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When I went to the Rally with the guys from Pampilhosa da Serra and Janeiro de Cima

When I went to the Rally with the guys from Pampilhosa da Serra and Janeiro de Cima
active nature
Bumpy tracks, nimble hands at the wheel, adrenaline, good humour, snacks, drink and breathtaking scenery are the ingredients of a memorable story.

With friends or family, conversations often take us back in time, recalling stories and people. These conversations often start with a simple “and when...?” and go on, if needs be, for many hours.

And when I went to see the Rally with the guys from Pampilhosa da Serra and Janeiro de Cima? This is one of those stories that I sometimes tell and now I share it with you.

It started on 30 May 2019. If, when I woke up, I was told that the following night would be spent outdoors, on top of a mountain in Góis County, I would have laughed. Everything indicated that it would be a normal day at work, but shortly after getting to the office, I knew that I wouldn’t be staying there and that the Rally of Portugal would dictate my schedule. The idea was to accompany a group from Pampilhosa da Serra and Janeiro de Cima who had come together to watch the race from the front row. By mid-morning I’d booked a hotel room. After a phone conversation with Miguel, my link with the group, I quickly realised that the best way to get the job done would be to do it like them: gather some supplies, find a sleeping bag and follow, from the beginning to end, what would turn out to be a small adventure. The only thing left to do was confirm schedules, sure in the knowledge that our departure wouldn’t be happening before the end of the day. The afternoon was already running towards its end and the agreed time: 19.30, Pampilhosa da Serra.

 


It was almost 9 pm when the start took place. About two dozen people, 6 jeeps, 2 light jeeps - I’m in one of them, with Miguel - 1 trailer, lots of food, even more drink. The first stop would come shortly afterwards. Another jeep was expected. Dusk, 4 blinkers on and meeting in the middle of the asphalt.
 

The road was narrow and the convoy got in the way of other vehicles. The traffic, taking into account the time and place, was heavier than usual. But this was no ordinary day. It was the day that marked the return of the Rally of Portugal to the Central Region, after 18. “They’re going to steal our place. The longer we delay, the further behind we will fall", I heard them say. The decision was made to set off and postpone the wait until the nearest village, where thirst and hunger were quenched. When the last member arrived, we headed towards our final destination.

The obstacle and the solution

It was about 10.30 pm when we arrived at the village of Capelo, already in the county of Góis, and at the climb that would give us access to Spectator Area 8. First obstacle: two GNR officers, whose presence on the ground was very visible and who informed us that access had been closed since 5 pm. It won’t be possible to go on. At that time, all accesses were closed. There were sections where it would be possible to go up from 5 am, but this one would not even open then. This information, Miguel pointed out, was not on the official website of the event, but there was nothing to be done. Calls here and calls there, solutions were sought and, always in good spirits, fingers are pointed at those who have not kept to the timetable: “If the ‘girls’ had not taken so long, we would be further ahead”, said several voices. By phone, a friend informs Miguel that there is a trail in Celavisa that leads to the sought-after spectator area. So that’s where we were going. Anticipating the harshness of the terrain further on, this is where Miguel’s car stayed. We switched to the jeep driven by Pedro, who was accompanied by Carlos.

Near midnight, Celavisa. We stopped to wait for further directions and, incidentally, to eat and drink. There was bread, pizzas, roast chicken and grilled meat and, as you’ll see later, much more. And, of course, there was beer.

We caught up, we talked about everything and nothing, we took advantage of the still-open café to replenish our caffeine levels. As time pressed on, we started to express our eagerness to reach our destination and become impatient for the waiting to end. “But are we never going to get going again?”, I was sometimes hearing. Meanwhile, someone was pointing to a light at the top of the mountain that would be the way up and said “I think that mountain is too steep for us to climb”. Answer: “That’s a star, not the top of the mountain!”.

The adventure of climbing the mountain

It was almost one o’clock in the morning when the engines started again and we followed the new directions. Another light car fell by the wayside. From here on, only jeeps would be able to follow the course, and I quickly saw why. Narrow, bumpy, steep tracks, on the edge of precipices that demand respect. ”I’ve seen TTs easier than this”, said Carlos. It was the first time I had walked down paths like this and I felt a strangely pleasant nervousness. It was the adrenaline running through my whole body, which was accentuated when I looked out of the window and it was as though I was in an aeroplane and I could see the street lights far below. We went up and up and up and I realised that, after all, the mountain was really a peak and not a star. At a fork with no signpost, Carlos got out of the car to look at the ground and figure out which way was the right one (he’s never been wrong). On tighter bends you have to stop. Once again, Carlos got out of the jeep to help with the manoeuvres: “Further back. Further on. Turn this way. Now turn that way. Got it”. This was the jeep that was towing the trailer and so more caution was needed. After all, that was where (almost) everything was stowed that would guarantee us a few hours well spent: tables, stools, chairs, generator, the draft beer machine - perhaps the most valuable item we would transporting – and all the paraphernalia necessary for its operation. Their expert hands on the steering wheel and their experience on terrain like this were worth it.

It was two o’clock in the morning when we reached the top of the mountain. Normally, it would be almost deserted, but today it looked almost like a city. We were told there were no more spaces. A fright that soon passed when we realised that there was still plenty of room after all.

Position taken, the tent began to take shape, the priority being to turn on the generator and get the beer machine working. Then, you had to set up tables, benches, cut the ham, fill the table and have a real dinner. Some said they needed to sleep, but it was not expected to happen any time soon. Like any good Portuguese bar, there was music, of course, and the great classics of Portuguese music are not to be missed. What is national is good.

 

Attending events is not exactly a new experience for any of the group members. They are lovers of motor sports and frequently attend and participate in such initiatives. The organisation and logistics show that they are old hands at doing this sort of thing. “Sometimes things go wrong”, Carlos told me later. But, as far as I can tell, nothing was missing this time. Not the coffee machine, not the electric grill.

Jokes, discussions and bets

Bearing in mind that the Rally had not been held in these parts for about 18 years, it’s some time since they’d seen it up close. Others, on the contrary, have seen it often, here or there. They share these and other experiences. “Remember when we went to the border?” someone is heard asking. “In Arganil, it rained cats and dogs”, says Bruno. “I went to see it in the Algarve”, says João.

The night goes by and the food, drink and music are constantly on hand. Some end up sleeping, others stay up and, between food and drinking and chatting, annoy those who are sleeping.

Gypsy, brother, uncle, cousin and other less diplomatic forms of address are used to show the closeness that develops between those who share their roots or have shared experiences over many years. There are jokes that turn into arguments and arguments that end in jokes or bets that, in the end, go unsettled. The good mood and relaxed conviviality prevail and that is what makes the trip worthwhile.

 


Let the party begin (or continue)

The sun begins to rise and brings with it a new day, the 31 May. There are cars and vans and jeeps and trailers and tents and people everywhere. And there is a landscape that will keep catching my eye for a good part of the next few hours.


As time passes, attention focuses on the Serra da Lousã, to which we have a direct view and from where the cars will come. It’s almost 10 am and, in the distance, you can already see dust in the air. The first car passes around 10.30 am.
 

It attracts attention, as do the following ones, but it doesn’t take long before interest is once again focused on that almost-camp, the company, the snacks that don’t stop appearing at the table, the drink, the more or less pleasant conversations. The Rally has now taken second place. “This is worth being here for”, I hear the other Pedro in the group saying, gesturing at what surrounds us.

The cool of dawn gives way to almost scorching heat. Full glasses and bodies in the shade is what you want. After the first leg, well after 1 p.m., I take my backpack, say “goodbye and thank you” and cross the track. I get ready, with Miguel and Carlos, to start a very steep descent of about 5 km. It is the same one we wanted to climb the night before but were not allowed to and, at the bottom, was the car that will take us home, waiting for us.

I’m not a fan of Rallying, nor of (not) sleeping in a sleeping bag in the open air, but I tell you that everything I saw, heard and experienced in these hours will be kept in the chest of good memories. The Central Region is lucky to have the Rally back, providing the perfect excuse for these adventures. But... with these landscapes, with these people, it’s easy for me to say that the Portugal Rally is also lucky to be able to take place in the Central Region and, in particular, in the Aldeias do Xisto. A suggestion: If you saw it, go again next year. If not, make sure you don’t miss out on this experience.

 


Ah! At the wheel of a Toyota Yaris, the Estonian Ott Tanak was the winner of this year’s Portugal Rally. The Belgian Thierry Neuville, last year’s winner, was second in a Hyundai, and World Championship table leader Sébastien Ogier in a Citroën secured third place on the podium with a victory in the last special. But this... you already knew!

Text: Andreia Gonçalves

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