Vive la France!

It’s one week post race and I’m sipping my coffee as the sun rises over the ocean in the pretty little town of Encinitas, California.  I’m trying to figure out how to sum up, wrap up what has been yet another amazing journey.  So let me talk about the French.

France is an incredibly beautiful country. During my g  Some things that come to mind – clean, history, high fashion, amazing landscape, fresh cheeses and meats that make me wonder what we are eating here in the US. But this race is about the people.  Many countries are represented at this race – the Ukraine, Nigeria, Cameroon, Canada, Senegal, etc.  We spent time with a racer named Dominique from Cambodia who spoke perfect English, French and probably countless other languages and spent two years planning her rally.  But this race is predominantly French, from the organizers to the majority of the racers.

The French know how to put on a race!  While paying homage to Moroccan culture, French taste touched every aspect of the event.  First of all, the French are tough and they take their sports seriously.  Put these women through 110 hours of competition – eating army rations, sleeping (barely) on the ground, wrenching on their cars, sweating in the dirt and somehow they ended up looking lovely at days end, like they are ready for the club.  We Americans looked like we had been through battle.  The bivouac had incredible food…I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and go straight to my plate.  But then again, I would have to be patient…the French don’t eat before 8!  Californian’s eat at 6.

As I mentioned last year, the closing ceremonies were absolutely elegant.  These events set this competition apart from anything I have attended (although the Australasian Safari Rally in the Outback does one helluva closing party!).  It starts with a dinner party at the Atlas in Essaouira.  It was hard to recognize some of the racers all decked out and cleaned up and I wonder how they had room for all the great clothes, shoes and makeup – I packed for 3 weeks in a carry on.  The awards lunch was lavishly styled and every attention to detail from the crystal, server attire and staging was elegant.  Wendy and I had the honor of sitting with long-time rally sponsors, French designers Marithe et Francois Girbaud – truly French treasures!

The closing dinner this year I only heard about as I was dealing with our H3 – ensuring it was ready to be handed off to HUMMER France.  From the stories and photos, it was black tie and elegant with fine entertainment and food.  Imagine that?!

On the language front, I worked hard last year on French basics – pronunciation, phrases, etc. and I tried harder while I was there.  This year, Wendy and I were spoiled with the French teams we were friends with and our awesome translator Heather Meek.  They speak good English and we kind enough to oblige us with a version of our native language. The French speak beautiful English – we speak “American.”  I look back at this with regret.  I have said in the past that to win or compete at our best in this rally it is important to speak French. But beyond the competition, I believe it is the right thing to do – a courtesy to our generous hosts.  I am also a bit sad that I cannot communicate with the event directors well.  One of the sponsors said that Americans always say they are going to learn French then never do…Ouch!  Well, he has a point.  So with that challenge I am going to sign off for now and plug in my Rosetta Stone.

So thank you to the French organization, racers and the French influence on this rally that makes it such a unique and special treat for this American.  I will always be “the American” and for that I am proud and thankful.  I love our country, our passion, our brash cowboy approach and style.  And I remain in awe of this big amazing world where for the most part, people from all countries, cultures and climates can coexist and compete together.  So to Maienga and our French hosts…Merci pour tout.  Je me suis bien amuse!

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