The First Lebanese Girl to Travel by Bicycle

I first heard about Sally during a Dream Matcher experience at AltCity. I instantly knew deep inside I was going to meet her one day and write about her, and here I am.

I’m writing about Sally not only because I like to write about inspiring seekers and adventurers, but because Sally makes me proud and humble at the same time, because she gives me hope and makes me dream, because in the brief time I spent with her, she taught me that nothing and no one can stand in the way of freedom.

In this article in which I try to revive every spoken word, Sally calmly and patiently answers my unhidden excitement and never-ending questions about her one-year “voyage”.

Krystel: How did the urge for traveling start for you?

Sally: I never really planned on travelling or going on any kind of tour. It was never a dream of mine or a goal. It all started when I woke up one day realizing I was unhappy with the way things are. The world was breaking my heart in so many ways. I had to find another place or situation I can be in where my life would simply make more sense and truly be worth living. I had to create distance between me and everyone and everywhere that was familiar in any way. I had to break my patterns and routines and reshape my life and the world as I knew it. I guess I didn’t know back then that that was called soul searching. I thought I was searching from the inside out: my soul searching for a physical place to be in peace at, not realizing that my search was actually from the outside inwards: travel paving the road for me to find my soul that harmonizes with the world as it is.

Krystel: How did this quest evolve and how were you introduced to bicycle traveling?

Sally:  After giving a lot of thought to where I wanted to be and everyday waking up with a new place that I was totally convinced with as the right destination, one day Spain, next day India, next day NYC… I started to sense that maybe the only way for me to find peace is to keep moving. Live a nomadic life and claim wherever I rest my head to sleep as home for that moment. I thought that the first obstacle would be money – how can I even afford to travel constantly? Then I thought of cycling. To move using my own energy which would most likely offer me total independence, and perhaps total freedom. The second question that crossed my mind was how can I do this with my passport, Lebanese! Almost everyone who’s been cycling around the world had a “privileged” passport. That’s when I sent a message to an Indian cyclist, Somen Debnath, who’s been travelling for years cycling around the world. I was looking for a thread of hope. He was kind enough to answer my message and even call me on Skype and encourage me to go for it! He said not to worry, money is never an issue, and visa issues can be handled. He didn’t explain much but he did mention receiving monetary and visa support from companies, sponsors, and governmental institutions around the world for his mission.

His story and shared experience and advice gave me hope and inspired me to search for the answers that were not so obvious. There must be a way for me to claim my right to move around the world freely. After all, I am human. Isn’t it all that should matter? I knew my path is waiting for me somewhere out there.

While the thought of travelling by bicycle slowly simmered in my mind, I travelled using traditional means of transportation searching for my answers, and learning along the way about all the alternative means of travel. I dropped the suitcase and carried a backpack. I dropped hotels and went for hostels and later on, after gathering enough courage, CouchSurfing, etc… I didn’t go for the cycling trip until I was really running out of money and still had this great urge to keep on moving. I was afraid but I had to do what I had to do.

Krystel: How did you start planning for your bicycle “journey”?

Sally: At first I had to learn how to ride a bicycle. I bought a second hand bicycle and started cycling around Beirut. I thought if I managed to do that, that means I can cycle anywhere in the world. I slowly started experimenting, one day I took my bike and went to Saida and back to Beirut on the same day, so I knew I could cover something close to a 100 km in one day. I had never camped or slept outdoors before, so I bought a tent and went cycling and camping a couple of times to see how it would feel. With every experiment my confidence in my ability to do this grew. I tried not to pressure myself and really build up my courage to go. I made no commitments or promises to myself. It was not a decision I took. It was a step by step journey to even get started. I had to also do some research on how to fix a bicycle and what kind of equipment I would need. The internet is full of valuable advice and inspiring stories. I had to also find the most basic things I would need in Beirut without having to spend a lot of the little money I had. And of course I had to find a way to leave Lebanon without having to fly out and pay for an expensive ticket, and without having to cross dangerous Syria, which meant that the only way out I had was the sea.

Cycling in Saida, Lebanon
Cycling in Saida, Lebanon

Krystel: What were the countries that you toured on your bike and which one was the most special to you, and why?

Sally:  Like I mentioned before, I cycled when I had to and used other means of transportation when I had to. From Lebanon I took a boat to Turkey, from there I crossed by land to Georgia and Armenia, then I had to go back to Georgia to take a cheap flight to Iran since I couldn’t cross the Armenian Iranian land border without a visa, then I flew from Iran to India since I found no boats that went from south Iran to India, and since Pakistan was too dangerous to cross by bike as a solo female traveller…

There is no one country that was most special to me. I found myself believing less in political borders and seeing the world more of a beautiful canvas full of colors of culture and nature. Every time I walked away from a place where I had a strong feeling that I forgot something behind, I knew that what I actually left behind was a piece of my heart. A few places took away a piece of my heart. The forests by the Black Sea in Turkey where I discovered strength that I didn’t know I had in me, the valleys in Central Anatolia in Turkey where I found serenity and silence when everything around me seemed to be falling apart, the mountains in Georgia where nature taught me how to listen to my inner sense of direction even if it seemed like it was leading me to places that made no sense – it never failed me, the desert in the center of Iran where I learned new rhythms of the world that I had never even thought they exited, the jungles and temples in India where I learned stillness after thinking that all I could do was move… Some of the places that stole my heart were connected to the people there, like the house of an old beautiful lady named Gulnara in west Georgia who gave me safety and comfort when my soul was aching and craving for it, or the little monastery hidden in the mountains that showered me with warmth and love pouring out of the hearts of the mothers and sisters living there.

Sally in Capadoccia
Sally in Capadoccia
Sally in South Goa
Sally in South Goa
Sally in Tbilisi, Georgia
Sally in Tbilisi, Georgia

Krystel: Traveling solo as a female must be quite tough and dangerous. What were the sorts of dangers and challenges you faced on the road and how did you learn to overcome them?

Sally: Female or male, solo or with a partner, the way a traveller is open to the universe and his / her ability to listen to the signs and to his / her intuition are what really matter. Of course being a solo female travelling naturally can attract certain types of dangers and troubles, but only if the traveller herself failed to listen to the world and her inner voice. I did get into trouble a few times and was lucky enough to come out of them unharmed, but each time I got into trouble I had ignored my gut feeling. One important thing I learned when in trouble is to stay calm and rational, never show fear or anger and always be polite even to an offensive person. After all it would be a very bad idea to provoke the offender any further. Do whatever it takes to get out of the dangerous situation with minimum damage if no damage was not possible.

Krystel: What were the best moments or highlights of this year on the road that you could never forget?

Sally: I will share with you one of the many great moments I had experienced on the road. It was in the desert in Iran on my way to an ancient and gorgeous city called Yazd. I had just woken up in the tent and got out to sit on the sand and welcome a new day with the sunrise. The much needed warmth of the sun soothed my freezing bones from the very cold night. My skin was touching the sand and for a moment there I could not tell where my skin ended and where the sand began. I felt like I was in complete harmony with the desert. I’m not sure how long this moment lasted but it still lives in me.

In the desert...
In the desert…

Krystel: After being one full year on the road, can you say that travel helped you heal and find what you’ve been looking for? How did you feel that your journey had to end where it ended?

Sally: Here are some of my thoughts that I shared on Facebook while I was still in India around the end of my trip, “The journey that started with walking away from something and towards something slowly turned into a journey for the sake of simply walking. Being out there in the world, the same one that initially broke my heart, I realized that the heartbreak I struggled with for so long was only to break my heart open. Just like a seed that was planted and had to have its shell broken so that it transforms and grows into a plant. Travel transformed me and I grew up and out of the dark nurturing soil and to the surface where my soul was showered with sunlight. I began to truly see. I found the truth in the unknown and the freedom in having no choice but to follow the signs and rhythms of the world. Every time I thought I knew what I wanted, what I needed, and went for that, the world proved me wrong and reminded me of my ignorance. I was taught to simply walk step by step and follow the path already paved for me. I accepted the ways of the universe and learned how to never ask for anything specific and gracefully receive each and every blessing. Day by day I struggled less and found myself in more harmony with all that surrounds me. There was no moment in existence but now, no place but here, no plan but the universal scheme, and no absolute truth that I could possibly know. I woke up from a deep illusion of individuality and saw myself everywhere and in everything, my sense of identity was dissolving into the world. I found my soul dwelling in cities, villages, roads, deserts, mountains, valleys, seas, stars… I found my soul dwelling in strangers.

The universe was my teacher, and the road was a learning tool. Every day brought along a new adventure, new blessings and new dangers, a new lesson. All I had to do was to become an instrument, be open and keep walking, take it all in. I took the wrong steps and the right ones. I drank the elixir as well as the poison. It was all part of the lesson. The more I touched the magic of waking up to the truth the more I threw myself into the process and the bigger my trust grew in the universe. I saw no choice but to jump in and accept that this will either break me or deliver me. There was no other way but to offer myself and put my safety in the hands of the universe. I had to do whatever was needed. If I had to walk I walked, if I had to cycle I cycled, if I had to hitchhike I took a lift, if I had to camp I camped, if I had to have a roof over my head I’d be hosted. I had no plan. All I had to do was follow the path paved by the universe. And the universe always provided what was needed for my journey. That was the only way I could know that I’m heading the right direction. When everything is magically falling into place, that must be the right direction. When everything goes wrong, that means I’m heading the wrong way. It was as simple as that. I did not care for protecting myself, there was absolutely nothing I could lose. After all, on a seeking journey like this, no harm could come except to the body, that which never really belonged to me, that which eventually will go back to mother earth, it’s rightful owner. I had already seen that my soul was unlimited. I accepted and held death dear and close to my heart, as close as I hold and cherish life itself.

The process of unveiling the truth on the open road both broke my bones and strengthened my spirit. By the time I reached the furthest point east that was possible for me to travel to at the moment I was completely beaten. I was tired. I was injured. I had to rest before I keep on going. That’s when I found myself at an Ashram and Yoga center in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. little did I know that after around three months of volunteering and diving into the world of Yoga I would discover that in this place, the physical road paved for me will end, and that instead of constant movement, now, I am to seek in stillness.

Now, the universe had opened the door for my journey to transcend into a new dimension. Now, travelling out there into the world for the sake of seeking the ultimate truth, the absolute freedom, the only way of being, turns inwards. Now I dissolve into the existence and break my walls and limitations in stillness.”

Sally-notesofatraveler

Krystel: I believe your return to Lebanon is part of your “seeking in stillness” phase. What’s next for Sally? Are you planning another “voyage” on your bicycle anytime soon?

Sally: I learned that living in the Here and Now is essential to following the path of truth and freedom. I have no idea what the future will bring, and I refuse to be a prisoner of my expectations and guesses as well and my past and memories. My path brought me back here to Beirut because apparently I have a lot to learn about myself and the world here. What happens tomorrow is for tomorrow to bring. I stand here with open arms and eagerness to receive more lessons and gifts from the universe, whether in stillness or in movement…

Krystel: If you were to give some important advice or encouraging tips to solo travelers, what would you tell them?

Sally: Just go for it. Make mistakes and learn. Don’t wait for the moment when you’re ready, it might never come. Never worry about the road getting lonely, if you open up the right way, you can never be alone, even in the furthest or the most silent of places… And smile, the world will definitely smile back at you, even if it seems like it’s hopeless, it never really is.

 

The road from Esfehan to Yazd, Iran.