Alastair's Blog

Barbados Historic Rally Carnival - November 2017

Alastair Caldwell - Thursday, December 07, 2017

Greg Cozier started the Barbados Rally Carnival in 2001 for modern rally cars and evolved the event to the Barbados Historic Rally Carnival in 2010. Greg says: "First of all, organisers need to realise they are competing against some great classic historic rallies around the world for occasional competitors, so standards need to be very high. More importantly, we need to understand that competitors and teams aren't doing this for a living; they're doing it for a great rally adventure. This means there needs to be added value in the event. Comfortable and affordable hotels, 'lick-down' welcome parties, informal prizegivings, family involvement and other activities surrounding the event need to enhance the rally itself. Historic rally organisers need to be family-oriented, holiday tour operators.

"The 12-night, two-event format has worked well for us since 2001. The RallySprint at Vaucluse Raceway on the first weekend allows everyone to find their feet in our unfamiliar Caribbean climate, and to test their cars in a stress-free environment. The Raceway also enables competitors, supporters and service crews to intermingle in a social atmosphere, while watching the competition unfold. The week after allows an easy recce and a chance to repair or tune cars for the rally, while enjoying the social side of Barbados. The rally itself runs over an afternoon and then into the night, which is somewhat cooler and more comfortable inside a rally car in the tropics. So historic rallying is for everyone, not just those of us with old cars or old dreams. As the Bajan saying goes; "Only grave-diggers start at the top."

Rally Schedule of Events


• Friday, Oct. 28th (TBC): Deliver cars to Portsmouth, England to be shipped to Barbados.
• Saturday, Nov. 18th: RallySprint, Vaucluse Raceway (optional).
• Wednesday, Nov. 22nd: Scrutiny and welcome party, 5pm, Vaucluse Raceway.
• Thursday, Nov. 23rd: Unlimited recce, three venues, both directions.
• Friday, Nov. 24th: SuperSpecial SS1, 2, 3; Vaucluse Raceway, 5pm.
• Saturday, Nov. 25th: Tarmac Rally, 1pm until midnight.
• Sunday, Nov. 26th: Prize-giving and Jolly Roger Pirate Ship party cruise, noon.
• Monday, Nov. 27th: Pack up cars to ship home.


Late decision


I made a very late decision to send my little Peugeot 205 Rally to do the Barbados event, so with zero preparation I got it out after years of disuse. As it happened, I was going to Birmingham that day so I drove it there and back to see how it fared. It seemed ok so I delivered it to the shippers in Portsmouth the next day. Ruth and the twins came and picked me up and we had a nice day at the historic docks. All good so far, doing a rallysprint event on a race track tonight with paired cars going off on four laps on a figure of eight course together, which is a new experience for me. Then tomorrow we're doing four very rough stages, three times each in the pitch black. Some go through towns so should be lots of very enthusiastic Barbadians about. Weather is hot and sunny and the beautiful sea warm and the locals very nice. 

The Peugeot ready to go to the shippers



Posing in front of an old mill building



Street fruit seller



Arrived and found the little Peugeot 205 safe and sound. Now to recce the route and do some island investigation.  Here's the rally car with support vehicle and old abandoned Lotus Cortina.





Drinks at the beach bar. The weather was good at this point!



View from our hotel



Torrential Rain


Did the Rally over two days, the stage part started on Saturday afternoon and ran through the night in torrential rain, which became almost undriveable! A couple of cars crashed, so play was stopped for an hour then off we went again. 14 stages in the pitch black and pouring rain, all good fun and the little Peugeot did well even when it was close to being swept back by the force of the water!

Start of a stage in the jungle




The Peugeot after the rally - all good and the 25 year old second hand suit still fits me (just!)



More scenes from Barbados





Organiser Greg Crozier and commentator Woody at boozy prizegiving, lots of rum about!



Pan Am Classic Rally - June 2017

Alastair Caldwell - Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From the Atlantic to the Pacific on one of the World’s Great Drives

I set off to San Francisco on the 8th of June to drive my newly acquired, never seen by me, 1962 Tatra 603 across America to Savannah with my friend Hayden helping with driving and hopefully not breakdowns! The Pan Am Classic Rally is mainly a competitive event for cars up to 1978 traversing the Southern United States from Savannah to Durango before heading up the Sierra Nevada’s and Rockies through the old cowboy territory and finishing up on the west coast in Seattle. The whole trip takes more or less a month, I last did it in 2012 and was really looking forward to doing it again, albeit on a different route. Here's the route map.

Here's the car

After a couple of weeks' work by Joe and Hayden's friend Ted, we are finally setting off from San Francisco to Savannah where the Tatra (AKA the Baboon) is to do the Pan Am rally, all the way back to Seattle on July 13th. So we have to travel 2,760 miles just to get to the start! Going to do this very quickly as Hayden needs to get back ??. Hayden and I with the Tatra, my first drive will be to Savannah. 

Hayden getting comfy in the car!

The trip from San Francisco to Savannah was going well.We started out from SF at 22:03 on Friday night. Now we're in Albuquerque at 18:25, 1,084 miles later having crossed Arizona into New Mexico. Average speed 63.5, no problems so far thanks to Joe and Ted, only 1,632 to go and 23 hours before we get to the start.

Aftermath of San Francisco to Savannah drive

We got here! All well went well until Atlanta, 300 miles short of Savannah, when one of the the fan drives in the Tatra flew apart! Came up with a temporary fix and drove slowly to the hotel but made it. 2,721 miles at an average of 65 mph non-stop, you know it makes sense in some way. Hayden and I having lunch today. 



The first day of the PanAm

Set off from Savannah to Spartanburg today. All went well although the motor is not going well. Hopefully it will be fixed tomorrow. We saw alligators, vultures and lots of lovely countryside and met lots of nice Americans. The road book failed to send us the right way as normal several times but we made it in the end and had a good day wrestling with the Tatra.

Spartanburg to Knoxville

2nd day, Spartanburg to Knoxville. Now into the mountains with great twisty roads and lovely scenery. Lots of true Americana, quaint housing, poor people and towns but all cheerful and happy to see us. It is hard for both sides to communicate with the language problem ;) - saw a real living drive-in and lots of self-storage including a log cabin version, pictured below. Sadly the poor Tatra's engine problems came to the fore in the mountains so had to crawl up the hills often in first gear. Anyway the great news it is FIXED !!! So today should be lots better. Two cars have broken rear engines, one poor thing has only 6 cylinders. 

Drive-in breakfast menu followed by the vending machine

Lovely architecture

Hub bearings

We had a busy two days at this point, we had a good time in Nashville but on the way to Memphis where we had a day off, the rear axle noise which we pondered over on the run from California got worse, so sure enough, the right hand rear hub bearings were gone. Big job changing them. Spent our rest day doing this and other bits, including finding and fitting new rear shock absorbers and then on start-up had a new noise! The generator decided to give up the ghost ?? So then there was more frantic work. But we still managed to get to dinner on the banks of the mighty Mississippi and fit in some blues on Beale Street. Busy day off to Fayetteville today.

Across the South

We then had another two days making our way across the South. The Baboon (as the Tatra is nicknamed) still not charging so we are having to run on just the battery, but this is working well so may leave changing the generator until a rest day. It's so hot now, it's very unpleasant working on a hot car. Baboon got new rear shock absorbers in Memphis and is handling a lot better. Had a very rough, fast stage yesterday (fast because we got lost for a while as the road book was wrong again) and the car was great in the gravel, like a Porsche on steroids - just needs another 100HP! Saw some great sights again and can but wonder how run down and poor lots of America is but also hugely commercial with thousands of trucks on the highway and massive trains ?? going by all the time. In Oklahoma City now and is looking very prosperous and massively busy. Off to Amarillo tomorrow on Route 66, the famous coast to coast road. Cars outside the hotel last night in Oklahoma. 

Amarillo to Taos 

Amarillo to Taos - nice drive, change of state to New Mexico. Lovely hotel and really cute town with great bars, shops etc, big hippy vibe. Off to Durango in Colorado today. Nice shot of the Baboon at speed in Tennessee. 

Taos to Durango 

Did the Taos to Durango trip, once again nice roads and great sights. Damaged a rear rim on a big rock, so had to change the wheel on the stage, no easy task with the Tatra so we were out of time by the time I got it done. Good news, we are 5th in the rally but bad news, only 5 cars in it, but still it can't get worse! Had a day off in Durango so changed our generator but no success so still charging the battery to proceed. Then discovered RH rear shock absorber top mount had torn off, so had to find someone to fix it. Found a shop where a young Apache called Swift repaired the mount in minutes. Fantastic job! Apache police car.

Mountains 

It's been a busy few days driving and looking after the Baboon but there have been no big setbacks. We are into the mountains again and about to make the trip to California over the Rockies. Car is going well apart from the charging problem but we're getting by. Has been brutally hot day and night so the inclination to work on the car is very low, it will be good to get to more temperate climes. The scenery is just fantastic with huge views and ever changing geology - it is too much to take in at times. Have our big test now: how to cope with Las Vegas! 

Las Vegas 

Spent a day off in Las Vegas. Horribly hot and horrible place, it is a must to see just to experience it but I loathe it! Thought another visit would change my mind but no, it gets worse. We raced F1 there in the car park of Caesar's Palace many years ago. Went by helicopter to see the Grand Canyon, which was lovely but great to leave. 

Pacific Coast 

We made it! The Tatra has gone coast to coast twice now in a few weeks. Having crossed Death Valley and the mountains, we are now back on the Pacific Coast. Saw millions of almond trees, thousands of oil pumps and our first beehives. Went off route to pay homage to the James Dean crash site and got back on rally route to be fastest on the afternoon test, the Baboon loves the twisty dirt! Cold at last, jumpers on last night, fog this morning. Almond trees and grape vines. 


San Francisco 

Made it back to San Francisco after two trips across the USA. A few more days then Seattle and the end. Met up with cousins Joe and Peggy Odgers in Morro Bay, then had a nice drive through rural California which looks great, golden grass and lovely trees and all so prosperous, big contrast with what we have seen before. Crossed 13 states so far, 2 more to go to get to Seattle. Into San Francisco and a day off and the Fourth of July celebrations. Had a nice night with Tracy and Hayden to celebrate Tracy's birthday and then went looking round SF, took a cab for a tour round the city which was very good, saw lots of bikes from the shoreline, hundreds just cruising past and putting on a show. Sadly the fog spoiled the fireworks so the many thousands who came to the city were disappointed. Off north tomorrow on an easy day, but crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

SF to Oregon 

Lots of driving, from San Francisco to Yosemite then Lake Tahoe, Eureka, then Rogue River in Oregon. Managed to damage the exhaust when doing some unplanned off-road driving as the road ahead was closed but had to give in and drive through anyway and made it ok. Spent two days with one muffler off the car making lots of noise but fixed now so still just not charging.  Car is running well but we are crossing big passes one after the other so we spend a long time climbing mountains. The scenery is just fantastic and has been ever since we left SF. Lake Tahoe is stunning and we are surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers. Big Elephant at Blackhawk car museum. 

Sequoias 

Drove through miles of beautiful Sequoias. Strange bicycle with high mounted pedals. Californian roadside fruit seller, very nice, spent a while with him sorting out the world. Rural post office in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Oregon sign. Roadside cannabis shop in Merlin, Oregon, where it is now legal. 

San Francisco to San Francisco 

We made it! SF to Savannah then the Pan Am rally up to the finish in Seattle, then back down to our start place, Tracy and Hayden's Wevo shop in San Carlos. Four weeks of trials and tribulations but also a great challenge to keep the Tatra happy and running and this was achieved. 17,126 Km, 10,641 miles in 4 weeks crossing deserts, climbing to 11,000 ft and crossing mountains in searing heat with no sign of distress or overheating. Our only real problem is that it's not charging, but this will be sorted now we have some time. The car was great fun to drive and you get to meet a lot of people who want to know about the car. Such a clever design and all made to be worked on in a sensible fashion. No rest for the wicked, off to Hollywood for the weekend to see the Eagles ?? and Fleetwood Mac play at Dodger Stadium then back to SF, then back to UK on the 21st. Got to get my hot rod going as well. Very smart rig on HW101.

Hot Rod

Finished the Pan Am in Seattle then drove the Tatra back to San Carlos. Got my Hot Rod out and got it running. Goes really well, went to Alice's Restaurant then to the beach in the fog again. Car is beautifully made. Note Tatra resting in the background. Went to Palo Alto for dinner and saw this crazy ice cream shop which makes fresh ice cream using liquid nitrogen. There's a girl in there operating the machine! 











Hotel car park and the Savannah river




Venice to Monaco Classic Rally - September 2017

Alastair Caldwell - Tuesday, October 31, 2017



This was a lovely 2-week drive through Italy, Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Montenegro and France, including the islands of Sicily, Sardinia & Corsica. I was going to take the Alfa but wimped out and decided to take my trusty Mercedes 280SL on this trip. The SL has a roof so I thought it might suit the non-summer we were having at the time!

Here we are on the Eurotunnel on the way to Venice for the start of the rally. There were lots of balloons over Metz on the way down there.




Stopped off at the lovely Cafe Flo in Nancy. Over a hundred years old and still stunning and great food as well.



Stayed the night in the Grand on the fantasy Place Stanislaus in Nancy. It was built by a Polish rent-a-King who made Nancy the capital of France for a while!






From there we went up into the mountains, here's the SL on St Gotthard Pass, where we had hot chocolate, goulash soup and some local meats and cheeses.



Then we arrived in Venice, it always looks fantastic. There was a lovely Porsche tractor on the Kempinski front lawn. Here it is plus some other snaps of Venice.







So up to now we were just getting to the starting point. Now it was the first day of the Venice Monaco Rally proper. We bopped through Trieste and Slovenia and then on into Croatia. We 
spent the night in Rovinj, which is a lovely old town with lots of wonderful shops, bars, restaurants and buildings, too much to take in in one night but we tried our best!



This guy was jumping off Mostar bridge for cash - it's a big jump!







Having gone through Slovenie and Croatia, we then arrived in Mostar, Bosnia. We'd had good roads so far, good weather and food so it was all looking good - and the yellow peril Merc was fine! Here's a video of some blowholes in Croatia.


Here we are at the cathedral in Split.






This is a lovely river flowing out of the mountain at Blagaj, Bosnia. It's a national monument.








We saw a big water wheel, sadly it wasn't in service, and this lovely old fortified town.



Singing waiters in a very good restaurant in Dubrovnik, there was a big storm outside while we were there.







We spent an evening in Dubrovnik in a lovely restaurant, the Kopun. Had a bit of a hard day today, with a puncture and blown exhaust but still all good. Off to Albania and Montenegro tomorrow.







We had a very busy few days, through Croatia then Bosnia Mostar bridge, then back to Croatia to see Dubrovnik and then a quick drive through Montenegro and Albania. Now we're on a ferry heading for Bari in Italy. The Yellow Peril is going well apart from a flat tyre and noisy exhaust.








Then we were back to Italy again, all great as normal - roadside prostitution, lovely food, mad traffic and the Trulli houses in the deep South. Here we are in Alberobello, a world heritage site.







Next stop was Sicily, where we stayed in a lovely hotel with a pool then had a great drive across the island to the ferry to Sardinia. We saw the Enna circuit and drove on lots of the Targa Florio track, sadly it is in very bad shape these days. Sardinia! Never been before.

Driving the course at Targa Florio


At the pits on the course













We spent a very nice day and evening in the town of Matera. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apparently it was originally a troglodyte settlement and has all these houses built on top of each other carved out of the rock face. Fascinating to see.


 



Then it was across the ferry to Sicily, had a nice drive to Taormina. The locals are quick to point out that Sicily is in Italy! Even if you do have to take a ferry to get there from the mainland!



Lovely view over Taormina from our hotel.



From Taormina the next stop was Palermo, where we had a drink and bruschetta on the waterfront before boarding the overnight ferry to Sardinia. 



Sardinian cows and calves, they've all got bells on. There's one errant one at the end - there's always one troublemaker!


.
We had lunch in a lovely restaurant on Sardinia. Now we're about to board a ferry to Corsica which is in the background of the shot.




After Corsica came Nice, we we arrived to beautiful weather and fantastic views on top of the mountain.







On one night we had the glamour of Monte Carlo and the Hermitage hotel, the next we were in a simple pension on top of a Col in the Alps. Both good ?? Also lots of sheep!











New Zealand Haka Rally - Nov/Dec 2016

Alastair Caldwell - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

At the end of October 2016, and having only just finished the Classic Persia rally, I flew over to New Zealand to start the Haka Classic Rally. This was going to be a special trip because my 98-year old mother Dorothy would be navigating for me again. The trip would be a spectacular 26-day, 5,354km competition across the North and South Islands of New Zealand, from Auckland to Christchurch. For this trip I was taking my 1963 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.



The route




We had a busy few days before the start. I picked up the Rolls, which seemed ok at first, but rapidly went downhill and then stopped dead in the worst place in NZ to choose, the Harbour Bridge at rush hour!!! Very fraught time with police, huge traffic jam etc. Got rescued by old McLaren type John Storr who used to be Bruce McLaren's brother-in-law. He spotted us and very kindly towed us off the bridge to his business, the Bolt Shop, where I was able to eventually get the car going. The ignition had been damaged by the shippers by wrongly jump starting the car. 

New Zealand Herald interview

Meanwhile we had organised a meeting with the NZ Herald for pics etc but they had to come to us in the end. Mum looking and going great, note the matching outfit, now having to wear glasses reluctantly at 98. Better day today, next problem is my Escort which is also in the Rally, but more on this anon. You can read the New Zealand Herald article here.

Mum and I at the start

Towing the Rolls....

First day of the rally

Well, we had a big breakthrough - the Rolls ran all day! Badly, but it did not stop. All went well, a few little glitches with the organisation but nothing serious. Lovely weather and NZ looking great, lots of cows and grass and good roads. 


The Escort

The Escort does exist! Mother thought it was a myth but Tim has arrived from Nelson in it today after an epic drive, the old girl is looking good.

Nostalgia

The weather was fantastic, nice roads and a lot of nostalgia for Mother and me. We overnighted in Hamilton, where we lived as teenagers, saw old friends from schooldays and then drove to Matmata through Cambridge and Lemington where we had a small farm and I went to primary school. It's all built over now. We went to the Hobbinton set and had lunch and a tour, mum and I dodged the tour which was a good move. We ended up in Rotorua with all the smells and steam. Pouring down this morning, Mum and I outside a hobbit house.

We had fun visiting and running round the track at Towpaw, now called the Bruce Mclaren Motorsport Park. Went to the buried village and a random shot of an urban Pukeko in downtown Rotorua. 

The next day was a good one, it started out looking miserable but soon perked up and stayed nice all day. We had a good drive and three average speed regularities which we were best at, what a navigator! Here's the Rolls posing with a logging truck.

The two mountains Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe were visible in the morning over the beautiful and huge lake Taupo. 

A scary tunnel on the road, rough and unlit, reminded me of Iran! 

Picture of Mother below getting her time card stamped at the day start in Taupo. 

The sign at the self styled republic of Whangamomona were we had lunch in the very interesting old pub, and picture of the Rolls outside the pub.

Escort outside the pub. Note the old Space Station logo in the window.

 

Another island

More busy days. More rushing round race tracks and regularities, we spent the night in Palmerston North before heading to Wellington and a day of taking in some culture and Mother getting to see her Grandson James and her great grandchildren. Went to see her old family home in Feilding on the way and visited Te Papa, the fantastic museum in Wellington, visited the Britten motorbike there. On Sunday we took the ferry to the South Island and got served the NZ delight, scones with jam and whipped cream! Rainbow over Wellington Harbour. 

Another photo of Mother, the Guinness World Record holder as oldest active navigator.

And here we are, having a well-deserved rest after a long driving day.

The wild west coast

We arrived at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks after a good day's rallying on dirt roads. We came to the wild West coast, all good. Had a bonfire on the beach, mum good, tucked up in bed now. Here's a short video showing this wild west coast, with some surfers taking their chances.



Another three more days went by and mother was doing marvellously, she is an amazing woman! It was bad weather for two days so we missed seeing Golden Bay etc in the mist and rain but we got to the west coast last evening in sunshine and the ocean and coast is great. We stayed on the ocean last night with huge waves and a  big sunset. The pic is of a cafe sign which needs translation: Sammy is a sandwich and whitebait are tiny fish which they make into an omelette, FOD is fish of the day.



Queenstown to Te Anau


We then had a short day's drive from Queenstown to Te Anau. Once again there was a beautiful lake. Foul weather at times and I managed to make a completely unforced error on the only competition section, so our rally results will suffer. 

Helicopter trip over Fiordland



Luckily, the weather allowed us to take a fantastic helicopter trip round the Sounds, this lasted 3.5 hours. We saw magnificent fiords, mountains and lakes, had a picnic by the plane and landed on a glacier. That's the only bit Mother didn't like much, she covered her head for that, but soon cheered up when we got down again.




Teratonga Race Track


After the excitement of the helicopter trip, we had a busy two days rallying. We went to Teratonga race track for some competition, this is where my brother Bill died racing 50 years ago. We went to see the fastest Indian Burt Munro motorbike in Invercargill and ended up at Gore for the night. The next day we were off to Dunedin, where we had a welcome rest day. Managed to get some work done on the Rolls and had a lovely lunch by the sea with Mother at St Clair beach which is right in the city. 



Radio New Zealand Interview


We did a radio interview with Kathryn Ryan of Radio New Zealand which was broadcast during the rally, on a program called "9 to Noon". Lots of weather of all kinds everything apart from snow. You can listen to the programme here:



Now a couple more videos, wild lupins on the Lewis Pass - it was very windy!



And a video of Mount Cook, with Mum, Hayden, Tracey and the Escort. Sadly it was cloudy so you can't see the top of Mount Cook.


We went on a fixed wing flight into the southern Alps, no trip to Mount Cook possible as there was too much cloud but we got fantastic views of mountains and glaciers, lots of Lord of the Rings stuff!



Special award for Mother


All of a sudden it was the end of the rally and Mother received a special award. She got a very nice speech of thanks and got a standing ovation from the whole rally. On the last evening, Mother made a celebrity appearance at dinner. She normally retires early - as you are entitled to do when you're 98 years old - but this evening, as the rally sat down to dinner, she decided to come and wave goodnight, completing a high-speed lap of the dining room in her wheelchair, with me pushing behind. An inspiration to us all, she received universal applause.




At the finish


We made it to the end, finishing 7th overall! Mother was terrific as always, always alert, always interested and never napping. We set off the next day on another trip back north to catch the ferry and have to go via the west coast as the east side is still closed because of the earthquake and will be for some time. The Rolls was running well so the 224 year old team is doing well. Car 53, me 73, mother 98.




The next day was another big day for Mother, we set off North to get Mother home to Hamilton and Tracy and Hayden back to Auckland in the Escort to fly home and deliver the Escort to its new home in Devonport. Once again we had a great trip, took Arthur's pass over to the west coast, not the most direct road but it's a fantastic drive through huge weather, mountains and views. You have to go via the west as the east coast road is still closed because of the quake damage and will be for some time. Got to Picton after a long but beautiful drive to catch the ferry tomorrow morning. 


Classic Persia Rally - October 2016

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, February 10, 2017

In October 2016 I set off for the Classic Persia Rally, a 6,000 kilometer drive across the once mighty Persian Empire from its westernmost reaches in Istanbul, through the empire’s ancient capital Persepolis and across the Persian Gulf to finish in Dubai. This was a 19 day trip, with average daily driving distances of 500 kilometers. For this trip I took my little 1968 Porsche 912, which is a 150 bhp, 2 litre, 5-speed manual, flat 4 cylinder with air cooled twin Weber carbs. It has a short wheelbase with full cage, stripped for rallying.

The route

In Istanbul, we stayed at a fantastic hotel, the Pera Palace. This is the hotel of the Orient Express, this is Hemingway’s hotel, the place from which all the great travellers set off on the long road east. From there we enjoyed 4 days of great driving and stunning landscapes, passing through Cappadocia and Lake Van, before crossing over into Iran. We then spent a couple of days meandering over the mountains of northern Iran before heading southwest into Iranian Kurdistan which offered great driving. We then maee our way along some great back-roads through the Zagros mountains to Esfahan, arguably one of the greatest Islamic cities in the world.Then on to Shiraz, itself a fascinating place – and then on to the ancient capital of Persia, Persepolis which lies in ruins after it was set alight by the hoards of Alexander the Great in 330BC. The final stretch of the journey took us down to the Persian Gulf and we boarded a ferry for Dubai. After taking in some of the worlds greatest historical cities, Istanbul, Esfahan and the ruins of Persepolis, steeped in mystery and intrigue and full of old-world beauty, it was a big contrast to suddenly find yourself driving in the modern business empire of Dubai. 

Here is the route:

We crossed over to France on the Eurotunnel but then had a bad day 2 - stuck on German autobahns for hours like one huge M25, but we finally made it to Slovenia across Croatia and then Nis in Serbia. We reached the Turkish border and on to Istanbul.  

Istanbul to Ankara

We got into huge traffic in Istanbul on the Sunday night, but got there in time for the welcome dinner. Here's the car dressed up in its rally plates. We crossed from the west to the east across the magnificent bridge over the teeming Bosporus - my old New Zealand mechanic, Tim, was on the rally as support, that's him changing a plug on the Porsche. Went over some good roads to Ankara - and the adventure had started!

Cappadocia

The next stopping point was Cappadocia, we saw some fantastic sights and stayed in a lovely hotel there. Cappadocia is world heritage site and is a semi-arid region in central Turkey, known for its distinctive “fairy chimneys,” tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley, Göreme and elsewhere. Other notables sites include Bronze Age homes carved into valley walls by troglodytes (cave dwellers) and later used as refuges by early Christians. The 100m-deep Ihlara Canyon houses numerous rock-face churches. We had two punctures and a new tyre, but otherwise the car was running well and the weather was perfect.

Here are some photos of the spectacular Cappadocia sights.

Mount Nemrut

The next three days were very busy. Had a great trip up Mount Nemrut to wonderful statues, erected around what is assumed to be a royal tomb from the 1st century BC. The actual mountain is made of small stones stacked by the billion. On the way to the Iranian border we were sent back as there was an incident (!) going on on the road, so we did a big loop on a hard-to-find, almost impassable road but the little Porsche was magnificent again. We made it across into Iran without incident to Tabriz, went to the market and then had an easy drive to the shores of the Caspian Sea. We then set off over the mountains again for another very full day's driving.

Tabriz

We arrived at Tabriz and had a nice quiet day. Went to the historic bazaar in the morning, this is a lovely old building, with nobody hassling us to buy, which is a nice change. There must be tourist police enforcing this but we saw no sign of it. The next stage was a drive to Astara on the shores of the Caspian Sea, passing very close to the Azerbaijan border. We had no problems but could see the watchtowers and lots of barbed wire. The hotel was close to where we stayed on the Peking Paris rally where I and my friend Hayden spent the night changing the headgasket on my Alfa 6C in horizontal driving rain. It worked and the car finished well.

The bazaar at Tabriz

Leaving Tabriz, the next stage was driving to the Caspian Sea. Here's a photo of the Porsche, posing by the Caspian Sea, just to prove we'd been there! 

Astara to Zanjan

We then took a different and longer route to take in the famous lovely old village of Masouleh, spent some time there then took a very rough mountain dirt road up to join the rally route proper. Good fun and gave the new navigator a taste of fast dirt road driving. Sadly we lost one car permanently when the steering broke on the Bentley, they are continuing in a hire car. The pre-war Lagonda has broken two rockers in the engine and was driving on 5 cylinders but they've now put it on a truck to Isfahan where parts are being carried and we have 3 nights so hopefully it will be up and running again. 

Traditional dress and the old village of Masouleh.



Zanjan to Sanandaj

A quiet day on good roads across Kurdish Iran so we decided to go off piste on more interesting roads for a while. We investigated a mud village and when we had to turn round in a farmyard the family all came out and insisted that we park and come in. They were very friendly and loved having visitors, gave us tea and tried to get us to stay for lunch but we managed to compromise on fruit. They were delighted and so were we! The red fountain is signifying the blood of the 3rd Iman who was assassinated in 680-ish. There are huge processions going on over two days which we have have got involved in as they block the roads. These involve lots of men chanting and marching to huge drums and stylised ritual self-flagellation with sometimes the women trailing along behind.

The mud village.

Invited into the home of a local family to have tea and fruit. Those are my feet!

The red fountain.

All the men wear these baggy trousers, so I thought I'd try a pair for myself!

Some of the processions we encountered along the way.

Isfahan

We spent two days in Isfahan, Iran, looking at fantastic architecture, lovely gardens and meeting and talking to the locals. They were all delighted to see us and the cars, a very nice experience. Following our 2 day rest, we drove 600k over the mountains on dirt roads to Shiraz. The little Porsche ran well after a bit of attention in Isfahan. Some dirt roads but mostly fast Tarmac, we went to see a lovely waterfall on the way. Once again, everyone was delighted to see us. Here's a weird and wonderful tunnel we drove through en route.

Isfahan.

The central mosque in Isfahan

The waterfall

Lots of beehives, they put masses in the same place rather than spread out, it must work. 

The market at Shiraz

Pasargadae and Persepolis


By this point we were nearly at the end of the rally, just one more day's driving to the sea to put the cars on a ferry to Dubai and take a flight there ourselves. Had a small drama today as the only Americans on the trip decided on their own initiative to change their hotel to another. This caused them to get into trouble with the Iranians who were not impressed, they are back in the rally hotel and our local guide is in hot water over this. We spent the day taking in some Persian culture visiting two sites outside the city, Pasargadae and Persepolis. Persepolis, though now just a ruin after being razed by Alexander in 300 BC, is still a magnificent sight and would have been wondrous in its day when it was the centre of power of the huge Persian Empire. The site is enormous and the scale of the buildings mind boggling.

 

Shiraz to Bandar Abbas

This was our last day of driving on the rally. 650km on good roads, fantastic mountains and terrain all day, it is easy to get blasé about all this beauty but today was stunning for hour upon hour. We got pulled over by the cops but all in good humour and we got let off with a lecture on speeding in Farsi! We aw these strange pointed buildings on the roadside and worked out they are wells for travellers and especially for drovers with their animals. The two we looked at had what looked like clean water in them. Saw a "look out for camels" sign and sure enough there were some. 

Pointed buildings by the roadside

The Porsche posing by the Persian Gulf, just to show we made it. Great trip, lovely scenery and people and the Porsche was great as well. Off to Dubai tomorrow by plane then back to UK Saturday. 

The next trip

The next trip is the New Zealand Haka Rally in November - 30 days round both islands with my 98 year old Mother as navigator again, she is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest active rally navigator now. 


Paris to Vienna Rally - June 2016

Alastair Caldwell - Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Amazingly having just got back from the Alpaca rally I launched into another one immediately! This one was the Paris to Vienna rally which started 14th June. For this one I drove my 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C SS Torpedino. this has an engine size of 2500cc and has 110bhp, 4 speed, no synchro on first or second gear.

Battery problem


It did not get off to a good start for us, as the car failed on the M25 on the way down and we had to get the RAC out to help get it off the motorway. Luckily an old friend and classic car restorer and fellow rallyist Mark Tipping's workshop was not far away, so with his help and a new battery we got underway again. But we got in late and were definitely not on top of things. But the next day was another day, so things, including the weather did improve, we did arrive in sunshine having been in all kinds of weather on the way. 

Here we are in Mark's workshop, trying to fix the Alfa.


Here's the car all ready to get underway again.


Battery problem......again


It was a bad day most of the first day, as the battery charging problem reappeared. So we spent some miserable, rain-soaked time trying to fix the car, to no avail for the rest of that day. We missed most of the morning's rally, which takes the pressure off a bit as we were no longer in contention.



Had a nice end to the day when, as a complete surprise, my friend Hayden's brother Brett was at our hotel and in my car! I had lent it to him to go sailing in Europe, with no idea where he was going. That's him with me and the Phev in the background, which we then used to charge the battery on the Alfa. 


A damp start


We got off to a very damp start the next day, by the lake. Note the zero weather protection! This was at the Hôtel Beau Rivage Gérardmer.


Lindau, Lake Konstanz


Amazingly it wasn't raining the next night, which we spent in Lindau on Lake Konstanz, a lovely spot. Here are some evening and night shots of the harbour entrance with lighthouse and a beautifully tiled tower with a rainbow; 





We had good roads following this and arrived in Austria to actual heat and blue skies. A remarkable change!



The finish


All too soon, the rally was finished! Despite our battery problems we made the end in good shape and had a great time. We drove through some atrocious weather just when the car had started to play up really badly but the car and the weather both improved after that. The car made the journey back home by truck as the battery wasn't charging at all. The following photos are courtesy of Fiona Easterby, showing the finish line, another competitor in an E-type and us travelling along in the Alfa.









About the Paris to Vienna Rally


You can find out more about the Paris to Vienna rally on their website. This year's rally was inspired by the heroic pioneers of early motorsport, and was a regularity competition in the spirit of the original Paris-Vienna race of 1902, an epic, 559-mile (900km) contest that included a daunting crossing of the Austrian Alps. Here's a photo of the original competitors from 1902. There's also an article in The Telegraph about the original rally.





Alpaca Classic Rally 2016

Alastair Caldwell - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In May this year I took part in the ROARRallies Alpaca Classic, a month long trip from Cartagena, Colombia to Lima, Peru, including a loop around Peru’s southern highlands. My car of choice for this mammoth journey was my 1968 Porsche 912, 2000cc, Flat 4 cylinder with air cooled twin Weber carbs, HP150Gearbox, 5 speed manual. This is a short wheelbase car with full cage, stripped for rallying.

Volcano Mud Bath


The third car only just got out of customs in time to leave but everything went well at the start. Cartagena city was great but very hot all the time, day and night. We stayed in a lovely hotel in a national park, swam in the Caribbean Sea and went to a volcanic mud hole and took a crazy collective mud bath - had a good time, as you can see from the photos!

   

Return of The Bucket!


On the London to Capetown rally in 2012 the 912 overheated all the way until in Namibia we stuck half a bucket on the engine air intake to feed the oil cooler and hey presto, cool oil! I thought we were over our bucket days but no, in Colombia it was so hot the bucket was reborn though now in a more tasteful hearing aid beige. 



Holes in the Road


We stayed in nice hotel in Mompos then did an 84k dirt road section which was really challenging because of massive rain the day before, so there was lots of soft going, roads washed away etc, loved it! The little Porsche seemed to thrive on it. We had lots of good twisty Tarmac, broken surface holes etc. The Colombian traffic was good fun, lots of big speed bumps. We got chased by cops again - seems to be a habit - but we outran them even after having to pay a toll whilst being chased! The Mustang broke its alternator and had to be towed in but it was ok the next day. The photo below of me with some cops are ones who didn't chase us.










Peculiar road signs


We drove from Monteria to Medellin along a great road, Columbia looks really good and everyone we meet is nice, they seem very gentle and the traffic is certainly passive. There were lots of police about and a big army presence with soldiers checking vehicles all the time. They weren't interested in us though, except to give the Porsche a thumbs up! We stayed in a very trendy hotel in the centre for two nights, all good again though lots of loud music around. We also noticed some very interesting road signs.

   

The Trampoline of Death


We went off to Pasto on a road affectionately nicknamed "The Trampoline Of Death", that made us feel good! This is the road that connects the capital of the jungle department of Putumayo with its Andean/Pacific neighbour, Narino. This road is famously dangerous, and is often called the most dangerous road in the entire country, and one of the worst on the continent. Shrines to the lost litter the roadside, however it is also a beautiful road as it The road winds rapidly upwards through jungle to cloudforest and ultimately to paramo, with mist-shrouded waterfalls seemingly tumbling from the forest at every turn, and often engulfing the rough, unpaved road itself in their icy waters. We went way high as well to add to the mix, about 2000 metres above sea level. It was fun, the little Porsche thrived on it, huge drops, rough road slips and big trucks all combined to make for a tough day. We had a puncture, fixed it and then arrived in Pasto before crossing the border to Quito in Ecuador, another first for me. We went way high as well to add to the mix, about 2000 metres above sea level. Here is the little white Porsche in the Colombian jungle on the Trampoline of Death and the map of the road.





LIke an episode of Breaking Bad


Some of the rolling country here is so like NZ it is uncanny. We went to see one of Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord's many estates, but it was not exciting and has been turned into a theme park by his relatives so we did not go in. Then we drove to St Augustine on rough roads in really remote areas in the pouring rain most of the way. It was a great drive and the only casualty was the support van with a holed sump which held them up for a few hours. They epoxied it up so they were ok. Some of the rally went on an off piste trip to visit a cocaine making factory, fascinating with a long and involved process using amongst other things cement, petrol, battery acid and at the end, baking soda! No samples were given out but the guide took the product home and seemed happy! Some of the vehicles and scenes we met along the way reminded us of Breaking Bad.


We had a traditional Colombian meal, Bandeja Paisa, on the last night in Colombia. It was very good, the basis is beans then the rest you can see. Lots of horses were 
being used for travel and freight all over the country. 


On our last day in Columbia, we visited this amazing black and white cathedral in Las Lajas on the way to the Ecuador border. We crossed the border no problem then went on to Quito, the highest capital in the world. Huge and madly busy, first impressions were good, staying in a lovely hotel overlooking the main square.


Earthquake


We had an earthquake in Quito at 3am one night, the hotel shook for what seemed like forever but was probably about 30 seconds, the shutters banged, the chandelier swung and then it stopped. It seems that it was a quake on the coast which is about 100 miles from here. We had a couple of small aftershocks but then it was all quiet, thankfully.

We left Quito for Banos and stayed in a lovely mountain spa above Banos, the Luna Runtun. It was a good drive through the mountains past volcanoes, over passes, all very high now. Ecuador is fine and we feel safe apart from our quake scare but we're now a long way from the epicentre. Here's a screen shot of the height yesterday and a shot of a painting I bought from the artist.

   

We made an unscheduled stop in Trujillo where they were celebrating Corpus Christi with music and parades, there were several of these parades with bands and fireworks. Here's a couple of videos.



The Canon del Pato


The start of the Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon) in north-central Peru. Loose gravel, lots of trucks and buses hurtling down many tunnels; big washouts with no warnings, all good stuff to keep you on your toes!  The canyon is on the Rio Santa (Santa River) at the north end of the Callejón de Huaylas (Corridor of Huaylas).






Nazca Lines


Had a bit of time off as the Jaguar was retiring and the Porsche was having work done. We went off to see the Nazca Lines in Peru. Went again to fly over these amazing lines in the desert, saw them last year from the ground as not enough time to take a flight, but this time went up as I did on the Inca Trail all those years ago. One of the wonders of the world, just amazing to see and wonder how and why.  We also paid a visit to the Maria Reiche museum. She was an amazing woman who guarded the Nazca lines for 50 years and made the Peruvian government pay attention to the lines. The picture shows seas of chillis being dried in Peru. 



We spent two nights in Lima after three days on the road, then off again having fixed Conrad's MGB. Spent yesterday putting new struts and pads in the Porsche; here we are having cocktails at Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel.


Photo we took from our little plane of the Nazca lines.



We saw lots of animal activity, llamas, alpacas, guanaco, not seen a Vicuña yet but still time. These are Guanaco



Visit to Machu Picchu


This was our first sight of a proper Andean mountain, magnificent sight. We travelled through Pisco, ancestral home of the famous Pisco Sour cocktail, encountering small boys trying to sell us squid on the beach and lots of fishing boats. Went again to see Machu Picchu, it was great because you see more the second time, like seeing a film again and there were a lot fewer people so it was very nice. A shot from the site. One general of the site, The Condor shrine and a temple with a rock matching the mountains behind. 

We came across a stricken Mustang with a broken oil line - it was a big mess but we were able to fix it. That's me under the hood and you can see the wee Porsche hiding from the sun in the background. Also a photos of a jar of local Pisco, a grape-wine spirit, which I had a shot from, complete with snake! 






We made it through Bandit country ok; more great roads and hundreds of speed bumps; And stayed in a very quaint Hacienda, couple of nice classics in the yard. And here's a photo of Snjezana making friends with the local wildlife!





The end of the rally


Then all of a sudden the rally was over and we all went our separate ways now. It was a great trip, 33 days, 3 countries and some fantastic roads. We stayed in some great places and some not so good but all a good experience, got trapped up a mountain by roadworks and drove into the night to catch up. The little Porsche loved it all, making its way over some truly bad rough roads with no complaints and still running really well. Had to change the front shocks and she ate a set of pads and tyres but could do it again tomorrow. And here he is outside the very posh last hotel in Lima where she stayed until she was shipped back to the UK.



And a couple more videos of the driving, one through a town.



World's Oldest Navigator

Alastair Caldwell - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

It is official, Dorothy is to be in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest active navigator!  

Here's a nice shot of her at work in the Rolls doing her navigation on the TransAm, which she does excellently. Note no glasses! She reads the road book and signs and keeps me on my toes. 98 now and still going strong, we are doing the Haka rally this November in NZ and I plan to stay for her 99th birthday on Jan 6th 2017. 

Maya Classic Rally

Alastair Caldwell - Monday, May 23, 2016

In February I took part in the 2nd Maya Classic Rally, a 30 day tour of 7 countries, starting in Panama, through Costa Rica, Guatemala, Antigua, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador and finishing in Mexico. On the way we experienced a volcano, police, a broken Mercedes (twice) and various other broken vehicles! This time I took my Mercedes 280SL Sports, which has done two London to Sydney rallies, and a London to Cape Town, which it won.

   

Arriving at the airport it was just like New Zealand, with sniffer dogs looking for drugs and fruit, also they have lots of police at the airport. Here's the view across to the old city from our hotel balcony; the city is all very prosperous and clean, bursting with activity. 

   

Waiting at Customs to try and get the cars out for the Zika Rally - this was the nickname we gave the rally due to the Zika virus being headline news at the same time we were there; Nice sign explaining the various symptoms of Zika, Dengue and another called Chikungunya which looks good; At this point we were still waiting for our cars to arrive. However I bought myself a rather colourful Panama hat in Panama - it's got to be done!

   

Then the cars arrived - thankfully! Here's the Merc 280SL with new stickers on forthe  Maya Classic, I left the Amazon Adventure sticker on; Also we had a chance to look around, here are some ships in the Panama Canal. I was last here 65 years ago, on the way to New Zealand; Here's the old windscreen behind the car, I managed to save the Space Station and BRDC decals.

   

   

Space Station Owner Alastair Caldwell Prepares Car for Maya Rally



Had a few issues in some countries, in Costa Rica for example, they wouldn't allow right-hand drive cars to enter the country!! So we had to put the cars on transporters and hire some vehicles to drive through the country. Here's the Merc on a transporter and also later, driving at last, in the sun!

    

Maya Classic Rally Hits Trouble at the Costa Rica border 




Here we're crossing the Bridge of Americas which crosses the Panama Canal and was a major link in the proposed Carrea Pan America road which was meant to connect North and South America but never got across the Darian gap between Panama and Columbia. Yet again we got stopped by police for speeding - this one was persuaded not to give me a ticket ($10 incentive). And in Panama, they make fence poles cut from green trees so that they grow into trees at the side of the road. So you get beauty, shade and a very long-lasting fence, lots of them are Jacaranda trees, just great. Here's a shot of a Panamanian cowboy with his dogs, very proud; Rally cars resting in the jungle; local truck passing.

   
   

Paul Markland and I tried with the rally mechanic to get Paul's Derby Bentley running but we failed, that's me kneeling on the running board trying to see if it has sparks to no avail. It did start running again, but we don't know what the cure was as yet! 



I got a couple of days to work on the Merc before the start of the rally, went to see the Canal which was very interesting and most impressive. Panama City was great and everybody we met was nice. Then we set off across the country, stayed in a lovely mountain hotel which was a nice break from the very hot and humid weather, drove across Panama again over the mountains to the Gulf Coast that they call the Caribe Sea, lovely trees, flowers, great roads, all good. Huge wind all day which made driving in the mountains a bit more exciting. Sadly at the Costa Rica border we had to abandon the car as they refused to let RH drive cars to transit so the Mercedes is having an enforced rest on a truck and we are in a hire car for a couple of days. Went fishing in the ocean yesterday in a small boat in big seas which was a great trip, even caught one fish which hotel cooked for us last night, Bonito or Tuna, delicious if very expensive. And here's the Merc and an Austin Healey on a coffee stop in the Panama jungle.

   

We stopped at a roadside restaurant and found they had a pet orphan sloth, it was so charming. And had better hair than Trump or Boris :)



We had more bad news as we arrived in Nicaragua as the customs there also decided that it will not allow right-hand drive cars into the country, so we were all in hire cars again until Honduras!  We left Nicaragua for Honduras,still in hire cars but hopefully to reunite with the rally cars in Honduras. We had a nice time in Granada on the shores of the huge lake Nicaragua which has bull sharks in it as they can survive in fresh water. Lovely stylish town, good ambiance all round. We stayed near the border for an early start at 6.30 and the others were all up there. Annoyingly we have met and seen right-hand drive UK reg vehicles on the road after all this! 

Eventually we arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. It was slow at the border but cheerful. Took a slow drive through Guatemala City in the heat of the day, the Mercedes was getting hot and bothered but we survived. Antigua town is lovely, and we spent a day exploring, staying in a beautiful hotel, the Casa Sante Domingo. Here's Nice shot of the Merc coming into Guatemala. Honduras was good, armed guards everywhere with pump action short shotguns, even in gas stations, but lovely bird life and of course the magnificent Mayan ruins in Copan.

   

Following months of new but relatively gentle activity, Volcan Fuego begins to erupt violently sending ash high into the sky and spewing molten lava down the volcano's upper slopes only ten miles from the town of Antigua, in Guatemala. These photos courtesy of F Stop Press & Rod Kirkpatrick.

   


Then, more car trouble hit! Having driven the 280SL many thousands of miles across several continents, London to Sydney twice, London to Capetown etc etc, she let me down with a fuel injection pump failure. Hopefully this is not terminal as it only affects one cylinder so far so will plod on on 5 like an Audi. The rally has been good, we had moved from Belize to Mexico by this stage, so no more borders to cross from now on. Here's a couple of photos of the disarray and attempted repair.

   


We'd seen some more cowboys in Belize on the side of the road, as well as a Rasta admiring the Merc. Belize is a tiny country, very poor and very laid back. It seems like most people are stoned all the time but they're lovely and speak English. They even have the Queen on their banknotes. We experienced a few scorpions here, there was one at the Jacuzzi!  More dangerous (perhaps), there are other creatures, see this "No Swimming" sign at hotel lake, pointing out that there are hostiles in the water. We checked out the hotel pool thoroughly for scorpions and crocodile content before use!

    

   

I was looking for another problem, an oil leak, and happily found this problem before it got worse - a broken engine mount. Whipped it off and found a man to weld it in minutes, so job done! Note the state of the art welding equipment and the happy welder in his safety gear clutching the repaired mount and his cash! 

   


I had to show you this, the drinks menu at a local bar, note the one called panty ripper! And there was an iguana crossing the road, they're quite big. We had to protect him from the traffic for a while otherwise he would have been an ex-iguana!

   

Here's another rally video, this one was done by fellow rallyist Reg Toohey.





It was my birthday while we were on the rally, and I woke up one morning to find that the Mercedes had been decorated by fairies in the night! Also shot of a big truck fallen victim to the many speed bumps on the roads in Central America, particularly in Mexico where there are thousands often completely unmarked to catch you out; my taking part in 4 Carrera Pan American rallies has given me some experience of these car breakers.

       

The main muffler on the Merc had started to fail in Peru but we never got round to repairing it. Then very nearly at the end of the rally, in (I think) Guatemala, the bottom blew off it and Toby sacrificed one of our Costa Rica number plates to patch it up. Sadly when the motor started to run badly in Mexico the backfiring blew the plate apart! So we took the car to a Mofles shop and in a flash it was cut off and replaced by a couple of straight tubes and we had a sporty noise if still a bit slow... 

   

It was a great rally, the only setback was having to truck the right-hand drive cars across Costa Rica and Nicaragua but we had hire cars so we still did the route. Despite the nickname "the Zika rally," we never seemed to have a mosquito problem at all, we saw and heard virtually zero, got bitten round the ankles towards the end but these were little NZ style sandflies which itch like hell. We saw some great sights, met some lovely people and had no problems with security in any of these supposedly dangerous countries. There were armed guards at institutions but you see that all over the world. Some rallyists witnessed truck hijacking by armed men but once again this is not restricted to Honduras. The Mercedes developed a problem with its fuel injection which I failed to fix, so it was sent home in disgrace instead of going to Cartagena for the next rally, the Alpaca, which starts in May and goes down to Lima in Peru, which will tick off a couple more countries for me. The Porsche 912 will have to be brought up to speed for the Alpaca, Joe has already got the engine out and soon it will be in bits. 

Here's another photo of me driving - "Look, no hands! And no shoes either!" And some more videos taken by various people.



Day off in Costa Rica



Take a quick five minute glidecam tour around the ancient Mayan ruins at Copan in northern Honduras, video by Rod Kirkpatrick



Thunder Dragon Rally 2015

Alastair Caldwell - Monday, January 18, 2016

The Thunder Dragon rally was an amazing, three-week, non-competitive tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which nestles between India and China at the eastern end of the Himalayas and the southern edge of the Tibetan plateau. 

I started off in Kolkata, India, having just finished the Great Amazon Adventure and having an epic series of flights from Lima via London and a 12 hour stop at home. It was then straight off again to Kolkata, a lovely city with many faded colonial buildings and tree lined streets - and thousands of Ambassador taxis still running. 

We spent a few days in Kolkata sight-seeing while we waited for the cars to arrive. Here people are bathing in the River Ghat and a scene from the flower market.

   

Finally the cars arrived and the rally started the next day.



Getting to Bhutan

Eventually we got started and set off for Bhutan. We drove up to Darjeeling, great roads, lots of mad traffic on steep ups and downs. Lovely sights and people. Stayed in a lovely old hotel, the Windamere in Darjeeling, still being run and kept in the style of the British Raj, coal fires in the rooms at night, hot water bottles in the bed, lovely old photos in every room of all the hotel's past glories, very nicely done. Got up at 5 to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. Visited a tea plantation and factory, lovely sights and smells and easy to see the different grades of tea being produced, old fashioned tea chests still being used. There were big celebrations going on throughout the country for the King's father's birthday, as you'll see from the arch below.


   

There are lots of decorated buildings all over in Bhutan, this is a mountain restaurant with murals, bedding being aired and a picture of the King. The other site we saw very frequently were prayer flags - see this Porsche going over the bridge with the prayer flags at the side. The idea is that the prayers are spread far and wide by the wind and the water. 

   

Here we are having a tea & coffee stop at the highest point of Chele La Pass, 3.988 meters. There are some fantastic mountain views, and of course all the lovely prayer flags spreading their prayers around the world in the breeze.



We spent a good night at this very lovely guest house up in the mountains. It's all very simple but beautifully done. The prayer flags are here again and also a water-powered prayer wheel that never stops and rings a bell as it goes round.


The Porsche got lots of attention, here are some fans looking at it in the street. The other shot has the Porsche with 108 Stupas in the background. The number 108 is very important in Bhutan but sadly I have no idea why!

      

A couple of videos from our visit to the Punakha Dzong. This is a fortress made from wood and mud, no nails involved. All Bhutan's Kings have had their coronations here and the new King was married here.



Here we are following Bill in the Bentley on the way to a picnic, all good fun, navigator videoing was a Bhutanese lady who is driving the Winkelman family normally, she loved her drive in the car but needs to polish up her video technique!




We spent a few more days travelling, everything was fantastic. We crossed many mountain passes, visited ancient monasteries, went to dances and a wonderful festival in remote Bhutan that very few westerners get to see. Everyone we met was lovely and the trip was fantastic. We also got an opportunity for adventure of a different kind - here are a couple of photos of our white water rafting trip!

   

Lots of houses here are decorated with big phallus pictures! They sell wooden phalluses and new houses have four of them hung from the eaves at the four corners, all to bring good luck and ward off evil.  We went to some local festivals and were treated very well by the locals, dances tend to go on a bit long to say the least but all very beautiful and done with great seriousness. But all the time there are masked clowns taking the micky out of everyone, usually with a flying phallus attached to their head for effect. It's hard to pick which pictures to show but here is the house with the phallus paintings and some photos and a video from the Trashigang festival.

   

   



Here are another couple of videos of us motoring through Bhutan. The car was a bit sad, running on 3 cylinders by the end. Bhutan has a tiny population, there is very little traffic but what there is is completely mad, which is great fun! They all drive on the wrong side of the road and are very reluctant to turn left at any time. There are a huge amount of very bad roads over high mountains with huge unprotected drops, badly done road works with dust, mud, rocks, big holes etc, all stuff I and the wee Porsche love, so had a great time driving.




Finally it was time to leave Bhutan, we all had such a lovely time there we were very sad to leave. Here's a shot of the border gate between Bhutan and India.


Have a look at lots more photos and videos on the Rally Round Thunderdragon 2015 website

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