Rally of the Incas 2016
November 13 - December 9, 2016
NOVEMBER 17, 2016
Puerto Madryn to Esquel
Today we leave the Atlantic Ocean, which has been our point of reference and companion for the last week and strike west towards the Pacific. In between though there's the small matter of The Andes to negotiate and, by way of a warm up, today's drive was pretty much uphill all the way, albeit very gradually in places.
We'd also been promised lavish morning refreshments along the route, so many crews wisely skipped the hotel breakfast and held out for this.
The sheer scale of Argentina never ceases to amaze us and as well as huge tracts of land, if there's one other thing that the Patagonians aren't short of though it’s wind, and very soon we found ourselves driving through a forest of wind turbines on the way out of Puerto Madryn. Once over the Rio Chubut - which we would be following for most of the day - we pulled into the first test at the Autodromo Mar y Valle where we saw the usual displays from the fast, the furious and the faint hearted. Bob Harrod and Jamie Turner, manning the final time control, gave the crews the good / bad - delete as appropriate - news regarding their performance as measured against the all-important bogey time.
A Welsh tea break in Ty Gwyn-Gaiman - came soon afterwards where the Rally was, as promised, treated to a magnificent spread of sandwiches cakes and tarts served by waitresses in traditional costumes. Time had naturally been allowed for the crew's to sample the best of this town and, a group of local children performed a charming dance while a young lady melted our hearts with a soulful Welsh ballad. Upon our departure from this eisteddfodic interlude, the guest book had filled considerably with page upon page of fulsome approbation.
With the last sips of tea and the remaining crumbs of cake disappearing we remounted and pressed onwards over an impressive desert plateau where, in an echo of yesterday, sightings of orca were more common than non-rally traffic. The Lyford monkey kept a lookout for the fruit police though, while Chuck and Pam settled into their usual rhythm. Peter Thornton and David Garrett were also up with the pack today in their 1939 - Ford Coupe which was last seen on the Sahara Challenge and cut a fine figure against the scrubby green backdrop and endlessly smooth blacktop. This was turning into another excellent day on the road.
This billiard table run wasn't to last however and soon after the passage control at Las Plumas, where we once again crossed the Rio Chubut, the tarmac took on a more variable quality. The landscape changed as well and shades of Death Valley and the Grand Canyon started to appear all around us. Lunch was another excellent asado of lamb at the time control in Paso de Indios (alt' 520 m), the most southerly point of this Rally. Soon afterwards we turned off the main road and made our way through the salt flats and dry lakes onto the gravel for the day's two regularities. The Pampa De Agnia and the Colan Conhue.
These two sections totalled around 152 km of gravel and dirt and, between the two sets of timing points were a few small villages where crowds of rally fans stood by the side of the road and waved enthusiastically. Their efforts were repaid with all manner of flashing, honking, tooting and hooting.
Along this section of high plateau, we also got our first glimpse of the snow capped Andes with brilliant white lenticular clouds sitting high in the troposphere above us as plumes of dust marked the position of every car as far as the eye could see. It was a truly epic sight.
After a section such as this it was hard to see how things could get any better, but the run into Esquel was truly superb and, to many crews was reminiscent of our drives from the Mongolian border to the Altai Republic. Super smooth tarmac with nothing but snow-capped mountains filling the windscreen and a line of telegraph poles on the right. What would Borghese have made of this?
Silence might be golden but dinner tonight was a noisy affair; there was just so much to say.