Iranian Symbols - Khomeini and Blue Zamyad
Company for Lunch
For my Mum!
Fed, watered, tead
Pastries passed from a moving car!
Afshin and the Engineers - The Best Hosts
Most people say that their conceptions of Iran are completely blown apart after visiting it. Unfortunately I spoilt the surprise by reading so many reports back in the UK that I knew exactly what to expect, and forthcoming it most certainly was.
There was a beautiful contrast - riding the road through Kurdistan from the last town in Turkey to the Iranian border we were savagely ambushed by, well, some 8-12 year old shepherds. Now that may not sound too scary but when they have sticks with nails in, big scary dogs and no one to discipline them within 10 miles it's not an ideal situation. Following stick/bike contact my Aussie counterpart chose the direct approach and chased after then with a quite terrifying volley of swear words and suddenly they were just scared children. Another guy who rode the same road and faced the same encounter nailed them with pepper spray, hah!
Compare that with the first 50 miles in Iran where we were instead forced to fend off offers of tea and picnics that would have seen us stopping every 20 minutes, and over enthusiastic drivers eager to chat whilst negotiating roundabouts, and you can see why I'm happy to be here.
At the border the Iranian contrast began - I was led away by police to be fingerprinted (twice), a special treat just for the British, after having been offered a place to stay with the very first Iranian we spoke to. The government and the people are such separate entities in the most part, but unfortunately our views are shaped by the news that reflects on the government and not the people. I will limit my mention of the G word now until I'm safely across the border. You never know...
We've been here for almost 2 weeks now with non-stop riding from Turkey to Tehran. The capital city is madness and our trips to the British, Australian, Pakistani and Indian embassies have been both exhilarating and terrifying. It's not much better on the back of a motorbike or even in a taxi. Crossing the road is a real life game of Frogger with only one life.
Iran will be where the continuity of the bike ride ends for me. Having pedaled every inch from The Netherlands to Iran I've been refused a visa for Pakistan - the vital link overland to India - so will be getting as far east as Yazd or Bam in Iran before returning to Tehran to catch a plane to the west of India at Amritsar. Owing to time, equipment, knowledge and visas the northern Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan/Tajikistan route is not much of an option so will be saved for another time.
Owing to the visa here we only have about 17 days left and owing to the embargo preventing foreigners from withdrawing money we are watching every 1000 rials as once it's gone, it's gone!
I've unfortunately lost track of all the kindness we've experienced in this short time, but we've been bought numerous ice creams and cold drinks, offered tea, cooked food, handed cakes - generally been assisted no end and treated like celebrities. Being British this is all very embarrassing for me and I don't know how to convey my thanks enough, but for the Iranians this is just how things are done - it's part of a social minefield called Taarof which I'm still trying to master.
The final photo above is of our now very good friends in Takestan. Hijacked by one of them as I was hypoglaecimically trying to buy lunch and ordered to go to his house I eventually gave in and we followed him to his student pad where he and a bunch of childhood friends all live while they study mechanical engineering. We were treated like kings and had one of the best, most relaxing nights of the trip so far - thank you all!
There is so much more to tell but, as ever, so little time. Off to see what the rest of Iran has to offer and then into the even hotter, even madder world of India...