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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6 Things I’ve Learned in 6 Months as a Travel Blogger

It’s hard to believe that it was a whole six months ago that I launched the Ginger Passports. I feel as though it was just the other week that I was frustratingly trying to work out what hosting platforms and domain names were (*cue traumatic technological flashbacks*). Fortunately, the good times have far outweighed the bad, and I’m still here going strong 💪

To celebrate 182 days (give or take) as a travel blogger, I’ve rounded up the six most significant things I have learned along the way. Whether you use these as inspiration for starting your own blogging enterprise, or you’re simply curious, I hope everyone can take something away from this post!

I remember how when I was conducting my own research into personal experiences of blogging before I decided to take the big leap, a recurring theme connecting all bloggers was their insistence on being driven by passion rather than forces such as money. I would roll my eyes, both at the cheesiness and seeming impracticality of that advice.

Well, it just so turns out that the joke is on me, because the only thing you can rely on in this endeavour is your own enthusiasm. When you enter the blogging sphere, it’s easy to be blinded by the potential for making revenue and enjoying free perks such as sponsored products. Whilst I have certainly reaped the benefits of the latter, I would be lying through my teeth if I said that those perks make everything worth it. I have invested hours upon hours into this blog, and at the end of the day, I have relatively little to show in terms of earnings. Well… little. Well… none. But the point is, I have also loved every single minute of it, and that knowledge in itself is enough to drive me forwards.

To quote the Beatles, “I get by with a little help from my friends”.

I may be confident creating content, but I am certainly no expert when it comes to technology. Truth be told, the reason it took me so long to actually get a blog up and running was because I couldn’t navigate the technicalities. Hosting platform? Domain name? Bitch please, I struggle to operate my TV remote.

Fortunately for me, I was approached by a good friend who studies IT, and was offered his services. We have been working together for most of 2017, and the Ginger Passports has certainly benefited from it. Without him, I would probably still be on wordpress.com with a website looking as though it were designed by a fourth grader.

Long story short, what I’m trying to communicate here is that sometimes you just need to put your pride to one side and ask for help (or accept it, in my case). Furthermore, there’s something undeniably rewarding about being part of a team. It can get awfully lonely otherwise.

When I was first developing this blog, I – being as stubborn as I am – was hell-bent that I would publish a new post three times a week regardless of circumstances. Oh, if only.

Tying back into the first point about passion, sticking to a schedule in a context such as this relies largely on motivation. If you wake up on Sunday morning, realise that you have only published two posts in the past seven days, but cannot for the life of you find a couple of hours to draft something up between all of your other commitments, then guess what? You’re not the massive failure you think you are.

I have the luxury of not being held accountable by anyone for missing my weekly goal of three posts – save perhaps myself, who is a pretty merciless judge. Unrealistic expectations aside, this luxury means I have the flexibility to roll with the punches and write when the mood takes me. Generally, my passion for blogging squeezes out at least two posts a week, but that’s not always the case. And you know what? That’s okay. If I sacrificed the joy of flexible blogging to meet my tri-weekly goal right from the outset, I would not be here six months later writing this post.

I’m talking about the two C’s here: content and collaborations.

Regarding content, there have been some subject matters I have written about that I was scared would backfire and earn a negative reception. Likewise, there were some that dealt with issues I don’t have a knowledge base in, and wasn’t entirely confident writing about. Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and clicked ‘publish’. I figured that I have to start somewhere, and I can’t just discuss travel playlists and Balinese villas named after Ariana Grande for the rest of my blogging career.

Collaborating was also an intimidating prospect for me. Infact, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I finally mustered the courage to start emailing brands and bloggers about the possibility of working together. Now, I’m not trying to deceive you; I estimate that approximately 90% of those that I reach out to either ignore or politely decline my offers. But the key point worthy of highlighting here is that 10% accepted. There are plenty of exciting projects in the works thanks to those 10%; you might have already read about my campaign with Organic Initiative. Not unlike creating content that exceeded my comfort zone, I took risks and they paid off.

I welcome any excuse to channel my inner Monica Gellar.

Perhaps the most important resource I use to keep my blog developing is planning. The easiest way to lose track of your goals is not to have any, but setting those goals is only half the job. The other half entails actually working out how to achieve them.

As I have mentioned numerous times over the course of this post, my goal is to publish (roughly) three posts per week. I manage to reach that goal most of the time (*cough*) by planning in advance. On the last day of each month, I set aside time to brainstorm which posts I will write, and on what days I shall publish them. On a similar note, I also track my blog statistics on this same day for the past month, compare these figures with other months, analyse what were the strengths and weaknesses and decide how I can capitalise on these in future.

Planning is not only productive, but thoroughly gratifying as well. There’s nothing like ticking off the tasks on your to do list one by one, and the sense of accomplishment you gain is yet another of those driving forces behind your motivation.

I know, I know… that sounds absolutely bonkers. That’s like saying ‘you don’t have to wear make up to be a make up blogger’.

But it’s true! The beauty of travel blogging is that a majority of your readership are not going to be from where you live. I call New Zealand home, and have received so many lovely messages from readers across the globe asking about this beautiful country. I have written so many posts about Dunedin without having to travel more than ten minutes from my front door. By viewing the city through the lens of an outsider, I have actually felt like a tourist. It was something I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to experience.

I have also enjoyed writing about things that extend beyond geographical location. Some of my favourite posts include 5 Travel Tattoos That Don’t Scream PINTEREST and the No-Bullsh*t Guide to Saving Money to Travel for Young Adults, both of which did not require me to buy a plane ticket or even sacrifice the warmth and comfort of my bed.

I have gone six months without traveling (save for a sneaky wee trip three hours west to Central Otago) and still have ideas up my sleeve for future blog posts. Travel blogging has taught me to find inspiration in everything, and that is certainly something I don’t take for granted.

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