Hamsa Mansour: The Egyptian Cyclist Showing How it’s Done

Twenty nine-year-old Hamsa Mansour is many things: athlete, adventurer, aspiring documentarian and storyteller – and come 2019, she might just be the first Egyptian woman to solo cycle the entirety of Egypt.

I first stumbled upon Hamsa’s story in an article published on the independent news organisation Egyptian Streets. Here was an inspiring women with a passion for travel and challenging preconceptions about what is and isn’t possible – how could I turn down the opportunity to share her story?

On the 23rd of December 2017, Hamsa completed an 8-day solo, unsupported cycle from the capital city of Cairo and across the Sinai Peninsula; a journey that served as preparation for her 2019 goal. For this challenge, Hamsa was sponsored by Wild Guanabana and supported by her husband Nour El Din, and one of her best friends, Galal Zekri Chatila – both whom have solo cycled Egypt before. Nour and Galal provided pre-trip consultations and were Hamsa’s emergency contacts throughout the duration of the trip. Additionally, a wider support network based in different locations around the country tracked her progress and safety. In the final days of 2017, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Hamsa on cycling, Egypt, and why being a girl should never stop anyone.

You recently completed cycling around the Red Sea and Sinai. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience?

The journey was overwhelming. Let me start by saying that I had to stop at Nuweiba (70km and one day away from the planned end destination) because of an injury. I was advised by a doctor to turn around and take a bus home on the fourth day, but I was sure I could push some more, and I wanted to reach the farthest I could.

The journey to Nuweiba was really overwhelming. Being on my own on the roads I truly love and feeling that I’m at home was new to me, (and) being challenged every single day and breaking down and getting myself back up made me more resilient. The first 3 days were very hard; I was facing unpredicted head winds at great speeds that slowed me down a lot, and my speed averaged at 9-10km/hr instead of 17-19 km/hr. It was demotivating and devastating to not have been able to reach my original destination on the second day, and having to make adjustments because of the wind. I had to take everything in a joking manner. I would sit on the road and laugh at the fact that I’m cycling at 8km/hr, and that I’d been cycling for five hours to cover thirty-something kilometres. It was my way of dealing with it. It was an “I’ll get there when I get there” sort of mentality. I learned a lot about respecting my body. I learnt that it isn’t a machine, (that) it will get tired and it is entitled to.

You had to amend your original plans to manage injury. Is psychological flexibility something that comes naturally to you?

I actually had to amend a lot of things on this trip – before your question, I didn’t even know that it required psychological flexibility!

Changing plans according to the circumstances doesn’t bother or worry me. On the first day, I had to accept that my speedometer wasn’t working and wouldn’t work and (that there was) head wind. I had to change the plans and destinations because of this several times, (and) then I had to change my plans because of the injuries. This started with completely ditching the planning and going as fast as my body would allow me, to not cycling the last day and ending the journey in Nuweiba. I do better when I’m not tied to schedules and deadlines. It gives me space to breathe.

What is your response to people who tell you that you’re pursuing the impossible by training to be the first Egyptian woman to solo cycle around Egypt?

I don’t believe in impossible things. I would just say that I have been told that the trip I just finished is impossible and that I will end up raped and dead on the side of the road and here I am, I think the first Egyptian woman to solo cycle such a distance inside Egypt unsupported.

“(When) I started planning this trip alone, 99% of the reactions I received were along the lines of, ‘Girls don’t do this alone, someone will kidnap and rape you and you will be found dead’. I didn’t believe this to be true and it made me want to embark on this adventure the soonest to prove that people are inherently good.”
Source

How has living your whole life in Egypt informed your attitude towards gender?

There has always been a contrast between the way I was raised and how the society functions. At home, I was never ever introduced to the concept of saying ‘the difference between men and women isn’t right’. I didn’t know that some people saw it this way to begin with, so I never thought of that. My mom raised us as all kids should be raised. Being a girl was just a fact, not an issue. As I grew older and I saw how the society functions, I didn’t understand or conform to it, (and) it was never a part of any decision-making. It is way more simple to me than this, and I believe (it is) what makes me not scared while venturing on such adventures.

What is a message you have for anyone considering traveling to Egypt for the first time?  

Forget the stereotypes and the places they tell you to visit. This country is very, very diverse; we have several cultures and ethnic communities that you would love to discover and understand. Instead of going to Cairo and Alexandria, go to Siwa and the western desert and its marvellous sand dunes. Go to Sinai and enjoy hiking the deserts and climbing mountains for days at a time. Go to Aswan and see the colourful islands on the Nile banks, and stay with Nubian people in their homes. Go to Luxor and see pharaonic wonders. There is much, much more.

You have said that you weren’t always the strong, adventurous person you are now. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self in light of everything you have achieved today?

I would tell myself to get up and get stronger. I would tell myself that it is worth it.

How can we support you on your journey towards your 2019 goal?

I want to raise awareness towards (my) journey. I will honestly need sponsors to be able to (achieve) this, and I need more people to know about it. I have been receiving messages that what I did inspired some – if that is true, I would love more people to hear about it.

“I do believe it’s always mind over matter. In any single adventure, in anything we do. It’s what gets you up a mountain; it’s not only your training, but what you think, and how you talk to yourself.”
Source

Follow Hamsa on Instagram to keep up to date with her adventures…
… and check out Wild Guanabana, the sponsor of Hamsa’s cycling!

 

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Interview: Paper Girls with Becky Finley

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m 22, I’ve spent the last 3 years travelling 22 countries and 20 states in 5 epic vehicles. I love hiking and eating and sitting on a boat in my bikini, and I haven’t experienced a full winter in 4 and a half years. I’ve had 5 tattoos, 2 broken hearts, 14 jobs, and over 100 hours in a plane. I can probably speak like 20 words in other languages.

How do you fund your traveling?

I work like a dog! I work and travel; I arrived in Sydney with around $1200 when I was 19, and my first week was spent exploring and finding a job. I worked at Taronga Zoo for 2 months, and ended up with maybe $4000, which I spent on several months backpacking in Asia. Then I restart and work again. The main thing is I truly believe I can get awesome jobs, so I do. I’ve worked in the zoo, promoting in a bar in Laos, as a rock climbing instructor, an outdoor adventure guide, an artist liaison and music booking agent, renovating a house on the beach in Hawaii… I don’t work for minimum wage because I’m worth more and after a days work my employers believe that.

What would you say are the most underrated and overrated parts of traveling?

The most underrated is the fact that you are only responsible for yourself, and you have so much time to just be whoever the fuck you want to be. You become entirely selfish and it’s really healthy and wonderful. The most overrated is the perception of how expensive and glamorous travelling is. I spend less travelling for a month than most people do at home in a month. Unfortunately, travellers contribute to the glamorous perception of travelling themselves, we all post pictures on yachts, but I’m less likely to take pictures of my hands swollen with bed bugs, or post about shitting my pants, lost on the way home from some dodgy street food. (I always want to post this but don’t want to be overly obscene).

Have there been moments where you have feared for your safety overseas?

In general, no. Mostly I put an enormous amount of trust in foreign strangers, which they totally deserve. I have done same insanely stupid shit though. I only feel scared after when I am looking back at the stories. Like, when I volunteered in Cambodia, it wasn’t through an agency, I just found a handwritten note in a hostel. I got on the back of this boys bike, he had one leg, because he had lost the other in a land mining accident that had killed his brother and sister. The ride alone was over an hour, he could barely balance us both, and he had a helmet but I didn’t. We got to this little village, I had no idea where I was, and no phone. No one had seen a white person for three months, and I was told the road was built on the bodies of those killed under Pol Pot. The boy who picked me up was the only one that spoke English, and when I asked if I could walk through the village, he said yes, but to be careful. The men followed me and leered, and he said some of the dogs were “bad”. I slept in a room in the house on stilts, with a bed frame but no bed, and a rat that scurried up the wall when I entered. The boy said the police came to sleep in a hammock under the house while I was there, because otherwise I wouldn’t be safe. At the time, the experience was really wonderful, the kids were so sweet and all called me ‘teacher’, but looking back, it could have ended pretty differently.

What is your opinion on souvenirs — and how do you regulate the acquiring of keepsakes when you’re backpacking?

I love souvenirs, not so much of places, but of life changing experiences or spectacular people. Regulation is super easy – do I want to carry that? Jewellery and tattoos are my go-to souvenirs. Also little scars and holes in my clothes are always cherished. I do buy souvenirs for other people; a point of pride was managing to bring my brother back a cobra in a bottle.

What is something you have had to sacrifice in order to live a nomadic lifestyle?

This is really hard to put this into words. If you have ever read Paper Towns, you might know what I mean when I say I feel like this lifestyle has made me a paper girl. I guess I feel like I’m often seen as the sum of the crazy experiences I have had, instead of a real life person. I often find myself in relationships where I am put on this adventure-girl pedestal, and expected to do no wrong, because I am just a character. My last ex told me, as I was lying in bed with a broken back after a sky-diving accident, that I wasn’t fun anymore. This sort of thing has been recurring for me; not that I stop being fun, but that I am not allowed to be human, and handle things badly sometimes. I feel like I have to be pretty careful now to select people in my life that aren’t fare-weather friends. Of course, travelling has also given me a family of the absolute best friends I have ever had.

How has traveling impacted your personal identity?

The biggest thing might be the family it has given me. The people I love that inspire me daily to be the best, and feel loved and adored and constantly supported. Travelling allows me to constantly reflect on who I am and who I want to be, as I head to a new place and dream up a new life. I feel like I have lived so many lives in the last four years. I feel like everything is possible, and anything is likely. Functionally, when I left for my first adventure, I called myself a Kiwi, and now I feel like an American. I feel out of place in the land I grew up in, and like I have explored many facets of my identity and found a place and people I want to call home. My travelling also led me to what I am now studying, and I already identify as an anthropologist. I don’t think I knew what anthropology was before I travelled.

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