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Car rally in the savannah


 “What!” Our car mechanic was shocked when we told him we were pafrticipating in savannah rallies. “This car will break!” But there was nothing to worry about as we were crewing again in Nicolien's car.

Driving in the savannah is off the road. Obviously our car is constructed to do this, but driving off the road in a car rally is a different story as wide roads may be easy (although dusty)), you can't choose another road if you don't like the one you're on. That can cost points!
The savannah is quite rough, even in the dry season. Holes and large puddles all around and some “roads” are dried out rivers as heavy rainfall during the rainy season took them over. So you've got to know exactly what you are doing, concentrate and hope you don't get stuck. A true challenge for both cars and drivers.

Our first day in the savannah was only for exercise. Yes: day, as the savannah rallies are mostly held in the nighttime. Such as the SOL Adventure Rally two weeks later: starting Saturday evening at 21.00 with a large spectator crowd and tv-reporters interviewing every equipe (talking into the mike is the navigator's job), and finish at 15.00 the next day.

You navigate by air photographs and hand drawn maps with or without (!) a scale and have to find the correct route while orientating on paths and shrubs. A compass is a must and so is a tripmaster (counting meters).

The exercises were organised by a couple of cracks
. These people know the savannah by heart but don't boast about this; on the contrary. They motivate and help whenever they can.

Driving in a car rally in the savannah is extreme and on the edge. Navigating is difficult as point X may be very clearly situated at a certain intersection of sand roads where two Mauritius palms grow, we saw sand roads everywhere. You easily get lost, and this is not the only hazard as you also have to watch out for fires! And for cars coming at you, as some participants don't seem to be afraid of a frontal collision.

Almost all rally cars are wrapped in printed foil to avoid scratches. Looks pretty cool indeed! Nicolien's car is also wrapped but transparent because of her diplomatic status. She was completely unchained, dove into holes and deep puddles and steered her shiny new Prado through scratching branches, as the savannah is partly open territory and partly forest.

By the way the forest in the savannah is beautiful, much prettier than the jungle in the south, as there is more variation in vegetation.

During exercises we once got stuck completely and JW had to cut away some shrubs and small trees before we could get away. Fortunately we brought our machete! The Dutch engineers just ahead of us were impressed.

During the first real rally in savannah area we fortunately never got stuck and we got some good advice on some spots where problems are expected, as someone from the organisation is keeping watch. These people are great! If they don't drive, they volunteer for anything, even for manning checkpoints in the blazing sun.
The preparations for a rally are unbelievable. We noticed two weeks after the exercises that the whole area was much neater. Fallen trees were removed, hazardous branches were cut, dangerous grounds were marked, some roads were cleared by a bulldozer and two bridges were built. Also some new barricades were constructed. The routes are full of tricks and jokes as fun is one of the main ingredients in SARK rallies. And good food!

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