Around the world by bike
(888km - 19days)
10/6 - 1/7 2008
10 June - Astara – Jokandan – 82 km
The border crossing into Iran was no less hectic than others, and the no-mans-land was a bit of an obstacle course. We waited for ages before being cleared to enter. There was also some misunderstanding regarding whether we needed documents for the bicycles. Once in Iran, we discovered, with a shock, that there was no ATM or bank where I could draw money with a foreign bank card. If only I knew this, I could have drawn money in Azerbaijan. On top of that, I still had to spend my last bit of money on a headscarf and long sleeve shirt. The law in Iran states that all women must cover their hair, arms and legs. Another male chauvinist society! I'm saying this as these rules were not made by women for women but by men. I can’t believe I chose to cycle through another Islamic country. In Iran, it felt worse than in the other countries, as the religion was enforced by law and whenever we spoke to people, they would entirely discount me and only talk to Ernest.
The scenery was amazingly lush and green, and we could hardly believe that we were in Iran as we cycled past bright green rice paddies. The coast along the Caspian Sea is somewhat dirty but still a beautiful place to stop and have a break.
11 June - Jokandan – Hashtpar - 90 km
I friendly man in a large town brought us cake and bread, in exchange for an interview (speaking only to Ernest). He was a local news reporter and then proceeded to take us to the beach where we could camp. Unfortunately, the beach was right in front of the promenade, and we had a constant procession of spectators until late in the night. The people in the middle east all seem to live at night, the reason being that it was sweltering hot in the day. There was no rest for the wicked; I could not even remove the headscarf and long sleeve shirt in the evening. There was no washing that tonight.
12 June - Hashtpar – Rushar – 125 km
We woke with women walking and jogging on the beach, fully covered a sight to behold. I thought that they must be dying of the heat In those outfits. Ernest fried himself eggs for breakfast, and that drew even more spectators. We lost our way a bit as we wanted to cycle along the coast but found ourselves on an inland road. Eventually, we came out on the beach again. We also, for the first time, saw a women driver who stopped and gave us fruit. We pitched our tents on a soccer field between the coast and the road. If only one could have a swim! I was getting slightly fed up with the headscarf, long pants and long sleeve shirt, and felt hot, stinky and my head itched.
13 June - Rushar – Chalus – 109 km
It was a good day of cycling all along the coast with a slight tailwind. We got invited to a teahouse where we had tea and mint flavoured yoghurt. We turned away from the coast in the direction of Tehran and immediately the temperature was much milder as we followed route 59 which led over the Alborz mountains. Camping places change from country to country. In Iran, one can camp just about anywhere, the most popular being at a mosque. We followed suit and stuck our tents up at a mosque. It seemed that people on road trips would often sleep over at mosques and by late evening there were quite a few tents. The main reason being that there are always water and toilets as well shade.
14 June - Chalus – Roadside camp - 70 km
We started climbing up the central Alborz mountain range, home to Mount Damavand, the highest mountain in Iran. It was a steady climb all day, and although a beautiful road with great views, I was exhausted by the end of the day.
Chalus Road, or route 59 as it is officially known, is considered one of the most beautiful roads in Iran. I’m sure it is much more so if one travels by car. Once over the high point, it was, however, a spectacular cycle down the pass to the town of Karaj. I was surprised to see a road sign for a Nuclear Research facility, especially after claims that Iran was in the process of producing nuclear weapons. Subsequent investigations proofed that there was no sign of such weapons.
16-25 - June - Karaj – Tehran – 55 km
Iran’s climate is diverse, and it is said that it has 11 of the world’s 13 climates. Ranging from arid, semi-arid to subtropical. It was, however, summer in Iran, and it was extremely hot and dry! We cycled the short distance into Tehran in the blazing heat and what a busy and large city it was! Eventually, we found the Mashhad Hotel, a favourite amongst foreigners where the rules were somewhat relaxed once inside. Lo-and-behold, would we not bumped into Martin who we met on the ferry from Sudan to Egypt and who we last saw in Cairo.
I was desperate to try and get us money and hoped that my sister could send me money seeing that one could not use foreign bankcards due to American boycott at the time.
We also had to organise out visas for Central Asia. We contacted the Uzbek consulate just to find that they had sent the LOI for Uzbekistan to Baku instead of to Tehran! To redirect it to Tehran would take a further 5-7 days. My sister, Amanda, had a battle of her own to try and send money to Iran. What a performance, it turned out to be. We waited and waited, but no LOI and money arrived. Every day I was at the bank, just for them to tell me it was still not there! N the meantime we applied for a Pakistani visa, and even that was taking forever, but at least if the Uzbek visa did not work out, we could cycle via Pakistan to India.
Everyone at the Mashhad Hotel was in the same boat; everyone was waiting for something. There was not really any other reason for staying in Tehran other than getting visas. It was, therefore, a place where we met wonderful people, some of whom I am still friends with till this day.
It was scorching hot, and one could do little more than lay in your room and wait. A thick grey/yellow haze hung over the city to such an extent that one could not even see the surrounding mountains, I was sure it was also the reason for my constant headache, or maybe t was just the stress about our money situation.
What a strange country Iran is. There was no satellite TV or even ADSL lines; the internet was all still dial-up. Definitely no alcohol, but I understand that it is readily available if you know the right people. One thing about the Iranian people is that they are extremely accommodating and welcoming, and there was continuously someone asking if they could help you find a bus, taxi or metro.
After a week of waiting I received an email from my sister, Amanda, saying that the money she sent has been returned to South Africa and that there was no way of getting money sent to Iran! Our situation instantly became desperate. We have already reverted to eating bread (nuun) and water, and we have not paid for the hotel for the past five days.
We heard about a travel agent that could maybe arrange money; we had nothing to lose and visited him. After explaining our problem, in detail, he proceeded to give me 300US dollars. At first, he said it was a gift, but I insisted on getting his bank details and eventually he gave me bank details for an account in Dubai. All this happened without him ever looking at me and only speaking to Ernest, who by the way, had no money and I was the one who had to arrange for the money transfers. This of cause is something that irritated me, but we were desperate, and it was not my country to make demands.
I immediately arranged for my sister to transfer the money into the account he gave us. With that money, we could pay our hotel as well as the Pakistani visa. Phew, what a relief! Still not enough to get us to the border, which appeared about 1500 km from Tehran. By this time there was hardly enough time left on our visas to make it to the border.
26 June - Tehran – Qom Rest area – 124 km
We left Tehran as early as possible, but already the heat was stifling. As if that was not bad enough, we were also cycling into a headwind. Maybe cycling through Iran to Pakistan in the height of summer was not such a smart move. The heat appears to be at its worst between 14h00 – 18h00. It seems that one could never drink enough water to keep hydrated and the warm water further made me feel nauseous in the heat. We managed to do 124 km before camping at a rest area with a petrol station and restaurants.
27 June - Rest area – Kashan Petrol station – 113 km
Once again, we woke at sunrise and left as soon as possible, but it made no difference, as the heat soon became quite unbearable. I drank as much as I possibly could, but it only proceeded to make me more nauseous. I felt weak from an upset stomach, but we battled on against a headwind. The going was dreadfully slow in the heat and Ernest, single-minded as he was, had no intentions of stopping or waiting for me. He had his mind set on reaching the border without making use of public transport, and that was what he was going to do, with or without me. No one was going to stop him, especially not a woman puking next to the road. By then I had no energy left as I was vomiting up everything I ate or drank, and could not push on anymore.
28 June – Kashan Petrol station - Kerman – 28 km & by bus
By the time we left the following morning, I was still not feeling well and felt weak and nauseous. As we had little money left we only had a tin of beans to eat the night before. After a short while, I realised that Ernest had no intentions of waiting for me and once we reached the toll-gate I decided to let him go ahead.
I could continue at my own pace or take a bus to the border. As I hardly had any money left I thought it better to take a bus. I waited forever but eventually a bus arrived which appeared to go quite close to the Pakistan border. The bus drivers were extremely helpful and only charged me 8000 Toman (less than 10 U$). On the bus, I met Fariba, a lovely lady living in Kerman. She invited me to stay with them for the night. The bus only arrived in Kerman at around 1h00. I accepted her offer and had a nice shower at her place. I slept on the sofa while Fariba and her husband, Mehran slept outside in the courtyard.
29 June - Kerman – Zahedan (By bus)
We only woke at 9h00, had breakfast consisting of bread (nuun) cheese, nuts and halva. Fariba escorted me to the bus station, where I got a bus to Zahedan. On the bus, I met another lovely student, Nargess, on her way home after the closing of term (the bus ticket was 6 000 Toman). I know I’m going on about this, but the heat was genuinely unbearable. From Bam, the road crossed the desert and there appeared to be very little water along the way. The scenery and structures resembled Sudan so much so that one can easily think you’re in another country. Once again, the bus only arrived at around 24h00 in Zahedan and Nargess invited me to stay at their house. What a luxury house it was. Double storey with air-con! Communication was difficult as they did not speak English and me no Farsi.
30 June - Zahedan
The people of the house only woke at around 10h00 – 12h00. Most people seem to live at night and sleep in the day. This was about the best thing to do as the heat was unbearable during the day. They fed me until bursting point with rice, noodles and fruit.
31 July - Zahedan
They insisted on me staying another day, and I used the opportunity to do some laundry and just lay about. Once again, I was fed with all kinds of food. Wow, one can only eat so much and no more. It was indeed, interesting to observe Irian life at close quarters. The father was undoubtedly the most important person in the household, and everyone would run to serve him, only relaxing once he left for work in the morning. I felt incredibly uncomfortable to see women in such a degraded role.
1 July - Zahedan to Pakistan border.
I insisted on leaving for Pakistan that day, my hosts, however, advised against cycling to the border due to “dangerous activities”, as they called it. By the time I was ready, they had already ordered a taxi and paid for it. There was no way I could get them to accept my money, and in the end, I gave up, got in the taxi, loaded with a huge bag of food and headed for the border. The drive to the border was through a real moon-scape area.
At last, I was heading out of Iran, although the people were accommodating and friendly I did not like Iran as much as the other countries, it must be my anti-authoritarian attitude! I somehow had an intense desire to give them a boob-flash as I cycled across the border.