INTERVIEW: Galal Zekri-Chatila speaks about exploring 'Egypt on Two Wheels'

Ingy Deif, Thursday 30 Apr 2015

Cycling 7,000 km in five months, the 21-year-old braved a sand storm, flat tires and bureaucracy, but mostly enjoyed nature and Egyptians’ endless hospitality

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila

Demonstrating exceptional optimism and energy, last November young Egyptian Galal Zekri-Chatila embarked on his tour of 'Egypt on Two Wheels'.

After extensive planning, he cycled 7,000 km in five months, discovering the unique beauty of many places around Egypt and the good-natured spirit of its people.

On 17 April, Zekri-Chatila arrived back in Cairo during the heavily attended Cairo Runner's annual half marathon, with his fans cheering him on.

After a few days of rest, Ahram Online caught up with the young adventurer.

Galal, welcome back! How do you feel after five months on the road?

I feel awesome that I've had the chance to actually break free from routine and spend an entire five months on the road.

It made me feel that the road had become my real home. I felt more connected to nature than to the four walls of our boxy rooms.

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila
All Photos: Courtesy of Galal Zekri-Chatila

What captured your attention the most on your travels?

The entire country is seriously incredible. Every single place has its different taste. I was amazed by the diversity of the Egyptian landscape and the vibe of each place I visited.

But I would definitely think of moving out to South Sinai, or to the western desert, or to the deep south of the Red Sea [governorate]. This is where I found myself most at peace.

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila

Along the way, you often spoke of the goodwill and spirit of the people. What examples still stick in your memory?

I was always hosted by Egyptian people in their homes, always invited for tea, lunch and dinner. I can recall a very decent family who invited me to meat and pie in Luxor, and a new friend from Shalateen [near the border with Sudan] who presented me with his stick as a gift to protect me on the road.

I also have to mention my friend from Matrouh who invited me to a barbecue in the desert. And I was also invited by different project owners during my trip, like Sherif Ghamrawy who hosted me in Basata [in South Sinai], and the Red Sea Diving Safari in Marsa Shagra, Marsa Nakari, and Wadi Lahmi [in the Red Sea governorate].

All along the way, many others were eager to join the initiative of touring around Egypt.

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila

What were your most joyful, troublesome or hilarious moments?

Joyful moments were when I felt connected to nature, or whenever I had to face a new challenge that would add to my experience. For example, a sandstorm blowing at 70 km/h was definitely one of the most memorable moments of the journey.

The troublesome moments were only when I had to deal with the bureaucratic issues, trying to solve the paperwork to carry on with my mission.

One of the most hilarious moments was when I had to deal with three flat tires under the same road sign. After 1,000 km of a flat-tire-free ride, my rear wheel decided to play its game with me just 12 km before reaching Halayeb [near the border with Sudan]. Seriously? Now? After 1,000 km?

Were you ever concerned about your safety?

I was never concerned about my safety because, first of all, I believe in the goodness of the Egyptian people, their kindness and their limitless hospitality. Second, I'm always open to face whatever challenge comes up on the road.

Your delay in Siwa might shed some light on the bureaucracy that hinders the speed of achievements in Egypt. Tell us about that.

The bureaucratic lifestyle that our state is constantly trying to draw us into was the hardest challenge, and one I’ve always hated.

It's very simple for the authorities to say no to anything. What makes it hard is when they don't have a reason for it. It's as if we were living in the 19th century.

It's exactly like closing the mountains during the winter season to prevent any accidents there. Is that really how we deal with an issue?

Your followers on social media were going crazy trying to keep up with you, with residents in different governorates asking you when you would show up there. Did you expect this level of encouragement?

Actually that was very surprising. I was extremely glad to realise that the trip was interesting for some people, and that others had decided to take their engagement to a whole new level. They felt that the trip was part of their dream as well.

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila

Tell us more about your loyal companion Sophia. Did she ever let you down?

Sophia! She never ever let me down, and I guess she never will. She did it! 7,000 km! I actually respect her.

This was her second tour around Egypt. The first one was 6,000 km with Sherif Louis back in 2011.

Maybe it’s too early to ask, but do you have plans for further adventures?

Of course, I have lots of plans for future projects. I'm not sure what is going to be my next one, but let me tell you that the bicycle was only a means of transportation. I'm not a cyclist, I'm more of an adventure traveler.

So my upcoming project must include an adventure, a travel and a film.

Photo: Galal Zekri-Chatila

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