MINI Road Trip Day One: The cars of Buenos Aires

red pick up
Blackball Media

Whenever I land in a new country, one that's unfamiliar and strange, it's not the weather, the smells or the architecture I notice first, it's the cars.

It comes with being a petrol head, I suppose. I noticed the 1.8L Ford Escort with the wrong wheels barging for a space in the taxi rank outside Buenos Aires airport as soon as we landed and I noticed the unfamiliar Volkswagen Go parked up at the side of the road while others were imprinting colourful walls on their camera's memory cards.

I've just arrived in Argentina - just a few days after the most controversial Top Gear special based in the same country aired - for a 10-day event covering the Dakar rally.

I'm here with MINI who are attempting to win the gruelling race for the fourth time, with seasoned pros Nani Roma and co-driver Michel Perin their title hopefuls. There's a challenger too this year in the shape of Peugeot who are entering the adventure again with the 2008 DKR, which should make things interesting.

Our party arrived in Buenos Aires a little weary after a 15-hour flight - the longest non-stop BA does, no less - from Heathrow. We were thrust straight out into the city for some sightseeing, taking in the colourful metropolis.

MINI Road Trip: Day One

MINI Road Trip: Day One

Parts of the capital are extremely derelict. Near the port we spotted shanty houses made from little more than corrugated iron and a few bricks, nestled under the struts of a motorway bridge. One, three-storey rudimentary building looked like it was about to fall over at any moment, as kids played happily barefoot on the pavement in front.

However, it wasn't the juxtaposition of derelict houses and huge government building monoliths just blocks apart that interested me most - it was the cool cars.

The South Americans seem to have an incredible knack of keeping old tat on the road far longer than seems sensible. And then when they're done with them they just seem to dump them where they coughed to a halt.

For every five cars I've seen running, I've spotted one with four flat tyres, no windows and a burnt out interior languishing in a side road. Even Argentinian parking rituals seem odd - motorway central reservations seem to be perfectly acceptable places to park. There were cabbies having a smoke and bus drivers snoozing as four lanes of traffic wheezed past.

The variety of cars civilians drive seem unusual to say the least - from battered old pick-ups to strange rusty Fiats (aren't they always) - what's even stranger are the vehicles Argentinian police get about in.

From weird Chevrolet-badged Vauxhall Merivas (poor, poor plod) to nippy little bikes, the cops over here seem to drive anything and everything - including huge articulated lorries. Best avoid the latter.

Tomorrow we're heading to Cordoba where we'll pick up the MINI adventure proper. There our Countryman Cooper S models will be waiting for our trek across the desert, as we attempt to keep up with the rally's fierce pace.

We've been promised fast, military-grade satellite wifi at all our stops so unfortunately you'll have to try and avoid more video blogs like the one below. Sorry about the beard, but I thought it would help make me look more rugged for the camping... and scare off the snakes.