This year, the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles celebrates its 20th anniversary and its successful and unique history. The rally is the only all-women's off-road rally in the world and strictly forbids competitors from using GPS, support teams, cell phones, and even modern maps. Keen navigation skills combined with strategic off-road driving are essential for the success of the participating Gazelles.
Last week, 110 teams hailing from 14 countries arrived in Morocco for the ultimate driving and navigation test. All vehicles cleared technical inspections on Saturday in Sete, France at the ceremonial start of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles in front of thousands of cheering fans. The competitive legs began Wednesday, March 17th and will finish in Essaouira, Morocco on Saturday, March 27th.
The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles was founded in 1990 by Dominque Serra and is managed by Maienga Communications, France. The event, held annually in Morocco, is the only all-women's rally raid in the world. The grueling nine-day competition is based on finding the shortest distance between checkpoints with no GPS, communications, or outside assistance. The rally is also known for extensive humanitarian and environmental efforts and initiatives: Each day, rally crews disassemble team tents and clean up the site. Not one piece of garbage is left behind, not one tent peg is forgotten.
A wide range of competitors participate in the event - professional drivers to celebrities, professional athletes to courageous adventurers. Teams to keep an eye on during the rally are 2009 winners Corentine Quiniou and Florence Migraine Bourgnon, team #138, and the sole United States team, Emily Miller and Wendy Fisher, team #109.
Miller and Fisher are returning to Morocco after their debut in 2009. Emily Miller, driver for the team, is an accomplished off-road racer coming off two notable wins in 2009. Team navigator, Wendy Fisher, is a two-time world extreme skiing champion and former Olympian. "We are excited to return to the Anniversary Edition of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles and proud to represent the United States in such a respected event," noted Miller. Our colleagues over at Automotive Traveler have published an in-depth interview with driver Emily Miller as well as daily coverage and comprehensive features.
The 20th anniversary of the event brought a surprise for the Gazelles this year: There is one team that includes a Y chromosome, though they are not contenders for a place on the podium. David Casteu, a seven-time Dakar Rally participant, and teammate Eric Tabarly, winner of several Grand Prix races, joined the event this year to see what this all-women rally raid is about.
At the beginning of the fifth leg on March 23, Team Miller Fisher is in 18th place. "Last year we were not exactly sure what we were driving into. But this year we have the experience and are prepared in a better vehicle," Miller said during one of her conversations about the dunes. “The number one thing is knowledge of Morocco and the area. You are navigating off features, that is why we did so well in the dunes.”
Tomorrow starts the last leg of the rally and the last marathon days. (A marathon is a single leg which takes two days instead of one, in which the team is required to sleep in the desert for a night after navigating through the dunes.)
The marathon legs are known to be the toughest. The goal of the marathon leg is to hit all of the checkpoints that are open on the first day while navigating through the terrain. Racers must find their way to the spot where the first checkpoint opens on the second day, sleep there, and wait for it to open at 6:00 AM. Only ten teams out of 110 were able to accomplish this goal on the first marathon leg, one of them being Team Miller Fisher.
Can't get to Morocco to see the event for yourself? Then how about visiting these Los Angeles Moroccan restaurants to get a taste of the cuisine:
The Dar Maghreb Restaurant in Hollywood has recreated the memorable adventure of being invited to a rich Moroccan house for dinner. The feast features vegetable salads, lentil soup, B'Stilla in pasty shell, and other delightful courses.
Koutobia Restaurant in West Los Angeles, is owned by master chef Michel Ohayon and offers traditional Moroccan Cuisine in a casual environment.
Babouch Moroccan Restaurant in San Pedro offers authentic Moroccan cuisine with an exquisite environment featuring elegant tapestries, romantic sultry music, belly dancing, and tarot card readings.
Photos by Dan Campbell-Lloyd via Soulside Network and Team Miller Fisher.
By Brandy Schaffels
A similar version of this story has appeared at AskPatty.com