Driving in the Desert

“Suppose I want to drive into the desert and not see another soul for six weeks,” I ask, “could you arrange that?”
“Of course, no problem,” comes the reply that we are all too familiar with from Egyptians.
“Suppose I want to drive from London to Cape Town in record time. Could you get me through the border in less than eight hours?”
“Twenty minutes, no problem”.

“OK,” I muse, pushing the boundaries of his expertise and contacts, “could you arrange a U2 concert in the desert for 10,000 people?”
“Hmm, I certainly wouldn’t refuse the job. I would see what we could do.”


The man I’m speaking to is Tarek El-Mahdy, a man who can back up his “no problem” responses with a string of past successes. As he is half Egyptian he has that wonderful laid-back attitude and fixes things over a tea and a chat. But since he is also half German his expeditions run like a well-oiled machine and things happen when, and how, they are supposed to.


Starting off with motorbikes with his brother back in the 1970s, Tarek was a born explorer and soon found his driving and geographical knowledge was in demand. Since then Tarek and his team have explored Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and as far as Mauritania. They use 60 and 80 series Toyota Landcruisers and a couple of Hiluxes. “We use Toyotas over Land Rovers because although they cost more initially, spare parts are far easier to come by,” he says. This concern was proved by a friend of mine, who asked if I had any friends visiting from the UK soon who could bring some Land Rover engine parts packed between their socks and pants! Even with Toyotas it isn’t always easy, “Getting specialist expedition equipment in the early days was very difficult,” Tarek adds, leaning back in the wicker chair in his small office, walls lined with photos of past expeditions.


I dare to raise the sometimes delicate issue of the revolution and the impact on business. “Of course we no longer run trips to Syria or Libya, but we have no shortage of clients. Our problem at the moment is getting permission to drive into certain areas.” And given the right permissions and client it seems that anything is possible! When overlanders want to drive from Europe down to Cape Town the general advice is to allow a day to get you and the vehicle through customs. Tarek got the London to Cape Town rally through in 2½ hours – all 57 vehicles. When Philip Young and Paul Brace from the UK wanted to complete that same journey in just ten days they commissioned Tarek to get them and their Land Rover Discovery through Libya and Egypt quickly and hassle-free.


A TV crew for a documentary needed an ultra-light plane for aerial shots. “No problem” – it was disassembled, put into the Landcruisers and reassembled in Gilf Kebir. Though the use of drones in filming would probably mean that request isn’t repeated any time soon.


In order to diversify their clientele Tarek has started putting on what he terms Cultural Desert Days. You want to watch a film, hear a lecture, go to the opera, or even watch a Russian ballerina and her flautist? In the desert? Well, as it so happens he has arranged just such events.


Maybe you would like Tarek to take you to a place you’ve never been before or teach you how to drive in the sand, it is of course, “no problem.”


Tarek El-Mahdy runs Dabuka New Horizons from his office on Road 9. www.dabuka.de

Benjamin James has a background in automotive engineering, a keen interest in two- and four-wheel motoring, and an unrequited passion for overlanding.

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