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Travel the Middle East on two wheels

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Bicycling in Afghanistan has taken on several important meanings for some of the country's women. The Middle Eastern nation recently started its first-ever women's national cycling team and soon thereafter got a flood of people asking to join. 

Abdul Sadiq, the founder of both the men's and women's national cycling teams, said that he started the women's club after his daughter expressed interest, according to NPR. However, in a country and region that has various amounts of oppression against women, not everyone was thrilled about the opportunity for women to bike in the mountainous country. NPR reported that the riders have been hit with stones and slingshots, and one rider was even crashed into by a motorcycle. 

But that didn't stop that rider and the cyclists as a whole from getting back on their bikes and riding each day. Lead rider Marjan Sadeqi, 25, said that she hopes that cycling and competing in events like the upcoming Asian Cycling Championships will help men in her country and people from all over see what women from Afghanistan are really all about. 

"We are riding in front of all these men and I'm sure some of them, their minds have opened up," she told NPR. "I just want to introduce to the world the women of Afghanistan, that they are able to do anything any other women are able to do."

Although Afghanistan may not necessarily be the most appealing spot for many foreign tourers to look for their next trip, the truth is that the Middle East has a lot to offer when it comes to long-term bike travel. Some regions are dangerous or war-torn, but many more have wonderful climates, challenging terrain, entertaining amenities and great places to explore.

So, when you're thinking of a place to plan your next bicycle touring trip, consider the Middle East. While planning, there are a few helpful things to keep in mind. 

Women are generally treated with respect 
The Middle East is an enormous region, and within different countries, cultures and groups, treatment of women or Westerners can vary in a number of ways, but, as Travelling Two explained, women are normally treated with respect throughout the Middle East.  

The touring advice site explained that a woman touring by herself won't necessarily evoke anger, but it's unusual and will be treated as such. This can mean anything from additional curiosity from strangers trying to share tea to unwanted flirting from some men. Travelling Two did warn that smiling and eye contact carry much more flirtatious connotations than they do in the West and should be avoided. Some people may have misguided ideas based on Western movies and TV, but the source reported that many people were helpful. 

Think about where you want to visit 
As previously stated, the Middle East is very large, and with that comes a wide range of places to go. It's important to decide what experience you're looking for in a tour before you start planning. Do you want to stay near the Mediterranean Sea and see ancient ruins and sites of historical and religious importance? Or, do you want to challenge yourself to brutal climate changes through the near-endless mountains of the northern Middle East? 

You can go nearly anywhere. Many people stick to areas on the western end of the Middle East, where the countries are smaller, so they can visit more areas. String together a tour that runs from Turkey in the north to Egypt in the south, riding through deserts and foreign lands. 

Experienced bicycle tourer Bill Fridl wrote on his website, Bicycle-Touring.com, about when he rode from Istanbul to Cairo. He explained that he decided to head south rather than north from Cairo to Istanbul for a variety of reasons related to wind and sun – both of which are important and should be considered. Certain areas, like Egypt or Jordan, are so hot after May that they're unsafe to tour through.

Get visas and plan ahead politically 
It's smart to plan out your route, the sights you want to see and plan for the weather, but you need to be ready for the political realities as well. This means deciding which areas are safe as well as which ones you're actually allowed to travel to. Figure out where there are embassies for your country. 

It's also a good idea to learn common customs. When you're riding, you'll be traveling between different cultures each day, but it's important to know how to politely interact, what offers to politely decline and how to properly dress. Although the way women dress is important, the men's clothing choices matter as well. People should be properly covered if they want to show respect and have a good interaction with local people and their culture. 

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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