Day 1 - Off we go
A bright sunny if very cold meet up at Greenwich Observatory and we´re off towards Dover, on the road at high noon, Sat January 10th. All looking good, two vehicles packed to the rafters. well at least for about 20 minutes. Bertha our Range Rover is overheating. Maidstone services. Barely out of London, about 40 miles of a 4000 mile trip, and the AA diagnosis is not good. She´s blown the gasket: game over, kaput. Marvellous. Is this possibly some sort of rally record? So, what to do if your old vehicle blows up? Go and get an even older one of course! A frantic dash back to London in Mungo and we grab my old 1990 Audi - the Green Machine rides to the rescue. She has never looked quite so beautiful, although it takes a little adjustment to the fact that she is now suddenly on a one way trip to Bamako. We load her up and after a long frustrating afternoon we're off again. Late ferry and we eventually make it to Calais for the night, just. Not quite the start we had planned that's for sure but at least we´re into France and on the move.
Day 2 - Not Quite to Plan: Part Deux
Europe is freezing. Snow everywhere. But the cars start well and we´re heading south. Around Paris… well actually lost and clueless around Paris but eventually out and making some miles at a steady 80mph. Near Saintes, middle France, 8pm - suddenly Mungo´s heating vents blow ice-cold, the engine gauge goes through the roof and red lights everywhere. We pull over rapidly and whoosh - steam/smoke billowing out of the bonnet. You cannot be serious. Erm... I am not a mechanic but this is not a good thing. We have to watch as another vehicle is winched up onto a recovery truck. Hopefully just the radiator but we shall have to wait to see until the morning… Thankfully Rob had sorted AA 5-star deluxe all-dancing cover for our banger rally, all thoughts of extravagance disappear as it pays off handsomely and we are rescued for free and put in a hotel. A beer or two and fingers and toes crossed for the morning diagnosis on Mungo. This is most certainly not going to plan.
Day 3 - Now, this really is a Challenge.
The news on Mungo is the worst possible unfortunately. Unbelievably it´s another head gasket blown and Mungo is finished 100 miles north of Bordeaux. This is verging on the ridiculous. To quote Mr Pearson at the news, "Well, you can kiss goodbye to Timbuktou". Both our original 4×4 vehicles are gone and we're down to one car, the Green Machine, which was never meant to be on the rally in the first place, have 2 large vehicles worth of people and baggage for 5, and hanging on by our fingernails.
But in some ways this just makes us more determined to carry on and reach Africa and Bamako by any means possible. Operation how to carry on is under way.
As a side note we´ve actually ended up in a little hotel run by a laid back ex professional footballer for the likes of Marseille. Philippe, who is fantastic helping us make enquiries, shuttling us to garages and getting hamburgers in our time of need. We give him one of our car load of Junior Soccer Coach footballs!
The AA cover pays off again - we have a massive Europecar van provided for temporary use in France in Spain. A slight hitch is that it must be returned to the same office here in Royen and cannot go south of Spain, but that's a matter for another time - we have enough wheels to take us and all our gear onwards towards Tarifa. There is also rumour of a cheap Citreon for sale in Gibralter, so at least one possibility for sourcing another car.
6.30pm and we´ve said our goodbyes to Mungo at a rural garage somewhere remote in middle France and we load up the van and the Audi and head south. A warning light immediately goes on in the hire van. Hmmm let's just try and ignore that shall we?
We have one vehicle of our own left, the Audi, and we nurse her very gently at 75mph south into the night.
Day 4 - Progress
We´ve driven south and made it into Spain. Wahey! Not exactly sorry to see the back of France. Sadly had to drive straight past Biarritz in the night, but we´re already a day behind plan. Driving in shifts since last night we´ve rounded San Sebastian, climbed up to the central plateaux and flown past Madrid at about 4am… after 11 hours on the road we eventually pull into a little service station car park south of Madrid to get a few hours kip in the cars. Well except for Pearson who is last seen with a 20 year old sleeping/bivvy bag heading into the frozen fields muttering in welsh.
Off again at 11am. The Green machine bless her is running smooth as you like. We´re taking no chances though given the last 2 days and carry on at 75mph. At last the snow is gone, we pass Grenada and descend the steep winding road to Malaga and the Med. On route we get a call from Derek who´s in our group on the rally. He´s seen our email to the group describing our plight. He´s having a bit a nightmare too, with his rally co-driver suddenly having to head home when they reach Tarifa. He´s gutted and going to head back himself and try again next year. Sad as this clearly is, for team SaharaSurf it could just be the first glimmer of fortune - Derek is looking to offload his Peugeot 405.
We make the Hotel de Sancho near Tarifa - and feel a real sense of achievement given the last few days.
Derek is lovely and the Peugeot looks great, and is painted in daffodils (Derek´s been raising money for Marie Curie). Derek´s mind is made up - he won´t consider coming further in the rally on with us - so we do the deal and have another car. Phew! Derek, your luck has been rotten, but we are so so grateful to you.
Some beers and paella and an early night…..but feeling a lot better. We are back in business. The Peugeot (Daffy) maybe our fifth vehicle in 4 days and we now have an Audi estate and a Peugeot 405 rather than 2 big 4×4´s - but we are going to Africa!