A Tunisian woman became the first woman to reach the holy city of Mecca on a bicycle.
Cyclist Sara Haba travelled to Saudi Arabia and made the pilgrimage route from her home country of Tunisia in 53 days.
Haba travelled across desert into Egypt and Sudan for weeks on end, mostly by herself, and documented her journey using the hashtag #cyclingtomecca.
Haba named her bike Merzouga, which can be translated roughly to “grace with blessing” in Maghrebi Arabic.
“I was afraid to be stopped at any point. I didn’t know if my body will follow my will and accept all what I was imposing to it,” she wrote on Instagram.
Haba was worried that she wouldn’t be allowed to enter the sacred city as she was travelling by herself, but she didn’t let the fear stop her.
Under Saudi law, any woman under the age of 45 who wants to undergo the religious pilgrimage of hajj to Mecca needs a visa and must travel with a mahram – a male “guardian” who is generally expected to be a blood relation.
Though she hadn’t specified that she was undertaking hajj, going alone still presented a challenge in the religiously conservative country.
“In Saudi Arabia, where the distance and the difficulty were really small in comparison with what I went through, I was tensed before reaching Mecca as I really didn’t know if I would be allowed to enter the city, cycling by myself,” she added.
The physically demanding route had her long-distance biking for up to eight hours a day, and she didn’t have a team with her so when her bike broke down in the desert she had to repair it by herself.
Though Sara travelled alone, when her story went viral online, many people met her on her journey.
After 16 days on the road she arrived in Port Sudan, where she met a woman who had travelled 200km to see her.
In another heart-warming moment, people on the road presented the cyclist with watermelon and dates.
Thousands of people followed her journey online, and wrote supportive messages on her Instagram, whilst others asked her to carry their prayers.
In response, she thanked them.
“A special special special thanks to each person who has crossed my way, smiled to me, shown me the way, filled my bottles with water, offered me a fruit or a jabana, shared their house with me, presented me to their family and friends, cycled with me even for 10km, cried with me and make me part of their lives.
“I didn’t expect anything of all what happened,” she wrote online.
“I kept making duas for all of you, holding the list of names tightly on my hands, while turning and turning in the crowd. But it will never be enough. Hope that life will give me the opportunity to give this back to the universe.”
Sara concluded: “I won’t have made it without each one of you. You made it guys.”