The first day took quite a toll! 105 cars and 18 motorcycles left Cartagena yesterday morning.This morning's roster includes only 82 cars and 14 bikes. The number will drop almost daily,though there will be some hangers on for what promises to be a transcontinental party on wheels.Most of the vehicles were locked up in the customs compound until the afternoon before the race and there was never an opportunity to test them out. Many were out almost immediately such as this Baja Mobile only 10 km outside of Cartagena.

The 10 AM starting gun goes off at 11. Kindly locals hand us hard boiled eggs and paper cups of espresso from the side of the road as we pull up to the line.The first part is a straight downhill run of about 150 klicks over a gravel road Then we enter the Pan Americano and rise into the cold altiplano - the Tierra Fria. Although we are only 4 degrees north of the equator, the weather is dark and cold, around 50 degrees.At a gas station we found out there was another big crash just out side of Cucuta. We don't hear from that team again either, though if it doesn't make the papers one can assume they are still alive.

As dusk falls we enter lawless, chaotic Bogota. I lay back by an open window and doze for two seconds. Instantly my Ray Bans are snatched from my forehead, condemning me to wear 99 cent plastic shades for the rest of the trip.

After the final checkpoint of the day, we no longer had the Army to keep the streets open just for us. The Rallye was snarled in monumental traffic jams through gridlocked streets that reminded one of Blade Runner. Skyscrapers, shanties and muddy buildings appeared through the smoky exhaust. Enterprising street urchins sold newspapers and flowers to trapped motorists.

The Tequendama Hilton in sparking highrise Centro Ciudad is quite a contrast. From the underground garage we are whisked to the press lounge where Chivas Regal is poured over purified ice, roulette wheels spin and local celebrities including the mayor and top generals scramble for photo ops under the glare of television lights and flashbulbs. Bogota suddenly seems very stylish and European.

Authoritarian governments are what is best for us. One gets everything they need provided they are hooked up with the right people.