We are three Indian journos here at the Dakar, all of us signed up for the Press Plane pack. I have an added photographer accreditation which is supposed to get me additional access though I am yet to find out what that access is. Our Plane Pack media accreditations costs such an eye-watering sum of money that I fear you might get a mild stroke if I tell you the exact amount. Let’s just say we could do an around the world trip on what we paid for accreditation. In business class.
You land up in Asuncion for the ceremonial start find your way to the press centre and get all your accreditation formalities complete. South American visas take the longest time for us Indians and by the time we were done with Paraguay and Bolivia we didn’t have enough time for Argentina. It almost came down to flying all the way to Paraguay (36 hours! One way!) to watch the start and return to India but the Dakar media team were immensely helpful and, as luck would have it, we bumped into the head of the Argentinian embassy in the accreditation centre who said okay for our visas! What luck!
The media centre is a vast hall, one of those massive conference rooms in a hotel, with something like 20 bays for different paperwork – medical, documentation, road books, photo accreditation and numerous other things for the crews and drivers. And at the end of it you clear immigration – Paraguay exit and Argentina entry, all stamped on your passport and a little red book which you hand over to the organisers who then put you on the Press Plane pack.
Day two we are picked up at 3:30 am, yes AM!, from our hotel in a double decker and are bussed 5 hours to the bivouac in Resistencia in Argentina. In the evening we find the organisers and request to go and watch the action so are put in a new Fortuner with two drivers who will take us to the end of the stage to watch the finish. It’s another 3:45am start as we drive 732km (exactly!) to the stage. That’s when we realise why each of these cars (there are two of them for the press) has two drivers – it’s impossible for one to stay awake and drive 850km to the bivouac in Tucuman. And these, of course, aren’t drivers but enthusiasts who just want to be a part of the Dakar – ours is a lawyer who also makes off-road equipment, the other guys spoke no English and we forgot to ask him what he does.
On day four we boarded the bus at a leisurely 7:30am and headed to the airport in Tucuman at 8am where we take a chartered flight – we includes all the press from countries all over the world, PR guys for the teams, Red Bull’s media crew (they have something called Desert Wings that’s putting out some fantastic day capsules edited at the bivouac), guys doing social media for sponsors, the medical support staff and of course the organisers themselves. That’s a full A321 load. And I now write this on the bus from the airport to Jujuy. I’m guessing it’ll be an hour’s drive and by the way the bus is struggling, we are definitely climbing. The bivouac is at 5000 meters, but more importantly it will be cooler than yesterday. Thank god! 45 degrees, even for us Indians, is way too much to bear – especially because in the tonnes of equipment that the organisers move around, not a single fan is included. Air-conditioning? Hahaha…