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What Camel Trophy Is

It All Only Begins …

16 completely equipped Discoveries are making a canary yellow circle on the green lawn near a luxury hotel at the coast of the South China Sea. All crews are standing next to their cars decorated with huge national flags. Time and again one gets attracted by a surprising and short inscription on the wing of Discovery: Yury Strofilov, Nikolay Shoustrov. We have not got used to the thought that it is OUR car for the next 16 days, that in an hour or more when the official opening ceremony is over, we will start for Camel Trophy-93. In the center of the circle there is a florid, colourful group of actors dressed in national clothes. We are waiting for the Minister of Culture and Sports of the State of Saba. It seems that sun is pressing down on our shoulders and head; it is very stuffy, sluggish gusts of the wet wind blowing from the sea give no relief. Finally the Minister arrives and when all the crews are presented to him and the obligatory official speeches are completed the dancers, who represent the four most numerous communities consisting of 70 nationalities residing in Saba, start their performance. A dance is changed by a dance. I start anxiously glancing at my watch: I can stand this sun for ten, maybe, fifteen minutes, not more… I notice with surprise an old stout man in European clothes among the dancing girls. He is peering at their faces, then takes one girl by hand and takes her out from the stage passing our car. I look at them and suddenly comprehend, that the dancer is about to faint because of the intolerable heat. In the next 10-15 minutes two more girls are taken out from the stage. I realize that the situation is rather serious and having ignored the solemnity and official character of the event I am getting into the saving shadow of the car compartment, start drinking water from the flask and pour it on my head. Having taken a rest I get out of the car under the baking sun; now I suppose I can stand until the end of the ceremony.

Special Tasks

At night the escort stops for rest. We drive off from the road at the distance of 20 meters and set up a tent quickly. It is our first night in the field. Journalists Sergey Trofimenko and Vladimir Geskin, both experienced travellers (it is a second Camel Trophy for Sergey and a third for Vladimir) start cooking dinner. Yuri and I are going to study closely the instructions for the tomorrow's tests once again, but suddenly we see that one of the tyres is flat. We install one of two spare wheels and start swapping the tyre, comforting ourselves with the thought that the experience we received may be used tomorrow to fulfill the Mechanical Task. Then it becomes clear that the foot-operated pump does not work: its rod becomes jammed when it starts working. We have to take the pump to pieces, smooth out the rod and grease it. Having finished all those works, we have time to discuss with the Malaysian crew the plan of our joint work. We will carry out one of the tasks together by lottery. One and a half day of Special tasks is over, one and a half day of victories and disappointments. It turned out, that we run and read the map well (the second award in orienteering), we can handle with a spanner and know the equipment of the car (the seventh place for Mechanical Task), can drive a car well (the fifth place in Figure Driving), but we are not masters in driving on the artificial obstacles; we could not balance the car on the huge swing made from logs (but did not burn the coupling either like other four crews), could not drive onto the shaking raft. It turned out that difficult and delicate work demands mutual collaboration and trust between the person who is steering and the person who shows what to do. Yury and I had to learn that art on the move during the Tasks and it turned out to be useful later for the escorting. But the most offensive for us was that we failed in, perhaps, the most interesting of the Tests, a fifty-kilometer rally along a complicated network of broken country roads. I am driving and Yury is reading the route map, constantly referring our position to the indications on Terratrip (a device measuring the covered distance with a high degree of accuracy). Volodya is watching a stopwatch; Sergey is working with a calculator counting the average speed. The crew is functioning as one body. We keep to the average speed as accurate as 1 % when all of a sudden after the next turning at a small bridge which is marked with three exclamation marks on the route map we see the car of our Japanese crew swerved from the road into a stream. Yury jumps out from the car.

“Do you need help? “
“No, thanks, we’ll make it ourselves” — the Japanese answer and … instead of allowing us to move on quickly pull a hoist cable lying across the road and block our way.

We have to wait until they drag their Land Rover out from the ditch and start moving. We obviously drive more quickly, but the Japanese do not let us go ahead, and it is impossible to overtake them on that narrow forest path. Finally, at the next fork the Japanese make a mistake and choose the wrong path.

The way is free. It is no longer necessary to control the average speed; we need to keep to the maximum speed in order to catch up with the time. Here is the checkpoint. We receive penal credits that we deserve and now we can proceed quietly, sticking to the newly set average speed. But the excitement, caused by the frantic chasing at the first section of the route, does not come over, and we make a mistake at the next difficult crossroads. We have lost about 7 minutes before we realize it and correct the mistake. And again we press the accelerator down to the floor trying to catch up with the time. Alas, we are too late.


The escort consists of 30 Land Rovers, among which 16 Discoveries are owned by the participants and 14 of them are the supporting cars (Discoveries and Defenders). The escort leads its own life. First it rushes at high speed along slippery clay wood tracks, and it seems impossible, that a driver being of sound mind can choose by himself and by his own will such a speed. Then it drags along dusty country roads with a speed of a pedestrian. Sometimes after more than 20 hours of endless movement and struggle against impassability of the roads it stops and freezes without any command, for the simple reason that it is exhausted and worn out. Everybody sleeps directly in the cars and on the car roofs surrounded by the night jungles, and only an American, Dan Amon, a participant in Camel Trophy ' 92, and now the driver of the Defender owned by the movie crew, is hacking through the bushes with a machete in his hands along the motionless escort and looking into the next car amazingly repeats: «You don't say so! Everyone is sleeping. Here again everyone is sleeping!!! » Sometimes the escort gets in amusing situations. Here it goes along a good wood track  and slows down in front of  a high steep mountain, which the cars should attack by turns. An old Malaysian is standing at the bottom of the mountain, barefooted, dressed in shorts and handing a cigarette in his teeth. He welcomes the crew of the next car, which stops opposite him, and asks in Pigeon English:

“Where are you going?”»
“Ahead!” — The answer from each car sounds short.
“But there on the mountain the road comes to the end” — he tries to explain.
“Comes to the end? But not for us. “

We are Camel Trophy and where the road comes to the end in his opinion, it only begins for us. And the entire escort proudly passes him just to find out after having reached the peak of the mountain, that we have lost the way and that the road really comes to the end there. The escort turns around with difficulty and goes back passing the amazed Malaysian.


It was still bright when we started clearing a narrow wood path from two giant fallen trees, which blocked our way. It was not difficult, having sawn off their trunks to shift them with hoists and drop them down the hill. It was more difficult to shift the two huge stubs, pulled out with soil. It took us several hours. The strained wail of the hoist, the knock of the axes, the roar of the diesel engines, the flashing of dozen spades in the light of headlights and searchlights. It resembles a construction site one day prior to the commission. Dzhiovanni, an Italian, comes up to me:

“Nikolay, leave it for 15 minutes and go about 200 meters along the road, switch off the flashlight and listen to the jungles.”

I throw away the spade I am tired of and go straight on. After 50 meters behind the turning the fires of lamps and searchlights disappear, after the next 100 meters the “industrial” noise vanishes, I am a little bit terrified, but I go straight on and switch off the flashlight. The wood is full of sounds and voices of living beings, which getting mixed with each other, create a marvelous music. My eyes get used to the darkness, and I can see stars through the crones of the trees. Then I notice that the «stars» are shining not only above my head, but also in the mass of the wood. There were glowworms or glowing insects. Then I can see flashes of silent heat lighting, which seems to flash straight among the trees. We were told that the wood has kept unchanged since the prehistoric times. A human being has not yet broken into and destroyed its life. But one thing is to know about it, and it is quite another matter to feel it. I was standing shocked and admired, trying to remember not only what I saw and heard, but what I felt and to remember it forever … Having returned to the «construction site», I came up to Dzhiovanni and simply told him: «Thanks» …

Car and Road

Today I am surprisingly lucky: it is my turn to drive (we take turns with Yury, one day it is his turn, the next day it is mine) and the road (if it can be called a road) is very difficult, but we do not deal with tiresome and dull construction of bridges and other earthwork. You can pass everywhere, if you manage, without a hoist. It means that today it is the best chance to test the car and myself. The weather is also fortunately good; every hour and a half it rains for 10-15 minutes, it is for the road not to dry and for us to enjoy the wonderful slippery clay on the road. Driving on such a road looks like mountaineering and slalom combined. You stop or reduce speed before a complicated road section, estimate the trajectory of the movement, try guessing the gear and go ahead. « Well, I see mud ahead, it seems shallow, let’s try third gear. The speed drops, press on the accelerator, and come on. OK, now there is a turning, let’s release the accelerator a little. Move the steering wheel to the right, and press on the accelerator». The car involves itself into the turning with front wheels.     «And now there is a gauge. It becomes deeper then, it is dangerous, and you can sit down on the «belly». I need to jump out. Move the steering wheel to the left and press on the accelerator. Right ». Discovery obeys to all my orders. «Then there is a hill. First gather speed at third gear as much as possible ». The car is getting skidded, because there is no coupling to the ground. Take the foot away from the accelerator. Now the coupling with the road is restored. The car is under control again. Now let’s take second gear and very smartly, not accelerating, for the wheels not to get broken, drive onto the hill ». Now it is time to stop and wait for the heavy Defender of Zbyshek to be sure, that he will pass the hill. Zbyshek is coming up waving his hand – he is OK, and I have to wait for the following car. Move on again. The road here is a little better; it is possible to move more quickly. There is a turning, then … I get confused. I see a mountain in front of me, not steep but high; the road is cut throughout with very deep and twisting scours. I can understand at first, that I must not loose speed and stop, as I may not start the car, and then, that if the wheels get into the longitudinal scours I will not get out without a hoist. I continue moving forward, but I do not understand at all what I should do to pass it. Suddenly my hands and legs start making complex and expedient work. I move the steering wheel to the left, then to the right, then accelerate and reduce speed. I was not giving orders to my Land Rover any more, but made a single unit with the car. I simply felt (not realized) that the wheels were sliding off to the right, my hands were turning the steering wheel to the left, and my foot was pressing the accelerator to help Discovery. Over and over again I move the steering wheel to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right. Accelerate, slow down, and accelerate again and again… And now this section is over. The guys are clapping. I hear Sergey's voice, «Well, Kolya, you are made of iron». I turn round to see the journalists and start sharing my impressions with them at a speed which is high even for such a road, but there is a narrow bridge in front of us. There is a small lake to the left and to the right from it. Driving onto the bridge and turning, driving down and turning and going up the hill. There is a track here already, but the soil is entirely different, it is loose sand, i.e. the car will easily skid out of the track if there is a mistake in piloting. Several Land Rovers are parked near the bridge ready to assist if needed. I looked aside and made a mistake; it was wrong to enter the «blind» turn at such a speed. If I start braking, the car will get out of control and fall directly into the small lake. « Slow down a little, the steering wheel goes to the left, then I bring it back to the middle position, then I accelerate. » I fly onto an embankment. «Slow down, the steering wheel to the left, accelerate, the steering wheel is in the middle and then speed up. I made for it». I stop. Louie from the French crew makes a dash to the car:

“My congratulations! You passed the section wonderfully!”

At night I visit the drivers of the cars of support — to Frenchmen Jean and Jacque, who trained us for piloting in France, in Roshpol, to thank them. Today I understood how much I learned from their lessons.


It falls about 2 meters of precipitation a year on the island of Borneo. The countryside is hilly. The roads cut through the slopes of mountains, and streams cut through the road with numerous and very deep scours. Water washes away and quickly destroys the bridges made with logs laid in rows. We made a record making 7 bridges during a day. That day we passed less than 30 kilometers for 16 hours. Construction of bridges is a very responsible and complex work. The bridge should sustain Defender, which weights more than 2 tons. Sometimes we succeed in using four-meter duralumin bridge elements, which the escort takes in the cars of support. Sometimes we use logs from the destroyed bridges, sometimes … sometimes we run over scours and streams on hardly remained bridges. I must confess that at first we were afraid to drive onto a bridge, consisting of two logs only (a log per a track). The experience received during the first series of Special Tasks proved to be very useful to Yury and me then. Once we approached the place where the road was completely washed off for the nearest 40-50 meters. We were standing there for a long time, getting used to the idea that we had to restore that section of the road, making the way through the bushes and banana trees and levelling the slope of the mountain. But getting down to work, we surprisingly quickly made the road; maybe because it was the 13th day of Camel Trophy, and we had learned to work together as a united and friendly crew.

Dangers in Camel Trophy ' 93

The second night of our stay on Borneo Yury and me went to bathe in the sea. Not in the open sea, but in a creek, fenced by a metal grid. Yury was stung by a sea urchin, and during one and a half hour a doctor was extracting the fragments of its needles out of his fingers, and the nearest 3 days Yury was taking antibiotics. That incident gave us a lesson. At once we remembered a chapter from the Guide to survival and decided to follow its advice. The rainforest is very beautiful, but we were strangers there, who understood its life very badly. We did not have to be afraid of it, but, certainly, we had to respect it.

A journalist from the Italian crew during our walking tour to «The Lost World» decided to walk barefoot near his tent and an insect stung his foot. As a result, he was taken to hospital by helicopter. He joined the escort in several days, but during the rest days he was leaving his car with a crutch under his arm.

Yuri Ovchinnikov (a participant of Camel Trophy ' 92, and that year a driver of a car of support), while making his way to «The Lost World» collected 12 leeches on his legs, and the doctor had to give him injections to stop the bleeding.

During the first series of the «Special Tasks» a Russian journalist (not a member of the crew) got sunstroke watching our competitions and was taken to hospital unconscious. Markus, a Swiss, caught dengue fever, which transmits by mosquitoes when they sting.

The Dutch crew traditionally turned over (traditionally because it happens to the Dutch the third year running), having got into a deep pit with their left wheels. Fortunately, nobody from the crew suffered. At the third day (or, rather, night) of our stay in the jungles, during the construction of a bridge, when the driver of the Malaysian crew Saby was standing in water waist-deep a two-meter long snake, surprisingly beautiful — black with brightly yellow rings — swam up to him. But being frightened by the noise and the light of our searchlights it swam away. Later looking through the album with photos of different snakes, we found out, that it was a cat snake, which sting is dangerous, but not fatal.

In general, Camel Trophy is not a pleasure trip, but not «the path of death» either, as it was written in some of our newspapers.

Small Joys

Five days of non-stop work during the day, and sometimes at night, muddy water, which you can drink only after passing it through catalytic filter “Katadyn” and disinfected with tablets. Suddenly the escort drives into a village, directly into the market place. And you can buy there pineapples, bananas and other fruits of fantastic sizes from the overseas (from the overseas for us, not for the Malaysians). Without a command, but as if the command has been given, the escort stops, and the crews trying to leave behind each other are dashing to the trays to buy the ripest fruits.

The exhausting walking trip to « The Lost World», where during 24 hours we were constructing a house for the biological research station ended. After almost three day absence we come back to our cars. After a quick snack it takes us nearly an hour and a half to get to the place of our night stop on a large clearing. It is already late and dark. Judging from the business-like manner, with which all the crews are setting up the camp, you can guess the only desire – to finish with dinner as soon as possible and go sleeping and sleeping. But then the commander’s car appears and Yan Chapman declares that all of us have worked well and now it is time to drink some beer. All Camel Trophy ' 93 shouts «hurrah» as one voice and rushes for packs of can beer. The beer served as a signal for extraction of strategic stocks from the suitcases, and in a half an hour all the Camel Trophy’s team, gathered at fire set by the Belgian crew, was lively comparing the advantages of the spirits taken from all pieces of the Globe. Songs and talks did not end until three o'clock in the morning. Our campaign comes to the end; everybody is tired of heat and mud. The clothes have faded long ago. And even the road is turning to a real swamp. There is a lot of mud, and it is difficult to pull out your legs, which plunge into it, as deep as the knee. Making our way through the swamp, laying and moving the sand trucks, we got dirty literally from head to foot with sticky and nasty mud. It takes us only half an hour to get to a small river with PURE, TRANSPARENT and COLD water. We get into the river in clothes and during the nearest hour and a half we think that Eden is being located somewhere near Borneo.

If Guys of the Whole World …

Regulations of Camel Trophy'93 say the following (i.5.2): «The results will be declared at the farewell banquet where the winners will be awarded with the Camel Trophy». Today is the farewell banquet. We understand that in Special tasks we made too many mistakes, but we hope that we have a rather good result for the Team Spirit. We were not prepared to take the 14th place. Yury and I are upset. He and I are sportsmen and the result of the competition means for us the place, which we occupied. Does it mean that all workouts, tests, difficulties and dangers, which we have overcome, were in vain? The banquet comes to the end and we are eager to go to our hotel room as soon as possible. The holiday is all over for us. We fall asleep quickly, but not for long. In my sleep I feel that somebody is lifting me up and carrying somewhere. The accumulated tiredness tells on me and I, even opening my eyes, do not understand what is happening. I see somebody’s grinning faces. Jean and Jacque are carrying me. But where and what for? Very soon I know where and what for: making an arch in the air I am flying into a swimming pool, Yury is the next. Cans with beer and people are mixing in the water, all the Camel Trophy team is already here. Paul from the French crew is swimming up, they were awarded with the Special Tasks prize (special tests prize):

« Guys, I am so glad, that we have won the prize, I am so glad, that we are all here together, let's have a drink! »
« Paul, of course, let’s drink, my congratulations! »

We see the Italians whom we met first at the international selection competitions:

« Kolya, Yura, don’t care a spit about the awards, we know that you are the best. We put you on the first place in our card against the Team Spirit. »

I look back. Australians Anton and Thomas are smiling at us. We together trying not to fall into the sleep were nailing down the iron sheets on the roof of a house in «The Lost World » all night long. Serious as usual, German guy Philip is drinking his beer, we together were crossing a wild wide river in a canoe to pull a cable to go across the river. Belgian guy Gi, the ringleader and merry fellow, is laughing loudly and joking. Polish men Ernest and Paul are throwing the next victim into the swimming pool.  At the final task they, wasting time and getting penal credits, pulled out our hopelessly stuck Discovery, and only in 10 minutes we paid them off, helping to change the flat tire. I see so familiar and dear to my heart faces everywhere. It seems impossible that tomorrow we will say good-bye to each other.

We all worked well together and met a lot of exciting adventures, we became friends, guys from Malaysia and Japan, Austria and Belgium, the Canary islands and France, Germany and Greece, Holland and Italy, Poland and Spain, Switzerland and the USA, Russia and Turkey. And whatever the journalists might write or speak in their slightly strange reports I know that we were awarded with our own Camel Trophy!!!