Guy Basile, 50, has been a Dakar Rally “tragic” since he was a teen.
“When I was young I even wanted to compete in it,” says the Queensland area manager of ARB 4×4 Accessories.
“Ever since, I’ve been following it and recently began researching a spectator tour.”
That’s when he came across the inaugural Chasing Dakar tour organised by Outback Adventure Treks.
The tour cost $10,000 and included flights, accommodation, food and the hire of Honda XR65-R bikes.
Guy and three Brisbane riding companions plus a fifth rider from New South Wales arrived very excited and hungover in Lima, Peru, on January 1 for the official starting celebrations, along with two million Peruvian fans.
“We were amazed; we got invited into all the corporate facilities because we were gringos (foreigners) and we were mistaken for competitors or officials,” he says.
“Everywhere we went we were mobbed and asked for autographs which, of course, we signed. It was hard to explain that we weren’t competitors, so we just went with the flow.
“People were so friendly and we never felt in danger, although one of our group was chatted up by some very pretty lady boys.”
The excitement and hero worship was a heady experience and the boys enjoyed posing for photo after photo with the pretty girls.
But it all came to a thumping, grinding halt when tour operator Magnus Eriksson told them the bikes he had hired from Bolivia would not be allowed into Peru without carnets (“Merchandise Passports” for the temporary importation of goods) which had not been organised.
They were told it was impossible to obtain carnets at such short notice and that the tour was possibly over before it started.
Magnus says the Bolivian government brought in the rule only a week before the international sporting event to stop a deluge of rally traffic.
“The guy we rented the bikes from hadn’t done his homework,” Magnus says. “It just about ruined me mentally.”
Guy says he had not gone that far to have his lifelong dream shattered literally at the starting line.
“So we hatched an idea to fly to Bolivia, pick up the bikes and ride them to the Argentinian border where we might have better luck, then join the Dakar there,” he says.
“It meant we would miss about four days of the rally and the big sand dunes by the sea which was a highlight for me. But we thought it best to make the best of a bad situation.
“As it turns out, we had five days of fantastic riding in Bolivia.”
One of the unexpected highlights of the Bolivian leg was riding Sol de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt lake, where they practised wheelies and grinding the pegs on the surprisingly grippy surface.
“We also held the throttle flat out and saw how long we could ride with our eyes closed,” he says, laughing heartily.
For most of the time they were riding at high altitudes up to 4000m above sea level which robbed them and the bikes of any breath, making the days exhausting. They also crossed Lake Titicaca which is the world’s highest lake at 3800m.
At one point their dirt road was flooded by a fast and deep river, so they chose to do the next 40km on a railway line followed by their Navara support vehicle, including crossing some bridges where they had the bike on one rail and walked beside it on the other.
“It was all a great experience and the scenery was stunning, but we were there for the Dakar, so we pressed on to the border,” he says.
This is where they met a wall of people, lengthy queues and officials that harassed them and kept moving them to the back of the queue.
The koala stick pin moved them up front and the female police office also gave Guy her velcro badge as a keepsake.
However, it made no difference to the customs officials when they saw there were no carnets. After some smooth talking, the officials allowed them to take one bike across the border.
So they took what they could get with Guy riding the bike and the others in the support vehicle heading to the rest day bivouac at San Miguel de Tucuman for which they had bought $500 passes. This allowed them unfettered access to the paddock, competitors and their amazing race machines.
They had missed half the rally, but were happy to finally be among the racers, meeting up with several Australians including riders Rod Faggotter, Simon Pavey, Ben Grabham and Matt Fish and drivers Geoff Olholm and Bruce Garland.
“Rod didn’t have any stickers on his bike so we gave him some Aussie flag stickers and Simon even made us a cup of tea,” he says.
“They let you sit on their bikes and in their trucks; even the biggest teams like the Minis. Robby Gordon was the only one who wouldn’t pose for a pic. He’s pretty arrogant.”
The group followed the Dakar into Chile where they secured a couple of Yamaha 660 Teneres and XTZs, and two Transalps to finish their tour.
“It’s a difficult event to spectate. Even if you go to all the spectator points you’ll only see half the rally. It’s not really a spectator sport,’’ he says.
“Some days you do big kays to keep up. They’ll do 600-700 kays in a day.
“But it’s amazing to see the guys up close. They go so fast and the trucks come in as fast as the cars. Incredible.
“We’d arrive at a viewing point in the morning and the locals would already be drunk on moonshine. Who knows what it’s made of – probably cactus. They’d keep giving us moonshine and beer. They sure know how to party these guys.”
They then followed the Dakar all the way to the victory dais in Santiago where they were again mobbed, asked for autographs and photographs and came away with hangovers and a lot of great memories.
Guy says he was disappointed with the issue of carnets for the bikes, but admits it was the inaugural Dakar tour for the company and expected some gremlins, albeit not as fundamental as no bikes.
Outback Adventure Treks has already sold out its 2014 Chasing Dakar tour, but Guy reckons riders could organise their own tours.
“I’ll go again some day, but I reckon you could do it yourself. It’s not too difficult,” he says. “There are plenty of bike hire places but you have to get in early.
“Accommodation is cheap and plentiful. I wouldn’t book in advance but take a tent just in case.
“They all speak English but they are really shy. The young ones are more likely to talk to you as they’re taught English at school.”
As a youth he raced motocross and enduro and competed in the Finke Desert Race, but he says anyone with intermediate dirt skills would be able to tag along with the Dakar.
He says fuel prices are comparable to Australia, fruit and vegetables are expensive, but the great news is that beer and meat are very cheap and plentiful.
Dakar was “a big one on my bucket list”, says Guy who last year toured Europe with a visit to the Isle of Mann TT, Nurburgring circuit, Erzberg Rodeo and two MotoGPs.
He has traveled extensively around Australia on his collection of mainly KTMs and has even toured Tasmania on postie bikes with his wife, Samantha.
You can experience his trips by clicking here for his travel blog.
His next bucket list objective is to conquer the Canning Stock Route with Outback Adventure Treks later this year.
Then the global adventurer wants to ride the Silk Road from Vladivostok to London, and maybe even a boat trip from Ushuaia at the bottom of South America across to Antarctica.
“You’re dead for a long time,” he says.
“Friends of ours wanted us to go on a cruise but that stuff just bores me.”
If you’re a Dakar tragic like Guy, you’d better be quick as next year’s tours are booked out and there are only a couple of spots left for 2015.
Magnus Eriksson of Outback Adventure Treks says the Chasing Dakar tours are capped at 12.
He also says they have fixed the problems of the inaugural trip by hiring bikes from Peru and in 2015 they will take a container so riders can take their own bikes.
Cost is $7950 or $5800 with your own bike.
“A lot of the guys wanted to turn it into a longer holiday and go to the US and so on, so we just removed the flight component out of it,” Magnus says. “Only 50% wanted flights included.
“In 2015 we are also taking two vehicles because we have so many who want to see it from a 4WD.”
Cost to tour in the 4WD is $4500.
Outback Adventure Treks
Phone: 0408 800 159