An adventure through the Moroccan desert for a cause

@Roberto Arribas

Six students from IE University will take part in the Uniraid rally, which runs through the North African country following the route of the Paris-Dakar rally.

In just a few days, six students from IE University (coming from Spain, France, the US, and Germany) will embark on a fantastic challenge: split into three teams, each team is participating in the eighth edition of Uniraid. Uniraid is a rally attracting participation from entrepreneurial university students from all across Spain. It will be held in the north of Africa from February 23rd to March 3rd.  The competition involves crossing Morocco from north to south in a car which is over two decades old. Along their journey, they must distribute school supplies, games, and clothes to the indigenous populations living in the desert.

Uniraid is an authentic experience and a trip of solidarity. For nine days, involving six tough stages, IE University students will battle this north African country’s mountain roads, dirt tracks, and sand dunes, following the previous routes of the Paris-Dakar rally.  However, to do so, they will only have a road book, a physical map, and a compass (no GPS or electronic devices are allowed).

The rally will primarily take place across inland Morocco, in the Erg Chebbi desert. Here, dunes can reach up to one hundred and fifty meters.  This edition sees some new changes to the schedule, including a night-time excursion and a night in the Atlas Mountains, where they’ll have to face not only dunes and sand rivers, but also over two thousand meters of snow.  The journey will present unforeseen difficulties and natural obstacles and, to make matters more difficult, participants must also pass a series of skill-based tests set out by the organizers.

An adventure through the Moroccan desert for a cause

A HUGE CHALLENGE

Forming the team “Saharan Huskies,” we have Andrei Mataix (from Alicante) and Alix Heugas (from France).  “We met and entered this rally somewhat blindly, you could say. We are motivated by the challenges it presents; the more difficult they are, the more we have to overcome,” Andrei tells us.  Alix adds that the challenge is not simply driving through the desert, but also all the preparation that takes place before the rally. This involves finding sponsors, acquiring all the aid materials, and prepping the car for the journey. “We are putting everything we’ve learned in class at university into practice,” they say.

They admit that finding a car that was over twenty years old, in good condition and which cost less than a thousand euros was “hell.”  But by a stroke of luck, Andrei and Alix came across a 1989 Ford Fiesta 1.4 liter CLX petrol car online. Costing only six hundred euros, it was a bargain and even already had an in-date MOT.  Some students from IES San Blas de Madrid have helped spruce the car up so its ready for the rally: changing the spark plugs, cables, battery, distributor, and radiator. They also added LED headlights and a cover for the crankcase to protect the engine from any possible impacts it may suffer throughout the desert. Andrei and Alix’s sponsors include: IE University, Flanda Collective, Cárnicas Tabladillo, La Guagua, La Luna, and the Mario Muniesa gym.  They have painted their newly vamped car a striking fuchsia color and plan on filling it with folders, notebooks, bags, and clothing for those living in the desert who need it.

Also participating in Uniraid are Sofía Curtis (with Spanish and American dual nationality) and Luis J. Martinez (from Segovia). “The main reason we wanted to take part in the rally was for the opportunity to help others,” they tell us. “Solidarity and fellowship are two values we identify with. We were drawn to the idea of partaking in a volunteer adventure as well as the opportunity to live in the desert for ten days. This is far from anything we normally do in our daily lives,” they add.

Their vehicle of choice is a 1989 Ford Fiesta 1.4 liter, from long before either of them were born. However, finding the car was not easy, and in the end they bought it off a mechanic from Segovia who they know through family.  “The Ford is in perfect condition and the only thing we needed to do was get it to pass the MOT and find insurance.” However, they did in fact have to make some modifications to the vehicle.  They also had enlisted the help of a group of students and professors from IES San Blas de Madrid, who helped install a cover for the crankcase, a luggage rack, and lights on the car.

Sofía and Luis have an extensive list of sponsors. Among others, they include IE University; IES San Blas; Ford; Coca-Cola; Roman & Associates; Adarve; start-ups like Talent Swarm and One Night; stores such as 921 Sneakers and Liqui Sport; Torresound Audiovisual Solutions; Ejarque (hair salon); and a few restaurants from Segovia, including El Rancho de la Aldegüela, La Portada del Mediodía, and Juan Bravo/Fonda Ilustrada.

They feel extremely proud to be able to bring “tons of aid material to the less fortunate villages of Morocco, including thirty kilos of clothes, and another twenty kilos of school materials which Coca-Cola has donated to the cause.”

Also touring the desert in the 2019 edition of Uniraid is Gonzalo Álvarez (Spanish) and Felix Rotter (German), who are studying Business Administration at IE University“We have chosen to take part in the race because we want to experience a true adventure—similar to that of Dakar—where we only have a road book and compasses to guide us through the race.  We are also doing it to be able to help the people of Morocco who need it most and bring a smile to their faces when we give them our donations,” they say.

They will be driving a 1986 diesel-fueled Peugeot 205 Srd which they purchased from a second-hand car dealership in the Polígono de Hontoria in Segovia.  On the mechanical side, the car was in “perfect” condition. However, they had to make a few light modifications, such as cleaning the motor, changing the oil and filters, and installing a cover for the crankcase, luggage rack, and LED lights. They also made sure they changed the wheels to ones that were adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert.

Gonzalo and Felix have done an excellent job in securing sponsors. Their current list is long:  IE University, Pizzeria Trattoria Da Mario, Restaurante-Bar José, Segoauto FAC, Arte Estudio, Sweet Home Segovia, Dulce Hogar, Chapel School, the Fernández Peña Foundation, Prieto & Serrano, Tom’s Trucks, and start-ups Splash and Sublime.

In their car they will transport over forty kilos of aid materials: around twenty kilos of clothes and shoes (donated by their classmates at university), school materials donated by Coca-Cola, as well as stuffed animals, all kinds of toys, and toothbrushes.

What are you expecting from this adventure? Andrei Matix was clear in his answer: “We hope it is a wonderful experience, where we can work with others for an excellent cause. When you’re stuck in the desert in your car, politics, religion, and background no longer matter, What really matters is the camaraderie and common goal to achieve the impossible. We learned this from Ernest Shackleton, the great polar explorer who Uniraid was inspired by.”