A late night rebuild in a dodgy yard in Libya.
Land Rover ownership is a multi facetted thing. Not only do we have the thrill of driving where other’s can’t, but we also get to meet interesting people from around the globe. Back in 1998 I saw a picture, in a magazine, of two blokes perched on the bonnet of a 110 with the Pyramids in the background. The accompanying letter explained that they were cousins from Cairo and enjoyed nothing better than a jaunt into the desert.
I was planning a trip to Egypt the following year in my Carawagon and reasoned that any local contact would be both interesting and helpful, so I wrote to the magazine and asked them to forward my letter to the two Egyptians. A month later I had a most enthusiastic reply inviting me to contact them ‘as soon as you reach Cairo.... We shall explore the Sahara together!’ Whilst this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind I did suggest that we meet up and take it from there. My English reserve was ill founded and when I arrived in Cairo the following March, Mahmoud and his cousin, Mohammed, made me most welcome, though they were a little surprised at my age. It was something we had not discussed. I had seen a photo of them and put them in their mid twenties. They had not seen one of me and assumed I was much the same age! It provided a standing joke for the duration of the stay!
We spent a very enjoyable five days exploring the Oasis of Baharia, Siwa and the northern edges of the Great Sand Sea, before saying fond farewells and me continuing east to Jordan and Syria. Later that year email was reaching popular status in Cairo and Mahmoud, Mohammed and I were able to stay in touch quickly and simply. The 110 had been Mohammed’s, but Mahmoud bought his own 109 Station Wagon. A low mileage example that had been well looked after by an English oil company out there. He was most insistent that we should meet up and drive the desert together in two Series Land Rovers. My next planned trip was for January 2000, to Libya, some 1500 miles west of Cairo. ‘I’ll see you there’ was Mahmoud’s typically enthusiastic response, followed by a request to bring with me, replacement leaf springs, shock absorbers and various other parts, difficult to get in Cairo.
I duly did this and loaded my roof rack with all the bits, half expecting to be returning with them a month later. To my surprise he turned up with a fistful of dollars and pal called Mabruk who was on leave from National Service. The pair had driven non stop in a couple of days fuelled by strong green tea and dates! The old 109 was a bit the worse for wear, with little left of an exhaust system and very few lights. It stank of petrol as they had a leaking 45 gallon drum in the back. They stayed for a few days and we pottered around the desert for a while then Mahmoud announced he had to be back at work in Cairo in two days time. They had to leave that evening. We sat around the fire reflecting on possible future trips and vowing to keep in regular contact (we have), when Mahmoud went a bit quiet . I asked what the problem was and he replied that he had just realised that if he imported all the parts into Egypt he would have to pay duty on them. ‘We must change them here.... now!’ he said. It was at least 10.00 pm, but one of our Libyan colleagues knew of two local mechanics. We set off to wake them up. They, in turn, knew of some Nigerians who had a yard, with electricity, just up the road. They were just packing up for the evening, so luckily we were able to get in.
By 11.00 that night we were ready to start. Using some very dodgy jacks and breeze block axle stands the mechanics got stuck in, working in the light of a bare 40 watt light bulb soldered to the ends of some wire, work was fast and loose. I provided hot soup, as it was pretty chilly by then, Mahmoud offered the lure of money at the end of the job and by midnight the Land Rover was back on it’s wheels. With a final cup of soup the duo were ready to hit the road. I have this lasting image of them puling out of the yard at about 1.00 am, with one headlight, one tail light, no exhaust and listing slightly to starboard on the new springs, with a 1500 mile journey to cover in two days. They made it, with a few hours to spare!
Mahmoud: Mahmoud grins with delight at avoiding import duty!
Working: Work started late at night with the two mechanics using Toby’s high lift jack and a few breeze blocks.
Stuck: Heavily overloaded for the trip, Mahmoud's Land Rover at a rather jaunty angle in the Great Sand Sea.