The bivouac, the living space of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc

Around the rally

It takes 5 days and more than 100 people to set up the magnificent bivouac of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, temporary home to 750 people in the heart of the Moroccan desert.

Logistics coordinators, tent workers, washroom workers, CP attendants, cooks, drivers, mechanics: many trades are involved in ensuring the construction and smooth operation of this small village and, more broadly, the Rallye itself.

A mobile bivouac, the result of 30 years of Franco-Moroccan expertise

Erfoud, Mhamid and Foum Zguid: there will be three different bivouacs for this 30th edition. It is a well-honed operation: two bivouacs are set up alternately according to the rally’s route. It’s a real challenge every time for Bernard Poilpré and his team. For all of his 22 years at the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, he has been assisted by Mohamed and Hamid Oufkir: “The hardest thing is dealing with last-minute problems, before the Gazelles arrive”. Hamid recalls the 2017 edition: “A sandstorm damaged the tents on the first day; we had to bring a tailor to the bivouac to repair them. We took down the second bivouac to replace the tents that couldn’t be repaired. The metal tubes of the tents were broken: I went to Erfoud to get welders to repair them; I delivered them in batches of 10”. And then there is heat and fatigue… but with good leadership and enthusiasm, they always get the teams on board, whatever unforeseen circumstances they have to overcome.

As for Mohamed Oufkir, he has been with the Rallye for 28 years: a Franco-Moroccan friendship born when he was a driver in Agadir. One day he crossed paths with the Maïenga crew who were looking, at the time, to create a tourist circuit in Morocco: “Would you be interested in working together?” they asked Mohamed, who accepted. 28 years later, in addition to forging strong Franco-Moroccan ties, it has become a family affair; Hamid, his son, works alongside him.

A quick tour of the bivouac

The bivouacs are always set up the same way so that the Gazelles and organizers can easily find their way around after each move.

The restaurant tent, which has been expanded this year to allow for physical distancing, is where the Gazelles can work on their maps, listen to the briefing, but above all, enjoy sumptuous meals.

Other installations are arranged in a square in front of the restaurant tent. The participants can, if necessary, visit the medical tent, where they will find a team of doctors and physiotherapists at their disposalFor this anniversary year, there are also two hairdressers at the bivouac to take care of the Gazelles’ hair, which suffers from the sun and sand: a much-appreciated moment of relaxation and pampering.

The Gazelles can pick up the emails sent by their fans and loved ones in the Mail tent. This is often an emotional moment when they get back from the leg, and tears are often shed. Don’t hesitate to send them a message of encouragement! This is also where they can watch Gazelle TV videos showing the highlights of each leg.

In addition to the Afriquia media tent, which welcomes journalists from around the world, trailers house the photo, web, audiovisual and computer teams who are providing live coverage of this anniversary edition of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc. Over by the start/finish line are the ranking offices, Rally Headquarters and the Sidi Ali water truck: essential stops for the Gazelles before and after each leg.

A bar is set up in the middle of the bivouac, where the Gazelles can relax and enjoy a mild evening in good company.

Sleeping areas are marked out at either end of the bivouac, beyond which there are trailers with washroom facilities (showers, sinks and toilets). Finally, the mechanics area, the closed vehicle park and the Afriquia fuel station are a few hundred metres away.

Humour and connection

If setting up and taking down the bivouac is a well-oiled operation today, it is thanks to the experience, drive and pervasive good humour of all the people who make the bivouac what it is today. Bernard remembers a time when the bivouac changed places every day: a lot has been learned since then. Today he is in charge of setting up and coordinating this mini village with the Franco-Moroccan team. What drives him? “The pleasure of working with the Moroccans, the joy of being reunited with old friends and the country”. The motivations for returning, year after year, to work at the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc seem to have a common denominator: human connection.

The only rally in the world with ISO 14001 certification

The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, Maïenga, and the agency’s other sports events have implemented a system for monitoring and managing the environmental impacts of their activities. Maïenga Sports Events is the only event agency in the word to offer rally-raids with 14001:2015 certification.

The international standard ISO 14001:2015 guarantees that Maïenga has an Environmental Management System (EMS) aimed at systematically integrating the management and monitoring of environmental indicators in a continuous improvement approach. Each year, an external certifying body audits both Maïenga and the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, paying a visit to the site to verify compliance with the system. This has been the case for the past 11 years.

What does respect for the environment at the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles actually mean?

Karen GIROD, the event’s environment officer, works full-time on these issues. Before, during and after the rally, she monitors indicators and implements measures that can lead to improvements. For example this may include optimizing the transport of organizers to minimize CO2 emissions, detecting a water leak through water consumption monitoring, monitoring the fuel consumption of the Gazelles and organizers at the Afriquia fuel station, collecting infectious medical waste (IMW) at the medical tent and having it disposed of in an appropriate facility, using tarpaulins to protect the ground in high-risk areas (mechanics area and fuel station) to avoid the risk of spillage from vehicles, etc.

An environmental logbook has been created and distributed to the various service providers working at the rally to make them aware of the environmental approach and measures taken. Karen visits the high-risk areas every morning, and initiates discussion when corrective actions need to be implemented. Although the language barrier can sometimes be a challenge, the relationship of trust built over the years makes it possible to get everyone on board in a concrete manner. While these issues may once have been seen as a source of constraint, it is interesting to note that some people are becoming more proactive. For example, every morning, half-consumed bottles of water are left on the tables in the restaurant tent. This year, the mechanics team suggested that the water from these bottles be collected and combined to be used in locating tire punctures. A constraint has thus been transformed into an opportunity. Experimentation always has its place. The challenge for the future is to identify enjoyable and educational ways to continue to mobilize and make these issues accessible.

The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles partners are also part of the solution. GSF, a French leader in cleaning and hygiene services, supplies the Rallye with Ecocert-certified cleaning products for the showers, toilets and kitchens. The 33,600 bottles of water consumed during the event are recycled by Ressourc’in, a non-profit dedicated to social reintegration through employment. The empty bottles are delivered by the Sidi Ali trucks on their return journey to Casablanca: they don’t leave the bivouac empty. Goodyear gave the Gazelles reusable mugs at the start of the Rallye, and Ferrero gave them reusable water bottles.