By Clare Morin
With all the turbulence and changes in the Egyptian political landscape this past year, some were wondering whether the Sahara Race 2011 would even take place at all. So when RacingThePlanet were the first operator to confirm that they were still coming to Egypt, local manager Hany Zaky says he was thrilled at the news.
“It was a great feeling of support for Egypt, Egyptians and the desert,” said Zaky, who lives and works in this region. “It means a lot to us.”
The Sahara Race has been taking place in Egypt for the past seven years, and has emerged as one of the most highly regarded races in the region.
This is the second year that the race has taken place in the extraordinary UNESCO protected Wadi Al-Hitan, or Valley of the Whales. In ancient times this area was a shallow sea and to this day there are fossils of animals that continue to lie on the sand, giving one the sense of being in a vast outdoor museum.
It is not easy to race in this part of the desert. The Sahara Race is the only race that takes place in this protected area, due in part to the organization’s strong regard to respecting the culture and pristine nature of the desert. “This is the best course in Egypt,” argues Zaky. “It’s the first race of any kind to cross the Valley of the Whales. It’s all just so beautiful: wherever you look there is so much variety and diversity in the terrain.
Zaky also adds that it’s not just the landscape, but the staff, volunteers and competitors that the event attracts that gives it a professional, well-managed and enjoyable edge. “The variety of competitors and volunteers at the Sahara Race from all over the world doesn't happen in any other race in Egypt. It is the number one race in Egypt in terms of organization, course, countries,” he argues.
Yet we would argue that it is the strength of the local team that makes the Sahara Race the absolute success that it has become.
Hamada has also worked as part of the local team on the race since 2005. We spoke to him as he stayed at checkpoint 7 helping to fill competitor’s water bottles and teaching everyone desert games with sand and pebbles, to help everyone stay awake for the 24 hour period.
Like many on the local team of this event, Hamada works in tourism in the area and spends much of his time in the depths of the desert. His driving skills have proved invaluable, guiding the staff through the dunes. Even he says that the Sahara Race offers a very special look into the region. “This race is one of the best ways to explore the Sahara,” he says. “You see some amazing sights.”
A great love and pride of the desert is shared by the Egyptian volunteers who consistently come to support the event. Ahmed Yehia Ismail, better known as Dolfen, has returned for a second year as a volunteer (he’s also celebrated another birthday while out in the midst of the Sahara Race).
Dolfen promotes “Tripping in Egypt”, a way for Egyptians to experience the astounding scenery that lies just at their fingertips. “Not many Egyptians travel,” he says. Like Zaky, he says that the Sahara Race offers an unparalleled view into the heart of the desert. “Although it is not just the Sahara or just the people,” he adds. “It is about the combination of both at this place. It is so special.”