Rallying the Eastern Desert

It’s not common to go on a trip from Cairo to Gouna and come back on the same day. Apparently, though, if you’re a desert rally racer, this is just part of your usual routine. You know, wake up early, drive 450 KM to Gouna, then take a turn into the desert, practice aggressive driving and navigate for another couple of hundred kilometers until finally driving back 450 KM home. This is exactly what I experienced/ got to experience when I decided to ride along with my friends from Gazelle Rally team in one of their practice sessions.

We woke up and hit the road at 6 am. I was excited. It was my first time going to drive four by fours in the desert. It took us about four hours to reach El-Gouna, after some crazy driving by the pros. Instead of turning left through the gates of Gouna, we took a right onto the off-roads leading to the desert. We were riding in two wranglers, one driven by Yara Shalaby, founder and pilot of Egypt’s first all-female rally team, Gazelle Rally team, and the other driven by Sherif Abdelazim, founder and pilot for Hammerhead Rally team, and Yara’s husband.

After arriving/riding a couple of kilometers into the desert, we stopped to refresh before starting practice. We were in the middle of the desert already, away from any asphalt or cell phone signal, and away from any bathrooms. You soon figure out that the desert is actually a huge open air bathroom. The weather was nice, the air clean, and the scenery amazing. There’s always something magical about looking out on plains of sand in the horizon, touching the big blue sky in a straight line for as far as you can see.

The plan was to do a 70 Km course, using only a road book, basically a directional map, and a GPS navigator. Before starting the course, Yara asked Amen to adjust the air pressure in her tires, and, to my surprise, he did. Amen is her 7-year old son.

Now, we were all set to go. Yara and her co-pilot lead the way, while I rode with Sherif in the other car. Both cars were racing through the desert, creating tails of dust that blinded the car trailing behind – this is why you should always try to beat the car in front of you if you’re in a desert race. We were climbing sand dunes, drifting on slopes, bouncing on rocky terrains, and soaring through the desert like there’s no tomorrow.

After a couple of hours of driving, and some severe stomach upsets on my end, the team decided to take a break. We parked under a big desert tree. Under its shade, we spread our carpet, and Yara made us some tea. It seems that these guys are always prepared with their camping gear. We had some fun climbing the tree, sipping tea, and taking lots of pictures. We soon took off again for some more aggressive driving.

After a while, we successfully completed the course, and decided to head back to the main road. It was dark already, and we were starving. We settled at one of El-Gouna’s marina restaurants and had a well deserved hot meal. We finished up with some ice cream, and then hit the road back to Cairo.

It was an awesome experience learning about a new sport. I had not expected how amazing it would be. I was shocked at the level of physical strength and endurance it takes to drive a car on extremely rough tracks in the heat and dust of the desert for hundreds of kilometers per day, in a race that can last for 5 days, all while having to exert an enormous amount of mental effort.  The driver needs to pay attention to every detail on the route, calculating time, distance, and direction as you ride in order to stay on track, and needs to ensure he is doing it all as quick as possible in order to beat your opponents.

Rally racing is one of the most challenging and exciting sports I have ever tried. However, my stomach wouldn’t agree! As awesome as the day was, I’m not sure it is an experience I would go through again.


"Abdalla is a part time travel blogger, and shares his adventures on his Instagram account, @Egyptianwhotravels”




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