Recently we were invited to Jeep's 75th birthday party in Spain, where we met Jeep owners from all over the world, and were given the keys to Jeep's history to conquer Spanish mountains in a once-in-a-lifetime #OffTheMap adventure at #CampJeep2016.
It’s almost midnight in Cairo in the middle of a June heatwave when I receive a call requesting my services in Barcelona for a birthday party in 72 hours. Now I know you may be thinking perhaps the author moonlights as a flamenco or fire dancer, but alas that is not the case. It was Jeep on the phone, asking me to join a media delegation to cover Jeep’s 75th birthday bash. The event, hidden in the Spanish mountains, coincided this year with Camp Jeep 2016, Jeep's annual gathering which brings out fans and owners who came together to celebrate its past, present, and future.
In an adventure that had more peaks than valleys, we found ourselves in Barcelona presented with the keys to a diverse array of Jeeps, and asked to select one to travel to the camps’ secret location. Staring at the Jeep family, we decided you can never go wrong with the 'Grampa' in the bunch and decided to take on the legendary Wrangler.
Escaping Barcelona in style, we headed towards Oliana, located between a barn and the nearest tourist town of Vilanova de Meia. Reaching our destination turned out only to be the first checkpoint in a long journey challenging the legendary range of Montsec.
The drive up Montsec felt like staring at a masterful painting using all the colours in the world to create unforgettably majestic landscapes, that only a SuperHD Planet Earth documentary could capture - and then driving through it. Be it on or off road, the Wrangler’s 3.6-liter V-6 delivering 285 horsepower and 260-pould-feet of torque had no trouble conquering the beautiful terrain. There were times where it felt we could conquer any obstacle or inclination on our 35 km trek to the peak. It was hard to drive surrounded by so much beauty and we found ourselves stopping every few kilometres to capture the extraordinary view and the exceptional machine that got us there. On the winding way back down, the adrenaline continued to pump and more #OffTheMap adventures ensued as we searched for the perfect photo, before heading to #CampJeep2016.
After a day of driving and shooting, we headed back to the base camp where we were greeted by a presentation about Jeep’s past, spanning its beginnings in WWII, and its evolution to the present day off-road vehicle that we all have come to love. We were further intrigued to find what Jeep’s future holds, as hints of two big surprises that the world may get to see in 2018 were dropped. But, the primary purpose of this trip wasn’t to divulge new Jeep secrets, but rather to celebrate as Camp Jeep gathers and attracts Jeep owners from around the world, who consider their Jeep a family member.
The diverse crowd brought with it an eclectic collection of Jeeps that ranged from the crazy modern Mopar-accessorised Jeeps, to the tough, awe-inspiring ‘Willy’ model, the very first vehicle the army issued during WWII. After giving out a set of demands to a 135 companies for a vehicle to be used during wartime in 1941, Willy-Overland managed to be the first to meet an army-issued set of requirements to survive the off-road challenges in foreign terrains, while arguably manufacturing the first SUV ever. Stumbling upon this classic car buff’s dream in a barn on the outskirts of Camp Jeep, we couldn’t resist taking a pic with fellow travel blogger Mahmoud Kamal of No Fixed Address, who like many, was in possession of a die-cast model figure as a child.
Willy was truly a historically important vehicle that became synonymous with the image of toughness - so much so that it was mass produced into toy models and army sets as the standard vehicle to drive into imaginary battle. Despite its age, the Willy continues to live on in all Jeeps, passing on its iconic seven vertical slot grill which is globally identified as Jeep signature face.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get sweeter, Jeep announces that they brought The Hives to help get the party started. For those who don’t know The Hives, they are a Swedish Rock band that rocks really hard for some, but manages to be entertaining for all. From the onstage gimmicks to the witty banters, the ninja-clad stage hands, to that one song we remember on some PlayStation game, the show was enjoyable even if I’m not really a fan. However, making the show unlike any other was the rows of unique Jeeps and people dancing on them. As soon as the band left the stage a DJ-equipped Jeep busted out on the scene creating an instant dance party that built up to the countdown to Jeep's actual birth date. We then spent the rest of the night dancing away among the Jeep addicts with more glow sticks and confetti than they really knew what to do with.
7AM in some unknown swanky Spanish hotel and this cranky bear, on no sleep, is being told we are late and need to travel even farther into the mountains. With no time for breakfast I quickly snatch a coffee, grab the keys, and set off to once again to find another amazing destination somewhere in Spain. In control of an exquisite off-roading vehicle like the Wrangler, we were confident that even if we faced an issue with the GPS navigation we could get ourselves out of any jam along the way.
We arrive to a quaint Wes Anderson-ish looking hotel at the base of the mountains. Three cups of coffee later, we are told to try and reach the peak up the winding off-road path. Aside from the dangers of falling off the cliff or getting caught by a falling rock, the adrenaline rush up the mountain was intense, but at no time gave the red Wrangler any trouble. The only real hazard that we encountered was once again the breathtaking view the farther we climbed, distracting our attention from the incredibly bumpy road ahead. Nevertheless, we arrived and it was totally worth it. Standing above Spain, we gazed over France, overwhelmed by the striking colours and their endless shades. This left me feeling lucky to have been given the opportunity to gaze upon its majesty, leaving me grappling with my insignificance in comparison, leading me literally try to get as close to it as humanly possible.
Driving down the mountain as fast as a falling boulder, we returned to the hotel where we met the classic Jeep owners who were crazy enough of to give us the keys to drive their rare antiques. Although this was supposed to be Jeep’s birthday it felt more like my own birthday as before I knew it I was driving a 1948 Jeepster, Jeep’s first commercially offered vehicle, around this beautiful place in Spain where apparently surreal dreams come true.
No crazy off-road challenges conquered in our Wrangler worked up our nerves like driving on paved roads in this Jeepster. Its three-gear steering wheel mounted shift seemed so unnatural and backwards that I could clearly hear I was hurting this marvel every time I switched gears. Thankfully, no Jeeps were harmed during this adventure, even though we tried when given some time alone with Jeep's future concept cars; the Wrangler Sunriser and the Comanche Jeep Pick Up.
Although the two shouldn’t be compared, after rigorous testing we concluded that the Sunriser was a lot faster and tighter when doing donuts in a dirt field for no reason. But on the other hand, what’s a cooler way to cap off the best birthday we have ever been to than to drive the very first Jeep pickup truck the brand has ever produced?
On a weekend where we met Jeep owners from all around the world, one thing was becoming pretty clear; those who owned Jeeps were not simply car fanatics, but rather addicts to a lifestyle that only Jeep could supply. Sharing this passion are clubs that exist in countries across the planet, including Egypt, whereby these adrenaline junkies and adventurers at heart gather to discover the unexplored. Camp Jeep just so happens to be the largest annual gathering and this year left everyone more than happy with the birthday party, but even more excited of the bright future ahead for a lifestyle brand that continues to unify cultures spanning the globe.
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