I just made it to Chiraz, after a 1200 km bike ride throughout the mountains. My legs have gotten pretty red when facing the 10 and 12% slopes, up to even 14% at some point. My mood also went through many ups and downs, as the iranian way of life is very different from mine, and very difficult for me to adapt to.
I first left Tehran and biked for two whole days on a highway along the desert, until I reached the city of Qom.
I then started climbing up in the mountains. The landscape was arid, and the rivers all dried up. The sound of grasshoppers and some flying bushes on the road were the only noises breaking the silence, as if everything else had been immobilised by the heat of the sun.
Towards the end of the day, one last hill took away the bit of energy I had left, giving me not other choice than spending the night in this beautiful valley. The next day, I was off again for another 8 km of steep slope, allowing me to reach the top to a village and a hotspring. Although I was expecting many water pounds, all I found was all the water channeled into one hammam. I stopped for a hot bath. My muscles thanked me so much!
Mahallat is a small city which also benefits from some other hot springs. And there, magic actually happens! Green parks and landscapes, tall trees in every street and many greenhouses sheltering vegetables, flowers and small trees, growing vividly. I fulfill my dreams of water in every way: to humidify my throat, hydrate my muscles, wash myself… no bathing this time, but you do need to keep dreaming to carry on, right?
Later on, I take on some subsidiary small roads which soon shrink into small paths. “Is ‘bamboo bike’ okay for you? Not much of a choice now!” My speed slows down drastically, but the beauty of the landscape occupies my mind. And I enjoy the solitude! At night, I reach a small village, where the smell of fresh bread convinces me to stop.
I’m now in Kaydu, and within the five minutes following my arrival, the whole village is surrounding me. I’m offered bread, watermelons and plums, and a young farmer comes to me, speaking some english. What a nice surprise! Abi invites me over for diner at his place. He’s retired, used to be a military during the iraki war and proves it by showing me the scars still visible on his belly… Our discussions are often cut short because of the langage barrier, as he doesn’t speak english. But this doesn’t keep his wife from quietly cooking and serving us a good meal.
And yes, I do eat dinner on the terrace with Abi while his wife and daughter stay cooking in the house. They come out briefly, but I can’t really speak with them. At some point during the evening, Abi gets up, makes some brief ablutions, goes fetch his mat and starts praying. After a while he stops and explains, in a broken english, that he is speaking to Allah in arabic and that he uses Telegram (an app similar to whats app, very common in Iran). His randomness gives me a good laugh.
In this small village, I discover an authentic iranian greeting: saying salam, and after 20 good seconds of a verbal “joute” during which each party asks about the family, the house, work… and this especially happens during greetings between a woman and a man.
Back on the deserted roads… my bags full of chocolates and fruits, I’m filled up with water and I can feel I am in great shape. New paths, here I come! Between two hills along a creek, I see goats, but no dog or sheperd around. Ah, there they are, under a tree. The sheperd seems really surprised by my unpredicted presence! We share smiles, milk, tea and even chocolate.
After 5 days and 400km from Tehran, I am now 2000 meters high. The air is getting fresher as I reach the city of Khansar.
It reminds me of one of our alpin village, with its tiny streets and many shops selling local products. It’s 6 pm and I need a break. I decide to stop in a park, surprised to realize that I am not alone, as about 500 other iranians are cooking and getting a huge camp ready. Of course, how could I forget, it’s the last day of ramadan. I set my tent straight away. Throughout the night, many young peope come up to me, curious about my random and intriguing presence. 🙂 We talk a lot and share about our different food cultures mostly. The atmosphere in this parc is preatty crazy, it felt a bit like one of those music festival back home, with all the tents set on each other… with tea instead of beer, and the Khansar imam as a substitute for a music band.
The iranian holidays go on for three more days. Along the road, in the middle of the hills, peaugeots are stopped, their motors panting, while the families are having tea. I find it nice how they are spending their holidays with such simplicity, rugs and carpets on the roof, ice box and barbecue in the trunk and grandparents on the back seat! It’s quite a social mix too, as this type of vacation adapts to all budgets, the commun goal being to spend time with friends and family. I was, of course, invited, this time to spend a night in a cabin in the middle of an orchard, great and heartwarming moment that evening! There, I was asked the million dollar question.
“If we were to come to France, would we get the same welcome?”.
I was asked this question in many countries that I crossed, and unfortunately I think the answer is no. This is only point of view, it is personnal and I’m sincerely hoping I am mistaken! When I traveled biking throughout France with Samuel, we were greeted as kings, which was a great surprised. But looking back, I think it might have been patriotism. Moreover, there was no language barrier. And I think the French as a whole are scared of foreigners and would not invite them into their home, or would be too busy anyways to come up to someone in the street just to help them out. I hope my adventures can show you we are all humans, all the same and that to reach out to someone can fulfill you with incomparable joy. So here are some thoughts and reflection coming from my experience so far:
#1 If one day you feel sick of your everyday routine, go talk to a stranger lost in the street, pick up a hitchhiker, join couchsurfing or warmshowers.
#2 Preconception (on an outsider or foreigner) is only a vague – and clearly crappy – idea, so inform yourself in a smart way (and stop watching news on tv as they are only there to spread fear), open your mind and go experience.
#3 Scared of a stranger? Remember that, before anything else, she or he is a human being, just like you, who most likely enjoys having a good time, a good laugh, and that’s all. And if the encounter is too much for you at some point, learn to say no in a nice and polite way, and everything will be just fine.
#4 Stop telling yourself that you don’t have enough time or money, those are only excuses to make you feel better. Read my articles again and look at how many people who had nothing gave me everything.
Isfahan, here I am for a weekend full of adventures!
Reza, Majit and their parents take me over to their home and first night, they invite me to join them to a wedding, or more accurately a big party one month after the wedding day. The newly weds are 22 and 26 years old, don’t know much about life in general and already forced to be taking care of their future family. It’s just the rule in Iran! In the party, women and men are separated. Not quite the context to meet your soulmate… The evening starts with electronic iranian music, and sweet appetizers. When the meal is served, silence instantly takes over, forks are quivering to reach grilled meat and rice, and always, soda. After about 10 minutes, men start leaving the table to go outside, whereas I feel like I haven’t even started eating. We then wait outside to give the “marié” a gift and head back home. Ah, customs are different, I am definately not used to all this.
The next day, I have to run to get a extension for my iranian visa, giving me a good taste of iranian administration for around three hours. Harder than a day of biking, I can’t do anything else that afternoon. Third day in Isfahan I went to visit the city, without a guide unfortunately, and I am not a big fan of historical monuments so you can just enjoy the sights on the pictures I took. That same night, with my hosts, we hiked up a mountain close to the city, got back around 1am and kept going until 4am at one of their friend’s place. So much for my early start biking tomorrow. During the evening, Narges explained to me that she makes pieces of pottery, and yes, I want to see, and yes, I spend the whole next day in herworkshop, hands in the mud!
A very special girl
At 34 years old, Narges has been working since she was 16. I mean really working, not as a housemaid for her own home, like most iranian women. She started with small jobs and when she finished her art school, she started her pottery project. It takes her a lot of strength and resolution, as she’s going against iranian coutumes, but she is lucky enough to have an open-minded family to support her. But don’t go thinking iranian government helps entrepreneurs, declaring a business is very expensive, therefore she has to hold her activity illegally and without any help. You can feel her difference even in her art as she doesn’t stick to the traditionnal iranian blue and yellow. It looks amazing. If you’d like to check out her work you can check out her work on instagram : dast.gah.isf . Good job Narges, you are a fine model of a free woman, or just of a woman!
Goodbye Isfahan, although not feeling so well…
Back on the bike, the lack of sleep, lack of appetite and the heavy heat are giving me quite a hard time :(. The first couple days are difficult, as I am surrounded almost exclusively by industries and oil wells… One night I actually set my tent in a field, far from anyone, and go to bed at 9. I was already sleeping when a sheperd comes up to talk to me. He’s trying to communicate with big signs which I don’t understand. When I finally accept to come out of my tent, he shows me a big hole and starts explaining to me that terrorists will bury me there during the night. I give up, pack up and goes to his place with his goats. I am exhausted but they try to talk with me until midnight, after which I had the worst sleep because of the heat… I spend the next three days riding in the mountain, but I’m surrounded by polluted trucks, my throats is stinging more than ever, and the effort combined to the heat is cutting my appetite. I’m completely strung out…
I’m so tired of all these people asking me the same questions over and over again, with the same insistant tone. Always about where I’m from, how much money I have, how much is my bike worth, why I don’t use a motor bike, if I have a wife, how can I live without one… I feel in need of deeper and more interesting connections, I would llike to learn more about their way of life, talk about my project or my bike… There is truly an abyss between our cultures, starting with the iranian women situation, which blocks me in my relationships with men. They are often very macho and it’s hard for me to deal with. Of course I would like to speak with them, debate, defend women rights and equality in general, but I am facing millenium years of customs and religious dogma.
Moreover, iranians don’t seem to understand my rythme on the bike, or the fact that after pedaling for 80 km during the day, all I want to do at night is eat and not go to sleep too late. For them, it’s the opposite: they live mostly at night because the air is cooler. They are full of energy when they take me over for the night, have dinner at 11pm and go to sleep very late…
The last big difference between them and I is ecological. Iranians live from petrol, using and abusing of it in all its forms. Their public transport is disastrous, they all own a mob to go buy their bread and have no education concernant waste sorting. I am shocked every single day, and it makes me think about the impact of our ecological approach back in France, and how it is the small on a world scale.
My state of physical fatigue adds to the annoyance caused by all these superficial and intrusive encounters, I feel like I cannot get one second to rest or breathe. I’m in a bad mood, I become colder with people and I feel terrible about it. But it’s hard to switch back. However I stay convinced that you get what you give, so I know I have to be the one to make the first positive move, in order to hopefully come accross a great encounter.
Some rest, some rice, and of course I go again.
Two bike days away from Shiraz, the hills slowly become large fields of rice and wheat, and my body is getting a bit less afflicted :). I manage to spend a whole night camping on my own, and getting some real rest. The next day I visit Persepolis, you can admire the pictures for yourself! I am now in Shiraz. To be continued in my next article!
For now I have six more days of biking in front of me before arriving to Bandar Abbas, where I should be staying for a week or two. This is the harbour which will allow me to reach Dubai, although I’m hoping to make it straight to India. I indeed gave up on my United Arab Emirates, Oman and Mascate plan to catch a boat for India. I will try to get the visa from Iran and to reach Bombay directly by boat. The point of this break will be to make better and deeper connections with people, and with more time get a better chance to know more about Iran. I also have in mind to hitchhike around other places in Iran for a day or two. My iranian adventure is not over yet!