|Africa Eco Race: Emotional report from Portugal´s Elisbete Jacinto.|
From Elisabete Jacinto: It was not an easy decision not to take part for the eleventh time in a rally which attracted me for such a long time and which completely controlled the course of my life. However, the sense of frustration I felt in 2008, when the Dakar was cancelled, as well as the possibility of returning to Africa were strong influences since day one.
It is a fact that the history of the biggest rally in the world and the media attention created through all those years caused a sort of giant wave which tends to impel us, but it is also true that we developed such strong ties with this rally that we end up willing to be impelled.
However, objectively, we have to recognize that cancelling the 2008 edition showed a big change in the spirit of this marathon. For many years, it was a rally for adventurers, for fearless people, who frequently risked their own lives. It should be remembered that at first there were no GPSs, no satellite phones, no cell phones network, no Iritrack. The only things which existed were maps and compasses, and to read them we had to stop the vehicles; besides, those who got lost. Endured moments of real fear and despair!
At the time, each one tested his or her physical, intellectual and emotional skills. Problems had to be overcome, emotions and exhaustion dealt with. but in the end there was the sense of being part of an elite. Of being one of those happy few who got to the finishing line and posed for the classic photo in Dakar beach. At home, sitting on a sofa, we watched them suffering, shuffling their feet, such was their tiredness, and we were informed of fantastic stories from those who gave everything they got for an ideal. The ideal of living through and overcome difficulties, so that in the end they felt they were winners. over themselves!
Cancelling "the Dakar" was the last straw to put an end to this philosophy of adventure which had already been fading in recent years. This had to do not only with the development of all the technology which guarantees the security of each and everyone, but also with the inclusion of economically powerful brands which proved through this rally how their vehicles were robust and of good quality. A strong incentive for sales! So, the faces covered with dust and wrinkled by tiredness belonging to the private drivers we used to see on television left gradually their place to radiant faces of official drivers, wearing clean ironed shirts. The philosophy of "the Dakar" had in fact changed!
. And when in 2007 there were rumors of attacks, nobody recalled the adventure and overcoming element. The organization itself seemed not to realize that had been one of the success factors for this rally and put an end to it there and then. They moved to Latin America, taking the name but not the spirit. The rally which used to be adventurous is now publicized as safe. In Latin America it is safe, so they say!
This disrupted the balance which was there for so many years, and today, though we are going through a crisis, rallies abound. There is big supply, so we may choose the rally which suits us best. We still like adventure, but we want it with security. So, which is the only place in the world where we may find ourselves and face our capacities? The desert, obviously! Therefore, I concluded that Africa Race rally, with almost six thousand kilometers from Portimão to Dakar, had all the components I always wanted to find in the great marathon. I considered it as a return to the origin, though aware that nowadays nothing can be as it was in the past, because technology no longer allows. In the end, I was one of the minority of drivers who were not taken aback by the claimed African insecurity. After all, where are we really safe these days?! And then. one has to be able to discern between real danger and advertised danger.
Do not misunderstand me. but were there not always risks, ever since Thierry Sabine came forward with the competition?! At first, I felt somewhat annoyed to take part in a competition with so few entrants, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting in competitive terms, thanks to the hard fight with the Hungarian Miklos Kovacs. Anyway, the one setting out behind the other always drove faster, and the results were sometimes surprising. Conclusion: the quality of the competitors is more important than their quantity. I fought till I possibly could for a classification I already knew it would be impossible to attain, since the truck had already started causing problems, but I became aware that in fact I may drive pretty fast. That was my true aim!
Sportsmanship and warmth were dominant in this rally, with the same rules for everybody. We were very strong in several specials, some of them absolutely new, with navigation playing a crucial part. Concentration, keen sight and intelligence were permanently challenged in navigators, to make it possible to strictly follow a model Road Book which in several days needed no correction or change. And then, we were really alone. We had to find our own way!
Driving was a permanent challenge, and many kilometers in dunes caused the perspiration to drop. And the dunes showed no mercy, with even the best drivers being forced to take shovels in their hands to help unearthing their vehicles.
Not being subject to airports, we are free from the hated connections and manage to get more time to rest. On their part, camps were always set in truly beautiful places, far from towns, just between the sky and the desert!
In spite of all the available technology, Africa Race kept a strong element of adventure due to the fact that it was a rally for private drivers, with each one trying to surpass him- or herself. The story of the Renault Kangoo 4x4 driver who, facing a leak in the radiator, chewed some blades of grass and with the resulting paste managed to block the leak of the precious liquid which might have prevented him from finishing the streak is just one example. How many more were there?!
Africa Race was undoubtedly one of the best competitions I entered, even better than what I was expecting both in terms of conception and quality of the organization. I also lived a very interesting emotional experience because, having been so much involved in "the Dakar’s" gigantism, to reach Dakar in a small competition in the number of entrants, and discreet in terms of social impact, I had to question my deepest feelings and to set my aims in perspective. I was pleased to reach the conclusion that what really drives me is the pleasure of driving, overcoming and adventure. This. and nothing more!
2010/02/02 | 22:16 CET | Editor: MR/HS/JACINTO