A Mini ‘Dakar’ Adventure across Argentina – Day 1
‘Stop the car!’ I shout to my co-driver, motoring journalist James Baggott. ‘I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to take a photo – it’s simply too beautiful not to’. In fact, this wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, where we’d come to a sudden standstill upon seeing a panoramic vista of otherworldly proportions. Until now, I had no idea how beautiful Argentina was.
When I first received the invitation to join iconic car brand, Mini, on a ‘Mini Adventure’ through Argentina at the same time as the Dakar Rally, I hesitated for only enough time to ask permission from my wife Zayne, before saying ‘Yes’. It’s not one of those offers that you turn down, even if it does mean leaving for a 13 hour flight on New Years Day.
But Mini, who have won the Dakar Rally for the past three years, is one of those brands you find it hard to say ‘No’ to. You just know you’ll be having a lot of fun.
When Zayne asked me what I’d be doing during the 10 days I’m in Argentina, I couldn’t give her a compressive answer. Indeed, Mini purposefully kept the exact itinerary secret, only letting on that we’d be driving almost 2000kms across some of the most remote part of Argentina, sleeping in tents and experiencing an adventure worth writing home about. Which is what I’m now doing!
I think they were trying to lull us into a false sense of security, flying us business from London to Buenos Aires and then putting us up in a charming, boutique 5 star hotel called Casa Sur Bellini. We then ate at a fabulous restaurant called Argentine Experience, where as the name suggests, you experience the best of Argentina’s culinary exports, namely empanadas and steak.
But rather than it be a simple meal, you eat on long tables, similar to what you mind find at boarding school or Wagama, only you’re wearing an apron and chef’s hat. Thankfully you’re not alone, as everyone is looking like a bit of a wally.
The following day, we fly to Cordoba, where we meet our rides – a rather fabulous silver Mini Countryman John Cooper Works All 4, complete with expedition roof rack holding a spare wheel and jerry can. If I’d been excited before, I was practically dancing about the place now. In fact, all 26 journalists, who were a collection of photographers, journalists, filmmakers and bloggers, were busying filming and taking photographs of the 13 cars that were made available for us.
Was too excited in last tweet I forgot how to use apostrophes. So again, how cool do our Dakar spec Countrymans look? pic.twitter.com/fuPgvoIb4l
— James Baggott (@CarDealerEd) January 3, 2015
Having finally calmed down, we drove in convoy through Cordoba to a charming hacienda for lunch somewhere out of town. Panoramic views, a swimming pool, gauchos, lunch, 30 degrees – we couldn’t ask for more! After a refreshing swim, we then drove on some 100kms to our first camp – an old school house in the middle of no where. It was during this drive, almost entirely off-road, that we got a taste of what the Mini Countryman was made of. And despite not being modified in any way, it was not found wanting. There was nothing it couldn’t handle.
However, driving down tracks where pot holes appear out of nowhere, is quite tiring on the eyes. You can’t ever relax, as you need to keep your eyes on the track and avoid loosing a wheel. Unlike the Dakar Rally, where the Mini X-Raids have a huge support team, we don’t have any spare cars. Only one spare wheel. So it was up to us to make the car last the week!
That evening, the temperature dropped, and by the time we sat down in a small classroom for dinner, it was very cold – to the point where I was wearing too puff jackets, courtesy of Marmot who’ve provided us with tents, bags and warm kit.
As I crawled into my sleeping bag, I was certain of one thing. Tomorrow would be just as exciting, if not more so!