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FIGHTING THE CRISIS – AND WINNING

| 16/07/2012 | 0 Comments

The fact that Portugal is going through an economical crisis is nothing new. We feel it every day with every cut in salaries, education or health and in every increase in taxes and general cost of things. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, that many people have to let go of their possessions, including their beloved Land Rovers. But that’s not exactly the case… People are selling a lot of things, but not their Land Rovers and that was quite obvious at the 2012 Rates Billing Land Rover Gathering.

By Pedro Santos (www.offroadwriter.com)

The Rates Billing Gathering is held every year in June, in the small town of São Pedro de Rates, Portugal (Rates for short), near Povoa de Varzim. Rates is an historical place, dating back before the 11th century and is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal, offering the perfect setting for a weekend stay, so many of the participants decide to spend a few more days enjoying the breathtaking countryside. In fact, most people actually arrive a day or two before the venue has even begun.
We got there on Friday night, or rather, Saturday morning as it was already 3 AM. Do you think anyone was asleep? Forget it… As we entered the site, we were immediately spotted by some friends and they gave us no choice but to hang around a bit. It wasn’t until the sun came out that things got a little quieter and we were able to finally get some rest.
Three hours were enough for us as we didn’t want to waste our time sleeping, so we got up and made our way to the central area of the venue. First thing we noticed was that there were, in fact, less trade stands than the year before, but the space was better distributed. There were several Land Rovers for sale, from stock Freelanders to well prepared Defenders and the local Land Rover dealer had contributed with a few brand new Evoques to brighten up the place.
There was also a very nice used parts stand from a Facebook group called “Apanhadinhos por Land Rover, meaning something like “Nuts about Land Rovers”. Led by Fernando Ramos, the group invited people to sell their used Land Rover parts on their stand, so it was packed with cheap parts and accessories. We couldn’t help ourselves and bought two Range Rover Classic front seats to fit to our Discovery.
Our friends João and wife were also there with their own trade stand. They sell clothes with personalized logos or writings, from the basic t-shirts to full winter jackets. It was actually one of the most popular stands in the venue and, being their first time at the Rates gathering, I can imagine it won’t be their last.
After lunch we made our way towards the obstacle course where most people were heading. Every year the track is different and it just keeps getting better. The organizers put a lot of effort in to make it interesting for standard vehicles and for well prepared ones, with different obstacles for each. There’s a deep mud hole at one end, impossible for any vehicle to cross without winching, but people still try, spewing mud all over the place. Some try to walk through the thigh deep mud, loosing their shoes in it, making for some hilarious scenes.
As night falls, music gets louder, and nowhere is it louder that at our friends spot, from the Aguça 4×4 Club. We spend an hour or so, socializing with them, while devouring one of their famous roast pork sandwiches. The Aguça club organizes off road outings during the year, charging a few Euros from the participants and save the money just for the Rates party. They then put on a huge party, and roast an entire pig on Saturday night at the gathering. Everyone is welcome to get a delicious roast pork sandwich for free so you can bet they are always making new friends. Night was spent in good company, with good food and great music.
Sunday morning everybody heads to the front gate with their Land Rovers for the traditional parade around the main streets of Povoa de Varzim. It’s an awesome spectacle, with more than 500 Land Rovers of all ages, shapes and sizes in a single line through the middle of the city. People on the streets stop to take pictures, others just stare with their jaws open, others wave and we wave back. The caravan gathers near the beach for a final group photo and then everyone heads of in different directions.
I have to confess that we weren’t expecting to find so many people at the Rates Gathering. We really thought that this economical predicament would simply destroy this event. But, for our surprise, even with some of the most expensive fuel in Europe, thousands still showed up and it was just as awesome as it ever was.

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