Monday 6th of August 2012
Cycling through West Iran Part 2
About living like humans, a great cycling host on the road, and a stomach ache for eating too much free fruit.
One great thing about Iran is that all city parks become legal camping areas. What this actually means is that you can practically camp anywhere inside a park within any city and be secure and welcome. Especially on Fridays the parks are full of people, because Fridays are weekend days in Iran. Saturday on the other hand is considered the first day of the week and Sunday is a normal working day. We woke up early in the morning from our tent, packed our stuff and were eager to ride in the desert. At least that was what Roberto assured that happened.
As we left the park that had given us shelter, a family spotted us and invited us for breakfast. It was a little late and we worried about the rising temperatures, but we did not mind a nice conversation either. We had butter, honey, bread and tea, a typical Iranian breakfast. The family was nice and big, Latin-American big. Before we finally left, Hamid, the eldest son of the family who spoke English, wrote one of the messages in our Ortlieb bags that we will never forget: Live like a Human.
So many berries
So with this great line we cycled direction east towards the next big city: Tabriz. Our way to Tabriz was not as easy as we thought it would be, but definitely memorable. One day after a couple of hours of cycling we decided to make a small break close to a Police Station. We have to say that police were very nice to us, they all cheered us while we cycled and most of the time smiled at us.
On the stop a woman all dressed in black waited for us along the side of the road. When we arrived she exchanged looks with me and invited me to stop. We did, then she opened the trunk of the car and with a big smile she offered us a big bag of cherries, peaches and other citric goodies. It was so much we had to figure out a way to carry all in our bikes. Aware of this “problem” we decided to make an even larger pause in the first tree with a big shadow that we saw. There were hardly any trees around so we stopped at the very first one we spotted. Roberto and I ate all the fruits we could. They were delicious and very refreshing. We were happy because they tasted great and because we did not want to carry them anymore.
When it was afternoon again, 2 pm more or less, we decided it was time to keep on going. It was still very hot but it would not get much better withing the next few hours. After an hour of pedaling I started to feel a little bad. My stomach was burning. I then stopped and asked Roberto for a pause. He asked me if I was fine, on to which I replied, “Do not worry I had this before it will go away”. I saw the worried look on Roberto and so I faked that I felt good again and started cycling. I really did feel good again, until I got thirsty and drank water. Every time I drank the pain came back. Not drinking anything was not an option because the temperature had risen up to 50°C that day. I prefer pain rather than thirst. When the pain turned really bad again I asked Roberto for a pause, this time in a forgotten road restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We ordered some butter milk for me and a soft drink for Roberto. That was where Roberto fell in love with the national brand of cola called Zam Zam. I tried but it did not help, every time I swallowed my stomach ached, it was definitely the catastrophic amounts of sour fruits we had been eaten. Especially all those cranberries.
After it calmed down we started cycling again, Roberto offered to stop a car and look for a ride but I did not want to end with the great rhythm we had. The worst heat of the day was already over, the worst uphill seemed to be behind us and I was sure the pain would go away soon. It was until we reached a water dwell where we ran into a nice truck driver that offered us a 15 km ride to the next town. My pain came back, I shared a look with Roberto and accepted. We then later regretted because although he was nice and we truly liked his company, the 15 km he gave us a ride where all downhill! We could not believe that after crawling all the way up we missed that fun part.
The ride was over and while the three of us were still unloading the bikes a man, cycling a speed bike came towards us. Then he took a photo album from inside his shirt, and showed us about 20 pictures of him and different cycling tourists. He did not speak very well English but he emanated honesty from all places. Apparently he wanted to lead us to a restaurant where we could camp 25 km from there. Se we did, I feeling not that good was then offered the opportunity to exchange bikes. Our new friend Akbar rode my packed bicycle with the half-broken gear cable for the whole 20 km that were mostly uphill while I rode his uncomfortable but light and fast speed bike.
Before reaching our destiny he took us with some of his friends in a gas station where they gave us watermelon and played some music for us. Apparently he did that same thing every time he met cyclists on the road. It was as if he knew that we were coming. After the watermelon, we cycled again and reached this very nice restaurant run by two of his friends. When we arrived a friend of his met us there with his family, his daughter and wife. He spoke very well English and explained that Akbar likes tourists and always invites them to the same restaurant, he said that he wants to contribute to make tourists feel welcome to his country. As soon as he said that Akbar brought two big platters of kebab and drinks, we ate with them, well they ate we devoured. As soon as we arrived my pain was magically gone. I enjoyed the grilled meat, vegetables and more buttermilk.
After dinner we offered to pay for the food but Akbar refused, it was a natural and honest welcome, that became very characteristical amongst the people in all Iran. The tradition has it that an offer should not be accepted at the first time. It would appear greedy. The second time it should be refused as well. Only when an offer is repeated three times it can be accepted. Everything else would appear impolite and greedy. This is part of the so called Taroof, a culture of politeness. We offered to pay three times and Akbar refused three times. In the end we felt very welcome and thankful. I can imagine he must be famous among cyclist tourist in Iran. By the way in the end my stomach was much better and I was able to eat delicious Kebab with rice and saffron. No more tons of acid fruits in the morning, lesson learned.
Bikes as baggage
The next day we arrived very fast to Tabriz. The way led us first through a semi-desertic area and then through endless kilometers of industrial factories. When we entered Tabriz the road seperated. We were a little lost because the city was big we did not know exactly what to do. Take a train? Keep cycling? The time to apply for visas was running short and our friends Kim and Danny, that we met all the way from Batina, Croatia were waiting for us. A little tired from the road and nervous to know if we were going to be able to make it before our visa in Iran would expire, we decided to grab a painful bus of more than 600 km to reach to Tehran. It was a hard decision but one that we had to make.
So we headed out with our bike towards the bus station. Roberto seemed very annoyed with the fact that he had to put his bike into the bus, negotiate prices and worry about the safety of our equipment. I told him that everything was going to be alright.
The bus ride was fine, even the price from Tabriz to Tehran was very cheap, although we did have to negotiate a price for the bikes. It resulted in 17 Euros for everything, us, the baggage and the bikes. For a 600 km ride, it was great. While we waited for the bus, we sat down in the park, in no time we were surrounded by many people, all curious of our whereabouts and plans. A man from the military even had to come to tell the people to leave us alone. We did not mind the curious people at all, but Roberto seemed to start getting grumpy every time the man asked if I was his sister. Of course it seemed obvious that we do not look even a bit similar, but it is a bit rude to ask if I was his wife or if I was still available. At the end nothing happened and we got in the night bus. As usual neither Roberto nor I got a goodnight sleep. When we finally arrived to Tehran it was 4:30 in the morning, a little too early to start cycling towards the city center.
We used the time to fix our bikes and clean the chains. When the sun rose we made our way through the crazy traffic into the giant city of Tehran.
Update: Our friend Akbar has hosted plenty of other cyclists after we have left. We have received quite some mails from people who saw our picture in his picture book.