Alastair's Blog

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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The Great Amazon Adventure 2015

Alastair Caldwell - Thursday, November 26, 2015

This promised to be an intriguing event, travelling through the Amazon rainforest, driving on some of the most amazing raods in South America. A coast-to-coast drive from Suriname on the Atlantic coast all the way across to Lima in Peru on the Pacific coast, and on the way seeing French Guiana, Brazil, the mighty Amazon, Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Nasca Lines.

Here is a map of the rally route, superbly organised as usual by Bespoke Rallies

I decided to take the Mercedes 280SL with me on this trip, and apart from some badly worn tyres, it lasted pretty well on this very challenging route!

Here is the trusty 280SL outside the hotel in Paramaribo; And me, by the hotel pool drinking the local brew.

   


In Parbo now, there are lots of lovely old run down wooden buildings in the town; Suriname was formerly Dutch Guiana so there is a heavy Dutch influence here and some beautiful wooden buildings.

   


All the buses, have slogans all over them with these pictures of fit kids. Sadly most of the passengers do not look like this! 



After Parbo, we visited Parmaribo in Suriname. It has the world's biggest wooden cathedral.

   


The houses are very ornate and beautiful, here's another from Parmaribo and also the Mercedes outside the president's house.

   


On our first day we went from Paramaribo in Suriname to Kourou in French Guiana. Of course, no trip would be complete without a brush with the local police! They chased us for speeding but they picked on tail-end Charlie so we got away fine! We then had a fun wait for the ferry across yet another huge river, which forms the country's border.

   

We had no problems to enter French Guiana, amazingly it is part of the EU. Their currency is the Euro, they have French cops, the lot, this must cost the EU a fortune! It's now where the French launch the Ariane satellite rockets. Here we are boarding the ferry on our way across to French Guiana.

   

We left French Guiana, heading for another border and a ferry to Brazil. On the way we went to see the satellite launch site where the French send up their Ariane rockets and lots of smaller Russian ones. We had a lovely drive through the jungle to the Brazilian border, here we are waiting for the ferry in a small town on the bank of the Oiapoque River which forms the border, very hot and humid, no place for a white man at all! 

   


To Brazil now and another great day's driving with a long dirt section of road with lots of little wooden bridges, holes etc. We ended up bright orange "Tangoed" by the dust, as we caught and passed several vehicles in the dust. 

   

I had an embarrassing moment when confronted by a convoy of traffic coming off one of these one-way bridges after a blind brow. I had two options: one was to have a head-on with the lead car and the other was to take to the bushes. I chose the bushes! No harm done apart from my ego which will recover, and it gave Angus, a fellow rallyist, a triumph as he was able to winch us back up to the road. In Macapa now, about to board the ferry for our trip up the Amazon. 

   


We had very poor wi-fi in places so weren't always able to send photos, but we had a great few days sailing up the Amazon on the good ship Bruno going from Macapa to Santarem. It took 4 hours to load the boat, it was just like a movie set. There were no vehicles, cranes or mechanical devices, everything was manhandled on and off the boats, hundreds of people involved, complete ordered chaos, great fun.

The cars were loaded on very slowly on wooden gang-planks across a big gap, then two hundred turns later lined up on the lower deck. We had two nights and a full day sailing with many passengers all sleeping and living in hammocks, we all bought hammocks as well and joined in though we did have tiny cabins with a/c and loos. Santarem to Itaituba was a good trip but I had a bit of a problem as my engine's sump sprang a leak towards the end of the day. I had to buy lots of oil to get to the hotel but found some good guys to help and soon fixed it by welding it up myself. Itaituba to Jacareacanga was the best drive yet, 370 km through the the jungle through the Amazon national park, wonderful red dirt road, tiny wooden bridges and for the last half, a wet road which made staying on the road very tricky and passing vehicles in either direction very exciting as the road was like ice as soon as you were out of the wheel tracks, just like the dry line in racing. My friends the Kanes had a bad day in their Mustang as it broke the rear axle casing and then the half shaft itself but with my supervision and fantastic help from the locals we got it mobile again overnight. Great effort and on a Sunday to boot! They had to drive very slowly to Porto Velho two nights away when an arriving navigator brought them new parts. Our next stop was Apui, more jungle, more dirt and dust. We were not a pretty sight and at the end of the day, tired and dirty but happy with the driving and the trip.

Here we are on the boat trip up the Amazon, with a well-loaded pick-up leaving the port and another Amazon ferry like ours, waiting to depart.

   


We had dinner on board the boat, it was absolutely delicious, although it was hard to say exactly what it was! And here is a fellow passenger having a watermelon dinner, there are lots of them everywhere and they are just delicious.

    

 

If you've ever watched one of the "Top Gear" specials, this scenario might ring a bell or two for you! Here we are getting off the ferry, having crossed the Oiapoque River. Click the Play button on the video to watch.




Here is the Mercedes on board Bruno, our transport up the Amazon for two nights and one day.  We all bought hammocks and joined hammock culture!

   


There were 3 classes of travel on the boat: middle deck, air con & hammock space; top deck, open hammock space; and then posh air con cabins, we all used the hammocks during the day. 

This is another typical wooden bridge. There are masses of vultures along the road all the way often with roadkill to clean up.

   


Then we had a problem with the car - it had oil bleeding from the sump. It was an easy fix but was embarrassing on the ferries.  And here I am at an informal petrol stop where it was dispensed in 2-litre bottles, all very efficient and reasonable price considering the alternative which was walking 600 Km with no gas station!

   


Dead Mustang on the road behind the Mercedes, awaiting rescue. Their rear axle housing broke and then the half-shaft inside gave up as well so no drive. It was expertly fixed that night by local garage. Dead Mustang being revived on the hoist most of the night.

   


Light aircraft using the road as a runway, lots of this going on and this particular one was very impressive as it must have been very heavy and it was very hot so it was below the trees for what seemed like forever before it eventually staggered into the sky.  On the road next day and crossing on yet another River ferry.

   

3 classics on the rally

A rare sight of the 3 classics on the rally waiting for a ferry together. We'd had a day off the previous day, so the Mustang was further repaired and got a new non-welded half-shaft and was then fighting fit. The Lotus front suspension collapsed the day before when we had another long run on some atrocious badly maintained roads, but it was welded up and was ok as there weren't many dirt roads after that. Shame as I enjoy the challenge :). Ferries were barges with tugboats fastened by the bow on a swivel fitting like a tow hitch, strange but very effective. This one was named in homage to Senna.

   

Very grubby Mercedes with hundreds of butterflies massacred on the front, there were huge amounts of them all along the road on the last jungle day, it was very tricky all day as there had been massive thunderstorms which by sheer luck we missed but this turned the road into a very slippery affair. 

   

Rio Branco to Puerto Maldonado

We had a very busy few days after this, long runs in extreme heat and humidity leaving Brazil and crossing into Peru. The last day's drive in Brazil was a mixture of good and bad, several hundred kilometers of rough but good fun dirt road with rough bridges to cross, then really bad dirt roads with corrugations that shake the car to bits, followed by good tarmac with bad holes and some like bomb craters! Crossing into Peru took a while but it was all good humoured and a bit of a party. The Peru roads were a complete contrast, flat smooth tarmac all the time. We spent a good day off in Puerto Maldonado, took a dawn trip to see thousands of parrots feeding on special clay that occurs naturally on the river bank and then in the afternoon another trip to a guided jungle walk to a walkway of little wooden suspension bridges high up in the canopy. All in enormous heat and humidity, we all survived ok! I gave the rally doctor a ride, which he seemed to enjoy! 

   


During our travels we saw lots of teak being transported on the roads. Here are Toby and Phenella with Rod the photo man on the parrot lick trips. A lovely shot of dawn on the river, we had a 4.30 start!! Parrots in the trees waiting their turn to get to the magic clay 

   

   

Our next excursion was a trip to the aerial walkway, where we passed a stall selling piranha fish, which are huge and apparently quite delicious, or so I'm told.

   


Here you can see us at the start of the walkway, in the canopy. And there is Allison, halfway across a very wobbly suspension bridge!

   


We had an impromptu lunch at 15,000 feet, it was fish and boiled potatoes washed down by coca tea, very good. Also evidence of a slight wound on the Mercedes, caused by the Mustang!

   


We met a very cheery pineapple sales lady - there are lots of fruit stalls around, delicious!

    


Peru

Now we reach Peru and see a lovely lady waiting in her Sunday best to go to market in the family alloy shelled Tuk-Tuk. Marvellous old flame tree in a local park, with Sunday football going on in the background.

   


Machu Picchu trip

The next part of our trip was to Machu Picchu. We got our first view arriving after a 2 hour train trip and then a very steep climb up the mountain on expertly driven tourist buses for half an hour, but it's well worth it when you get there. It was lovely weather when we were here, cool nights, hot but dry days, heaven after the steaming jungle! Here I am in a temple doorway showing off the very bitten legs, midges who don't believe in repellent at all! One of the original water sources that supplied endless water which allowed the city to be built where it is. Central courtyards where games, parties etc were held. Me with the astrological stone that they used to mark the passing of the seasons. 

   

   


We came across a cheeky local, looking for food and conversation! And these are reflecting pools, used for observing the stars.

   


This is a marvellous condor carving, with wings behind it, matching rock and mountain carving.

And here we are having another lunch, this time it's fish and chips while wearing a fur hat!

   


Visiting a floating island on Lake Titicaca near Puno

We made an early start the next day (3:30am) as there was talk of strikes in the Cusco area over government proposals to privatise the tourist sites, so it proved when we were faced by rocks across the road about 5.00 am. We got busy moving them and protesters putting them back then launched the car over them and the next one and made our escape, they intend to block all the roads in Cusco province, which will be horrid to be caught up in. All the rally made it through one way or another. We then made it to Puno early and went on a boat trip to the floating islands where the people went to get free of the Spanish. Very touristy but still nice. Display of produce; General island scene with rallyists; Island ladies dressed to meet us; Little model of island life 

   

   


We went condor watching one morning and saw some really close up. We'd had a great drive the day before on really tough dirt roads but good fun for me. We also saw pink flamingos on the salt lakes. The car is fine in general but is refusing to start at high altitude and in this heat. We went to just under 16,000 feet yesterday and again today, all fine as long as we don't stop! I spent last night taking out and repairing the water radiator as I realised the strike busting crossing the rock barrier had pushed the water radiator back onto the power steering pulley which had now made a hole in the radiator. It took a couple of hours work with Paul's help, we had it all done and then went off to dinner. After condor watching we went back to the hotel, then a leisurely drive down to Arequipa, only 7,735 feet so everybody was feeling friskier, especially Toby the support mechanic, who felt the altitude badly and has been using oxygen all the time and was still unwell. Click the Play button on the video to watch the condor.



Little girl Peruvian girl with her mother on the Condor site stall; Mercedes and Lotus at rest; Potato types in a tiny museum; There are lots of roadside shrines to people killed on the road, some of them are very touching and well done.

   

 


Arequipa to Paracas

We had another long day driving 784 kilometers from Arequipa to Paracas, great roads with lots of traffic to keep me interested. We averaged 95 kph, so lots of fun. The next day was a day off to sort out the cars and get them ready to ship. Mine is going off to Panama to do the Maya Classic next February, this is a drive from Panama to Veracruz, Mexico. These photos show: a moody shot of the active volcano which overlooks Arequipa; Our first view of the Pacific Ocean, coast to coast in 21 days; We stopped to climb the viewing tower to see some Nasca lines; Big dunes and great views all the way along the coast; Nasca line drawing in the desert, hand of the frog! 

   


The end of the rally

The rally was all over now, the Mercedes is being delivered to the shippers today where it is being sent to Panama to do the Mayan Classic early next year. We then went off to the airport, back to UK, then straight off the next day to do the Thunder Dragon in India and Bhutan in the Porsche 912. It's hard work but someone's got to do it! Some pics of badly worn Mercedes tyres; George the rally doctor in the Merc after new tyres have been fitted; Lima evening rush hour traffic from hotel room, pollution and traffic is a big problem in Peru, it's rare to see the sky! And here I am doing a bit of Merc servicing to prepare her for the Mayan Classic. 

   


You can see even more photos and videos of this and other rallies on my Facebook page, please head over there and "Like" the page to follow other rallies that I take part in. 


TransAm Rally - June/July 2015

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, July 24, 2015

With a combined age of 211 years, my mother, my 1963 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and I have just returned home from the three-week 2nd TransAmerica Challenge, finishing fifth overall and second in our class. Mother was my navigator for the trip and she did a sterling job, having done the 1st TransAm with me in 2012. The TransAm is a 9,500km classic car rally from Halifax, Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada, all the way across to San Francisco on the west coast of the United States. En route we stopped at such places as Quebec, New York, Buffalo, Bismarck, Rapid City, Idaho Falls, Reno and Eureka. You can find out more about the Rally itself on the Endurance TransAm Rally website.

Route for the 2nd TransAm 2015

 

We got to the starting location early so managed to do some sight seeing. Nova Scotia is very nice and the people very friendly, a lot like NZ in fact. Got the cars on Saturday and started on Sunday from the Citadel, a historic fort in the centre of Halifax City.

Alastair and Dorothy in Halifax Nova Scotia   Nova Scotia license plate

Before the rally started, we lunched at a lovely vineyard and ate some beautiful lobster as well as beautiful wines. And we saw a very precise speed limit sign in suburban Cleveland!

lunch in a vineyard   speed limit sign, 7.5 mph!

We even made it into the Halifax Chronicle & Herald, in an article titled "Mom, 97, and son team up for Trans-America road rally" and this lovely photo.

Mum's photo in the Halifax Chronicle & Herald 

 

And here we are in the Rolls at the start of the rally in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We stayed in a fantastic hotel, the Chateau Frontenac, easily the biggest building in Quebec. Mum had a fantastic room and loved it! Going through a covered wooden bridge in New Brunswick.

At the start of the rally   Chateau Frontenac hotel   driving through a covered wooden bridge

 

Next we were off to Buffalo and here we are having dinner. The Rolls on the beach on Lake Huron. We posed with the local police car in Atlanta, Michigan - the cop left his car with the motor running for more than an hour while we had lunch! And then we were crossing the huge bridge over Lake Michigan and Huron where the two lakes meet.

Alastair and mum having lunch in Buffalo   The Rolls on the beach at Lake Huron

Rolls posing with a police car   Crossing Lake Michigan

Next we visited the Isle de Orleans outside Quebec where we saw a huge waterfall and the complex of piping used to collect the syrup from Maple trees, hundreds of trees are done this way at once. Here I am at a street fair, and mum looking cool in a restaurant.

Alastair eating popcorn at a street fair   Dorothy in a restaurant  

huge waterfall   collecting maple syrup from the trees

After Isle de Orleans, we visted Bay City, having spent two nights in Buffalo, a day of which was good as the weather had been ferocious at times on the road and we had done 300 miles as well so all a bit tiring for Mum. We had a visit from Mum's niece Susan from Cleveland and old family friend Winnie who lives in Toronto now, but who lived with us for years when she was an art student in Maidenhead. Much talking and laughter and Susan got lots of old family tales from Mum. There was by chance a big annual art fair in the streets just along from the hotel so we spent the day there looking and then took Mum and the rest back to a lovely restaurant we had found, more fun and laughter.

Then we headed into the States where we stayed for the rest of the run. Sadly all the competition so far was either very easy regularities which means they are decided by one or two seconds and rushing round race tracks which are great fun but the Rolls is not the most agile at this, so at this point we were 13th overall, which could be unlucky!  Mum was in fine form, navigating like a trooper and as alert as ever.

In Michigan, we were stopped by a very nice young state trooper, who happily didn't give us a ticket for doing 79mph in a 55mph speed limit area! He got to pose with the Rolls, note Mum lurking in the car. she needed her sun hat as the Webasto sun roof was in daily use!

pulled over by the police for speeding   the very nice young state trooper

Next we crossed the mighty Mississippi, although we were high up so it wasn't so mighty. The rally stopped for a few minutes as a tree had fallen across the road and we had to wait until enough people were there to move it aside. One competitor whose pre-war Alvis failed on the first day bought this Datsun 240Z and was rebuilding it every night, it was a good car by the end of the rally! And here's mum enjoying the sun.

Dorothy enjoying the sun   Datsun 240Z

On a boat trip on the Missouri, we had a bottle of wine, note the name on the bottle! Mum was in fine form. We saw some interesting statues - a big statue of a Harley Davidson engine in Sturges, they were expecting three million bikers after we were there!!!; Biker statue outside a huge bar in Sturges, and a really cool support vehicle on tow behind a very flash camper 

Dorothy with a bottle of aptly named Flipflop wine   Harley Davidson engine statue

Biker statue in Sturges   Cools support vehicle on tow behind camper

Parked at the side of the road, here we have two classics together, one from the UK and one from the US. We also got a chance to see Mount Rushmore close up.

Two classics from the UK and USA   Mount Rushmore

We suddenly saw a sign in Montana, telling passing motorists not to go fast, in very positive language! We soon discovered why - the rock tunnels were pretty tight fits.

Slow Down sign   About to drive through a rock tunnel

The Rolls going through a very tight rock tunnel   Almost at the end of the rock tunnel

We were second fastest and gained three places doing the hardest gravel test of the rally. All in all, the car did well, the only failure was a flat tyre! It made the last day a bit nervous, having no spare.

Waiting for the gravel test    Flat tyre on the Rolls!

We finished in San Fransisco on the last Sunday at the Fairmont Hotel. We were fifth overall and second in class, which was a very good result considering the weight and size of our car. Mum was great throughout, never complaining as we went through big climate changes and some poor hotels on the way, ever alert and interested in her surroundings, and never showing a sign of wilting under pressure. Here's a short video of Mum waving the chequered flag at the finish line.

Waving the chequered flag

Here we are at the prizegiving dinner in San Francisco. And we found a Pohutakawa flower, here is mum holding it - these are native New Zealand flowers growing here in California.

Alastair and mother at the prizegiving dinner   Mother with a Pohutakawa flower

Here we saw a forest fire in the California hills, planes and helicopters were dropping water on it. And here we are arriving at the Fairmont Hotel on Knob Hill, San Francisco. It was great to have a good hotel after four rubbish ones!

Forest fires in the California hills   Arriving at the Fairmont Hotel in Knob Hill, San Francisco

 Still in California, we drove through the famous redwood trees, quite literally! And the three of us at the finish line: the car, Mother and I add up to 211 years old!

Driving through the famous redwood tree   At the finish line

And here's the expert navigator in her plush office, and looking at hats in Half Moon Bay where we spent three days R&R before we flew home.

The expert navigator in her plush office   Mother looking at hats in Half Moon Bay

Finally, the Rolls at rest in the hotel car park. She could have driven back to Halifax, just like we drove back to New York after the first TransAm, great car!

You can see even more photos and videos of the rally on my Facebook page, please head over there and "Like" the page to follow other rallies that I take part in. 

 

Royal Rajasthan Rally - February 2015

Alastair Caldwell - Thursday, March 26, 2015

I've just got back from the Royal Rajasthan Rally, which is a 23-day event, starting in Delhi and driving through the colourful and historic state of Rajasthan, visiting Udaipur, Bundi, Jaipur and The Taj Mahal, amongst other places.

This was really a jolly with only three cars and no competition but we had a great time. Driving in India is never boring and neither is India itself. I tell people it's like being in a kaleidoscope and you don't even have to shake it to change the picture. We stayed in some lovely hotels throughout the trip and saw same great sights. We had a lot of fun with the Holi festival, a festival of colour which celebrates the arrival of spring. More of that below, as you'll see from some of the pictures!

You can find out more details about the rally on the Bespoke Rallies Royal Rajasthan website, and see the route we took.

Here we all are on the very first night having dinner in Delhi.

First night dinner in Delhi   Dinner in Delhi

And here I am before we start, inspecting the rally car - and all the cars lined up in the car park. We all had the same 4WD Toyotas, a model not sold in the UK. The cars were fine and gave no trouble at all throughout the event.

checking out the rally car   the rally cars in the car park

And here we are putting on the rally plates before the start.

 

We were allowed several rest days so that we could experience activities like a tour of the historic sights of Delhi, a tour of the Mandawa Open Air Museum, a camel ride and dinner under the desert stars in Jaisalmer. Here are some street scenes from Delhi and a video showing street food being made - vegetarian flat bread fried to order.

  

We managed to see a snake charmer with his pet cobra in action at the Gandhi memorial.

Snake charmer with pet cobra   Video of snake charmer

We also visited the historic Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur and visited a Bishnoi village where they protect the flora and fauna in the area. Here we are visiting the Gandhi memorial and a video of some southern Indian young women visiting the memorial.

Gandhi memorial   Video of southern Indian girls visiting the Gandhi memorial

We visited the golden city of Jaisalmer and saw this booze shop sign - it should read "chilled" but "child beer" sounds a lot better!

Chilled Beer sign   Jaisalmer Golden City

Lovely elephant painting and statue - maybe I'm back home at Space Station Self Storage PLC!

Elephant statue   Elephant painting

Making friends with the local wildlife & me at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, a wonderful building which appears to be floating in the Lake. We also visited a beautiful desert lodge called Jawai Leopard Camp and went out before dawn and saw 3 leopards on their way home from hunting - didn't get a chance to take any photos of that unfortunately, but it was very exciting to see them strolling across the rocks. We saw one of them sharpen his claws on a tree, just like you see domestic cats doing.

  

While we were there, the Holi festival took place. This is a festival of colour which celebrates the arrival of spring. They have a national holiday and everybody throws violently coloured powdered dye over each other, followed by water, and then have lots to drink - all great fun!

  

And some Holi festival dancing - it gets a lot louder and lot more colourful later!

Holi Hair   Video of Holi dancing

After Jaipur, we headed for Agra, where we saw the Taj Mahal, one of the Wonders of the World, built by Shah Jahan for his much loved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

  

And me, jumping for joy outside the Taj Mahal!

A visit to McDonald's in Delhi, here's the menu, the Rupee is about 95 to the pound. And a video of traffic in India - never a dull moment!

  

And finally some videos of the various elephant rides we did, one to Amber Fort at Jaipur; a bit of a race, then a big clean-up! and another ride in Jaipur.

   

You can see even more photos and videos of the rally on my Facebook page, please head over there and "Like" the page to follow other rallies that I take part in.


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