Cycling across Iran has provided us with the most enjoyment and challenging experiences of the trip so far. We have been warmly welcomed, encountered incredible kindness, been given all kinds of food, viewed wonderful landscapes and learnt the way of life in the desert. We have also experienced temperatures in the 40s, battled with illness and a relentless headwind, slept under bridges, and drank more water than we thought possible.
Although we had just one month to cross the 1250miles (2000kilometres) of the country, the decision was made to cycle to the Caspian Sea as it gave us the opportunity to see a very different part of the country. Getting to the sea was quite some challenge however, reaching our highest point of the trip yet, at 2380m, before dropping down to the hot & humid, snake ridden tropical climate below sea level. Challenge aside, this was by far the most beautiful part of Iran with green, breathtaking valleys and crisp mountain air.
A bout of food poisoning for each of us really took its toll on the first few weeks riding. After eating some dodgy chicken in Khoy, Mike’s stomach became upset. Being the kind man that I am, it seemed only right not to leave him alone during his illness, so after indulging in some more poorly cooked meat, I was also very ill. Unfortunately it took a lot longer before the symptoms started to fade and required us to take a few days from the bikes to lounge around a cheap hotel and of course, watch Bond all day.
All across the country we have been given copious quantities of pistachios, plums, watermelons and sure enough, chai by many a passing vehicle. The Iranian hospitality did not stop at road side handouts and on a couple of occasions we were invited to stay for the night with an Iranian family.
Whilst sat outside a desert gas station avoiding the midday sun, Mahmoud on his way back home, offered us some cake and gave us his phone number, should we need any help or wish to be shown around his city of Damgan. We gave him a call on arrival and he quickly came to meet us, and were escortedus to his home. We were warmly welcomed by his family, Mary (wife), Farhad (son) and Farzane (daughter) and offered enormous helpings of fruit.
After a wash and refreshments Mahmoud and Farhad took us on a wonderful tour of the city, where we saw the oldest mosque in Iran and both Mahmoud’s electrical appliances repair store, and Farhad’s sunglasses shop. To our embarrassment Farhad insisted on giving us each a pair of his best glasses and despite us refusing countless times we walked away with a shiney new pair of sunglasses. We ate dinner back at their home before going to the Ali spring, the source of the town’s water. It was lovely and cool by the spring and enjoying a water melon beside a crystal clear pool with our new friends was an excellent end to the day. After spending the night in their comfortable home, we left after a hearty breakfast with our pannier bags bursting at the seams with provisions they had given us. All of these acts of kindness are wonderful on their own, but to come at the same time is something that is totally unique to Iran.
Managing with the heat was something we quickly became accustomed to, and began a routine of getting up very early and finding shelter between 12-3, often having a siesta. The need to drink around 9litres of water a day was quite strange, being able to down 1.5litres of water and left with a thirst. Carrying such a load of water always slowed us down after we stocked up!
There so much to be said for the kindness and lengths that Iranians will go to, to make sure that you are safe and enjoy your time in their country. This does not extend to their reckless driving. It seems that no one has respect for anyone else on the roads here. During our month, we saw two serious motorcycle accidents, three overturned trucks, two very recently, and we ourselves had too many near misses to count.
Unfortunately, we did not get invited to stay with a family every night and in the desert there are few secluded places to pitch a tent, so we finally resorted to the bridges. It is common knowledge in the cycle tourist’s world, that sleeping underneath bridges is the best place to put your tent when camping in Iran. We were understandably a bit dubious about this at first, but became fond of them. Out of sight from the road, considerably quieter, and sheltered from the wind, we had found our new choice of home for the coming weeks.
While staying in Tehran we happened to run into two other cycle tourists from Belgium who were also heading in a similar direction. Although they were not going to cycle the desert we agreed to meet up again on our arrival in Mashhad. We were quite excited when we arrived at the Vali’s home stay that they had recommended and to our further surprise we found yet another cyclist. The blogs of our fellow cyclist friends can be viewed at the following
- Tim and Tena (Belgium couple) http://www.Rijstblog.wordpress.com
- Neno (Swiss cyclist) http://www.Grindimwind.com
Staying in Vali’s house with the other cyclists has been a lot of fun, and with Vali being quite the eccentric, it has been entertaining too. We are sad to be leaving such a welcoming country and will never forget the kind people we have met. We will make a special point of telling family and friends back home about the ‘real Iran’.