Coffee With The Desert Master
"You Will Do Foolish Things, But Do Them With Enthusiasm."
There is something to be said for the pursuit of adventure in life. The ability to step out of the comfort zone now and again and exercise one's inner strength. Not in a foolhardy way, of course, and not as a self-absorbed component of middle aged desperation, but more as part of a larger philosophy. A philosophy of choosing the road less traveled and finding out for yourself where, exactly, it leads. The resulting path may not always be the smoothest one, or the easiest one. It may not get you where you want to go quickly, and it may not even get you there at all, but it will almost certainly be memorable, and if the joy of travel is in the journey, then an argument could be made that the more memorable the journey, the better, no?
I grew up as a rally fanatic, and spent too much of my youth watching the spartan coverage that existed of events like the Dakar and East African Safari rally. I loved those events. I still do. But entering one always felt like a bridge too far.
Until now, anyway.
When I moved here to Javea, I started hearing about an event that seemed to fulfill many of the challenges and all the passions of those classic competitions in a way that was within reach of mortals such as myself. An event called The Maroc Challenge.
The Maroc Challenge
The Maroc is an adventure rally across Morocco that pits man and machine against the elements of a North African desert nation, with a high level of timing and scoring precision and enough physical tests to wither the unwary. Split into different categories and classes of vehicle, the event is a week long, with five days of timed stages that combine some paved sections, lots of dirt and sand tracks, and a substantial amount of entirely unmarked open terrain. One hundred and thirty teams and almost three hundred people charging through Morocco in all different types of vehicles, from vintage Renault 4's to more modern Toyota Land Cruisers and from Volvo wagons to Mercedes-Benz 190's, (but always, as the rules stipulate, in vehicles which are at least 15 years old.) I met with the organizer of the event, the man who conceived the Maroc Challenge and has invested a tremendous amount of his personal time and money to shape it into his vision, Rui Cabaco.
Rui is one of those guys you just immediately like. Originally from Portugal, he lives in Spain now, but converses in beautiful English with only the slightest hint of an accent. He speaks carefully and without rush, and listens intently in return. Perhaps best of all, Rui is a true car guy himself, and can chat knowledgeably about vintage and collector vehicles of all types, so we sit over coffee and go back and forth for a bit about the merits and drawbacks of BMW 850's and vintage Alfa Romeos.
When he speaks about the event, his pride comes through in every sentence. Never boastful, he simply outlines the work he has done, and his attention to detail is evident in every photograph, every route map, every aspect of hospitality and support, even the details of the timing and scoring equipment which he helped develop to his precise specifications. Chatting about the event with Rui is a detail-driven exercise, and one that leaves you with an impression of consummate competence. He is a steward who sweats everything, large and small, with a seemingly simple goal - to make the event the best of its kind anywhere. And that's particularly appealing to me since I'm no longer just fascinated by the event, I'm also entered in it. I'll be roaring like a lunatic through Morocco in the next Maroc Challenge, which takes place this December 5-12, 2015.
"We have been successful because we have tried to do everything right," he says. "When we needed an event photographer, I got the best motorsports photographer available. When we needed a timing system, nothing on the market was perfect, so I had a new system designed and built to be exactly what we needed. It is not always easy, and never cheap, but we do whatever we have to do to make the event exceed expectations."
I tell him my co-driver in the event, John Creevy from from New Orleans, wants to enter an old car, like a Citroën 2CV. "Ah, yes," Rui laughs. "I can understand the appeal. But you will suffer."
I'm not sure I want to suffer too much. Not on this first attempt, anyway, so I think we'll be preparing a suitable 4x4...
We discuss what it's like to compete through Morocco. Morocco is a historically safe and hospitable nation, and a popular tourist destination for Europeans. The Maroc Challenge works with the national government of Morocco as well as all the local police forces in the areas through which the event runs to ensure any eventuality can be handled expediently. The local people are warm and welcoming, and past entrants wax poetic about the feelings that traveling through Morocco engenders. A sense of peace and tranquility. An atavistic connection to the people and the environment that seems to come somehow from the genes. Africa has a way of doing that to people, I have found.
More Accessible Than You Think
Oddly, for an event that brings such a serious level of organizational might to the table, costs to enter the Maroc are extremely reasonable. Depending on the class you enter, the inscription fee is on the order of $500-$600 in US dollars. There are some equipment rentals for the satellite tracking system and some additional fees for things like ferry crossings, but you're still only looking at maybe a grand for the entry, all in. With food and fuel and camping expenses and everything else, the Maroc can be done for around US$2500. And that is per team, so it is split at least two ways. To put that into perspective, the entry fees for most vintage rallies in the USA and abroad exceed US$5000 and many are considerably higher. The Colorado Grand is now a whopping US$6500, I believe.
The problem for most Americans, of course, is how to get a suitable vehicle to Spain for the start of the Maroc, and fortunately Rui has thought of that, too. He has a small stable of rental vehicles, fully prepared and ready to enter, allowing you to simply fly in and drive. 4x2 cars and 4x4 trucks (mostly very cool Nissan Patrols) that are proven, reliable and fully sorted. The entry fee for a team, including a rental Nissan Patrol, is around $2600 in US dollars. The vehicle comes with camping equipment, a spare wheel, GPS and CB radio, fire extinguisher, safety gear, and more. Even medical insurance. Once you add in the additional costs like ferry crossings and food and diesel fuel for the week, you're still probably under $3700 for the whole shebang, and that is a stonking good deal.
So if you're the kind of person who wants to weave a little adventure into your life, come on and join me. John and I will be the ones cranking Clash tunes and probably getting stuck all the time. But whatever the outcome, I can assure it it will be a memorable experience.
And isn't that what it's all about?
Click on the image below to cycle through the gallery (all images are the copyrighted property of the Maroc Challenge), and for more information on the event, as well as oceans of photos and videos, visit their web site at www.marocchallenge.es (there is an option for English). Or contact me directly and I will help you get the information you need.