“Riding Morocco: Chasing the Dakar” follows Dakar competitor Christophe Barriere-Varju and fellow Australian, TV presenter Laura Csortan, as they ride from Marrakech in Morocco through mountains, gorges, rivers and deserts to reach the Moroccan Sahara.
With the world premiere of the documentary this week, we caught up with Christophe to chat about his role in the show, the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin and what it was like to be back in the African desert. Oh, and his co-star Laura Csortan too!
Steve McDowall: Christophe, this isn’t the first time you’ve taken on a journey like this, is it? You’ve actually competed in the Dakar Rally a number of times?
Christophe Barriere-Varju: Yes, that’s right. I’ve competed four times now, twice in Africa and another two times in South America.
My first Dakar was in 2006, I have vivid images from what happened to me in this very place, Morocco, which ended up in many broken bones.
Steve: And of course your film “Dream Racer” follows you through one of those events.
Christophe: Yes, I had been wanting to make a film about this to share not just the race itself, but what “goes in” to be in a position to take up such a big challenge, whether it is to race the Dakar, start a business or live life every day.
What “Dream Racer” shows is that “your only competitor, your only opponent, is yourself”.
Steve: You did everything by yourself in the film “Dream Racer”, it must have been nice to have a support crew on this film then?
Christophe: Yes being part of a production for National Geographic was definitely the other end of the spectrum for me. In “Dream Racer” it was Simon Lee (producer) and myself - that was it.
In “Riding Morocco: Chasing the Dakar” it took a little while to remember everyone’s name (laughs) and it was great to be part of such an International team.
We had fancy cameras, tiny cameras, big cameras, cameras that auto-stabilise, fancy tripods, boxes of mounting brackets to capture every possible angle, mechanics, helpers, medic, security, production manager.
Steve: Obviously this journey was different without the heat of competition, but what can we expect to see in the show?
Christophe: Yes it is much more relaxing and for once I had the time to fully absorb the experience. I am not sure how the editing was done but the viewers will be transported to Africa starting with scenes in Marrakech that may appear chaotic to some viewers and should be funny as well.
We will then take the viewers out of the city and start exploring the Atlas Mountains before entering into the thick of it that created the history of the Paris-Dakar, the massive wide open landscapes, being greeted by people in small villages, before ending in some majestic dunes.
Some of the footage you will see will make you want to travel, that’s for sure.
Steve: Now, you had Laura Csortan on the trip with you, had she ever ridden on a trip like this before?
Christophe: No, she’d never even ridden on dirt before and had not been on the road for quite a while as well.
So right there Laura and I had our challenges. For Laura to make sure she could pull this through un-hurt, and for me I had to make sure Laura had to have enough skills to (a) ride the bike on dirt, and not just dirt roads, and (b) to not hurt herself which was a big responsibility.
Steve: So what sort of preparation did you do with her?
Christophe: Everything happened very fast for Laura, she came up to where I live and she went through “The Dream Racer Experience” training course. A very intensive training where I cover all the basics to teach novices or experienced racers a different way to ride a motorbike.
Finally on the third day she had to get a taste of riding a bigger bike, I was so impressed by her progress that I entrusted her to ride my factory Dakar bike from “Dream Racer”. But my next challenge was to get her off it - Laura didn’t want to stop riding it, and I don’t blame her.
Steve: What bikes did you take through Morocco?
Christophe: We both rode new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twins. I took a manual model and Laura rode the automatic transmission.
Steve: And how did they go?
Christophe: The bikes are typical Honda, once you sit on them you feel at home instantly. I was surprised by the very low centre of gravity and although they are heavier than my Dakar machine, they actually feel lighter.
Vibrations are almost non-existent, the power is very smooth, and the bike is extremely well balanced as well. And as you will see in the show, you can take this bike in more places you can imagine.
Christophe’s new adventure, “Riding Morocco: Chasing the Dakar”, will air in Australia and New Zealand on June 17th at 10:30 PM.
More information and the screening schedule for the rest of the world is available on the National Geographic channel website.