog to climb the 200 foot cliff to greet us. Didn’t happen.

In the bivouac we had a bit of business to take care. First, Tara determined to make the most of the bivouac and to show up all the women who send in photographs to the editor of Glamour Magazine to share just where some women go with their Galmour Magazine. According to Sara, most contributions are lame and hardly interesting. How many women bring Glamour to Dakar? I can say that last week we almost had a four-alarm fire when Tara declared an emergency when she discovered her coveted bag of make-up had gone temporarily missing. It was an emergency and all hands had to focus on recovering the coveted bag. Turns out the bag wasn’t far at all and this was just a fire drill. But the Glamour Magazine? Always secure and we took advantage of a sunset photo opportunity here in Nasca to capture the essence of Dakar and the contrasting beauty of Glamour.

While we were shooting, I pulled out a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc that our Chilean Fixer had left me for just such an occasion. We pulled the team together and celebrated the countdown to Lima and a sweet taste of a grassy Sauv Blanc.

It’s true. Just one more day and we’ll be making tracks to Lima. The crew, it seems, is ready. The race is winding down. Attrition continues to take its toll on more cars, bikes, trucks and quads. We share the road with trailers hauling broken, beaten and battered vehicles. Inside I wonder how many will be back to try again.

 

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