'Okay everyone, you'll want to stay well left here," Land Rover Adventure tour leader Ronnie Dale radioed to the six LR4s following behind him through muddy forests in Catalonia, otherwise known as southern Spain. "There's a big hole ahead that caught out a previous member of our group."
Not five minutes later, a sheepish call came through. "Umm, I think I've landed in that hole," radioed the last journalist in the convoy.
The LR4 hadn't tumbled, but its two right wheels were caught well down on a partially hidden ditch, so much so that it could no longer move forward or in reverse.
Pitilessly, the rest of the pack eagerly grabbed our cameras, then headed down to shoot photos of the stranded LR4 and its extrication. And of course, to rib its driver about the unclear meaning of "big hole" and "keep left."
"Hey, I'm a city guy," he responded indignantly. "Where I come from, that's not what a big hole looks like."
Which is precisely the point of such far-flung Land Rover excursions: to provide mostly city-dwelling consumers (LR owners and otherwise) a chance to experience the types of off-road adventure for which Land Rovers were built, ones far away from typical asphalt-only commutes.
This particular LR Adventure was shorter and closer to a major metropolis than many others, involving four days worth of winery estate tours, "glam-ping" through (in our case) extremely soggy conditions, off-road slipping and gripping, and ending up in downtown Barcelona.
The concept of "glamorous camping" may seem to be at least as much of an oxymoron as a "luxury off-roader." Much of the appeal of heading to the wilderness for either camping or off-roading has traditionally been its association with a simpler life, away from buzzing Blackberries and towards placid lakes and zip-up tents for accommodations. Similarly, most off-road-ready vehicles have traditionally been rough-riding beasts with little regard for on-road manners or interior creature comforts.
Yet just like Land Rover does with its comfortably luxurious yet off-road-capable vehicles, this particular version of camping was raised to a new level worthy of its now trendy "glam-ping" title.
Yes, there was a zippered entrance and canvas walls involved, but a covered and carpeted veranda as well, complete with two pillow-lined chill-out wicker chairs. Step through the full-height mosquito-netted entranceway, and a thick duvet covered a down-filled double bed that laid on a normal-height wooden structure. No worries about sleeping on the ground with creepy crawlies waiting to find the hole in your tent's bottom.
It wouldn't be a Land Rover adventure without some sort of unplanned element throwing a wrench into such carefully laid plans. In this case, it was a steady rain that fell most of our first afternoon of off-roading, turning the hilly but relatively tame dirt trails into slippery mud pits, deep enough to suction the under-tray of even our high-riding LR4s to the ground.
Twist the circular mode selector in between the front seats to its Mud setting, ensure the air suspension was at its highest adjustable ride height, click on the nearby Hill Descent control button that limits your downward momentum automatically, and check that the four-wheel drive 'Lo' range off-road button was engaged. All these systems prompted some confidence that the LR4 was well equipped to tackle such treacherous terrain.
Plus it helped that I had experienced the Landie's prowess through such conditions on other LR adventure drives in tropical Belize and northern Ontario forests. This doesn't mean that the LR4 can make it through all such mucky conditions without getting stuck, because they do, even with somewhat experienced off-road drivers and more aggressive off-road tires than stock.
What turns a Land Rover stuck in mud in the middle of nowhere on such events from a dangerous nightmare to just another part of the adventure are the well-equipped and highly experienced Land Rover team of instructors. Not only do they jump into action to extract immobile Landies when something goes wrong, they gamely sacrifice their comfort to stand outside and direct you carefully to the right path down, around or often over sizable obstacles.
In this case, mostly in the pouring rain.
The most dramatic off for this trip happened to be in an LR4 just in front of us, the first vehicle in the convoy on the second afternoon. Following behind the instructor-driven four-door Defender, a vehicle that makes the square-edged LR4 seem a marvel of fluid aerodynamics, the unlucky driver became stranded right near the top of a quickly eroding ditch. Each attempt to move caused the roof to swing menacingly down the left-land slope, where it came perilously close to rolling onto its side.
With a front-row seat to the drama, we watched as it slid down the slope sideways, and soon afforded us a good view of the LR4's considerable underbody off-road protection. After half an hour's worth of extraction efforts, the LR team decided that instead of battling that tricky spot with the following six Landies, a new path was in order: one 15 feet straight up the side of the earth wall next to us.
Out came the towropes for us, and all the other LR4s, as well as the following tailing instructor's Defender. With our goal to reach a grassy plain just above us, once the leading Defender scouted the area, it proceeded to tow us up, our LR4 then helping the next one in line. Entire time of the revised operation: approximately 30 minutes, or about as long as to extract just the lead LR4 from its mud bath.
Such is the kind of detour that happens on a regular basis on such Land Rover adventures. This particular Catalonian Escape officially ended in June, though there was talk of extending the program out through the summer, if enough folks were interested in the four-day package that runs for ₤3,550 (about $5,500). But another eight-day expedition is in the works for September in Botswana, at about double the price, with more info available at landroverexpeditions.com.
Just look out for the big holes.