Austin Vince made his name in the mid-90s with Mondo Enduro, the film of his trip around the world with a bunch of a mates, all mounted on Suzuki DR350s and five years later he made Terra Circa, a sort of ‘sequel’ in which he and his team became the first people ever to ride bikes right across Siberia.
Mondo Sahara was a much more compact adventure, but the story starts with quick flashbacks to the earlier films as reference points. This time the idea was to make best use of the latest IT and GPS technology to squeeze as much off-road riding pleasure as possible out of a low-budget trip to the heart of the Sahara desert while at the same time making a decent film about it. It also stuck to Austin’s well-established tradition of every rider carrying all his kit with him without any four-wheeled back up. It also means that he and his mates – three Brits and three yanks in this case – sleep under tarpaulins, nothing as wimpish as tents, never mind shower-equipped bivouacs, so they didn’t carry many spare clothes.
And whereas a lot of riders would have stuck to the roads en route to Africa, the Mondo Saharans took to the Spanish trails within minutes of getting off the boat in Bilbao and avoided tarmac as much as possible right across the Iberian peninsular before sailing to the Spanish enclave of Melilla in North Africa.
After a knackering session in super-fine soft sand Austin’s XR starts to smoke, rattle and finally, seizes. A strip down reveals that it needs a new piston and rings, at the very least. Undaunted, the team splits into two, Eric Sowle, opts to stay with Austin while the other five continue on their off-road way. Austin’s intrepid wife Lois Pryce flies in clutching the required parts and after a swift rebuild the two stragglers take to the Tarmac and catch the others just north of the Mauritanian border.
This is where the adventure really begins, with the team riding off into the depths of the Sahara for 1200 miles following a GPS ‘breadcrumb track’ across the wilderness in what they refer to as ‘the desert lunge’. They are sustained by caches of food and fuel that have been buried in advance by ‘pathfinder-in-chief’ Richard Kemplay in his Land Rover.
They make the cardinal sin of getting split up from one another and are lucky to be reunited before nightfall; they experience the scary thrill of riding off road in the desert at night and discover Ben Amera – Africa’s answer to Ayer’s Rock.
The variety and quality of shots that the Mondo Sahara team managed to record is remarkable bearing in mind that they had no film crew, no 4×4 back up and nothing steadier than a solo motorcycle to shoot tracking shots from, often while riding one-handed! Austin’s shots are occasionally intercut with atmospherically grainy footage shot on vintage super 8 film by Pablo Gustavson.
The whole film is full of Austin’s inimitable wit and humour, which will have you grinning and chuckling throughout. The quality of the whole package belies its very modest budget. There are no big backers behind this film and in case you’re wondering, there was no support whatsoever from Honda. Austin goes out of his way to emphasise that you don’t need a £12,000 bike specced up with £5,000’s worth of adventure touring ‘bling’, but he doesn’t actually say how much you do need to spend.
When you get this brilliant DVD package – and you really should – make sure you check out all the extras (including the charming 3 minute film featuring Austin, wife Lois, and a two wheel drive Ural outfit, called ‘the irrelevant Ural film’!) and watch the main film at least twice: start with the main feature; then read the booklet and discover all sorts of fascinating snippets which aren’t in the film, like the colour coding of the Davida open face helmets and the ‘pen portraits’ of each rider by Pablo. Then watch all the extras, and finally watch the main film again with Austin’s ‘Director’s commentary’ switched on. He throws in a plethora of fascinating ‘behind the scenes’ information about what went wrong, what went right and what might or should have been.
If you can’t get someone to buy it for you for Christmas, then just buy it for yourself. You’d have to be a pretty miserable bugger not to enjoy it – and no, I’m not on commission and I didn’t invest in the film either!
If you’re still not convinced, watch the new trailer voiced by Ross Noble.