Galal Zekri-Chatila cycles through Egypt's oases and deserts

Ingy Deif, Monday 9 Mar 2015

Ahram Online catches up with Galal Zekri-Chatila, the young Egyptian cycling across Egypt revealing the beauty of its deserts and oases.

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila
(Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila)

As he continues to showcase the hidden marvels of Egypt, Galal Zekri-Chatila sheds light on the beauty of Siwa Oasis in the far  west of Egypt, as part of a bold solo adventure on his bike.

Galal embarked on his 'Egypt on Two Wheels' journey on the 22nd of November after extensive planning, expecting to cover a distance of 7000 km in four months.

Accompanied by his loyal companion, Sophia the Bike, he took off while being witnessed by 70 students from his old school, Jeshuite, and since then has been touring through various destinations, sometimes hitching rides on boats and camels, and making friends everywhere.

He had always emphasised that the idea was never about setting a record, but rather revealing the hidden beauties of the diverse Egyptian landscape.

The main reason for the cycling trip is to show how beautiful the country really is and from more than one perspective: diversity in the landscape, untouched natural resources, and the good will and hospitality of the people.

By this point, Galal had already covered more than half the distance of the tour, with the longest stage being the sixth one.

The sixth stage saw him travelling for a distance of 1700 km stopping at Siwa, Cairo, Farafra, Bahariya, Dakhla, Abu Minqar, El Zayat, Kharga, and Luxor.

The tour, passing through all of these places, revealed tremendous beauty and diversity.

Siwa: a whole different story

Galal reached Siwa on the first of January, and was supposed to stay there only for two days before heading to the Bahariya Oasis.

He stayed instead for a whole month, leaving on the first day of February.

‏Siwa (Photo: Courtesy of Galal Zekri-Chatila)

"A whole month in that beautiful oasis had its perks and challenges. Gaining permits to allow me to continue cycling to Bahariya forced me to wait. I had to wait because there were suggestions that the road I was to take was unsafe for anyone, especially someone on a bike," he said.

Desert And people at Siwa intertwined

"I got to know Siwa like the palm of my hand. Waiting for those permits cost me an additional month to my trip, but I can’t deny the unforgettable things I experienced in there.

"It starts with the good people, supportive friends and tasty local foods. I tried everything there and really got to understand the spirit of the place.

‏Siwa Locals' hospitality

"Siwa is very unique; blending various things together, from palm trees to the desert dunes and from locals to tourists," he said.

At the end, the permits were unfortunately denied and a decision was made to make alternate plans, returning back to Cairo then heading to Bahariya Oasis through El Wahat road instead.

Dakhla contrasts
‏Beauty from above, with city of El Kasr in the horizon

"The western desert revealed to me extremes in everything I saw. From white to black sand, from lonely roads to busy roads filled with life, from random people stopping to say 'hi' to awesome truck drivers beeping to salute me while passing by!," he said.

‏Sea of sands to Bahareya

On 10 February, he managed to cycle for 74 km through one of the toughest sandstorms that hit the country. The wind speed reached over 70 km/h, with an average of 55 to 60 km/h of head and cross wind. The storm was so challenging that he was not able to pedal at above 7 km/h per hour.

‏Sand storm
‏Sand storm challenges

When he reached Abou Minqar (100 km south of The Farafra Oasis), he was to be invited for dinner at a Bedouin Wedding

Bedouin wedding
Bedouin wedding

In El Dakhla Oasis a merge of different eras formed a portrait of immense beauty. The Pharaonic, the Coptic, and the Islamic eras all preserved traces of their existence- there were stories of beauty and civilisation.

"El Qasr" is the oldest Islamic city in the Western Desert. This city was built in the span of hundreds of years from clay and mud which still stands strong.

Dakhla mosque
‏El Kasr ancient city still preserved

After more than half way through his journey around Egypt, his next destination was Luxor, after finally making it safely out of the Western Desert.

Following after this was Upper Egypt's Qina, then Safaga, then Al Qusseir which in a bygone era served as one the most important seaports on the Red Sea. His next stop was Marsa Allam

‏Cannons of Abu kir battle in Al Kusseir
‏Cannons of Abu kir battle in Al Kusseir

"Now I am cycling alongside the Red Sea and I am loving every minute of it. In the end Siwa and the western desert in general were some of my favorite places to see and experience- challenges included. They made me feel less of a passerby and more of a person who belongs to the road.

"That, for me, was how the road supported me; and that is mainly why I loved it so much," he concluded.


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