Yes I know, you’ve heard it many many times before – but the Dakar truly is epic. But up until yesterday, I didn’t really understand the half of what makes this event more than epic, but I do now. The rallying hasn’t even started yet and it’s the scale of the whole operation that quite literally stops you in your tracks.
Now, this is taking me a little while to get used to, but in cross-country rallying what we as traditional rallyists would call the service park is known as the bivouac, the literal definition of which is “a temporary camp without tents or cover, used especially by soldiers or mountaineers”.
Apply that to the opening bivouac of the event, Sea Camp here in Yanbu, and there’s one gloriously obvious issues – there are tents here, quite probably thousands of tents. And my goodness me, if you’re a fan of sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors then this place is your Mecca. It’s not just the number of tents that’s impressive, it’s the incredible variety and ingenuity that strikes you.
There are tents that are effectively canvass covered beds, tents that are mounted on top of service trucks, Audi have tents on top of their Q5s, inflatable tents, a lot of folk seem to have those instant pop up festival tents, there’s even a crop of tents that look like something from a sci-fi movie. Are you getting how epic all this is?
But why so many tents you might ask? Well, we’re miles from anywhere and when the event does eventually start we’ll be even more miles from anywhere! Hotels aren’t an option, and neither is spending hours each evening erecting your sleeping quarters.
Time is your biggest enemy, there just isn’t enough of it. And that is why we see so many ingenious sleeping solutions. What is it that say? Necessity is the mother of invention – well that’s exactly what we’re seeing here and it’s epically impressive.
Tent envy is also very real, and I have it big time.
I mentioned that there could be thousands of tents here, that’s a guess obviously. I could go out and count them but to be honest that would be a job for more than just me alone. You see, this site is vast, it’s like a pop-up town has just magically materialized in the middle of nowhere.
To give you an idea of scale, the largest WRC service park would very comfortable fit into the quietest, most tucked away little corner of this place. But then again, it has to be big – there are 450 vehicles competing here and to house all those competitors, their service crews, the organizers, us media luvvies and all the supporting services takes space – lots of it.
When I arrived here early in the morning, the place was a little quiet, it was 6am in the morning mind you, I then ventured out on a bit of a recce just after lunch and the transformation was incredible. Crews were piling into the bivouac. There must have been five kilometers of all sorts of rally traffic waiting patiently to enter. Cars, bikes, trucks, trailers – so much color and so much excitement.
Yep, you guessed, it was epic.
I’ve left the best of my epic analogies to the end though. Here’s another saying that you’ll be familiar with: “An army marches on its stomach”.
Well, you could very easily same the same about a Dakar. And when Uber Eats and Dominoes takeaways aren’t an option someone has to work out just how to feed this hungry army of rally folk.
And hats off to whoever that person is, on the evidence of two days of making the most of the catering tent, they are doing the most incredible job.
Faced with having to provide upwards of 2000 meals a sitting, you would be forgiven for thinking that the service and the quality of the offering would suffer – well not here.
I joined the end of the dinner queue which stretched al the way through the catering area and out the front doors and fully expected to be waiting hours for my food. You now how it is normally, catering queues move impossibly slowly – half a step forward, wait, two steps forward, wait some more, almost without fail they are the slowest moving, most frustrating queues known to man.
Well not this one, I had to practically run to keep up with it! Two minutes after joining the back of the queue I was being served a generous dish of the tastiest seafood stew I’ve had in along time. It was totally delicious.
How they feed so many people, so efficiently and with such good quality food is more than impressive – yep, it’s epic!
A quick word here for our wonderfully hospitable Saudi hosts. The catering miracle is down to their love of offering the best hospitality – its very much in their DNA.
And so I’ll end this little ode to epicness by mentioning the sanitation facilities here. Anyone who’s has had the misfortune to camp out at a music festival will know just how difficult it is provide decent ablution and toiletry facilities for the masses.
And if I’m being honest, that was one of my biggest reservations about this whole camping malarkey. I can put up with inflatable roll mats that deflate during the night (it happened), I can even cope with having to use my DirtFish jacket as a pillow.
But what I’d find very difficult to deal with are festival-esque loos and showers.
But I needn’t have worried, once again our Saudi host have gone above and beyond and provided row after row of what I can only describe as luxury portaloos and showers.
Can I call this epic? Well it’s my article so yes and it’s fair to say the loos and ablutions facilities are just yet another example of the epic ness of the Dakar!