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    • So you had a worthy experience that challenged what you were expecting!? I couldn't have expected anything better, what you describe as profound surprise that change how we see the facts and people of this event, it is real life learning, forgetting any hardships due to fascination of being captivated and passionate, living in the moment. I'm all ears so to speak, looking forward to read and see what comes next. By the way, pictures are excellent quality too!

    • After hanging out at the Malle Moto camp for a little while, I left to find my AirBnB for the night. Rolling out through the gates, I felt a little antsy – would they let me back in with the bike? Or was this a one-off? I didn‘t dare ask, as if it would have broken some magic spell. Either way, I‘d wing it. I figured.

      My place was just a couple of miles away from the bivoauc, situated in the quiet residential area of Miraflores, one of Lima‘s most beautiful and modern districts. Miraflores feels a little like LA‘s Santa Monica and Venice Beach mixed into one, with a pinch of Mexico‘s Playa del Carmen, a touch of Spanish or Portuguese colonial old towns, and distinctly Peruvian hustle and bustle.

      Quickly, I lugged all my gear and panniers to the apartment, jumped in the shower, and changed into a t shirt and jeans. The humidity and heat were unbearable now, but I knew I couldn‘t miss a minute of the bivuoac life: I had no idea whether I‘d have the access pass for the next day, or the next, whether I would be able to talk to riders, whether I would be able to keep up, so I wanted to make the most of it for as long as I could.

      The bivouac had changed in my absence. Police and security officers at the competitors‘ gate had to make a little corridor for me to pass – local Pervians had come out to see the Dakar pilots, and the bivouac was now besieged with curious fans.

      Una foto! Una foto!, - the Peruvians yelled, trying to snap an image of me or a quick selfie with me. „I‘m not a competitor, I‘m just chasing the rally“, - I tried explaining, but it didn‘t matter. Una foto!

      Once inside the bivouac, feeling a little like an undeserving impostor, but, secretly, also a little like a rockstar all at the same time, I slowly made my way towards the car camp. I was hoping to say hi to Benediktas Vanagas, a Lithuanian car driver who has made Dakar famous back home by relentlessly competing each year despite all the odds – minuscule budget, bare bones of support – and this year, he was hoping to finally place among the top ten. It was Vanagas who told me he‘d help me with the bivouac passes whenever I needed them, so I wanted to ride over and say thanks.

      Vanagas‘ team was already there, working on his Toyota Hilux, but the pilot and the navigator weren‘t around yet. I rode back and forth from the car camp at the back to Malle Moto in the front – the bivouac was a long, rectangle-shaped camp with cars and trucks parked on the far southern side, quads, UTV‘s, and motorcycles in the middle and finally, the Malle moto camp at the northern end, right next to the fence separating the bivouac from the public access area known as the Feria Dakar where the podium was.On the Western side, the bivouac ended at the sea, and all the other three sides were fenced off.

      All around the chainlink fence, Peruvians flocked to catch a glimpse of the competitors and take photos. Una foto! became a mantra outside the fence; some of the most patient fans waited for hours to see their heroes. And when the Dakar competitors weren‘t around, ADV riders who‘ve come here to chase the rally, including me, were fair enough game. During the first few days in Lima, I saw ten to fifteen or more large adventure bikes parked near the entrances daily. Most often, they sported Colombian, Chilean, Mexican and Argentinean plates, but there were also Americans, Germans, South Africans, and Irish riders around.

    • After riding around the camp a few times, I stopped at a small green tent providing shade for two Kawasaki motorcycles and two men working on one of the bikes. It turned out to be the camp of Chilean rider Patricio „Pato“ Cabrera who was doing some final checks on his bike alongside his mechanic.

      „Hey, how‘s it going?“, - I stopped at the green tent. „Would you sign my tank?“.

      Pato smiled and nodded, so I parked Lucy near his bike and watched him sign #44 – his Dakar bib number – on the tank. We chatted a little about bikes, roadbooks, and navigation – Pato and his mechanic were working on the bike‘s navigation tower – and I asked them whose motorcycle was parked near them.

      „It‘s a Colombian rider, it‘s his first Dakar, so I‘m helping him a little“, - Pato explained. For him, this was his eighth rally, and he knew exactly what he was getting into.

      „But your first Dakar, that‘s always the most exciting – and the most terrifying. So I‘m just supporting the rookie a little“, - Pato told me.

    • During those first days in Lima and later during the rally, I‘ve seen this a lot – Dakar veterans taking newbies and rookies under their wing, sharing tips, advice, tools, encouragement and pats on the back. It was amazing to see how the bivouac, especially at the Malle Moto camp, instantly became a place of unquestionable camaraderie.

      „It‘s weird in a way, I mean, we‘re here to compete. But this rally is like no other. You kind of have to know when to race and when to share everything you‘ve got. We‘re the best of friends in the bivouac, and then we race each other in the dunes. Although even out there in the desert, if something happens to you, everyone‘s got your back“, - Balys later told me.

      I spent a couple of hours riding and walking around the bivouac, chatting to riders, mechanics, security guys, police officers, food truck chefs, support teams, journalists, photographers, fans – I was fascinated by everything and everyone. Most riders couldn‘t wait to get started; „I came here to race, not to deal with paperwork“, - Nathan Rafferty, a US privateer, told me as the registration and scrutineering process dragged on and on. Mechanics, on the other hand, were happy to have that little extra time to check and double-check everything, and inspect the vehicles after test rides.

    • „Once the rally begins, sleep is canceled, so we‘re just making sure we‘ve done as much as possible now“, - one of the truck mechanics told me.

      Peruvian police officers guarding the bivouac inside and out seemed thrilled to be there. „This is a very proud moment for us, because the Dakar is in Peru only this year. That makes it special. The whole world now watches Peru! Imagine!“, - and older police officer told me before asking to take a photo of himself next to Lucy. „A souvenir“, - he chuckled as I helped him climb aboard and took a photo of him, gripping Lucy‘s handlebars and grinning like the Cheshire cat.

      One of the food trucks selling chicken sandwiches, soft drinks and fries, was manned by two Venezuelan chefs. „Peru has been good to us. And it‘s so cool to be working right at the Dakar bivouac!“, - one of them told me. The Venezuelan refugee crisis made over 3 million Venezuelans leave their homes and migrate to the neighboring countries, fleeing the chaos and violence in Venezuela. But while other countries – Colombia, Brasil and Ecuador – were starting to tighten their immigration policies, Peru kept the doors open, and many Venezuelans fled to Lima to start a new life.

    • Journalists and photographers were mostly out in the dunes, documenting the rally stars – Stephane Peterhansel, Sebastian Loeb, Toby Price, Matthias Walkner, Adrien van Beveren and others – test their rally machines in the sand. I‘d meet them at the key points: the podium, the viewpoints in the dunes, the finish lines – but mostly, very few of them had the time or the energy to hang out at the bivouac. Their bosses – the big TV broadcasters, publishers, RedBull TV producers, all the big names – wanted the cool hero shots, the slow mo frames of rally superstars cresting a dune, sand spraying from under their tires, the stunning helicopter images, the clever angles and the interviews with the elite pilots. Nobody had time for anything else.

      Except for me. I‘d promised I would help Balys‘ team with whatever they needed, and I‘d promised ADV Rider that I would create content, but other than that, I was free to come and go whenever and wherever I pleased. Besides, this being my first Dakar ever, I was curious and excited about everything – every bivouac move, every new rider unpacking at the camp, every kind word, every explanation about bikes or cars or navigation, everything was so new and fascinaing and inspiring to me, so I just hung out, talking, exploring, making notes, recording interviews and snapping photos, and for those first two days in Lima, I was living in pure bliss.

    • Thanks for adding more updates! The above picture speaks about the complexity and critical importance of navigation tools on these machines - which to me appears in deep contrast with all other very spartan accoutrements on them.

    • Towards the evening, as most riders headed for their hotels (except for one brave Malle Moto soul who camped next to his motorcycle), I met Balys and his two friends and supporters, Marija and Kestutis, in Miraflores for drinks.

      Malle Moto riders are not allowed to have technical support, but, traveling as sponsors and as part of the media team, Marija and Kestutis were determined to help Balys with whatever they could – and were allowed to.

      „Our Peruvian fixer disappeared, which means we don‘t have any hotel reservations, and we also really need a local SIM card to stay connected... can you help?“, - Marija asked me.

      Chatty, giggly and in high spirits even at 4 am, Marija was the soul of our little party, always making sure everyone has been fed, watered, and rested. „I‘m like a Dakar mom, you know? There are plenty of us around. Have you seen how many women are there at the bivouac? That‘s wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers. It‘s us who make sure riders have stocked up on energy gels and bars, haven‘t forgotten their camelbacks, need fresh batteries or painkillers... especially at later stages, when they are so out of it they can barely remember their own names. You‘ll see“, - Marija said to me.

    • I was more than happy to help with hotels and phone cards: seeing Balys finish the Malle Moto class was going to be awesome, so if I could contribute to it, in however small part, I was thrilled to do it. I bought the SIM card (in Peru, you can‘t just buy a prepaid SIM card – you have to provide your ID, and for foreigners, this usually quickly escalates into a weird bureaucratic nightmare because very few places are able to process foreign passports for this. If you need a Peurvian SIM card quick, your best bet is to get a local Peruvian to buy one for you. In my case, I persuaded a Lima taxi driver to help me out) and spent the rest of the evening hunting for best deals on AirBnB and Booking for Marija and Kestutis. The places needed to be reasonably priced, close enough to the bivouac, have a laundry service or a washing machine, and allow crazy check in hours. Some places, like San Juan de Marcona, a small fishing village on the Peruvian coast, had nothing online, so I had to turn to my Peruvian friends for help to hunt down a hotel that would accept a reservation over the phone in broken Spanish.

    • Throughout the evening, Balys talked little. Marija did most of the chatting as Balys was nursing his beer, staring straight ahead into busy Lima traffic.

      „I just want to go now, you know? All this sitting around, filling in paperwork, driving around Lima and waiting, this is driving me nuts. I just want to get on the bike and go“, - he said. Usually in good humor, joking around and poking fun at himself, Balys seemed intense now, a little quieter, a little on edge.

      „That‘s how it begins. Thirty-six hours before the start, they all start going a little crazy. I guess your mind plays all sorts of tricks on you before the Dakar begins. The most important thing now is to make sure he eats a lot of the right calories and sleeps. He‘s always out there, making friends with everyone, talking to everyone, and that‘s great, but he needs to be well rested, so I‘m keeping an eye on that“, - Marija told me.

      I started to understand what she meant by „Dakar mom“. And she was right, too – food, sleep and rest were crucial now.

      Having said my goodbyes to Balys, Marija and Kestutis, I headed back to my tiny Miraflores room. My head was spinning; this was too much, too quickly, and I could just barely keep up mentally. Hiding in the bathroom – the noise outside the windows was too much – I recorded a short, briefing-style podcast audio commenting on the atmosphere in the bivouac and what was happening and typed up my write-up for ADV Rider. Only then, I realized I hadn‘t eaten anything. Fishing a small can of Mexican tuna salad out of my pannier, I wolfed the contents down and crashed for the night.

    • The podium day dawned warm but overcast – the fog off the ocean had engulfed the whole city. I quickly made coffee, ate a banana and hurried out to jump on Lucy and ride to the bivouac. Today was the day of glory and promise: one by one, the competitors would drive or ride up on the Dakar podium making a pledge to get back on it in ten days to themselves, their fans, their countries and their supporters.

      Balys was in high spirits now. Talking to Czech Malle Moto rider Jan Vesely, he busied himself in the bivouac putting some finishing touches on his KTM, sorting out riding gear, and rummaging through his toolbox. The bivouac was now alive with people, the roar of engines and diesel generators, the crunch of tires turning on gravel paths, the bustle of technical teams and mechanics.

      „Funny, I chased the Dakar on my bike last year, just like you, and now, because the podium will start with the highest bike numbers, I‘m going to open the Dakar podium. How crazy is that?!“, - Gee Motzkin, a New Yorker and a Dakar rookie I‘d befriended earlier, was grinning from ear to ear. His number was #149, and he was going to be the first rider on the Dakar podium that day.

    • Excitement at the bivoauc was infectious. As the mob of fans gathered around the public access area around the podium (una foto! Una foto!) and music blared out of massive loudspeakers, I felt like the fiesta was about to begin. Hanging out with Marija and Kestutis at the press area, I had the perfect view of the podium, TV cameramen and photographers huddled together at the barrier, journalists watching from a small press podium of their own a little further away.