In January of 2014, the famous Dakar route passed through Bolivia for the first time
This great motoring event has been taking place in South America instead of Africa for 6 years due to security issues. Until now, the motorcycles, autos, trucks and 4x4s only raced through Argentina and Chile.
Chavo Salvatierra, the Bolivia motorcyclist, brought Dakar to Bolivia this year together with Bolivia's president Evo Morales. It was a true challenge for this sparsely populated country in the heart of South America.
A challenge for the country
The region chosen to organize the event is located around the Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni), a huge, hostile area that is at 4000 meters above sea level.
First, the few roads had to be improved. Distant towns received access to electricity and running water. Housing was built and private homes added bedrooms. The largest city in the Uyuni region has 14,000 inhabitants, and housing with 160 beds was created in the barracks for the athletes and their teams.
At a very late date, notice was given that only motorcycles and 4x4s would enter Bolivia because the route was so difficult. The news did not quell people's enthusiasm because "Dakar never raced through the sky," according to advertising that showed marvelous images to back it up.
Another challenge was the controversy surrounding organization of the event in the country. Environmentalists, indigenous people and numerous alternative movements criticized the "rich people's race." Evidence for this was provided by descriptions of the risk of accidents with wild animals and the risk of leaving the Uyuni Salt Flats with irreparable black footprints.
Pride for the country
Worldwide TV announcers were very excited. They could not hide their admiration for the culture and people of the country, Bolivians with their colorful traditional clothing, tropical fruits in the 4000-meter-altitude market, the way these people live who were thought no longer to exist.
At one point, it was important than the race. President Evo Morales spoke of all the Bolivians who came from all over the country to welcome the international athletes. "That day will always be remembered."
The Bolivian press, meanwhile, spread the word about a moving situation where some Bolivian peasants from an apparently abandoned area helped one of the athletes who had an accident. With primitive tools, but very creatively, they repaired his vehicle and helped him return to the race.
The negative criticism about the Dakar event is intense and diverse. However, for two days in Bolivia the motoring event created a feeling of great pride throughout the country.