Most car launch press trips involve staying overnight in a hotel somewhere, in a location with good local roads for the test drive and attractive scenery for the photography. Sometimes, though, manufacturers are more adventurous and seek out wilder terrain and rather more unusual accommodation.
Sunrise over the Sahara is very bright and starts very early. So unsurprisingly I woke at dawn’s first light while hosted by Kia at the launch of the facelifted edition of the original Sorento, way back in 2006. We were in southern Morocco, and glamorously camping, or glamping. Our individual tepees were hardly basic, with hotel-standard beds, carpets and full-length mirrors included in the mod cons. It was blissfully quiet staying overnight on the edge of the desert, between two long days of off-road driving on ruggedly rocky tracks. But the light through the canvas woke me long before breakfast.
Good, I thought. A chance to get some exercise before another day in the driving seat. So I got up, dressed and quietly – so as not to disturb colleagues still asleep in other tepees – set off over the sand dunes towering above the camp. A short walk in modern north Africa very quickly, as I topped the dunes, morphed from AD to BC and instantly time-travelled me back around 2,000 years. There below me was a scene straight out of biblical times in the Middle East, busy with donkeys, camels and people dressed like nativity shepherds around a palm-fringed oasis. Southern Morocco serves as a popular location for major films, and an iMax movie was being shot there.
So that was how I came to have two breakfasts that day, an early one from the location food wagon, at the invitation of film crew bemused by this bejeaned female appearing out of the dunes at such an early hour, and a later snack back at camp with my fellow motoring journos. It was a surreal start to an unusual day.
Such bizarre working day kick-offs have not been confined to trips abroad. Another memorable occasion was in Wiltshire, at Longleat Safari Park. We were there for the Peugeot 4007 launch event, and it also involved glamping. We shared suppertime with an assortment of exotic birds and animals, brought to the camp by obliging keepers. It was certainly a change from the usual pre-meal press conference.
This time the encampment was on grass, rather than sand, and in summery England rather than the year-round heat of Africa. But still the early light through the canvas woke me the next morning.Another walk beckoned, so I set off at a trot around the large grassy pasture where we were camped, on a route that took me beside a high wall profusely topped with barbed wire. Suddenly, I was almost knocked off my feet by a very loud roaring at extremely close proximity. Just on the other side of the barrier were Longleat’s lions, revving up their ferocity for the day ahead. It was such a shock! After such a dramatic start to my day, driving on English country back roads felt rather tame in comparison.
Another unusual camping experience came with a Renault drive in the verging-on-desert terrain of central Spain. On arrival at our ‘hotel’ for the night, we were cheerfully shown to individual blown-up bubble tents, entered through double doors that kept them from deflating, and into a central area that was opaque from the front, but totally transparent at the back and overhead. It even had an en suite – with a toilet that had a tank filled with earth and a handy shovel where the water closet would normally be. Hmm.
A few colleagues mutinied at the sight of these strange structures, and after a long hot day of driving, boringly demanded air conditioned hotel rooms instead, which were fortunately also available on site. But most of us were braver in embracing the invitation to ‘glamp’ in these unusual and somewhat transient bubble rooms. Yet again, it was hardly roughing it, with proper beds and even efficient wi-fi, while facing a stunning view of a desert wilderness.
I am forever grateful for the experience. Gazing up at an awesome skyscape of stars from the comfort of a decent bed was as memorable as driving across the stunning terrain that surrounded us. And yes, yet again I awoke to the first light of a stunning dawn. This time, though, it was from the comfort of a see-through tent with a fabulous view. I seem to remember the driving was pretty memorable, too.