Ahead of the “Dakar Rally” in a solitary adventure January 18th, 2011
From the Pampas to the Atacama Desert: across the Andes in a new Kia Sorento
The “Dakar Rally” is in reference to a long-time off-road competition. This race, which has taken place in the first two weeks of every year since 1979, usually moves a huge convoy of hundreds of extremely prepared vehicles and thousands of people supported by a complex logistics system, across deserts and rough roads where nobody goes. The challenge is do it with a single production vehicle, equipped only with road tyres.
Alexandre Correia and Paulo Calisto, editor and photographer of the Portuguese off-road magazine Todo Terreno, have faced this challenge for the past seven years, leading the convoy without any support across the dramatic terrains of the race. For them, having a solid and reliable 4WD vehicle is the key to the rally. Last year they drove a Kia Sorento CRDi 4WD (Kia’s first generation Sorento), and did it again this year with the all-new Kia Sorento 4WD.
“We drove 7436km in the 15 days needed to complete the roundtrip rally between Argentina and Chile,” said Alexandre Correia. Two thirds of this distance was made on gravel roads, passing several days above the 4000m high mark on the Andes mountains. “Our goal isn’t winning the race, but proving that anyone can live a tremendous off-road adventure on the same terrain. We didn’t cross the huge sand dunes the other competitors did, we instead drove the Kia Sorento to a level of altitude that the race doesn’t normally go – a height where both men and machines can’t breath easily.”
The highest point reached by this expedition was the Abra Al Acay, a pass between mountains on the Puna region, north of Argentina. There, the GPS registered 4891m above sea level!
The Portuguese journalists started the adventure in Buenos Aires, just two hours after they landed in the Argentinean capital. “On the fist day, we drove more than 900km, the last 120km on the earthy tracks of the Sierras Chicas,” the mountains north of Córdoba, the second biggest town of Argentina. “We didn’t have time to waste, so we forgot the jet lag and start our expedition immediately. The comfort of the new Kia Sorento took care of us and that was one of the secrets of the success of this trip: even on the days that we drove more than 12 hours, we were always comfortable.” After two weeks of almost living in a car, neither Alexandre nor Paulo had any doubts about that!
“For us, the new Sorento represents a fantastic upgrade compared to the previous model, not only in terms of comfort. We feel that it’s efficient on roads and outside the asphalt we count on the 4WD system and the superior ground level to face the rough tracks,” explained Alexandre Correia.
The worst road they passed through during this trip was also one of the most beautiful: a section of the Ruta 1, between Caleta El Cobre e Paposo, north of Chile. “We found better tracks on the Atacama desert, but this road was especially difficult. It’s a forgotten track where only some fishermen go and nobody takes care of the road. The 90 km stretch beside the Pacific coast line and the Cerro Paranal mountain are incredible,” said Paulo, who captured more than 5000 photos during the trip. “Watching the contrast between the coloured mountains and the blue sky on the top of the Andes are unique,” he said, regarding his photographs.
“We know that it’s dangerous driving alone at night on those desert areas, but we couldn’t avoid that every day. So we gave ourselves some rewards: one night, for a few moments, we thought we were lost, but then found a big truck from a nearby mine and the driver confirmed that we are on the right track. When we go out of our car to talk with the truck driver, we looked at all the stars shining in the sky and we felt that it was a real privilege to see – for our eyes only! Only there, where the Atacama desert meets the Andes, was it possible to see the sky as we saw it.”
In fact, it isn’t by accident that the most important astronomy observatories are built on that region, north of Chile. However, when Correia and Calisto tried to visit the most important of those observatories, the European complex at Cerro Paranal — where some scenes from the 007 movie “Quantum of Solace” were filmed — they were disappointed, as visitors’ day would only be the following day.
But the adventure continued the next day when they drove the Kia Sorento inside the famous San Jose mine, near Copiapó, Chile. “Since the rescue of all 33 miners from their 69 day stay underground, the mine had been closed by the authorities. We were lucky that day because they made an exception for us and invited us for a guided visit,” says Alexandre.
The first to arrive in Buenos Aires, once again, Alexandre Correia and Paulo Calisto deserved a vacation but the Kia Sorento 4WD that they used continues to “work hard” on the Argentinean roads.