Lately, Egyptian women are trying to shatter the stereotypes that society dictates for them by following their hearts, and one of those young ladies pursuing her dreams of cycling solo across Egypt is Hamsa Mansour.
Mansour is a 29-year-old Cairo based adventurer, inspiring storyteller and documentarian who currently works as an adventure trip leader at Wild Guanabana and manager at Muricata, which are both owned by Omar Samra.
She is currently training for an 11-day trip covering 775 kilometers around the Red Sea and Sinai. Having previously experienced cycling by herself to Ismailia, Mansour is aware of the safety measures she needs to take. Her following journey is planned to be a 1,600-kilometer trip around Wahat next February where she will camp on the road, all in preperation to help her achieve her dream of solo cycling across Egypt, which she would like to complete by the beginning of 2019.
We sat down with Mansour to understand further where this passion came from and what she plans on doing in the future.
When and why did you start cycling, and what made you decide to cycle across Egypt?
The main drive behind this decision was the passion I had towards adventure, traveling, experiencing new places and challenging myself.
I loved cycling just as much as every other kid. Years back, I was traveling to Sokhna and I saw a cyclist on the road and this is where my interest began. At first, I only dreamt of doing the same, but then years later, I met Galal Zekri Chatila and Nour El Din Sherif who both had solo cycled around Egypt and their stories inspired me to pursue it. That is when I adventured on my trip to Ismailia last March. However, I still wanted to achieve more, and so I decided to embark on this next journey.
I want to venture on this trip to challenge myself physically, mentally and emotionally, and to use the exposure I will get to create stories using videography and photography to prove to society that what seems impossible is in fact within reach. I hope others will get inspired to see the beauty of this country, and what its roads have to offer.
Do you feel safe while cycling in Egypt alone as a female?
Being on your own is a different experience. This kind of isolation helps you absorb every minute and it teaches you about the importance of determination, self-motivation and believing in yourself. You are the only one there to pick yourself up from the ground when you breakdown.
I feel safe cycling in Egypt alone and I hope women would not have their gender dictate what they think they can do. I befriend those I meet on the road or even while cycling in Cairo.
During my trip to Ismailia, I came across one driver who tried to scare me by pretending he would run me over, but that was the only incident I had experienced. Many people showed interest in finding out why I am doing this and offered their support in many ways.
What reactions do you receive from people about what you do?
The reactions vary. At first, I was called reckless and irresponsible among other things and I have sat in conversations where I have been told that I won’t get out of this alive.
Some of my friends tried to convince me to do this with a support car following me – which to me would defeat the purpose – but after a while came acceptance and right now I am glad to have a strong support system and many people who believe that I will be able to do this.
Talking with Nour and Galal about their experiences and seeking their advice was what helped me and pushed me forward. I put down a training plan that included several small cycling trips that would prepare me for the big adventure, as well as planning the logistics of the trip and preparing risk assessments.
Tell us about your first trip to Ismailia.
I was on the road on an early Saturday morning and I remember being anxious, not about any safety concerns, but rather I was doubting whether I had the strength to do this or not. Once I got on the bike, it all went away and I just enjoyed every minute of it.
To my surprise, I did better than I expected. I did not need the two breaks I had planned and it took me 5 hours and 45 minutes instead of the eight I had estimated. After completing it, it did not feel like much of an accomplishment, and I remember telling myself that I could have started with something bigger.
What was the hardest trip you ever experienced and why?
I always use the word challenging instead of hard. They have to be challenging or else I won’t grow or learn from them. That being said, I believe the most challenging adventure was not a cycling one, but it was actually climbing Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa.
I was in so much pain on the second day that I could barely get down the stairs in the morning without crying in pain. I had to stand for a minute and tell myself: “if you are still walking, then you are still climbing,” and that is what I did. It was also psychologically challenging to accept that I made it to the summit in five hours instead of the four.
How do you prepare for a cycling trip?
I start with the map where I check the distances, the places I will be staying in, the points I will reach on each day and then I start to think about the gear I will need and the safety measures I will take. What I bring with me depends on the trip itself and on whether I am camping or staying in a hotel.
My main gear consists of tools, a first aid kit, my camera, clothes, my spot device that I use to track my movement, several power banks, a music player and most importantly, Felfel, my stuffed elephant that I have had since I was a toddler and had promised to show him the world.
How many hours do you train daily and how do you train?
It depends on the day to be honest as I have a full-time job and sometimes it is challenging to balance all of this. I used to go to crossfit sessions three times a week and I try to cycle to and from work in addition to one long cycling day per week.
Now, I actually train on the stairs of my building by carrying weights and taking the flights several times, alternating between running and walking.
What advice would you give to female cyclists in Egypt?
I know that they will receive concerns and negative comments, but believe me, they should not listen to them and they should know that they are exaggerated. Just get on the bike and experience it for yourself. If we listen to the concerns, we won’t break new grounds and we won’t realize our huge dreams. Do not let people’s opinions make you believe that something is not doable.
Being a female should not be a factor that stops you, it just means you might have to take extra safety measures. I know we do not have cycling-friendly roads but do not let that stop you either.
If you want to follow her trips, make sure to visit her Instagram account: @hamsa_mansour