Eco Warrior Jomana Ismail has just completed a staggering 250km stand-up paddle expedition from Minya to Cairo to raise awareness around the devastating effects water pollution and single-use plastics have had on the Nile River.
Jomana paddled her 14 x 24.5 All Star (Carbon Sandwich) together with some like-minded friends she met shortly before the trip. They paddled for 5 days to cover the mammoth distance of 250km, camping out on the river banks and eating basic tinned foods.
Jomana also describes the difficulties and inequality women face in Egypt, and how they overcame these tribulations. This is her story of conquering the Nile by paddleboard to make the planet we live on a better one.
Paddling every day in the Nile makes me feel that I am part of it, but unfortunately, while SUPing in Cairo, I find trash running with the water, especially plastic disposals. I wanted to paddle the Nile to raise awareness on water pollution and the effects of single-use of plastic. And in August this year, I found two guys paddling the Nile on a double kayak for the same cause so I texted them and they immediately welcomed me to join them. We agreed to meet in Minya, a city in Upper Egypt, and paddle with them until Cairo, 250km in 5 days.
Paddling this distance was challenging in several ways;
- The first challenge was I needed to keep up with the guys while they were on a kayak and I on a SUP.
- The second challenge was that we were not supported so I needed to carry my five days supplies on the board.
- The last challenge was crossing some values and traditions by the locals in Upper Egypt; it has male-dominant communities with many restrictions on females’ actions. For example, their daughters can never go out with male strangers, they can’t travel on their own, and at some places, they can’t even play sports.
Day 1 – Minya to Maghagha
68km – See map on Strava
At 9 am, August 30, I started paddling with the guys. The day started very well with fast water current in our direction and a gentle headwind. For the first few kilometres, we were paddling together then they started pulling away. I started getting tired at the 14th kilometre, but they were nowhere to be seen. We had our mobiles on aeroplane mode to save the batteries so I couldn’t reach them and my only option was to keep paddling. They weren’t too far away, but because the Nile river bends, they went out of sight. An hour later, at the 22nd kilometre, I found them having their first break at a cafeteria on a village the river’s bank, I joined them for a brief pause where I had an energy bar and a soda drink to give me a boost before I continued paddling on. The locals at the cafeteria were standing around us all the time. They were looking at us like we were aliens. But they were only curious asking the whys and hows.
Our second break was at the 45th-kilometre mark. I was so tired because that was the longest distance I had ever paddled. It was now around 2 pm, and the sun was intense, so I took a dip in the water which cooled me down, but I was still exhausted. I had a ‘Halawa bar’ which is a Middle Eastern sweet confection made of nut butter and sugar, and then I was ready to go again.
At that point, I thought that we had only five more kilometres for the day, but the guys decided that we do 23 more. In total, we paddled a staggering 68km on day one – a feat I have no idea how I managed to do that, I had to dig deep.
The last 15 kilometres were deadly for me because there was no water current, and the shallow water made the paddling ‘heavy’. I took a short rest break in between where I had a small argument with the locals. All I wanted was to park the board on the side of the river and lie down on the board for 5 minutes. The kids kept gathering around me and taking photos and videos of me. I asked them to give me privacy – which they only sort of did as they were still very curious.
That night we camped by the side of the river. The guys had asked the owner of the land if they can set their tents at his land, which he agreed to, unknowingly that there was a female with them. We didn’t tell him this because we couldn’t have known how he would have reacted and possibly jeopardising our camp spot. When I reached them, it was already 5 minutes after sunset, so quickly I set my tent up in the dark, and that was where I stayed for the night. I ate a can of corn & a half can of tuna, a protean bar and hydrated with some water.
Day 2 – Maghagha to Beni Suef
57km – See map on Strava
The next day I woke up to the sound of something chewing the grass right outside my tent – it was a donkey which was followed by a herd of goats. The second day we paddled 57 km where we entered a new governorate, Beni Suef.
Upon entrance, the Surface Water Police approached us and took photos of our IDs and sent them to the head office, once OK’d, they then gave us the approval to continue onwards with our journey. The headwind was strong that day, especially at the beginning, which meant I was paddling at an average speed of only 6.4 km/hr. As the day wore on the wind died down a little, and I was able to resume a better pace and finished the day with an average speed of 7.9 km/hr. By the end of that day, we reached the city of Beni Suef, where we checked in at a comfortable hotel. And in two days we had paddled 125km, which is half the distance to Cairo.
Day 3 – Beni Suef to Kafr Turki
53 km – See map on Strava
I wasn’t feeling too good at the start of the third day. The scenery was magnificent, and the weather was good, but I wasn’t at my best. The exhaustion from the effort expended the past two days has taken its toll. I was feeling heavy, and my pace was slower. I needed a quick break at the 30-kilometre mark so to avoid the barrage of locals I took a nap on my board right in the middle of the river. A fisherman passing by yelled out to see if I was OK, which startled me. I sat up abruptly and immediately lost balance, and I fell into the cold water, capsizing my board. Fortunately, all my gear was securely stowed in a waterproof bag with bungees on the deck on my board. The fishermen then kindly helped me flip my All Star back over and also helped me get back on it as I was so exhausted.
All-in-all we paddled 53 kilometres and again camped by the riverside. That time we didn’t find anyone to ask for their permission, so we took a chance by staying there, but in the end, no one showed up until we left the next day – so it was all good!
Day 4 – Kafr Turki to Badrasheen
47 km – See map on Strava
I woke up the fourth day feeling well again. A night of good night sleep had healed me miraculously. That morning the first 12 kilometres had a strong north-west headwind, and the were several islands which created some strong pulls which made it challenging but a still a good ride. Fortunately the stability I found on the All Star was impressive and I didn’t fall off again.
We then had a lovely break near the Nile’s bank while we waited for the wind to calm down. That day we paddled 47 kilometres, and by that, we had done 225 kilometres in 4 days from Minya to Greater Cairo.
Day 5 – Badrasheen to Cairo
25km – See map on Strava
Day 5 saw us complete the final leg into Cairo, which was ‘only’ 25 km. This day was different and special; many water sports athletes heard what we were doing and so came to join us in the last half marathon and paddle into Cairo with us, which was super motivating.
I used Starboard All Star 14 x 24.5 together with the Lima Prepreg Carbon for this expedition which were perfect. The challenge of paddling in the Nile is the ever-changing water currents and wind directions. The Nile River flows in a northerly direction; however, small tributaries can mix up the flow direction, which can push your board around jarringly. Sometimes they even create small whirlpools and small waves that can throw you off.
Furthermore, the wind direction usually comes from the north, which is the opposite direction of the water current which creates waves that you have to punch into all the way, making all the more challenging.