Sunday, February 17, 2008

Penelope without the pitstop


In the course of packing up my house, I came across our application for the Plymouth-Dakar Challenge.

C, my very good friend, and I, were applying to take part in the original (and still the best, I suspect) old banger rally.

We were daunted by the fact we were girls, and knew little of cars, and also by the sheer intimidation of the idea of crossing the Sahara off-road in cars worth no more than £100.

This, I found, is what we wrote to persuade the organisers to let us in. Re-reading it made me smile and cringe all at the same time. I can't believe how flirty we were. Note also that the application was penned as if from C, given to the fact she works for Lonely Planet and we had hoped that this would help swing the decision in our favour.*

Could you benefit from two sassy** ladies who would dilute the heady cocktail of oil and testosterone that permeates the Plymouth-Banjul Challenge, make putty of the border officials, and still manage to fix their own car and beat you to the next stop?

Well, so could we...

Seriously though, we aren't far off the above description. I have travelled through some of the hardest of places. I've hitch-hiked across Western Tibet, sailed across Lake Turkana in Kenya, and travelled alone throughout South and East Africa. I've been in sticky situations, and I've got out of them.

But I've had to knuckle down and get a day job. Which happens to be with Lonely Planet so it keeps my traveller's gene happy. And while I can't get you a discount on your books I'm sure there is something I can do. Like apply to the LP Foundation for a donation to Gambian charities, for example.***

I've always longer to cross the Sahara but short of being forced against my will onto one of those overland trucks, the opportunity has not, until now, presented itself.

Anne-Marie is the finest companion you could wish for - funny, entertaining, and brilliantly practical. For many years she has organised annual canoeing/camping trips for our group of friends with the ultimate combination of military precision and a chilled-out attitude.

She is also an accomplished amateur photographer and should we be successful in our application, she hopes to document events and scenes along the way - warts and all.

She recently spent a year living in a small village in South Western Turkey so she has a good understanding of Islamic culture. Last year she travelled overland through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, crossing the world's highest salt lake in a 4x4, treading on alligator by mistake, and learning how to sand-board.

She has also dreamed of travelling through the Sahara. Her original dream featured Lawrence of Arabia but she'll settle for Julian of Devonia.****

The nuts and bolts of it? Extensive independent travel experience; Fluent French; Compass skills; At home in a tent; Ace drivers; Rusty mechanics (but we promise to complete a course before the Challenge); Skilled at culinary campfire improvisation; And just this side of slightly mad.

In short, we're Thelma and Louise with less histrionics, gunfire and driving off cliffs. Penelope without the pitstop.

We are the Pink Ladies.

Go on. You know you want to.



*We didn't need to worry about our application resting on C's employer status. Nor did we really need to work this hard at crafting such persuasive prose. I later found out that essentially, if you're an all-female team, you're pretty much in. It's such a male-dominated event that they need a few girls to balance things out.
**I can't believe we used the word 'sassy'. I hate that word. It sounds so try-hard.
***We did and they did. They donated £800 to the cause, and in total, we raised over £3,000 for a charity called Village Aid who specialise in sustainable aid for the most poverty stricken parts of Senegal and the Gambia. Later, the pink van ended up raising a further £250 at auction for a Gambian charity.
****This reference is a direct attempt at flirting our way in. The rally is organised by Julian Nowill, who I must point out is happily married (living in Devon) and never even came on the rally that year. Of course I did end up meeting my own Lawrence of Arabia. I met R on the edges of the Sahara itself. Albeit in a campsite built from breezeblocks that were masquerading as bedouin tents, and instead of a camel, he rode a 1951 Morris Minor with a novelty beer-drinking hat taped to the roof... but you know, it almost works.

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