Then, rounding a corner of the road, we came upon one of the more exciting aspects of Catalonia 2011: an orange streak called the Bowler Nemesis. Based loosely on a Range Rover Sport and bred for such brutal cross-country rallies as the Paris-Dakar, it was brought to Spain to give the Catalonia clients a taste of desert warfare, automotive-style. We were the first to jump in next to the driver for a couple laps and got out thinking there aren't many better ways in the world to have fun.
After our juices got good and Bowlerized, we headed for lunch at the program's base location, the grand estate of Les Comes. Owned by a former off-road motorcycle champion, the immaculately restored villa and surrounding acreage form a huge playground for outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to Spain's Land Rover Centre, Les Comes plays host to myriad outdoor activities, from kart-cross racing to cliff climbing.
We could either drive to the villa for our well-earned lunch of local specialties, or slide to our destination on a zip-line set up from a nearby ridge top. Having never zipped before, we zipped. We liked it. We shall zip again.
The afternoon took us deeper into the dense forests of Les Comes and the toughest runs of the entire trip. Instructors guided us through the more troublesome gulleys and bogs, using ropes and winches a couple times to get us along. We jumped out once to observe another truck in trouble and snigger a little at their predicament, but after ticks were sighted, we remained in the Discos' cabins, content to let the pros play in the mud.
Instructor guides winching process, as we watch from sidelines -- before we saw the ticks.
Near dusk, we stopped for a brief meeting around the head instructor, who threw a ragged pup tent on the ground and told us it was time to learn how to put one up, because that would be our night's accommodation. The joke became funny when we drove up to our real digs, a group of platform tents with all the amenities of a luxury hotel. A violent rainstorm during the night and the chirping of birds at dawn made our stay in Land Rover Camp all the more enjoyable.
The final day of the Catalonian adventure included more off-roading, though of a less rigorous nature, and the drive back to Barcelona for a final night's stay in a cozy room at the Mandarin Oriental, spectacularly situated along the main shopping drag in one of Europe's most fascinating cities. In the hotel's shower, we eliminated the effects of two grimy days off the road, then took a walkaround to marvel at Barcelona's amazing architecture, enjoy another gourmet dinner in the hotel restaurant, and spend another night under fine Egyptian cotton. We did lose some sleep, however, trying to come up with a way to afford the Botswana adventure. Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, luxurious game lodges...all in someone else's Land Rover.
racer trucks along the rough.
LET'S GO BOWLER-ING
The most exciting element of Catalonia 2011 was a ride in the Bowler Nemesis, a race truck designed to take on the toughest cross-country races. Based loosely on a Ranger Rover Sport, the Nemesis was developed by Bowler Off Road, Ltd., a veteran outfit established by a British blacksmith and known for such projects as the Tomcat and Wildcat off-roaders, each of which was built around a Land Rover Defender. More recently, the firm expanded its line with the Nemesis EXR street truck. (Check out Nick Hall's review of the EXR at www.motortrend.com.)
The Nemesis is pure competition technology. Race engineering is all about adding lightness, so Nemesis began by throwing out lots of Range Rover stuff (about 40 percent of the truck remains Rover). The body is constructed primarily of Twin-tex-a thermoplastic-glass-reinforced material said to withstand impacts better than standard glass-reinforced plastic-along with smatterings of carbon fiber to reinforce certain high-stress areas. The only Range Rover components to be seen are the windshield, door handles, headlights, grille, and taillights. Underneath the body are a tubular space frame, bespoke springs and anti-roll bars, hydraulic bumpstops, and long-travel three-way-adjustable shock absorbers. Nestled within the frame is a Jaguar supercharged 4.2-liter V-8 that sends some 500 horsepower (and 414 lb-ft of torque!) to all four wheels through a six-speed gearbox. The four-wheel-drive system is tweaked for a 40/60 torque split and sports three limited-slip diffs.
The cockpit is, of course, stripped of all things related to creature comfort, but riding in the Nemesis is anything but uncomfortable. The long-travel suspension almost magically flattens out the topography. Gulleys, ruts, bumps, ridges -- whatever passes under the wheels is dismissed nonchalantly, and going airborne and coming back to Earth is about as harsh as jumping up and down on a box-spring mattress.
It goes like hell, too. Bowler achieved an extra measure of performance from the Jag engine by converting it to run on an E85 bio-ethanol mixture, and the result is a violent roar, 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds, a top speed around 140 mph, and tremendous fun behind the wheel.