The two young men from Cape Town who embarked on a journey through Africa by bicycle with the intention of performing the Haj were on Wednesday in Kenya, battling to obtain a visa for Ethiopia which would enable them to get to Saudi Arabia before Ramadan as had been planned. Nathim Cairncross (27) and Imtiyaz Haron (24) left the city in January and said that so far they had not experienced any major challenges besides that of the visa issue.
Cairncross said that before taking up the journey, they had researched how to get visas for the different countries that they would be entering. They had visited the embassies in South Africa where they were told they could apply for the documents at the borders of the various countries. However, when approaching officials at the Ethiopian border the cyclists were rejected a visa and told to return to Nairobi.
“They said we should go back to Nairobi and apply there,” said Cairncross. “And then we got to the embassy and they didn’t want to give us the visa. They said we should go back to South Africa. We are just trying to see what’s the best thing to do at the moment.”
It was not known why they were rejected a visa and could have been “for any reason”. “We are faced with this problem now and we are just trying to see what’s the best thing to do,” said Cairncross. “So hopefully we’ll get those visas. If we don’t get those visas then we’ll see what other options are available.”
However, he added that whatever they decided to do next would have to be in line with their budget. “We are still looking at our budget … what’s economical or within our budget.” Cairncross said that he was not sure if they would make it to Saudi Arabia before Ramadan as was initially planned, but wherever they find themselves during that holy month is where they would stay.
“We are not going to cycle that month. We are going to stop and complete the month. We’d like to be in one of the Arab countries or in one of the countries that speak Arabic. So it would either be Sudan or Yemen. Initially we said we wanted to perform Ramadan in Saudi Arabia … insha-Allah if that’s possible then even in Saudi.”
The cyclists said that shelter, food, water and safety have never been a problem. From country to country they would move from family to family. If they did not have a family to live with, they would stay in the mosques which they found very useful. “You meet the musallees and you find that most of the time these are good Muslims,” said Cairncross. “You can trust them and they will guide you around the area.”
However, the very mountainous areas in the different countries became problematic at times. On average Cairncross and Haron were cycling between 80 and 100 km per day, but the rocky roads slowed them down to 30km per day. “This impacted a lot on our enthusiasm,” said Cairncross. “It was a very big challenge. Also physically it was a lot of strain that our bodies took.”
Besides the mild bout of flu, the pair had been in top form. Even though they had left way before the registration and accreditation process done by the South African Haj and Umrah Council, Cairncross assured that he and Haron were on Sahuc’s database and had followed up with the council on their haj accreditation.
Cairncross was undecided about the means of transport they would use on their return to South Africa. “We’ll decide after haj if we want to cycle back or if we want to fly back. If we do cycle back it will be on the west of Africa,” he said. They have so far traveled through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya from where they would have to go through Ethiopia, Sudan and then Saudi Arabia.
Via email Cairncross and Haron expressed their heartfelt appreciation to Capetonians for the support they had given, and wrote: “Please do extend our gratitude and good wishes to everyone for the support we’ve gotten from them. We didn’t expect such a positive reaction from our brothers and sisters in Cape Town and we are very impressed and touched by their words and actions.” To follow their journey join their Facebook group called “Cape 2 Mecca Cycle ‘C2MC'”. VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)