Egypt is becoming less and less Cairo-centric, with the last few years seeing the county’s lesser talked about regions and cities celebrated for their diversity and character. You see, internal eco-tourism is en vogue right now and one man who has been at the forefront is adventurer, traveller and all-round action-man, Galal Zakri.
At a tender twenty one years of age, Zekri holds the record of being the youngest solo cyclist to travel Egypt and, currently working with Wild Guanabana as an adventure travel designer and leader at Wild Guanabana, the future holds more epic journeys. Cairo Gossip sat down with the man himself to talk about the dangers of five-month 7,000km trip, social-media haters and the love of his life, Sophia…
What did you do before you decided to pack up and explore the world on two wheels?
At the time, I used to work part-time, as well as attend college. I always tried to use the bike as my means of transportation, and I had this dream to travel Egypt with it. My first attempt was to travel across Al Wahat, which was a journey of 1650km, in nineteen days. I also wanted to film a short movie, to experience filmmaking. I kept the camera rolling for six hours, which I eventually made a video of five minutes with. I discovered myself greatly in this journey. After that, my main priority was to get sponsors and to train whenever I have the chance to be ready for the big one.
Ah, the ‘Big One’ – what inspired you to go on this particular trip?
My first inspiration was my school. There was a school trip to go to Suez on bikes and soon after I heard about someone taking a trip to Nuweiba on bike – something that spurred me on to do it. There was also American adventurer, Christopher McCandless, of Into the wild and of course Omar Samra, while Dominic Gill inspired me to add the filmmaking part to the journey. Everything had its own inspiration. Nothing in particular inspired me. In a way, it comes from within, and the need to push myself. That’s the ultimate inspiration.
Did your friends and family think you were crazy?
My parents were strongly against it – I was doing it behind their backs! My friends never doubted me and knew that I’d succeed in my journey across Al-Wahat. At that point, my parents knew that’s what I wanted to do in my life and that I was serious. But then when I decided to take a year off, I had to convince and tell them of the benefits of not attending college for a semester or so – which wasn’t easy. It all came gradually.
How did you prepare for such a long journey?
Well I took small steps and worked my way towards it. First off, there was a trip to Sokhna when I was 17. Then one to Nuweiba when I was 18, before the Al-Wahat trip, which I made when I was 19. In terms of the preparations for the trip across Egypt, I first had to get a bicycle – the obvious thing. I wanted a more powerful bicycle. I wanted to film it, so I had to get my first professional camera and I managed to get the needed sponsors. I also needed permits – for the camera and for me to be allowed to make the trip.
Then there’s the preparation for the road; how I would travel and how I would adjust my route according to the wind. Last but not least, I looked for a production company to handle the social media, graphic design and the making of the movie itself.
Zekri in Abou Ramad, March 2015 (Galaz Zekri Facebook Page)
What kind of risks and problems were you anticipating ahead of the trip across Egypt?
I had to keep in mind the possibility that I could be kidnapped, robbed or even killed. But we had a plan for each thing and everything was monitored. There was an emergency response team that I was reporting to everyday.
We’re assuming nothing happened then – or did it?
Well I didn’t get kidnapped, thankfully, but at one point, there was a storm with winds of 70km/hour. It was pushing against me, at a point where my destination was 74km away. But, that was a challenge I was excited for. I stayed for 10 hours straight on the bike and continued on my way. Rain also presented a challenge, as it was my first time to cycle in wet conditions. There was also one time the temperature reached 50 degrees and it was really tough. But I guess its Mother Nature’s sense of humor!
But these are the kinds of challenges I was expecting and it was all part of the experience of pushing myself. The challenges I didn’t enjoy were the permits – now that’s really tough.
What’s on your iPod? What did you listen to for five months?
I had different playlists for different moods. In the early morning, I liked to start my day with classics – maybe even a little bit of Ray Charles, or Bob Marley. I’m also a fan of alternative rock, but as I got closer to my destination, I would to listen to more commercial, mainstream music. So I listen to every genre of music.
So, here’s a stupid question – why?
When I first started the trip, there were clear objectives that I wanted to achieve; to encourage internal tourism, to encourage people to explore the country and to meet locals – that’s why I made the film. On an international scale, I wanted the film to enter film festivals and to prove to the people that nothing is impossible if you put your mind into it. I also wanted to encourage adventure travel.
Zekri on his way to Luxor, April 2015 (Galaz Zekri Facebook Page)
One month into the trip, some people on social media were saying that this was all pointless (haga malhash ay talateen lazma). I know what social media can be like, but I didn’t take it as a joke; the idea that there were people mocking my dreams only spurred me on more to complete the trip. So did the fact that, during the trip, people would ask me why I was doing this everywhere I went.
So, we hear that you hold your bike very dear, which is understandable. But, so dear that you have given her a name. Sophia, I believe...
First off, this bike has a history! She has travelled across Egypt before. She was Sherif Lewis’ bike and her name was Fawzya. That was during the revolution; Sherif was aware that I wanted to travel across Egypt and he very kindly gave it to me. I named her Sophia, but it didn’t bother him!
At first, I was very excited to take a bicycle that had already made the journey. But it was such in poor condition and I had to change everything on it. The bike mechanic told me that it was hopeless, but I had faith in her – I never doubted her!
What does the future hold for Galal Zekry?
Over the next two years will be working with Wild Guanabana. I want people to travel with us on adventures, and to challenge themselves, and to know that nothing impossible. I want to be an adventurer, traveller and filmmaker – maybe be even on TV with something like a travel show.
In terms of another trip, top of my list is Cairo to Cape Town. It’ll take six months and I’ll travel 13,000km. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it one day.
Stay up-to-date with Galal's adventures on his official Facebook page.
By Mahmoud Hussein