Monday, 29 October 2007

Day 159 - Bandar Abbas

Well my night in Darab was ok, but that is about as far as it goes. It was a posh hotel, but there service was terrible. To be honest it felt a bit strange being there. It was at the end of a long drive and the whole experience seemed to be a far cry from what Iran is really like and to that end the following 2 night, and the previous 2, were much more to my liking, but very basic.

The ride from Darab was straight forward enough. I expected a quickish ride so had a lie in as long as possible but I was still up at 7:15. The only tough bit of the ride came almost at the end. The road had been going gently up for a while then started to climb steeply up to a pass, but the descent was even better and longer, through the mountains and through three short tunnels, two of which were linked by a bridge over the valley. I dropped down into the valley below and arrived at Furk, probably the only likely place to spend the night. There was a garage and a restaurant close together so I stopped at the restaurant and looked for a place to camp. There was nowhere suitable so I carried on through the village but returned as there was nothing better. I located one small piece of land large enough to put a tent on, that wasnt either rocky or had plants growing on it. I went to get permission to camp there but they wouldnt have it but said I could sleep in the outside tea area. That was good enough for me but they soon said I could sleep in a large glass fronted room that wasnt used. Within a couple of minutes they brought me a carpet to sleep on and I made myself at home. Later as I had dinner one of the workers came and sat at the end of the table and just stared at me. I dont mind people looking at me but staring is not comfortable so I stared him in the eyes back and it was quite a while before he got the message and looked else where, but he stared again as soon as I looked away and the process was repeated a number of times. Later the chef brought a book over and showed me an advert for the place. As I read the book the manager came a read over my shoulder, turning the pages when he was ready. When we got to the advert for his place I pointed it out but he swore blind it wasnt, took the book off me and looked for the advert which he couldnt find. He called the chef who found it for him, the one I had just shown him, then he passed it back to me as pleased as punch with himself. The night in glass room was really hot and I just had the silk sleeping bag liner over me and I still sweated away.

The following morning I was up before everybody else so helped myself to breakfast. I also asked for some bread for lunch and then I was off. The road continued its downward trend and I dipped below 1000m for the first time since I left the Black Sea coast almost 2 months ago. Down on the plain below I saw the biggest roadkill I have ever seen, I even stopped to take a photo of it. A fully grown camel was on it side with no sign of blood. Hitting that wouldnt do your car any good! The road had been quiet for the last couple of days but once I reached the main road and turned south to Bandar Abbas things changed dramatically. It was narrow with lots of trucks that didnt particularly want to slow down for a mear cyclist, so some ran far too close for comfort. After 110k the road climb steeply for about 10km, I could see it way above me with apparently nowhere to go, so I guessed right and it went through a tunnel. It was terrible, narrow, dark, very hot and very fumey. As the trucks passed the heat from the exhausts was really hot on my legs. I had no idea how long the tunnel was and worked out what I would do if I was overcome with fumes, but thankfully it was only 800m long and I was mighty glad to be out in fresh air again. I was also at the top of the pass and heading downhill fast. It would soon be time to find a camp site and as usual during the morning I could have camped almost anywhere as the ground had been flat and soft, but now I was in a steep valley and there was nothing but rocks. Way ahead I could see palm trees and that usually means a village and soon I arrived at Qotb Abad where I saw a policeman getting into his car at the police station, so I asked him if there was anywhere I could camp. He suggested the mosque and I lad on a bike took me there. It was ideal with a large courtyard at the back with running water and a loo, so I made myself at home and got a brew going. For the next hour or so I had continual visits from the boys of the village as word obviously spread that there was a strange cyclist staying at the mosque. The the mosque opened up for evening prayers and I was visited by the adults as they left, then I was left on my own. It was a lovely warm evening so I didnt bother putting up the tent and slept under the stars, feeling very happy, safe and content. It was blissful. Allah was looking after me.

Today I was up at about 5:45 as it was well light and I was on the road by about 7:15 having had breakfast and plenty of coffee. The road was terrible for the first 30k, too much traffic, mainly trucks, and again they didnt want to slow down, so it was far from enjoyable. But the end of the day was at sea level so at times it was fast and furious and further on there was a new dual carriageway with a great surface and the pace was quick, though it seemed to take an age to get from the outskirts to the centre. Once there I found an internet cafe, checked my mails and found that Judith and Andre were staying with a family and had given me the address, near the bus station, which wasnt on my map. 3 guys on a motor cycle started to show me the way but disappeared down an alleyway very quickly as a police car pulled up alongside me. The police then put me on the right road and went their separate way and every kilometre or so I would stopped and asked the way, having little confidence that I would ever find the place. Then another 2 on a motorcycle offered to show me but they wanted me to go faster and faster, but as they were the first ones that seemed to know exactly where is was I didnt want to lose them. Sure enough they got me there, 10km from the internet cafe, and I met up with J & A and their hosts, a man, his aunt, grandmother and a friend, all very confusing as first, but lovely people and very welcoming and a meal was soon served up after I had a nice warm shower.

So tomorrow we are off to U.A.E. and Dubai, assuming I can get a ticket as J & A already have theirs. So what will I miss about Iran? Well I will miss the people and their hospitality. I said after my 1999 visit that they are the most welcoming and friendly people of all the places I have visited and this trip has strongly confirmed that, they are wonderful and put politics aside and make everybody welcome in their homes. I will also miss the carrot jam, but I wont miss the jubs, the big wide, deep and dangerous water channels at the side of every road on towns. What I am looking forward to? The only things really are a change of scenery and the excitement of new experiences in new places that I know very little about.

We will be in Dubai for a few days as we want to sort out our Indian visas, then I would like to see a little of U.A.E. before going into Oman and trying to get a boat somewhere from Muscat, the capital. Time will tell if all that happens.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Day 156 - Darab

Well I have said my farewells to Andre and Judith again, so I am alone once more.

Leaving Shiraz was a breeze, flat and fast, but nothing much to see other that a salt lake. The road hugged the shore for about 30km and by the end of it the novelty had worn off. I guess at times it is full of water as there were boats at various points along the shore, but little sign of water when I was there. I arrived at Sarvestan, my intended destination, at about 14:30 and it seemed way to early to stop, but I did my best to. There were no hotels and as it was a bigish town no suitable places to camp so I went to the far end of town. There was a pretol station and a garage but still nowhere suitable to camp the only good place being a cemetry where I would have loved to have camped but there were 3 men working there with a bulldozer so I decided better of it. By now the wind had got up making it was hard work, but I continued to the next village where I found a really nice little spot by the a stream. Once I had set up the tent the goat herds came past returning for the night to the village and the herdsman stopped for a chat. A lad came over and said I would be cold and invited me back to eat and spend the night in his house, but it was already dark so I decided to stay put. It was a wonderful moonlit evening and a slept really well.

The following day was a short one to Fasa where I expected to find a hotel. Sure enough I did but it was a tourist hotel, with no tourists and very expensive. They gave me directions to the Islami Hotel but when I got there I couldnt see it. On route I was going around a roundabout when a car cut across the front of me, hit another car and instantly stopped leaving me with nowhere to go and I hit it on the side. What seemed like an age later a motorcycle also hit it in the side. The was no damage on my part, even less than when I was hit by a car in Shiraz whilst I was on foot. That left me with a sore wrist for a couple of hours. I seem to be riding my luck at the moment, I feel like a cat with nine lives. I asked around and a motorcyclist offered to lead me there, but we seemed to be heading out of town so I thanked him and returned. Another motorcyclist made the same offer and took me back to the tourist hotel and insisted it was the Islami despite the wrong name on the outside. This scenario continued for over an hour by which time my patience was waring thin. This time I asked a shop keeper and he pointed to it, but I still had time to get a puncture. My half day and relaxed afternoon were fast disappearing. At last I found the hotel but there was nothing in English to suggest it was a hotel and it didnt look like one. I had been there about 3 times and even those I had asked when right outside didnt know about it. Once inside I still had the puncture and the owner insisted on wheeling the bike, but I just wanted to be left alone to do my own thing. Before long the puncture was fixed and after a hot shower on loose floor tiles that squelched when walked on I felt much better. The hotel was a dive, the worst I have stayed in and by far the cheapest as I refused to pay his asking price. Before long I was brought a pot of tea soon followed by a box of dates and wafer biscuits. I was invited into the owners house which was next door and introduced to his wife. I was somewhat surprised that she didnt have a scarf on and there was cleavage on view, very un-Iranian. She put a scarf on and brought more tea and a bowl of fruit. She asked if I was angry and I explained that I had been a bit wound up, but over the evening she kept asking if I was angry, then I realised that she was asking if I was hungry. I was invited by them to a wedding party that evening but I told them I had nothing suitable to wear but Ardalan offered me his clothes but I still turned down the offer saying I was too fat. At 6pm some of the family returned and I was introduced to them all and photos were taken and little movies shot, I must be better looking than I thought! They wouldnt let me go out on my own as in their opinion it was too dangerous, so I was taken by taxi to and from the internet cafe, all paid for by them and given dinner on my return. By the end of the evening I felt terrible that I had negotiated such a low price for the room.

This morning was more of the same. I had breakfast with Ardalan and his wife Maryem, whilst their little daughter still slept. When I went to leave they wanted to show me around Maryem`s mothers house and I was given apples, and prayer beads. I took a couple of photos before I left but their daughter Melica did not want to be photographed, so gave a doll to be in the picture instead. Ardalan showed me the route out as I followed him on his motorcycle. When we said our goodbyes Ardalan was in floods of tears, but I didnt find it embarassing and gave him a hug. He insisted on giving me his sunglasses as I left so I gave him mine in return and he was delighted. They are a wonderful family and once again the hospitality is just fantastic, they just want to give so much.

Today has been an easy ride to Darab, but it was deja vu all over again as I found a tourist hotel in the same chain as yesterdays and struggled to find anything else and once again motorcyclists led me on a merry dance. One hotel I did find was terrible and made yesterdays look really good. It was full of young men and I had to share a room and they all surrounded me. I felt I needed some space tonight so reluctantly went back to the tourist hotel. I have too much money left anyway and it cant be changed back so I thought I might as well use it rather than spend the night in a real dump.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Day 153 - Shiraz

The ride from Yazd to Shiraz has been some of the best scenery in Iran and came as a real surprise to us.

We said our farewell to Erik and Tjeerd in Yadz and who knows, we might meet up again in the future as our paths are likely to cross. The day out of Shiraz was reasonable, but after a few days rest and a nice hotel, none of us really wanted to be cycling. Added to that it was uphill all day and it was 2885 calories before we went downhill at all and that was only into the village of Ali Abad where we decided to stop the night. We bought some food for the night and asked if there was anywhere suitable to camp and we were taken around to the mosque. I loved the idea of spending a night ina mosque but sadly nobody could find a key. I went to look for somewhere to camp but when I had returned we had been offered a place for the night. It was in an empty house with the only things in the rooms being walnuts laid out to dry. We were up at 2250m so as the sun went down it became cold. We hadnt even unpacked before a proccession of gifts arrived. First we were given some bread, then a guy arrived with more bread and a third with yesterdays dry bread! Next they brought us a carpet, blankets and pillows and it was beginning to look pretty snug. Salad and cheese soon arrived and our hosts stayed whilst we ate so there was no need to cook despite them providing us with a portable gas stove.

At 7 there was a knock at the door and I leapt out of bed put, some trousers on but forgot the shirt in my rush. The old lady was at the door and didnt know what to say or where to look, so I made a quick exit...oops! Within 15 mins she was back with breakfast along with others carrying more food. The hospitality in Iran is wonderful and it is done without a second thought. As we set off we climbed through trees and it was hard to believe we were in Iran, but they soon disappeared revealing a bit more climbing to do before we reached the pass at 2555m, then followed a long descent, then it was gradually downhill for the rest of the day. The mountains gave way to desert as the vegetation rapidly thinned out leaving nothing but sand and stones. We arrived at Abarkuh where we decided to call it a day as there was a hotel here. It had `Tourist` in its name, never a good sign, but they obviously were not used to tourists or even any type of guest come to that. They wanted 320,000 for a single room to start with but we managed to get the price down to 110,000 but it took about 20 mins. It was a big hotel but not as big as my room number 4017 would suggest. We were the only people staying there and clearly it was too much effort for them. The restaurant was large though there was a distinct lack of food. We eventually went of `Spa Getti` as they wouldnt give us ricew with anything as it would apparently keep us awake all night.

Breakfast the following morning was just as bad. There was an early rush as all 3 guests arrived at breakfast at the same time. They only brought breakfast for one and looked totally blank when we tried to explain that there were 3 of us, but things were alot easier when Andre went into the kitchen and sorted it out. The day turned out to be another day of climbing. We chose a village on the map to stop at but we managed to pass through it without even noticing it. There was little ahead that we could reach during the last hour of light so we called in at a works unit to ask for water. We also asked if we could camp there and were told we could, but very soon after were told we couldnt. It was a bit confusing as it turned out that the reason we couldnt camp was because it would be too cold at night and they wanted us to stay as their guests in the accommodation block. The works unit was for a railway that is being built from Shiraz to Esfahan. We didnt need to be asked a second time and we were soon shown to a couple of rooms in a prefab building with showers and the heaters on, bliss. Tea arrived soon to be followed by dinner for 2...Andre and Judith. I was invited into the engineers block for dinner and even had a table to sit at with the 6 other men. Lots of questions were asked and when I told them how old I was some of them clapped. I didnt think I was that old! Later in the evening they said they had a DVD of The Queen. It turned out to be the film which thankfully they became bored with after about 15 minutes. I was invited to sleep in their block and the beds were as hard as a butchers slab but I slept remarkably well.

When I woke at 6:30 the other 3 beds were empty and I could here them having breakfast. By the time I got up the place was empty so I went back to the room where Judith and Andre were and waited outside. The cleaner from my block saw me and offered me breakfast and I went to the dining area where the remains of breakfast hadnt been cleared away. I helped myself to a tea and the cleaner gave me the remainder of the manky bread and a bowl of half eaten something, it looked remarkably like cat food, complete with used spoon...yum yum! When he left I made a quick exit and had breakfast with Judith and Andre. It was another short climb to the top of another pass at 2536m then it rolled along nicely but enough downhill to make progress good. We passed a petrol station that was a bit like one of our motorway service stations and it looked very well kept with cut grass on raised flower beds and there were also places to eat and 2 well stocked stores. We had wanted to go a bit further but it seemed too good to pass by so we got permission to camp and made ourselves at home, the raised beds making very good kitchen tops.

The night was cold and dropped to 4 degrees so the eggs for breakfast the following morning went down very well. The days riding was excellent and weaved through the mountains in a valley that had vegetables growing and at times was remarkably green. We bowled along at a very good speed and the kilometres passed unnoticed, the scenery was that good. We were heading for Persepolis but first called in at the Royal Tombs (photo). We stopped there about 30 minutes but it was too hot to hang around in the sun. It was just a short ride to Persepolis, one of the hightlights of Iran. They are very well preserved ruins and the stone reliefs are just amazing (other photos), although to Andre they were just old stones. I asked at the ticket office if there was anywhere to camp and was told very agressively there was nowhere here to camp, so I asked if there was anywhere nearby and he pointed to a grassed area right in front of the old stones. The contradiction confused me somewhat so I asked the same question in as many ways as I could think of and he always pointed to the grassed area, excellent. We were told we couldnt camp until the place shut at 17:00. When we went in a family layed a rug down and invited us to drink tea with them and they soon invited us back to stay at their house, but our marvelous campsite was too good to miss so we declined the offer.

We had packed camp by 8 the following morning and as entry to Persepolis was so cheap we went in for a second visit, but it wasnt long before tour buses were arriving. We left at about 9:30 for Shiraz and it turned out to be the only bad bit of the journey from Yazd as the road was busy and the fumes on the climbs gave me a headache. We arrived early in Shiraz and looked at about 5 hotels before settling for on which only had a name in Farsi but had a very friendly manager and good clean rooms.
After a lie in today we have done a bit of sightseeing and completed a few chores. I only have one day here as I need to get to Bandar Abbas in 6 days as the ferry to Dubai only goes once a week. J & A have decided to chill out a bit and take the bus there, so I have a few days on my own again. Judging by the map I think I have 2 night in hotels and 3 camping, spend one night in Bandar Abbas and take the ferry next Tuesday to Dubai.

I still forget that J & A`a English is not as good as mine and every now and then I say something and they look at each other and say `uh?`. Andres forgets some words so my mini water boiler has bem come as the `hot maker` and a towel is a `drying machine`.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Day 145 - Yazd

Is Ramadan over? I cant really tell the difference!

Well 5 of us set off from Esfahan together as we were joined by the Dutchmen Erik and Tjeerd. Heading out was straight forward, if a little boring. We were heading through desert so there is no shade anywhere so we stopped for lunch behind a little hill just to be a bit away from the road. A motorcyclists pulled up and asked us to lunch. He said he was from Toudeshk, the village we were heading for so we asked if he knew Mohammed Jalaly. He said he was his brother and that we would see him later on. Tjeerd volunteered to take Andre's trailer for the afternoon and not surprisingly Andre was only to pleased to let him have a go. What Tjeerd didn't realise is that it would be gently uphill all afternoon. Near Toudeshk another motorcylist pulled up and this time it was Mohammed and he guided us to his house which we would never have found on our own. Another car pulled up for a chat and the driver turned out to be another brother. How big is this family? The village was contructed from mud and straw walls and Mohammed's house was a large one (photo). Once we arrived we left our bikes in the courtyard and were invited in to the lounge which had a fire going and we were immediately made very welcome. I struggled a bit to work out who was who as his father and brothers were there, some friends, women and a whole host of children, mainly girls. Mohammed's sister in law slaved away in the kitchen all evening and produced a tasty meal for us and an endless supply of tea and all the men sat and ate together. I never did see the women eat. The lounge had no seats in but there were cushions all around the walls which made it easy to move around and chat to somebody else It made for a great evening. On one side of the lounge was a carpet that was being made and we were given a demonstation of the process. Hours of work had gone into it and everybody knew what to do, even the smallest of the girls. At about 22:00 we were asked if we wanted a shower. Confusion followed due to communication problems as Mohammed said we would all go together, but it turned out that the house had no bathroom, so the communal village shower was used. Once back we were given 2 rooms, whilst the rest of the family slept in the lounge. As with all the other houses we have been in, nobody sleeps on beds, just blankets on the floor.

Thursday started as Wednesday had finished with wonderful hospitality from Mohammed and his family. Once the communal breakfast on the floor was finished we were taken for a guided tour of the village. Mohammed seems to know everybody so we were introduced to them all. To be honest it got a bit frustrating as we had a long way to go and the morning was fast disappearing. In the end I said we had to go but Mohammed still managed to provide us with 7 bottles of mineral water, a pile of bread and a Volvo baseball cap to replace my old manky red one. The hospitality was just fantastic. They have a great desire to host cyclists and motorcyclists that pass through the village and prove to people that Iran and Iranians are not what the press makes them out to be. They would accept nothing and said we would not be guests if they accepted anything from us. The others managed to find some things to give the children the previous evening, but sadly I was a let down. Once on the road it continued to climb. We reached the top at 2327m, then enjoyed the long gradual descent to Na'in, where the mosque we wanted to see was closed. We bought food for the evenings camping and set off through the desert. There was absolutely nothing about so we decided to camp at the first decent campground we could find. Some large building came into view and as we only had about an hours daylight left we went to investigate. It was an old caravanseri, behind which was a small area where vegetables were growing and in front was a sandy area. We were given permission to camp there then went to look inside the old fortified walls next to us. Inside were about 15 camels that were being kept for their meat. We cooked up dinner in the dark, well Andre did anyway, then had a really good evening sat there looking up at the fantastic display of stars. Due to the late start we only managed 80k which left us 140k to get to Yazd.

Friday was my birthday and thanks for all you comments to acknowledge it. Judith, Andre and Erik sang happy birthday to me then J and A gave me a present beautifully wrapped in an old Iran Today and black insulation tape. It was a baseball cap exactly the same colour and make as my old one, they must have searched for ages to find one the same so were somewhat disappointed to see that I was given a new one the previous day. Tjeerd arrived, then he and Erik sang happy birthday, or the equivalent in Dutch. I hate people singing to me so twice in one hour was bad news. They gave me a present too, a little air horn to go on the bike that is really effective. They had some spare to give to children so we all fixed them to our bikes and as people called out to us we returned with 5 airhorns going all at once. Needless to say the whole day we were like a bunch of kids but we had great fun. Thankfully the route was flat so we made good progress. Lunch was great as Tjeerd had bought some eggs that we had boiled, we had a brew of coffee along with a 7.5kg water melon that Erik had been carrying which went down really well in the heat of the day. We arrived at Yazd at about 17:30 just as it was getting dark. The first hotel we tried didn't appeal so we made our way to the Silk Road Hotel. This was much nicer, but full, even the dorms. They had space on the roof, part of which had a carpet and a nomad type covering, so all 5 of us slept there, which was great, even better than camping, but a long walk to the loo during the night. Once we had showered we ate at the hotel and had a 3 course meal, the main course being camel meat stew which tasted rather like beef. The Hotel was a home from home as there were a number of people we had met at the hostel in Esfahan.

The following day we were back to just 3 of us as Erik and Tjeerd were heading of for Shiraz by bus. They had ridden all the way here from the Netherlands but were opting to fly over Pakistan. It seems as though I am the only one that wants to cycle and no, I dont have to prove anything to anybody Nick, it's just want I want to do, thats all.

The last couple of days have been a mixture of chores and sightseeing, or seesiding as Judith called it once. She knew it was wrong but couldnt work out why. We will be here tomorrow too as Judith and Andre have taken there passports in for a visa extensions which they wont get back until tomorrow midday. Yadz has some good things to see (photo) but the old city is what it is famous for. It is the oldest habitated city in Iran and mainly mud brick built. There are wind towers everywhere, which are used for cooling water below ground as well as an ancient and efficient form of airconditioning. We were walking down a quiet but wide street when a taxi ploughed into the bak of a parked car pushing it into the drainage ditch beside the road. The driver just reversed and drove off which I suspect is not the done thing even in Iran. I made me think of the same thing happening as we cycle along as driving standard here are somewhat poor. We are continuing to sleep on the roof even though the Hotel is much emptier now. Last night we were filmed playing backgammon up there as there is some sort of documentary being made at the hotel.

So reluctantly I have made my decision and on Wednesday I will set off with Judith and Andre to Shiraz and from there we will go to Bandar Abbas and get a ferry across to Dubai (United Arab Emerites) where we hope to find a dow heading for Bombay (Mumbai). If as expected that fails we will cycle to Oman and try to do the same from there. If we succeed it will be great fun and a really good experience, but I am being a bit of a pessimist, so I dont think we will be able to, which will mean getting a flight to somewhere. The good thing about this routre is that I can speed more time with Judith and Andre as we all get on very well together. They look after me far too well, they must think I am an old man. Oh I am!

Whilst I have been in Iran I have been trying to find out as much information about Buluchestan as possible. Its an area the covers part of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and has major problem with drug trafficing. I havent heard any good news from the area other than that you can get a police escort. That would mean about 400k in Iran and 600k in Pakistan through an area where there is very little habitation and therefore little food and water. The police escorts are switched at district borders and involves a lot of waiting around and according to drivers coming the other way is far from enjoyable. The crossing for me would be over a week and involve camping in the middle of nowhere. At best I assumed I would be robbed. Going by bus is also said to be very dangerous and I have heard reports that a Japanese motorist was kidnapped last Monday although I can find nothing on the internet to confirm it.

So the trip will be taking a very large diversion and as stated above could be really good. If I have to fly I will rethink things over again, but it is far too early to make plans yet as it is still about 3 weeks before we reach Dubai.

It will be another week before the next post as I expect it to take 5 days to reach Shiraz and there is little in between here and there and very unlikey to be an internet cafe. For those interested in the photos there as been a whole host of them uploaded.

Thanks again for all your comments and I hope the above puts you minds to rest. Its good to hear from you Gary. After riding The Dean 300 I had a feeling that you would end up riding Paris-Brest-Paris despite you saying it would be your only 300. You had that enthusiasm that suggest you would go on to complete much greater distances. Well done.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Day 139 - Esfahan

The holiday is over.

We have been here 6 days now and its strange, but when I stay in one place for a long time I always find it hard to think what I have done, what is there to write about. I think it because all the days seem to roll into one.

It been a relaxing 6 days, yet in a way tiring. Walking around a city seems hard work after the days on the bike and added to that it always seems hotter in the cities as there is no self generated breeze.

So what have we been doing? Thursday was a lazy day, late up and a very long breakfast that went on until midday, then a bit of sight seeing, followed by more social chat in the evening.

Friday was interesting. There was a large demonstation in Imam Square and being the 2nd largest square in the world that makes for a big demonstation. Andre and I couldnt resist it so went down to have a look as we knew what it was all about from the posters and banners we had seen. It was an anti American and Israeli protest and we were left in little doubt about that as the only part of a speach we could understand was `bad bad America, bad bad Israel, bad bad English`. Having said that we never felt under threat but the nearer we got to the front the more I felt that we were being stared at. Somebody stopped to ask us if we knew what it was about so we said no. As he tried to explain a large crowd of youngsters surrounded us and as we departed it became a bit of a problem until adults stopped them from following us. A teacher then latched on to us and explained that it occured on the last Friday of Ramadan from the last 30 years, so it didnt seem quite so bad, not a rally call for war, although there were young children wearing bandaners and military trousers, but other men were seen wearing New York baseball caps so a bit of a contradiction there.

Saturday we met up again with the teacher and he took us for a guided tour of the bazaar that was little more than a trip to all of his friends craft shops, but it was good to see tiles and bowls being painted by hand. There were also plenty of other craftsmen to look at but most were metal workers.

On Sunday Andre bet me a beer that other cyclists would turn up that day so I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss and I looked forward all day to my nice cold non alcoholic beer as neither of us had seen cyclists in weeks. Amazingly enough 2 Dutch cyclist turn up, Erik and Chet (that's not how you spell it but it sort of sounds similar) and having tasted the beer I was glad I lost the bet. So there are now five cyclists staying at the hostel, but we are all heading in the same direction so no news coming in from Pakistan and I guess it too late in the year now to expect that.

Yesterday was a bit of a wasted day, but chores had to be done. This one took the form of getting a visa extension and it took me ages to find the office as it has moved. Once I found the office it was constant frustration of queuing, going to the bank to pay in money, queuing again, then being sent to another office where my paperwork was taken and I was told to come back tomorrow. They wouldnt give me a receipt and with so many passports in the place I could see me losing it so I pestered them to give me a receipt and they finally agreed to do it whilst I wait. 3 hours later I had my extension and it is for a month. I only expected 2 weeks then a repeat performance else where, so now at least I dont have to suffer that again. In the evening we went down to see the old bridges which are floodlit and made for a nice gentle bike ride and a good de-stress from the passport office. We then had tea in a really posh hotel that has been converted from an old caravanseri, very relaxing.

Today has been catching up with more chores, a bit of bike maintenance, washing including hand washing, changing money, that sort of exciting thing. Later in the afternoon we went around the last few sights here, a couple of little palaces and a mosque (photo), all very good and made a good end to the stay in Esfahan.

Tomorrow we are off towards Yadz and all five of us are heading off together. I had a phone call the other night at the hostel, that came as a bit of a surprise, and we were invited to stay with a student who lives in a village about 95k along the route to Yadz. I think he may be a cyclist himself as he invites cyclists to stay with him and was only too happy to accommadate 5 of us.

Beyond Yadz we are all going in different directions and as yet I am undecided as to what I am going to do, but it looks as though my continuous cycle from home is about to come to an end as I am getting grief from certain people about my chosen route through Pakistan, but I will say more about that when I have finally made up my mind.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Day 134 - Esfahan

Having left the internet café in Qom Andre and I went back for a last look at the holy shrine, we walked in together being relaxed and not looking at the guards. Once inside we were questioned by somebody after about 10 minutes and taken to an office by the guards. They asked Andre our nationality and he said German, then he asked if we were muslims and I said yes. They looked at each other as if to say `what is the problem, what can we do`, so they let us go and followed our every step, thankfully we were on our way out anyway.

The following day we decided to take the expressway. Even though cycling is prohibited the police gave us the directions there when we asked them the way. Once again we were through the desert once we were away from Qom. A car stopped and a man came running after me and gave me a large bagful of pistaccio nuts. The day had a bit of climbing and we were not terribly fast so when we arrived at a petrol station we decided to camp there for the night. It wasn’t a good spot and we weren’t exactly welcomed so we moved on to Fin Gardens. There we found a spot to camp in the bushes, but it was far from ideal, though loos and a tap were nearby. Judith and Andre went to eat in a restaurant while I stayed at the tent and once they were back I went to eat. When I returned it looked as though they had invited all their friends around as there were two sets of people playing card right next to the tents, and I thought we had a nice little secluded spot! I also thought playing cards were illegal in Iran to stop gambling. They were all friendly though and there was no problem, in fact as I wrote my diary I didn’t even hear them leave.

Kashan to Natanz was a hard and slow day as there was plenty of climbing, a good headwind and even a few minutes of rain (photo). We had hoped to get a lot further so as to be able to reach Esfahan the following day, but in the end we had to leave the expressway and find a hotel in Natanz as we had passed nothing all day and we had no water or food and the light was fading quickly. Thankfully we found a large hotel and we were the only people staying there. We were passed by a Swede on a motorbike who stopped for a chat. He was heading for the same hostel on Esfahan and he is sat next to me chatting as I type.

Yesterday went well, but I was stopped twice by the police. The first time was just outside of the hotel. As I went to look for a shop that was open they stopped me because I was wearing shorts. They are baggy shorts that go down to the knee, but that was too short apparently. I told them I was on a bike but that didn’t impress them but they soon lost interest with the language barrier. All the useful shops were shut so we set off with just biscuits and crisps and the hope of passing another petrol station. The first 40k were hard and slow as we climbed up to 2460m, something that was unexpected and it made the chances of reaching Esfahan at 130k seem very unlikely. On the way up we were followed by police for about 2k and at a police station they eventually pulled us over. They told us we had to leave the expressway as there was no cycling, but I told them that the police had directed us down this way and no other police had stopped us, then they said how dangerous it was, but I said it was far safer as there was less traffic and far more room for the trucks to pass safely. Then they said we could continue. I was amazed. I couldn’t see the police in England letting you continue doing something illegal, but this is Iran. Once at the summit is was plain sailing and the next 30k were completed with effortless pedaling. We didn’t pass a garage so we took lunch of biscuits and crisps and also bananas and more pistaccio nuts that we had been given by passing motorists. Later on we also stopped to eat half a water melon we were given by a truck driver. We made it to Esfahan comfortably and in daylight and felt like celebrities on the way in as cars tooted, waved, greeted us, pulled up alongside for a chat and filmed us. Once at the hostel we soon chatted amongst other travelers, but in the courtyard it was noticeable how the cyclists were on one table, motorcyclists were on another table and backpackers another. We went out to eat but everything was shut and we discovered it was the anniversary of the death of the first Imam so nothing was likely to be open. Thankfully we found a fastfood place, but being the only place open it was packed.

Today is the first day of our `holiday`. After a late and long breakfast we went to the bank to collect some cash sent from Germany only to find that the two countries are no longer doing business. That somewhat ended Judith and Andres hopes of getting a flight out of Iran, so we sat and discussed the options. One option was to go overland the same route through Pakistan as I intend to take, but Judith was not impressed as it is not the safest of options. Then some Germans arrived who had come from Dubai by boat, so it looks as they will be making the reverse journey as they will not need the extra cash to do that.

I am still undecided as what is best to do. It seems unlikely that I will cycle the first 600k in Pakistan as it is lawless and a somewhat dangerous area at the moment. I have heard that even the police will not enter the area and turn a blind eye as to what goes on there. There is little habitation and water and cycling slow through the area will make it a little difficult to stay concealed. I have plenty of time to make a decision though.