A few days later, with our Fiat Punto painted as the South African flag, four excited South Africans set off from South West London towards the famed White Cliffs of Dover. A short ferry and we were in France where the trip would begin.
But this was not just any road trip… it was a banger rally – the Ramshackle Rally! Registration took place in Calais where a host of decorated cars dotted the parking lot and inside people were dressed in all manner of outfits. No theme was spared, from an A-team with the BA Barracas haircut to all sorts of 118 118 wannabees, hairy hillbillies and other funky hairstyles and outfits on display.
The next morning the fun really began. 78 bangers lined up with teams in full dress – teenage mutant ninja turtles to Japanese ninjas; tennis players to pro golfers; Mexican wrestlers complete with an adapted sun-roof wrestling ring; green-faced Martians; asylum seekers; a few swimmers; two sets of the Ron Burgundy KWN News Team; two teams of gorillas – one in a purple Cadburys van complete with drum sticks and the other in a ‘go ape Split’ and also a ‘Splitfire’ car – as the final destination was some 2,000 miles away in the city of Split in Croatia.
By far the best car from the outset (and which went on to win that coveted title) was a BMW with 15,000 bottle tops stuck to every inch of its exterior. As team SA PROMO, we went with something totally South African – the Big Five – an elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion inside – and our car, with a rhino horn on the roof, which we affectionately named ‘ry nou’. There were 19 South Africans taking part in this epic adventure out of 257 contenders. And a contest it was, daily challenges were issued and the race was on to claim the grand prize of £1,500.
Engines ignited, horns, sirens and loudspeakers fired up – and the gun went off! Ramshackle Rally Split 2009 had begun! With nothing but a next destination as our instruction and a rally ‘bible’ with vague guidance, we were left to our own devices to determine and decide which way we would go in order to end up in Switzerland. I had anticipated a colourful convoy of cars making its way across Europe, but as the bible states, ‘you choose your own adventure’!
Calais to Bern
Day one was plagued by ongoing downpours and our banger’s windscreen wipers tormented us with an evil form of water torture as they topped the list for most annoying sound in the world. We drove through Belgium and stopped in Luxembourg for lunch and a bit of exploring on foot. It was great to get off the motorways, but we’d under-estimated the time it would take and we only made it to the Swiss capital of Bern by 10pm where we ate and drank and soon called it a night, crawling into our cramped hostel accommodation.
Bern to Bormio
Bern by day was beautiful, with majestic buildings and a striking river running through it. We drove in glorious sunshine towards mountains of intense green, dotted with classic Swiss-style rooftops and lakes of incredible turquoise blue. Our challenge was to make it to the top of the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. At 2,758m it is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and the second highest in the Alps. 48 hairpin bends, and a good hour of hair-raising back seat driving later – we made it to the top with our car in tact, although smelling rather hot on the clutch and brakes. Many cars had to stop on the way up – with brakes smoking and some even failing, others had to take the long way round. A victorious photo was snapped at the top of the pass as we entered the winter ski resort of Bormio, our zero degree destination for the night.
Bormio to Ljubljana
Back down the Stelvio in more daylight and with brakes that had to withstand, we were into gorgeous sea level Italy surrounded by fruit trees and amazing cliffs before getting to the coast where we stopped for delicious pasta and a dip in the sea. Sipping a vodka tonic and listening to ska tunes on a pebbled sun-soaked beach felt surreal after freezing our toes off the night before in Bormio. We then headed into Slovenia, where we met a friendly local who directed us into town. We were all amazed at this unknown gem of a city. Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia and previously part of Yugoslavia, is picture perfect and with the energy and atmosphere to match. Trendy outdoor cafes and bars surround the city square and line the Venice-esque green canal abuzz with music and art.
Ljubljana to Split
We left Ljubljana late the next day, enjoying this little city the most and getting into the holiday mode. Our final leg was onto the second largest city in Croatia with just under 200,000 inhabitants – and the largest city on the Adriatic coast. We were determined to arrive in Split in daylight and were delighted to see some its splendor in the soft evening light. Emerging from a Greek settlement in the 3rd and 4th centuries, the famous palace in Split was built in 295AD when Roman Emperor Dicoletian ordered a residence to be built for his retirement. Walking through the palace felt like being inside Monte Casino, yet imagining the years that those stones have been polished by pure walking wear and tear was incredible. Our final venue for the rally was overlooking the harbour as the sun sank and a big pringle shaped moon rose high into the night sky. Official Ramshackle awards were presented, with a fellow South African team taking third place overall in the points challenge.
Lacking sleep and desperate for some veggies and a good shower, I was glad to head home but sad to say goodbye to our trusty little steed. Ramshackle will be remembered as four fabulous days filled with many laughs, lots of music and seeing amazing things out the window. Combined with some backseat reading, car games and the occasional snooze, it was a delightful way to experience Europe – from the Alpine beauty of Switzerland to the barren summer Alps of Italy still scattered with snow, before heading towards the Italian sea, into Slovenia and onto the Adriatic coast of Croatia. And of course, not forgetting the camaraderie of being part of a car rally and meeting cool people along the way. We came home with the numbers of a few hillbillies, ninjas, gorillas and golfers and loads of photos and stories to last ’til the next rally!
Team SA PROMO 2009 consisted of the editor, art director and staff