Climbing The Andes Mountains At The Haciendas Classic Chopard Rally
Photography by Alvaro Pinzón
If you have a penchant for driving vintage cars (which is a safe bet if you’ve found yourself on this site!) and you happen to be in South America looking for a special driving experience, you should try to experience the Haciendas Classic Chopard Rally. I recently joined in, and it began on a Saturday morning in those early hours that only cars can wake us up for, and I found myself surrounded by more than 150 classics that ranged in decades from the 1920s through the early 90s, along with a few modern sports cars to complete the spectrum.
So what is the Chopard Rally exactly though? There are lots of events that gather lots of cars after all. The idea behind this one is a simple point to point rally; from the little town of La Calera to Paipa, a roughly 200km drive that crosses two regions of the country and sees the string of cars ascending and descending the mountain roads in the heart of the Andes range. The idea is one that’s been a staple of vintage events, but the specifics are what made the fourth edition of this rally so special.
The event is held every other year, and though it’s still relatively new even with the spaced schedule, the attendance and enthusiasm rises with each iteration. It brings together people with the same passions that might not otherwise meet, and that in itself is reason enough to go, but it also lets them literally share in the act of driving; it is good fun to talk cars with new friends, but it’s much better to chase apexes on the high-elevation switchbacks with expansive views of the countryside stretching beyond the road’s outer edge. This was my first time participating, and it was a wonderful reminder of the joys of driving (and of leaning precipitously far out the window in attempts to get the perfect shot!).
So, back to the details. The rally began on a Saturday at 8am, with each car initially setting off with intervals of a few minutes in between them. Standard stuff. The route started with a northward exit from La Calera, and after a few minutes bearing this direction we came up behind a few early Porsches that we stuck with as we traced the perimeter of Lake Guatavita. Passing through the town of Sesquile, we made our way to the main highway that led us toward Tunja, one of the communities nestled underneath the looming Andes. During all this map reading and sightseeing we passed a few of the slower and older cars in the rally, while having the same done to us by the more modern and powerful late-model Porsches and Mercedes-Benz. The organizers of the event, Bauer and Chopard, didn’t discriminate in the car selection as much as some classic purists might hope, but I welcomed the diversity, as even if you only care about the older stuff, it’s fun to have the perspective on it all enhanced by the presence of the new cars too. It at least gives greater chances for comparison.
Speaking of passing one another, I should mention that we had a police convoy following our pack, which allows for certain, “extended freedoms,” in the speeds we were permitted. It wasn’t the kind of thing you might find on a damning YouTube clip, but we weren’t crawling along the route either! There were a few friendly rivalries that I witnessed as well, including a fun duel involving a 2.7 RS and a BMW 2002, pitting two small and nimble sports cars from the same era against each other. Yeah, the Porsche is a more competent car, but it really comes down to how much you’re willing to push!
After a few hours we then arrived to Tierra Negra (translated to English, it means “Black Ground,” a name given to the place because of the deep and dark tone of the land that makes up this cold and humid region), which is an obligatory stop along the main route that leads toward one of the first mountain passes in our journey. The road wound us further and further upwards, but it also brought us closer to the produce of the area, which consists of mainly potatoes, corn, and fruit, which is exported all around the country.
After some rather white-knuckled driving through the fog that lay on the roads this far up, we started our descent back down to sea level, and the ribbony roadway instantly recalled memories of Initial D touge! Once we’d navigated the dense U-turns and switchbacks we found ourselves in the next town on the list, Jenesano.
Arriving with a convoy of cars of this size (I didn’t count, couldn’t have, but there were easily more than 150 still with us at this point), the locals—especially the children—were delighted by this rare parade of special machinery and their noises and smells mixing together in the narrow streets. The town’s philharmonic youth band had even prepared a little celebration for our arrival in front of the Catholic church in the square, a feature predominant in these towns with Spanish colonial legacies.
After our musical welcome, we all stopped in Jenesano to catch a quick break, gather our thoughts, and fill our stomachs with some local food. The people of the town were happy with our presence, and we chatted with them about the cars, the rally, and our experiences thus far. Eventually though the sun dictates the schedule, and we had to set off once more. The second half of my Rally Chopard experience will be coming soon, so check back in soon!