Dakar 2010 post race celebration, La Rural Buenos Aires

Well up until two weeks ago I hadn’t.  It was a pretty big deal here over the weekend, plastered on every news channel during the day that it was impossible to ignore.  For those of you who are big fans, I hope I don´t seem totally ridiculous not ever having even heard of the sport before.  I felt bad enough, my Spanish-only speaking friends kept repeating the word “Dakar” to me with all different pronunciations, explaining different parts of the race and hoping something would eventually ring a bell.  I think they assumed something was getting lost in translation.  But it wasn´t.  Nevertheless, when in Rome right – so on Saturday afternoon I grabbed my camera and ran towards the throngs of fans lined up at the convention center known as La Rural, a stone´s throw away from my new apartment and where earlier this year I had gone to see fashion shows.  Fashion show it certainly wasn’t.

In simple terms, Dakar is a two-week off-roading endurance race of motorbikes, four-wheelers (quad), cars, and trucks across long distances.  It’s a rally race that travels through rough terrain with over 300 drivers that include amateurs and professionals.  I know so little about the race and don’t yet understand enough of the Spanish on TV so I had to turn to Wikipedia and the official Dakar website for some info.  Dakar racing began in 1978, originally with a route from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal.  But due to security issues in Mauritania in 2008, the race was moved to South America for the first time in 2009 and remained in Chile and Argentina this year.  The opening ceremony on January 1st, 2010, also at La Rural, was attended by more than 800,000 people and the race´s start went throughout Buenos Aires, provoking energy, enthusiasm, and at the same time chaos in this city that I thought only futbol could create.

Motorbike competitors

I half jogged towards the long line of fans standing behind the blockaded road towards where I assumed was the best place to watch.  There wasn’t a single opening in the crowd for me to sneak in so I had to settle with standing on my tippy toes and constantly moving to try to get a better view.  Competitors kept driving in on their motor bikes/four-wheelers to a hysterically cheering crowd, sometimes waving flags of different countries and often performing stunts on their bikes before parking them along the avenue and waving to and signing autographs for excited fans.  I was able to squeeze in and get some pictures with a few of the competitors – an Argentine from Tucuman an Australian, amongst a few others.  It was an especially big deal because Marcos Patronelli, an Argentine, won in the quad category so people really went crazy when he came motoring out.

I was shocked at how big a sporting event it is here and how many die-hard fans there were shouting the names of all the competitors as they rode by.  Also surprising is that some of the athletes were women, and many came barreling out on these supped up motorbikes that looked bigger than they were.  Sadly, over the years it seems that accidents have been a common occurrence, not only involving participants but often bystanders as well.  The race has also been criticized for its environmental impacts and according to Wikipedia the Dakar Rally has reported that the carbon emissions of the two week race are about equal to a Formula One race.

Argentine competitor from Tucuman

Nevertheless it was a site to be seen and somewhat of a cultural experience seeing the energy and excitement of the aftermath of a sporting event that doesn´t seem to get much hype back home.