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.