Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Mythical Iran

Tuesday, April 7th

We crossed the border quite smoothly. The custom service on Iranian side greeted us with a big smile " Welcome to Iran", the second one added " How do you find Iran?" "Eeeeuuuh we don't know yet!!!!"
The change between Armenia and Iran was radical. The day before, we were in the mountain with snow and cool air. Now, we were stricken with the heat and the dry air. Desert here you are!!!!
Even the sceneries changed fundamentally. We loved the combination of ochre mountain, blue sky and green field along the way.

On the other side of the river, we could still see Armenia and also (a part of) Azerbaijan. Some Armenian soldiers were so enthusiasts when we showed them our bag with the "Forget-me-not" flower (symbol of the genocide 100th anniversary) that we still heard their greetings for a while.

The first two days in Iran drained the last force out of us: the road was a successive chain of 10% up and down, then up and down again... which was much more energy consuming than a big pass of 10%, even 12% for two hours. Remember, we were already exhausted from our last adventure in Arktash a from the Meghri pass. Moreover, we had strong opposite wind. It seems like Eole doesn't like us much: so far, he kept challenging us much more than helping us. The heat didn't help neither. And no fresh food.... The moral was down, especially mine. I even didn't feel the strength to curse the road or the wind (as I did sometimes in Armenia!!!).

The second evening,  we arrived at Marand. We had been warned long before so we were not surprised when a guy approached and invited us home. Akbar, from Warm Shower, indeed catches all the cyclists, as he is connected with millions of truck drivers who "stalk" any cyclist coming to Marand.

After 3 years, Akbar had greeted more then 500 cyclists - we were the 538th and 539th on his address book!!! AND I AM THE FIRST VIETNAMESE EVER!!!! YEAHHHHH

Akbar sent us to a English class where his friend taught a bunch of young boys. We didn't expect it and didn't really know how to "behave", especially to sensitive matters such as "you wear the hijab (not because you respect our rules but) because you have to" or "what do you think about our Supreme Leader?" (as we saw later, his pictures were just omnipresent)  or "what do you think about the Americanization in Europe?". Most of the questions were more "gentle" but also difficult i.e "how much was your salary in Paris?".

Our first statement was apparently, Iranians like titles and diplomas. The first question to which we were entitled was "what is your educational degree?". The fact that Alessio didn't go to University confused the assembly a bit but my 2 Masters reassured them. It is very common for a Iranian to introduce himself as a "businessman" whatever tiny shop he owns. And a cyclist friend of us, bicycles mechanics in real life, saw himself be called "Mr Engineer".

The second statement, confirmed along our stay, was that Iranians seemed to have a kind of complex about their image: they are persuaded that people outside Iran think Iranians are all terrorists and definitely not of good acquaintance. We remember this guy from Hamedan, asking what we had known about Iran before our arrival. We talked about the long history, richness of culture, people's generosity... and he exclaimed out loud " No no no, you didn't know that!!!! You though we were all dangerous terrorists". Hey man, do you think we are crazy enough to put consciously ourselves in danger?

Thursday, April 9th

All I could think about to cheer myself up was "We will have some days rest in Tabriz". On the road, a car stopped. A family got out, offered us "chai" which we accepted with joy. Then they offered us their home in Tabriz. Which we accepter with a greater joy. Their kindness made us fell better. Little did we know by then that we would spend wonderful time together and that they would be our Iranian family.
We felt right away comfortable in their lovely house, in the uphill part of Tabriz. Arash and Ashkan were so sweet, open-minded and fun. So were their parents. It was such a great pleasure doing nothing but staying in the salon or in the garden, talking, laughing, playing backgammon, feeling cared and loved.

Arash was a bit addicted to his phone (like I am) and his mom liked to joke "his phone is his family". We would never forget the moment when Arash excused himself before leaving the table to charge his phone "I'm sorry, my family is tired" :-) :-)

It was with a pinch at heart that we left them for Tehran. We still stay in touch as regularly as possible, hearing their laugh on the phone is always a moment of relieve for us.

Monday, April 13th

We arrived to Tehran with the night bus - very comfy. And started struggling. Cyclists usually don't like big city. Tehran is damn huge! As expected and feared, the traffic was simply insane!  Our hosts, one by one, let us down. The first one, at the very last minute, sent a SMS "Sorry, I have an emergency and am out of town now". Reza, the bike shop owner where we were at, had pity of us and brought us home. The second day, his friend, also on Warm Shower (should we call a warmshowerer or warmshowerist???) who agreed to host us, realized that we couldn't fit his schedule, we had an another night running around with just a tiny bag for changing clothes and towels - Reza, once more, organized an emergency crash plan for us.
It was only from the third night on that we had a proper place to stay, with Farnaz from Warm Shower who kindly accepted my SOS last minute request. Such a relieve to have to fix place to sleep in, and what a place: in a big, comfortable apartment in Sadaat Abat - a nice area, with a lovely host.

Tehran, the big hub for visas, is also a big hub for cyclists to meet up. Day by day, we met news cyclists, heard about some others... while queueing up at Embassies. We had four visas to apply for: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and China so yes, we spent a lot of time in front of those Embassies gates.
By the way, our "Golden Palm" went to China Embassy for their service: quick and easy process, friendly staff.

- We didn't have to fight with travel agencies and their 50 passports each on the waiting list like in Uzbekistan Consulate Service - the security guard even asked them to let us pass before.

- We didn't have to fight and queue in front of a minuscule window as in Tadjikistan embassy but had a large waiting room (where women could even take off the hijab - we were in Chinese territory anyway!!!)

- We didn't have to go back again. Unlike from Tadjikistan embassy, Mr Consul never changed his plan, the employees were never too busy chatting, laughing to put the stamp on your passport.

The visas pilgrim was stressful and expensive but we finally had them all. The good thing was that we met a whole bunch of nice cyclists (all cyclists are nice hehe). We often had picnic at lunch time in the Niavaran park, at mid way between Embassies.

(with Tim and Karina and their bamboo bikes, from Germany to China, Gilles and Anais, ready for a 4, 5 years trip )

(Alexia and Daniel one year travel from Brussels to Kyrgystan , Stephania and Alessandro,on their tandem to China, and Maxime, le cyclochard)

It was also in Tehran that we met up again, 8 months later,  with David - my travel buddy from Panama - Columbia last summer. I was so happy to see him again that I forgave him not being a cyclist :-) :-)

(at my birthday (small) party)


Tuesday, April 21st

We took a day bus to Isfahan - to take a look at the desert. And we were happy not to cycle: it was flat, dry, monotone and of course, super hot!

Isfahan was a very nice city, green, quiet, not so much trafic. We felt suddenly so relaxed that we loved it right away.

(Iranians LOVE to take pictures with tourists)

(the park was decorated with quotes from the Holy Q'ran"

(Beautiful Mosque at the Imam square)

(Entrance of the Friday Mosque)

(It's not common to see decoration with flowers and animals in a mosque)

As everywhere else, foreigners have to pay at least 5 times the price for locals. Iran became quickly an expensive destination, even not to visit every monument.

We spent the night at a Couch Surfing host. He asked me "Do you smoke?" " No, and you?" "Yes. Sometimes. Something". Ah ha!!! Actually, we thought he had taken some funny stuff before because he was kinda febrile while talking with us. Finally, it went OK :-). 
Officially, alcohol is forbidden in Iran (excepted for some local Christian Armenians) but under the table, you could find everything everywhere. Homemade beer and wine were quite popular because the "real stuff" was quite expensive.

The next day, we took a night bus to Shiraz: Tim and Karina were there and we could spend some time together. Karim kebab (he was very proud of his kebabs and advertised about it all the way) was our wonderful host who took great care of us during our stay. 

Karim took us to Persepolis. Such a  WOAUHHHH. worth every cent of the 150 000 rials!!!!

to Margoon waterfall

to his "garden house"

And of course, he prepared kebab for us. 

Indeed, it was among the best kebabs we ever tried in Iran!!! Karim, we miss you, and we miss your kebabs!!!!

Sunday, April 26th

We celebrated Alessio's birthday in Yazd, the city of  Zoroastrianism, one of the worlds oldest monotheistic religions. 
We loved Yazd, the mosques, the old town - classified "World Heritage" by UNESCO, the wind tours - a genius system since thousands years, to keep and ventilate fresh air in the desert.

 the Zoroastrianism temple with the eternal flame

and vestiges: here the tours of silence, where Zoroastrians used to let the dead bodies to be taken by the vultures


Thursday, April 30th

We went for a 3 days trek with Tim and Karina, starting from Karaj. It coincided with a big weekend so we had all the troubles to get out of town. Fortunately, a guy, passing by, was intrigued with our presence, and decided to send us a van - to go where ever we wanted!!!
The only point was that, too worried to take care of us (maybe also to show off a bit), he stopped the van a little bit everywhere to show us some sightseeing, while all we wanted was to be alone with nature

At the end of the day, finally, we could fulfill our wish and be on our own

It was great to escape from the crowd, from the noise, from the sometime invading Iranian hospitality 

Our planned trek at the end was more like a big relaxing picnic but we enjoyed every moment of it

We were especially happy to share those moments with Tim and Karina, we knew that it would be long before we could be together again. It was hard to say goodbye, but such is life. 


Monday, May 4th

The night bus dropped us at Sanandaj at 6AM. It was fresh. We were glad to be on the bikes again, it had been a while and we did miss the peddling. Our first statement: Kurdish people are kind, very kind. They offered us tea, food... They invited us home without the confusing traditional taroof but we were too impatient to cycle to accept. 
The road was stiff. We expected it, we were in Kurdistan. But the wind was so strong. We hardly ever had such a powerful wind right on the face. But we insisted and kept going. 

Arriving the next day to Marivan, a guy stopped us and invited us home. Impossible de decline, especially when the police came and checked our papers, they noted everything down and asked "where are you staying in Marivan?" the guy jumped on his feet "my home, right?" " No, no, we would like to camp at the lake".
We had to promise him that if we don't like the lake, and we would go to his home. To be sure, he showed up at the lake and we had to be almost impolite to refuse his invitation. 
For sure, we would prefer to be alone sometimes

And the lake was peaceful

Did I say that the road was difficult? And very often in bad conditions. We made roughly 45-50km/day and were exhausted. But the sceneries were worth every effort

I cycled slowly at my pace and sometimes, Alessio had to wait for me 20mn at the top. At least, I made it :-) . At some point, approaching the top, gasping for breath, I saw a small crowd. Indeed, it was a bunch of 4 cars' passengers surrouding Alessio, the men on the first row, the women and kids were on the second circle around.
Seeing me, they all came next to the road, welcoming me with applause. Wouah!!! What a greeting, I smiled with all my teeth, forgetting my sweating and suffering. And in one second, the group was divided into two: the men came back to Alessio, women and kids grasped me. Camera flashed around. They all laughed when I took off my sunglasses. Yes, my tiny Asian eyes were source of amusement for them. A little girl, speaking surprisingly good English, was polite "You have beautiful eyes!"

(half the assembly) 

(Alessio, always seekeing for new friendship)

(Another encounter on the way)

We love Kurdish people, always joyful an generous. And we love their costume, much more colorful and sophisticated than what we could usually see in Iran

 Do we look good in Kurdish clothes? At least, it's much nicer than our cycling gear

Kurdistan was really a highlight in our stay in Iran. Probably because we could cycle around. But also because we met so many nice people, Jallah in his brothers, Neghrin and her family, Maria and her family... and above all, Rozhin, Siler and their sweet parents in Paveh.


Back to Tehran, we spent the last days, at Farnaz and Gael's place again. We were so grateful they hosted us with so much kindness. Gael, cyclist himself, gave us some useful advices for our trip.

Sunday, May 17th

We took the night bus to Mashhad, the last town one could reach with public transportation. Due to a miscalculation of my part, we only 2 days (and not 3) to cover the 180km to the Turkmenistan border. It's doable just a bit harder than expected, especially that, once again, we had Eole on the face.

We just though, maybe we could catch up with Gilles and Anais, as they would enter Turkmenistan on May 21st, just one day after us, and surely, they didn't miscalculate like I did... that we heard someone hailing on the other side of the road. As a French would say: When you talk about wolves....

The wind was strong but the road was quite flat. And empty. That's why we had to stop right away around 6PM, after some 80km, as soon as we spotted a "campable" place, well protected from the wind

The next day, we started with the rising sun to cover the 100km left to Mashhad. We camped in a park but the police came and "chased" us to the local of the Red Crescent - the place where almost all cyclists end up in Mashhad.

Here ended our Iranian journey. We hope to go back there one day and to cycle more in this beautiful country.

Stay tuned for more Potatoes' updates


  1. Love the girl with rabbit teeth :D
    I only know these places by books or tv, your courage worths the luck to see them in real, can't find an ugly sign in nature. Potato B should experiment riding in Kurdistan costume once :P

  2. :-) Hope you will have the opportunity to see this beautiful country soon with your own eyes! Next time, Potato B would try what you suggested :P

  3. Quite an expedition in Iran actually i didnt know there exists such scenaries in the country considering what we get to hear from the news Iran is such a beautiful place