18th of Jan, 2014.
The final day and I am happy and sad its almost over.
Like working at the Olympics or World Cup, this event is something unique and special, for every low there are 5 highs. Very happy I will be home with my family in a few days!
Bags packed, they might be slightly heavier, I got by some gifts in Bolivia, but its the added sand in everything that could add the most weight. Clothing bag I dropped off at one truck late last night, the tents and sleeping bag to another this morning, both will be dropped off at Valparaiso media centre, our final Dakar destination.
We take off, I have harness in hand ready to get my action but my excitement is short lived. None of the other Spanish and French speaking photographers have theirs! Lost in translation, we are flying to the start point to get the riders leaving on their final 150km leg, then the finishing point, then straight to the Podium in Valparaiso. No A-Team theme song today!
We arrive at the start point and the locals are there in numbers as per usual.
The biggest roar is for no. 251, Ignacio Casale of Chile as he is going to win the quadbikes and as a local boy, he is today’s hero. Riders talk, share stories and in general are happy its almost over and they have achieved a great thing in completing this Odyssey!
We don’t stay long, then to the finish line point. It's in the middle of nowhere and the Dakar crew have everything set up for the riders and drives arrival, add to this the sponsors tents, kitchen, TV editing tent, press area etc, it's a very impressive operation.
We land not far from the finish line and set up computers, captions etc. Not long after the riders come through and the order they left the start from means that the winner should be the last bike which is what happens.
Emotions are high from most of the riders, last to first, all for different reasons. Speaking to some of the writers, some did it for family, loved ones, themselves or just to see if they could. It doesn’t matter why or how now, they relief and joy is there to see.
The media scrap for Marc Coma from Spain, who won the Motorbike category as he takes off his helmet and celebrates victory, is embarrassing. Other motor sports have a section for the TV and photographers marked out, like F1, but this turns into a scrap. I don’t like it. A pack of men and women fighting for position to get a moment of joy from a rider with TV and still cameras being pushed into his face! Some photographers and TV crews are arguing amongst themselves, mainly French, but it would be that way as most of the press are French! I hear someone say, you want a fight, I will fight with you!!! This is far from the community spirit I have seen shared thought this journey.
Once Marc Coma leaves to do interviews with TV and writers, the commotion has died down and discussions happen between all the Dakar media people and press, this is not to be repeated for Nani Roma of Spain and Michel Perin of France who have won the Car category. Very calmly, as they cross the line, not much later, all the press hold their line and we all get the images we all want, it turns out we all can get along after all!
Back to our open walled tent the journalist and photographer’s hunch over their laptops, only to take break to complain about internet connection or transmission speed of images.
This tent is near the road and finish line so every car that comes past sends a plume of dust over us all. Rookie mistake, wearing a white t-shirt, its now brown! The taste of dust, i am now used too. Main images sent, the few lucky ones, me included, jump in the chopper to be taken to the podium an hour away in Valparaiso. It's more than a few hours’ drive and you could miss the main guys if on a bus or in a car.
We land in a military grounds and our old drivers and friends from the 4x4 takes us into the city and our media centre. Our luggage is delivered here later. We set up, file more pics from the day and then head out for the podium where all the riders and drivers will come to pose with their medals for finishing and the winners get their trophies.
The city is closed off, streets and sections closed to the public, the competitors and some media are only allowed in....controlled chaos is the only way to describe it. Everyone involved in the race is there, mechanics, staff etc, all on the podium with their vehicles and it for some the party has begun.
I shoot the popular and news worth competitors, then head back to file. If you shoot everyone that’s on the podium, it was from 4pm to 11:30pm, that’s a lot of pictures and editing. It’s after midnight and my hotel is in Santiago, 130km away. I get a local at the media centre to find a cab service that will make the trip.
Sharing a cab (which is just a normal car, maybe because the office sent a relative instead of the official cab) with another photographer, I get to my hotel at 3am, another long day, loads of pictures of winners and competitors and my event draws to a welcomed quiet close.
What did I learn, in no particular order?
I have a new respect for the Dakar, its competitors and its staff. That I will come back to shoot it again by hassling my boss relentlessly until he agrees.
That I have not written this much since high school and have very limited vocabulary (I hope you enjoyed it more that I enjoyed writing it! It was very tough mainly because of time).
78 riders made it to the finish line out off 174, with one rider dying! 61 cars out of 147, 50 trucks out of 70 and only 14 quads out of 40 finished this epic race, 47.33% of those that started.
That sitting in the back of a 4x4 for 16.5 hours, most of it off road, in a day is no fun.
Victor from AP, Filipe from EFE, Jean Paul from Reuters and Frank from AFP are all nice guys.
That I didn’t like using communal showers and the fact they had no hot water didn’t help.
That taking photos from helicopters is awesome.
That walking in the desert is near on impossible.
That seeing a country does not have to involve a city.
That the beautiful pristine Bolivian salt flats are black very smelly mud underneath if you get bogged.
That I don’t miss the internet unless it's to send pictures for work.
That every bush and tree in Argentina has huge thorns that go through shoes if you step on them!
That dust tastes bad but is worse for camera equipment.
That the Dakar is the best way to ruin anything you have in two weeks, shoes, clothes and kit included.
Finally, that I missed my family more that I thought possible.
As always, if you have any questions about today or any of the previous days you have read, please feel free to ask away on @AllSportSnapper on twitter.
I’m off to recover!
View Dean's coverage of the Dakar Rally 2014 on Getty ImagesSee more images
Editors Note: The 2014 Dakar Rally will be the 35th running of the event and the sixth successive year that the event is held in South America. The event starts in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina on January 5 and finishes in Valparaíso, Chile on January 18 after thirteen stages of competition. To find out more visit the official Dakar Rally 2014 website.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos is a Sports Photographer for Getty Images. Follow him on Twitter at @AllSportSnapper
About Deal Mouhtaropoulos
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Mouhtaropoulos' love for photography began when his godfather bought him a camera for his 12th birthday.
"My journey to become a photographer had started and led me to the Big Smoke as I always knew London would provide a good platform to start my career in the photography business.
Working full time in various non-photo related roles and shooting for magazines and newspapers on weekends, it was then that I discovered Getty Images. When visiting the Getty Gallery, which was in Chelsea at the time, and looking at all those amazing pictures I had an epiphany and knew this was the company I wanted to work for.
I started hounding Getty’s Human Resources department to give me a role, any role, in the company. A few months and hundreds of phone calls later a role came up doing coffees, spreadsheets and filing.
Thanks to my boss, who saw some potential in me, I became a Field Editor for Getty which is like the modern version of working in the Dark Room. I got to work with the best photographers around the world at events like the MTV Awards, Cannes Film Festival, both Football and Rugby World Cups, the Olympics, Champions League football, World Championships in Swimming, Diving, Hockey, Athletics and so on.
This has taught me more than I could ever imagine and after 7 years of absorbing information and applying it to my own photography, I earned the opportunity to become a staff photographer for Getty.
10 years in London came to an end at the start of 2012 and I am now based in the Netherlands covering sports and news in the Benelux, France and Germany. My knowledge of photography has progressed but my passion is as strong as it was when I picked up my first roll of Fuji film as a 12 year old."