We Kayaked from Egypt to Jordan and Back
Some people are born to do extraordinary things in this world. They are set out to brake the imaginary boundaries we develop inside our heads, and lead us to believe that what we know to be impossible, is actually a decision away, a decision to go for whatever it is we assume to be crazy. This is the full story of five Egyptian kayakers, who dared to cross the Red Sea with their little, red, plastic boats.
Wednesday, 21st of September
On a typical midweek workday afternoon, I was sitting in a car on my way to a business meeting in Downtown Cairo, cellphone in my hand, scrolling down my Facebook feed in search for something interesting enough to shed my attention away from the sizzling traffic of Cairo; endless comics, status, and events – liking, commenting, and the occasional share if it’s really interesting. After much scrolling, and just before I was back to my senses, realizing that I’m wasting my life on social media, I spotted an event titled “THE EXODUS – A cross country adventure trip.”
It seemed to me like an interesting event; I needed my own scaled-down exodus from the chains of Cairo traffic and boring meetings. What was even more interesting was that one of my friends, Nouran Ashry, was attending this event. I quickly dialed up Nouran to know more about the event, she casually told me that she, along with four other friends, were going on a mission to cross the Gulf of Aqaba; from Taba, Egypt, to Aqaba, Jordan – with their kayaks!
Apparently Nouran and her friends were planning this trip for a while now; I knew from her that the permits needed for this trip to happen were expected to be finalized by the end of the year, as it wasn’t allowed for Egyptians to travel to Jordan by sea. This trip was an exception. Surprisingly, the permits were out quicker than expected, and they decided to go right away. So everything was in a rush. After our phone call, I wished Nouran a bon voyage and asked her to invite me the next time she plans something as crazy as crossing the Red Sea on kayaks. But Nouran didn’t wait for next time, she called me five minutes later to tell me, “prepare your passport, you’re coming with us to Jordan!”
Thursday, 22nd of September
The team of kayakers were set to start their journey at 8 am, driving from Cairo to Taba. The team consisted of Nouran, Yara Shalaby, Sherif AbdelAzim, Charif Khedr, and Ahmed Nayer (aka Nousa), Loza, Takhtakh, Atef, Moheb. And that’s Elmoghameron Elkhamsa for you. The first four were in Taba by the afternoon, resting at Taba Heights and preparing for the journey that would take place the next morning. Nayer and I were arriving later that night via airplane to Sharm ElSheikh.
During our ride from Sharm to Taba, Nayer and I had a chance to talk about the upcoming adventure. Nayer is a full time telecom engineer, he is also a triathlete and part of the international cycling community GBI, and he’s the co-founder of Nile Kayak Club along with Khedr and Nouran. We were approaching Taba and it was a full moon night, our driver was pointing out that from here, we can see street lights from four different countries, Egypt of course, Palestine, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Nayer was talking about how this was one of the causes for their journey; “we want to prove that borders aren’t actually there, we intend to show everyone how easy it is to cross countries using as little as a small plastic boat, and that nothing is really that hard to reach”
After we reached Taba, we quickly checked in our hotel rooms to get some sleep before the adventure awaiting us the following morning.
Friday, 23rd of September
Everyone was up at 4 am in the hotel lobby. The kayakers were in full gear, everyone was eating their packed breakfasts and doing some final checks before leaving the hotel. We reached the marina shortly before sunrise, we were surprised to find Egyptian authorities waiting for us outside of the marina in full uniform. They greeted us as we unloaded the truck, and they took some pictures with the kayakers. We checked out the country, then the five kayakers were preparing for takeoff, making sure each had their needed supplies on board and that the cameras were mounted properly on the kayaks.
Elmoghameron Elkhamsa took off smoothly. The ETA was 4 hours, they were in the water by 5 am, and they began at a steady pace. The support boat was a medium sized, two story boat and it was trailing behind the kayakers. The target was to reach Aqaba, Jordan, which was visible from Egypt. The reason behind starting so early is that wind speed increases as the temperature rises, and so it did. Shortly we were in open water. Five red boats floating in the middle of the blue, surrounded by three directions by the mighty mountains framing the Red Sea. The yellow sunrays sneaking between the mountain tips, hitting the calm waves gently, creating a line of sparkling silver lights leading our way to the other side. It was a refreshing view, and the kayakers were looking good.
The five were paddling for hours by now, they stopped in the middle for water and refueling, then kept on paddling. I was on the support boat along with the crew, cheering for them and taking pictures. By noon, the wind was getting faster and the waves were against the kayakers, which made it extremely hard to finish. The last two kilometers were the most challenging, as it took the five kayakers about two hours to finish only the last 2 km. They managed to reach the shores of Aqaba safely after more than 6 hours of kayaking.
We reached Aqaba to find a small crowd waiting. We checked in the country then in our hotel, everyone freshened up, then we were invited to dinner at a nice, sea-view restaurant (as if the team hadn’t had enough sea for one day).
The five were tired and drowsy after the long ride. However, Nouran seemed a bit more alert than the others. When I asked her how she was feeling, she responded:
“Actually it felt pretty good. Despite some back pain, it felt right to be back in the water. Before the ride I was feeling a bit unbalanced, and for some reason, being back in the water for a while got things back in place for me.”
Some people would get seasick when they spend too much time in the water, but that was not the case with Nouran. She had the complete opposite of seasickness. She told me that before this ride, she had just got back from a scuba-diving trip that had her living on a boat for a whole week, she didn’t feel alright being detached from the water, and this ride made it all better again.
On the other end of the table sat Sherif and Yara, the most adventurous couple I personally know. Yara works at a bank and Sherif is a pilot, and both are kickass rally-car racers! The parents of three children apparently had a thing for adrenaline, and they go roaming the sand dunes of the desert whenever they had a chance. Yara also happens to be the founder of the first Egyptian all-female rally school “Gazelle,” and she was the one who came up with the idea of crossing the Red Sea in kayaks.
“On my last vacation I was in Marsa Alam and I had my kayak with me. The idea hit me when I was kayaking there and realized that I can see Saudi Arabia on the other side. I was just like why not cross the Red Sea on a kayak? I asked myself. I soon researched to find out that the best crossing would be from Taba to Aqaba. I called the guys from Nile Kayak Club, then I contacted Taba Heights. I never thought we would be doing it this soon, the permits for this were expected to take at least a year, but here we are, having dinner at Aqaba.”
Yes! They did it and we were having dinner at Aqaba! Mission is accomplished, and the dream has become reality. I asked Sherif about his motives for going on this challenge, I mean, the guy is a pilot, he must have traveled half the world by now and had been on more adventures than any other person can think of (plus of course the fact that he’s a rally racer..!) I always wondered if pilots get bored of the most exciting thing in the world (traveling) because it’s their job, so I asked him.
“Recently, I grew bored of traveling. However, there are still many destinations on my bucket list that I haven’t been too and that I would love to visit. Being on a trip like this is quite a unique experience, I mean, how many people get to say they crossed the Red Sea on kayaks?”
He had a point. No one on Earth at this very moment, except these five, could say they crossed the Red Sea on kayaks. I was having dinner with the first people in recorded history to cross the Red Sea on kayaks.
Saturday, 24th of September
We met at the hotel restaurant for breakfast after a good night’s sleep. Everyone was fresh and hungry as hell. We had breakfast and discussed how we should spend the day. There were a lot of options since Jordan is a big country with lots of things to do and we’re only staying for one day. The team agreed on heading to the Dead Sea to kick back and chill, in preparation for the ride back home on the following day. We started our road trip from Aqaba to the Dead Sea, a trip called “from Red to Dead.” We reached the resort where we would spend the day. We had lunch then enjoyed some mud baths, swimming in the Dead Sea, and tanning on the beach. It doesn’t get more relaxing than this.
“If there is one sea you don’t need a kayak to cross, it’s definitely the Dead Sea,” I said to Khedr, who is a petroleum engineer, and gracefully floating beside me in the sea’s dense water. Floating effortlessly on my back made me feel like a kayak, a feeling that inspired me to ask Khedr about the origin of the Nile Kayak Club, where did you guys get the idea of kayaking in the Nile? He then told me:
“Nayer and I were planning to go on a kayaking trip abroad, however for some reason the trip was postponed and eventually canceled. We then asked ourselves why do we need to go kayaking abroad, we have the Nile river right here. We thought about renting some kayaks and going for it, then we found out that buying our own kayaks would be actually cheaper, so we did. We founded the Nile Kayak Club right after we finished our three-day quest of kayaking from Luxor to Aswan.”
While it wasn’t the longest ride the kayakers had paddled, it was still by far the coolest! We went back to the hotel after a large meal of traditional Jordanian mansaf, and the team was sound asleep by 9 pm with happy bellies.
Sunday, 25th of September
It was 2:30 am and we were already outside, walking with our luggage to the marina. The team was determined to start as early as possible this time, determined to avoid the high waves they stumbled upon in the first trip. We checked out, then the captain of the support boat had a quick meeting with the team to discuss the best course of the trip. In this case, the plan was to paddle north west towards Eilat for a couple of miles before turning south for Taba.
The ride back home was smooth, they finished in a little over 4 hours. There was a massive celebration waiting for them on the Egyptian shores. The national anthem was playing, and the reception was overwhelming (the pictures describe this part better). It was a journey to remember and the team had accomplished what they aimed for. They aimed to prove a lot of points through their journey, like supporting eco-traveling, promoting healthy lifestyles and outdoor sports, and also to show us all that you can lead a professional career in the corporate world, and still be the athlete you wish to be.
For me, these guys succeeded in much more than they set out for. And Elmoghameron Elkhamsa are as awesome as any khamsa can possibly get.