Alastair's Blog

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.

The Burning Man Festival - What an Experience!

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, October 24, 2014

On our way to the Burning Man FestivalIn September I had the surreal and exciting experience of visiting the Burning Man Festival. What an assault on all senses! For anyone not familiar, this is an annual event, first started as a small event on San Francisco's Baker Beach and now taking place at Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It's stated ethos is to be a "vibrant, global, culture of like-minded individuals who seek to live their lives in a more meaningful, powerful & self-expressed way".

The event takes place on an ancient lakebed, known as the playa, and attracts over 60,000 people every year. 

Art is an integral part of the festival and there is a theme each year. Participants are encouraged to find a way to help make the theme come alive and you can see from some of the photos and videos that people really take this on board with great enthusiasm! There are large-scale art installations, costumes and a theme camp. At the end of the festival, they burn the huge wooden burning man effigy.

Lots of people turn their vehicles into art installations, for example this skull car - we helped them unload and set up camp, because they'd helped us with tickets and early entry. It was tricky to get off the trailer!

 

 

At night there were thousands of decorated bicycles - virtually everyone has one and so did we, thanks to Tracey and Hayden. You need them to get round the Black Rock City, which covers a huge area.

 

 

Here's a short video showing a night on the playa, with the Burning Man effigy in the background, art installations everywhere in the desert.

 

It rained! They closed the gates for new entrants and banned driving on the Playa as it turns to glue. Here I am trying to clean my feet having been to the blue room (porta-poti) with a barbeque tool! And a picture of another decorated vechicle.

 

Two Burners in deep meditation! Burning Man, Black Rock City, Black Rock Desert. Plus a picture of me under the burning man!

 

This structure is known as "The Embrace" and the day after I took this photo, it was set on fire. This is deliberate and is all part of the Burning Man festival. Plus some more of the amazing art installations and some people really embracing the theme of "freedom of self-expression!"

 

 

Here I'm trying to show the scale of the festival with a shot of the Burning Man effigy, at a distance. And another decorated vehicle.

 

 

People even get married while they're here on the playa, there are lots of these going on. Don't know who that other chap is!

 

This is the Burning of The Embrace, quite early on, there's a large crowd watching, most haven't been to bed yet at 7:30am! And there we are, outside our motor home, on our last night at the festival.

 

The last night on board the skull car - and the Sea Monster in action - note the blue rooms in the foreground (these ae the toilets)

 

We had a flat tyre on the Winnibago on the way home - but with Tracey in charge and excellent team work all round, we managed to get it sorted out without too much drama!

 

Bit of a panoramic video showing the scale of the event and just how much is going on at all times.

 

 

A video showing the Burning of the Embrace.

 

More videos - a very nice bicycle!

 

A night time burn, complete with fireworks

 

 

 

Hero 1000 Mile Trial

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, September 12, 2014

1000 Mile TrialRe-run of original 1900 Trial

July continued with the Hero 1000 Mile Trial Website - this is a rally for pre-war cars and is a re-run of an original race first held in 1900. The original race took 20 days, but we did it in 7 - that's progress for you.

I took my lovely 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500, recent winner of the Paris Madrid for the second year running and was accompanied by my navigator, Catriona.

We were waved off by an RAC Club official with the actual flag that was used to start the original rally in 1900 and followed a route as near to the original as was practical. The route started at Epsom in Surrey, went all the way up to Edinburgh and then back again, taking the picturesque route through lots of lovely towns and villages, including my namesake village of Caldwell, pictured below!

 

Leaving home to get to Epsom                   At the start in the Alfa

Leaving home in the Alfa  At the start in the Alfa

The objective of the original trial, was to allow the people of Britain to see the wonders of the then new motor car. Many people laughed at the idea that the motor car could become a commercial success and so the Automobile Club organised the rally to show people what these cars could do.

 

My namesake village of Caldwell!               Being waved off by the original flag

On my way to my namesake village of Caldwell 

There were many highlights on the route, one of which was having cocktails and dinner on the Royal Yacht Britannia, pictured here. The other was a very moving and well done memorial on Leith waterfront to the heroes of the Merchant Navy who ran the gauntlet of the U-boats to take freight to Russia and win the war. We also visited Belvoir Castle, which iis a pretty bonkers place!

 

On the Royal Yacht Britannia                      At Belvoir Castle

Royal Yacht Britannia  Outside Belvoir Castle

It was a pleasure, as always, to have the marvellous Wyatt sisters as fellow competitors, in their Austin 7.

There was a bit of lighthearted pranks during the trial, with some fellow competitors (who shall remain nameless!) who were a little worse for wear (code for drunk) converting a sad Morris Minor into a plant pot!

We managed to come third overall, and won our class - we made two silly schoolboy errors on tests, which cost us two minutes. Then we had the Barantz trip meter go wrong, which cost us time. We replaced it and then the new one did the same! As you'd expect it waited for us to be in the middle of a regularity test on the last day to ambush poor Catriona at the worst possible moment - so it goes!

 

The Morris Minor Plantpot!                         More plant-based pranks!

The Morris Minor Plantpot  Plant-based pranks

 

The lovely Wyatt sisters - there's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing!

The Wyatt sisters in the rain The Wyatt sisters in dry weather

 

At the finish line!                                      Alfa livery - sponsored by Space Station

The Alfa at the finish line  Space Station Storage Sponsor




Following the Wyatt sisters in their Austin 7 - behind a tractor






  

      

 


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Mum the Brave (in Scotland)!

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, August 08, 2014

Mum the Brave (in Scotland)!


Fresh from the Paris to Madrid rally, Mum came over towards the end of June and joined me for a holiday up in Scotland with some friends and their dog. We took the Rolls as that is Mum’s favourite car and is lovely and comfortable on such a long journey.

Our trip took in the Isle of Skye, Harris, Lewis, Glencoe and the Highlands – it was lovely to spend time with Mum en route. All was going well until Mum tripped over a ship doorway on the Ferry to Harris and she fell badly, injuring her head. 

We had to call an ambulance which took her to Stornaway Hospital on the Isle of Lewis, where she had many stitches in her scalp and spent the night there.





Before and after photos of Mum! 

   

Injured head. What injured head? Mum fully recovered!

The next day she was fine, never upset or bothered by her first unplanned visit to a hospital in 96 years! The amazing woman was alert and cheerful as ever and carried on with the rest of the trip as though nothing had happened and is now absolutely fine. 



And the thrills and spills of driving with me - as seen by my mother

The glorious countryside of Scotland - not to be missed!






Being watched by the local wildlife

We had some encounters with the local wildlife, meeting deer on the hotel lawn and even a highland cow feeding her calf in the middle of a road. All in all a lovely holiday and fantastic to spend such a special time with Mum.



  

      

 


Social media links updated

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2nd win for 2nd Paris-Madrid Rally 2014

Alastair Caldwell - Friday, August 01, 2014

And we're off for a second year aiming for a second win!

Starting the 2nd Paris to Madrid Rally in May with my novice but trusted American navigator, Laurel Smith, in my 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C SS Torpedino, we felt mildly confident having won the inaugural event last year. But of course we also knew that there was another strong field of competitors ready to take that crown from us. But never being one to look for anything other than first place we took off at speed (skip to 1m 18s of the H&H Classics Rally Round video on the left) to see us zooming away!)

The rally ran over four days in May and had an amazing field of veteran, vintage and pre-war machines and their equally competitive and combative drivers and navigators - oh what fun was in store for us over the next few says. The rally took us on a beautiful and evocative route through France and Spain to compete for the prestigious Charles Jarrott Trophy (more of that lower down!!). 

After a flying start the first day was cold and wet but the car ran well and Laurel did a good navigating job under enormous pressure. No results at the end of the day because in the awful weather conditions just finding our way was hard enough - being on time was an added bonus! Coping with the adverse elements in an open car with no weather protection (apart from a sense of humour!) was 'interesting'. We did however have a rare break in the weather when we stopped for lunch and the sun broke through - someone up there took pity on us and let us relax a bit while we were taking on board sustenance. 

On the second day we managed to get a lead going but we managed to damage all four rims at once in a tiny French village where the road got just too narrow for the wide bodied Alfa! The road was wide enough for the body but the wheels were just too much for it. One of the trick pressure sensing tyre valves got ripped off it was that tight. Never thought I'd use the phrase "My what big rims you've got"!! But then you'd expect nothing less from me...

We were still leading the rally after two days as we moved into day three. The car is running well and Laurel is doing a great job navigating, not only having to cope with actually finding the route and the tricky timing but also having to contend with some more horrendous weather (again!).

The car has no weather protection (thanks to Retrospeed Magazine for catching us at a dry point!) at all and at times today we were just swimming inside the car, bad for us and not good for the car either. The Italian name for a car like this is Barchetta which means little boat and it has been!

At the end of the day we stayed in a Pamplona Hotel and as we listened to thunderstorms and the rain lashing down it looked and sounded like the final day was going to be no better weather-wise, but at least we were learning how to cope in our mobile swimming pool.... 

Sadly there are no tests this year because of insurance limitations so rally is not as competitive as last year but at least the road book is working really well (last year there were a few problems which saw some cars going in every direction for the whole rally!) We retired that evening hoping that the storms would wear themselves out during the night and fingers crossed for some glorious Spanish sun to end the rally.


At the end - the final day

Last day turned out to be pretty easy - if you went the right way which lots didn't! Laurel very pleased with herself (as she should have been) as we didn't take one wrong turning. And we did it again, winning in style for a second year running.

And back to that trophy...

The marvellous Charles Jarrott Trophy was presented to us and in my own shy and unassuming way I felt it was time to get a little excited about winning the trophy for a second year!!

What do you think - style icon or slightly over exuberant? Moi?





 

              


Photo courtesy of H&H Classic Rallies: hhclassicrallies.com

 


Social media links updated

You can now post on facebook or twitter by clicking on the social media icons on the left of the page and follow me on facebook, twitter and youtube by clicking on the social media icons at the top right of the page (these are all at the base of the page on a tablets & mobile phones). If you want to share on other social media channels just click the '+' icon on the left and select another social media channel

 


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