Omar Mansour al-Fardy is the first Egyptian, Arab and native African who has attempted to travel the world with his motorbike, “transmitting Egyptian cultural heritage,” according to his website.
He began a new journey — another part of his world tour — on 7 December, touring all 11 Nile Basin countries to follow the Nile to its start in the heart of Africa. He has now covered more than 7,000 kilometers.
His aim: to spread a message of peace, and to strengthen the relationship between Egypt and the other countries that share the Nile.
In an interview with Egypt Independent, Fardy discussed his childhood, his new journey and the obstacles he faces, and his future plans.
Egypt Independent: What’s behind your passion for traveling on motorbikes?
Omar Mansour al-Fardy: My passion for traveling goes back to my Bedouin origins, as I belong to the famous Awlad Ali Bedouin tribes. This taught me how to deal with nature and how to respect it.
Since I was a child, I learned how to camp in the desert, survive alone under bad weather conditions and deal with wild animals, snakes and scorpions. Although I graduated from the faculty of law in Alexandria, I decided to devote my life to achieving my old dream of traveling around the world on my motorbike.
EI: When did you start your first trips?
Fardy: I started my trips in 1996 by touring all the Egyptian governorates on my motorcycle. In 2002, I started my first international tour from Alexandria to Paris, followed by another one in 2003, in which I traveled to Western Europe, France, Spain and Portugal.
In 2006, I started a new journey from the US East Coast, from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. My longest trip was in 2009, when I spent six months touring African countries to spread the message that Africa is safe and that African people aren’t terrorists, as many Western countries think.
Although it started as a hobby, I realized that my bike could be a good communication tool. People would stop me everywhere to ask where I was from and why I was traveling. I found it a good chance to represent the tolerance and morals of Muslim and Arab people.
EI: Why did you choose to tour the Nile Basin countries this time?
Fardy: During my previous visits to some of the African countries, I noticed a lot of negative misconceptions about Egyptians. I believe we as Egyptians did little to strengthen our African ties during [former President Hosni] Mubarak’s time, and that this has inevitably led to losing our strong relationships with many African countries.
I called this journey “One Nile, One Nation” to emphasize that the Nile must be a tool for uniting us, not a reason for conflict and disputes. Touring these countries on my motorbike will allow me to go through every village and speak to hundreds of people. I intend also to go to sports clubs and orphanages to spread the message on a wider scale.
I am thinking also of collecting a handful of dirt from each country and putting it in a bottle to use for planting an olive tree when I come to Egypt. On this tree, the flags and the names of the Nile countries will be written as a symbol of unity. Although I consider it a very small step for a very long trip, I believe it’s everyone’s duty to begin with themselves and contribute to changing the bad impressions people may have about us.
It’s also important to mention that the MasterPeace movement is supporting me in this peace journey under its Alchemist Alive project, where travelers set out as pilgrims for peace, turning the novel of Paulo Coelho [“The Alchemist”] into real-life journeys.
EI: What are your preparations for the journey?
Fardy: I’ve been preparing for this journey for years. In addition to preparing the required papers and visas, I had to get vaccinated against some dangerous diseases, especially malaria. Also, I had to buy a new motorbike, as I lost my old one in an accident three years ago.
Usually, before traveling to any country, I try to read a lot about its nature, culture, history and geography. I also read about the distances between the cities I expect to pass by.
Because I can’t afford to stay in hotels, I have to prepare some necessary equipment for camping like the tent, mattress and small stove I’ll use. I expect to spend about 120 days in this journey.
EI: Do you get any governmental or private financial support for your trips?
Fardy: Unfortunately, I have to pay for all my trips because I don’t have any sponsors or financiers. I met the minister of youth and sports, and he promised me in a press conference to finance the journey, get some sponsors for it and to hold a big festival to gather bikers and talk to them about the safety procedures that most of them neglect. This has not happened.
The Foreign Ministry provided some facilities for me regarding the required visas and permissions to enter the different countries. In fact, I really am sad, because there’s an Egyptian federation for motorcycles and the government allocates a budget for it, although it doesn’t really provide any help for anyone.
Regardless of financial support, I think it’s the government’s responsibility to give a positive boost for enthusiastic youth. Anyway, I insist on going on my trips with or without their help.
EI: Tell us more about your visit to Sarah and Marsat Obama [aunt and grandmother of US President Barack Obama] and why you plan to visit them again.
Fardy: I was very curious to know more about Obama’s family, especially because Sarah Obama is a very famous figure who is known for providing social services to poor people in Africa. I asked the Egyptian ambassador if I could visit her and he arranged that easily.
She was very nice and down-to-earth, and I felt warmth as if I was sitting with my grandmother. She talked to me about the “Grandmothers” organization she established for collecting donations to fight the spread of malaria among kids. I am looking forward to visiting her again, and I hope I can visit Obama’s house in Kenya this time.
EI: In general, what are the main benefits you gained from traveling?
Fardy: In my opinion, there are more than 700 benefits for traveling, not just seven, as most people think. For me, the most important one is making friends and knowing new people from all over the world.
During my trips, I have also learned many languages including English, French, German, Greek and Italian. In addition, knowing about other cultures, religions and races made me more open-minded and this is an important benefit that I can’t neglect.
EI: Finally, what is your advice for young people who have a passion for traveling?
Fardy: I always advise young people to draw a clear goal or target and keep it in front of their eyes all the time. Then, they have to work hard and exert a lot of effort to achieve it. Once it’s accomplished, they must start thinking about new challenges, because that’s what gives life meaning.
I also invite youth to go and explore the beauty of our Egyptian deserts. Instead of paying thousands of pounds to go to Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheikh, they can enjoy camping for less than LE200. This will help refresh our eco-tourism in a good way.
I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Cairo — I believe what I’m doing here is valuable and that the issues in Cairo now are horrific. I miss my family, though, and hope to see them soon.
As for my future plans, I intend to have a long journey from South America to Alaska in 2014 after finishing my tour to the Nile’s source. After this journey, I’ll be the first Egyptian to travel around the whole world on his motorbike carrying messages of love and peace.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent’s weekly print edition.