Omar Masnour El Fardy is no ordinary Egyptian. Having made headlines over the last decade for his adventures for being the first Egyptian, Arab and native African to travel across the world by motorcycle, El Fardy’s travelling pursuits have been the stuff of legend.
Whether in Africa, Europe or Asia, El Fardy’s message of ‘peace and love’ as he attempts to break barriers have inspired a generation, as Cairo Gossip’s Mahmoud Hussein found out when he sat down to talk with the adventurist.
1. You had a pretty interesting upbringing – tell us about it.
My mom is from Alexandria and my dad is a Bedouin. Growing up, I was sort-of drifting between two cultures, but the difference has shaped me in the best way possible. My dad taught me the ways of the Bedouin and it definitely had a huge impact on who I am now. I fell in love with nature and the desert from a young age and everything I learned about the Bedouin lifestyle has helped me with my own adventures.
2. You first took to the road with your bike in 1996 – what pushed you into taking such a big journey on?
Well, I’ve loved geography since a young age and have a thing with place names. When I was young, I was always curious to know the story behind the names of certain cities, towns and villages. I decided to go on a journey to visit places that have interesting names. I was 22 at the time and had a four-cylinder motorcycle, that wasn’t in anyway fit for off-roading or long distance trips. I left Alexandria and visited Marsa Matrouh, Siwa, Wahat El Baherya, Farafra, Dakhla, Kharga, Aswan and other places over 3 months.
Our boy Mahmoud Hussein (L) gives a thumbs up and his cheesiest grin with El Fardy (M). Not sure who the dude on the left is, though.
3. If movies have taught us anything, people who take these kinds of long, solitary trips often come out of the other side with some kind of epiphany – did you?
The biggest thing I learned is that Egyptians are the friendliest people and they always welcome a traveller. I know that’s what everyone says, but you won’t quite understand it until you experience it for yourself – the hospitality and generosity is beyond belief. Of course, in Upper Egypt you can’t really say no to their hospitality – you’re kind of forced to accept it!
4. When was your first trip outside the borders of Om El Donya?
I first travelled outside of Egypt in 2002. I’m in love with France and its culture, so I told my friends that I wanted to go to France with my motorcycle. At first, they assumed that I wanted to ship the bike to France and then take a journey around the country. But, I picked the long way. I drove through Jordan, then Syria, Turkey and then Eastern Europe. What’s funny is that when I took off from Egypt, I didn’t tell my dad the complete truth – I actually told him that I was going to Sharm El Sheikh!
5. Travelling Asia and Europe must have been a whole other beast – what was it like compared to your trips around Egypt?
Well, the trip exposed me to high-altitudes for the first time – I came by places that were thousands of meters above sea-level. It taught me a lot – especially about preparation. I almost died in the Eastern Anatolia Region in Turkey. I wasn’t ready for the cold and had no gear for it. My calculations were a bit off, too. For example, I never imagined that I’d be travelling as slowly as 30km per hour, but I had to at times through bad mountain roads. But, I managed to cover 13,000km in 3 months. I keep going because I love it.
El Fadly flies the flag in Oslo, Norway.
I had to leave my bike in France, because I had no money to bring it back to Egypt. But after I came back, I saved the money I needed, then I went to France again, took my bike and visited every single country in Western Europe.
5. We hear you bumped into a certain legendary motorcycle racer during the trip…
Yes! I was in Le Mans in France at one point, just resting on the side of the road, when a convoy of cars drove past me. One of them made a stop next to me and this guy comes out asking me where I was from and what I was doing with the bike. I explained to him and he seemed impressed that I came all the way from Egypt – so much so that he gave me a signed t-shirt. I didn’t realise who he was at the time, but that guy turned out to be Valentino Rossi and he even gave me a ticket to watch him at his next race.
People are often curious of what I’m doing. The motorcycle looks unique with luggage hanging off it – you look like a traveller and people are always interested in asking about ‘my story’. It’s a great way to meet people.
6. As impressive as that was, it wasn’t your longest trip – what motivated you to take on what ended up being a 6-month journey from Cape Town to Alexandria?
In 2005, I decided that I want to travel Africa and started planning for it. I started from South of Africa to avoid the seasonal rain in central Africa. My aim wasn’t to simply get from point A to B, but rather to learn about and explore the cities I visit. This trip was meant to take 3 weeks, but ended up lasting for 6 months. That’s the thing – I don’t usually stick to my timeline. I like to go wherever the winds take me. And if I like where I am, I’ll stay there a while.
I started to put a cause to my travels and this one was named ‘One Africa’. It was a campaign against the stereotypes of Africa that we see in the media; that it’s not safe and you’ll probably be kidnapped if you go there, etc – which isn’t true. I didn’t face any problems and I hope that this goes someway to convincing Egyptians that it is in fact safe. We have such little understanding of the rest of Africa which is kind-of sad.
7. Travelling alone on a bike, you must have got up-close-and-personal with the places you visited – what kind of impression of Africa did you come away with?
I was surprised at how much tourism there is. Many of the African cities I came by are full of tourists and foreigners. At one point, I started to feel like I’m not seeing the ‘real’ Africa, so I drifted a little bit away from major cities. In South Africa, I stayed with the Bushman tribe – one of the oldest in Africa. I stayed with them for around 5 days, learning how to hunt.
But I also felt at times that the various African cultures had become commercialised to a certain degree. For example, when it comes to the Massai tribe in touristic places, they’ve come to rely more on tourism – taking photos with tourists for money, for example. A real Massai would never take a photo, as they believe that pictures take a part of their soul.
But it was an amazing trip all the same. I even managed to visit the Obama family in Kenya, meeting his aunt and grandmother, which was a really interesting experience.
But there was an incident that took the shine off it a little bit. When I arrived in Egypt, I decided to visit the pyramids on my way to Alexandria. As I was entering the pyramids, I was wearing my helmet and a police officer assumed that I as a foreigner and waved me through. I took off my helmet and told him that I’m Egyptian. “An Egyptian?”, he shouted. “You can’t enter enter with the motorcycle.”
I felt ashamed. I remember when Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor were biking around the world; when they visited Cairo, the pyramids were cleared and they made it an ‘exclusive event’ – they emptied the pyramids just for them, but I can’t ride through on my bike because I’m Egyptian? I was furious.
8. Here’s a clichéd question, but I think I know what the answer’s going to be so I’m going to ask it anyway – what do you consider to have been your biggest challenge during your various biking escapades?
After I came back to Alexandria following the Africa trip, I was involved in a road accident. I was on my to an interview on my bike, when some young guy crashed into me – I woke up 4 days later in the hospital, with the doctors telling me that it would be a miracle if I was to walk again.
I was literally lying horizontally for 6 months and I was in pain most of the time. It was a really hard time; I was short on money and was afraid I’d never be able to ride again.
It took me around 14 months to recover. I couldn’t wait to get back on the road and I was going on trips as much as possible – to make up for wasted time. In 2012 I lead a convoy from Switzerland to Swaziland for an initiative called The Ride of Africa. I was the guide and the only African in the group.
In 2013, I bought another motorcycle, as my old one was broken beyond repair and I took on journey called The Son of the Nile, which meant visiting every country that the Nile River crosses. After that, I spent 4 weeks in the Alps travelling through Switzerland, Italy and France. I was also the first person to ride a motorcycle on the road that was recently opened to connect Egypt and Sudan. That was an historic moment for me. I had a little trip to Thailand and Laos, too.
9. What do you have lined up next?
Silk Road all the way to China –maybe even Japan. I also want to travel from Chile to Alaska; if I manage to complete those trips, I’ll be left with just Australia and New Zealand before I can say that I have travelled the world!
10. The sense of adventure that drives you and others like Omar Samra and Galal Zekri Chatila has become somewhat infectious – what advice would you give to others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Dream! You have to let yourself dream and then work towards reaching those dream, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and, even now, I get some negative feedback – comments on social media saying that what I’m doing is worthless. Don’t listen to these people. Focus on your goal. Don’t let the negativity bring you down.
Stay up-to-date with Omar’s adventures on Facebook.
By Mahmoud Hussein
(Photos: Omar Mansour El Fardy/Facebook)