Race to Dakar

I love travelogues. Not only can travel enable you to see the world, but the act of traveling itself can open your eyes to the world at its best. Done well, a travel documentary can take you on that same journey, open a window into a world past and present, and provide comfort and inspiration to those of us stuck at home. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of my favorites. This is Travelogia.

Journey Time: December 2005-January 2006

Countries Visited: Portugal, Spain, Morocco1, Mauritania, Mail, Guinea, Senegal

After completing Long Way Round, Charley Boorman absentmindedly suggested in press material his intentions to participate in the Dakar Rally. According to Ewan McGregor, Charley forgot about this entirely, but resdiscovered his own comments and decided against his better judgment to follow through in order to save face. And as Race to Dakar begins, Charley attempts to stay coy about this, but gives every impression that Ewan is telling the truth.

That’s because the Paris-Dakar Rally is tough– motorcycles, cars, and trucks, all plowing through the sandy backwaters of northwest Africa, and mostly failing– which is why Charley said he’d “participate” and not “compete.” After rejoining director Russ Malkin and cameraman Claudio von Planta (staying off the bikes this time), Charley forms a team with Dakar veteran Simon Pavey and newcomer Matt Hall to viciously upgrade his offroad skills, but even then, attempting to win would be foolhardy. People die on the rally when they do that. People die on this rally.

I actually considered skipping Race to Dakar because it’s not really a travelogue. Russ tries to get some local flavor on the way from Portugal to Senegal, but there really isn’t time. This is the anti-travelogue; all journey and no destination. Nevertheless, Big Earth’s looser, chummier approach to documentary first seen in Long Way Round remains the appeal. Our cast and crew are never shrouded in mystery– Claudio isn’t on camera until the final episode, but we always know he’s the one shooting because everyone constantly addresses him– and the peronalities keep us coming back. We even get a few more as Charley and company get close to their fellow racers– particularly fellow Britons Nick Plumb and Patsy Quick, the latter of whom became the first British woman to complete the course.

Which makes it all the more harrowing when shit gets real– insomnia, broken bones, collapsed car frames, one of the cast gets stranded in the desert for days with no food or money. It’s nerve-wracking in a way that travelogues rarely are. But the team makes sure we can’t look away.

Five Stars: Charley rides 400 kilometers on two broken hands, resulting in a hilarious degree of notoriety for the remainder of the race.

One Star: Cringiest theme song ever.

(CONTINUING) SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Since we’re talking about travelogues, let’s talk about mine!

An Armada of Cats: Travels in Israel is a humorous journey throughout my adopted country that tries to get past the ubiquitous baggage of religion and politics and explore the human side of the (mostly) Jewish state.

However, I can’t do it alone. The northern leg of my journey book was made possible through generous donations on Indiegogo. The money I raised went way further than expected, but not enough to head south. I’m hoping to raise just $1000 before January 10, and you can check out details here. Thanks.

Next Time: Michael Palin returns, and this time he’s got a message for you, in New Europe