Ferries that transport passengers from Taba in Egypt to Aqaba in Jordan are fairly common; however, it was Egypt’s Yara Shalaby, along with her husband and three friends, who were the first to kayak from Taba to Aqaba, and back, with the help of Orascom Hotels and Developments.
Can you introduce yourself to the readers?
I am Yara Shalaby . I am 35-years-old, an engineer, and a mother to my seven-year-old son. I am working in programming development for a bank.
I always loved adventure and my family always encouraged me to explore everything. I was raised to be independent and it allowed me to experience many new things.
I was raised with four boys, and there were never distinctions made between men and women. My father and I used to spend time together in the desert and diving. As I grew up, I began experiencing the world on my own, and tried skydiving and rock climbing.
What brought on the idea of crossing from Egypt to Jordan by kayak?
I had always dreamt of swimming across a sea, particularly when I was young and would visit the Red Sea.
Recently, I was on a vacation in Marsa Allam with my friends and I had my kayak. It was a long vacation and I was bored. As I kayaked out in the sea I noticed a sign on the other side that read “cargo ship.” I kayaked towards it until I was closer to the shore than I was to where I had set off. I thought this was going to be Jordan, but it turned out to be Saudi Arabia.
Since then a thought has crossed my mind; why not cross to another country by kayak?
Can you tell us about the kayaking journey itself?
In order to be allowed to kayak across, I had to seek permission from authorities on both sides of the crossing. The issuing authorities on either side are two hotels run by the Orascom Group: Taba Heights Hotel on the Egyptian side and Tala Heights Hotel in the Jordanian side.
Orascom Hotels and Developments welcomed the idea, because no one had attempted to kayak across and back before. The only attempt similar to this was made by a group of Canadians who swam from Jordan to Egypt. Bear in mind, however, that the crossing from Egypt to Jordan flows against the water’s current.
Orascom Hotels and Developments sponsored the whole event, issued all the permissions for us, and hosted us at both Taba Heights and Tala Heights.
Who joined you?
My husband and three friends from the Nile Kayak Club joined me. It took us around six hours and half to reach Jordan. The return trip took around three hours and half.
What other sports have you participated in?
I tried desert-racing and it became a career for me. I started four years ago and discovered that there are rallies taking place in Egypt.
So three months after I started, I prepared my car for a rally in 2013 in El-Gouna. I had no experience and I performed badly. I was not disappointed though, and continued training.
In my second rally, my performance improved a lot. I was the runner-up, and a prestigious team sponsored by Toyota asked me to join them. All in all, I was a part of the team for a year and a half, and I did pretty well.
Tell us about your experience at the Pharos Rally?
When I first participated at the Pharos Rally, I was one of two women participating in the car rally. There were other women at the event, but they raced motorcycles.
I was the champion of my category and placed thirteenth in the whole rally, out of 50 cars.
As the first Egyptian woman to race at a Pharos Rally, did you try to promote this among Egyptian women?
Of course, after the Pharos Rally, I did; I was motivated to do so. I spoke with the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and discovered that they offer a five-day professional training in Qatar for the best nine female racers worldwide under the tutelage of world champions. Their goal was to broaden female participation in cross-country racing.
When I returned from Qatar, I established a team of female racers. Our first race was in March 2016; we came first in our category and fourth in the whole race. Then we raced in the United Arab Emirates and placed sixth, out of fifteen. Also we just came from a race in Fayoum, where we were the runner-ups.
Thanks to our performance, we are ranked first this year.
What are your upcoming plans for your racing career?
I am planning to participate in a race in Morocco, to be held in October 2017.
Did you try shooting?
I used to go on shooting trips in Fayoum with my parents, but I have not tried to turn it into a professional career.