Early this morning thick fog blanketed the desert and the low sun only illuminated a small patch of forsakeness around the camp. Moroccans call it Morocco, but there are half a million people who call this sandy chunk of Earth Western Sahara. Morocco annexed this region but the problem for those who call themselves Western Saharaians is that a few hundred thousand camel herders, who are the only inhabitants of an area about the size of Spain, just don’t have much of a voice in the UN.
Rene Metge said that today would be all about navigation and when the sun finally burnt away the morning mist I understood why. We’ve left the mountains now and entered a desolate and featureless wasteland of scrub. Western Sahara is one of the most sparsely inhabited places in the world.
Jean-Louis Schlesser was first away and it is still an amazing sight to see his 7 litre V8 buggy scream by at full tilt, slithering around the slight turns in the road that you just wouldn’t notice at 40km/h. There was quite a wind so there shouldn’t have been much problem with dust today, even those following the trucks that pulled up massive plumb behind them. It wasn’t a good place to take photos and we had a 770km drive so we didn’t stay long and headed off in the absolutely barren landscape… but then we suddenly found ourselves facing the ocean and stood admiring how the desert just dropped suddenly into the ocean, one vast expanse that doesn’t really support life, falling into another…
In the next bivoauc somewhere a few hundred kilometres south of nowhere, what the sun lacked this morning it made up for in an amazing sunset this evening. The camp is perched on top of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic and I am here quite late after the long journey…
Elisabete Jacinto was all smiles again as she pocked her head out of her tent. “No stories for you!” she laughed, “Everything was OK, I just drove as fast as I could… but I have to say a big thanks to my co-driver Jose Marques who didn’t make one mistake.” I asked why her mechanics were hitting her truck with a very large hammer. “Erm… I am not sure. Are you sure that’s my truck they are hitting?”
Jean-Louis Schlesser won the stage and eked out more of a lead over Regis Delahaye. “I am very happy with today,” he said. “And not just because we won. The stage went through some very beautiful places with very, very hard navigation, lots of marks in the roadbook very close together and Cyril Esquirol did perfectly. And now we are half way I
am very glad that no one in the race has had any serious problems, and I hope it will be like this in Mauritania too.”
In 4th place today was the pretty coloured MD Rallye Buggy of Phillipe Porcheron and Cedric Rivet. Cedric said, “It was my day to do well and we got a good time because I managed to get the car home with no mistakes.”
Jacques Loomans didn’t hve such a great day though, a puncture after hitting a rock meant that he came in only 9th and is now more than an hour ahead of the leaders.
The Russians, after beating their car all night with big hammers managed to bash it back into a recognisable Land Cruiser shape and had a steady day. “We had two punctures and as we only have three spares we took it easy,” said Vadim Shmaylov. “But we are 10th overall and leading the class so everything is good.”
Tomorrow is just a liaison section over the border and time for the crews to overhaul their tired machines. And then come the real desert stages… dunes, dunes, dunes…
STAGE 5 RESULTS
1.Jean-Louis Schlesser (F) / Cyril Esquirol (F) 3.49.24
2.Regis Delahaye (F) / Konstantin Zhiltzov (RUS) MD Rallye Buggy +01.27
3.Elisabete Jacinto (P) / Jose Marques(P) / Marco Cochinho(P) MAN +05.13