25 November – 9 December, 2015 – We couldn’t wait to see the sea again and were very curious about what to expect as neither our two travel guides nor our extensive internet research would deliver any results. Would it be purely industrial with one petrochemical site after the other? Would it be desolate with little settlements? Would it be dangerous as we were told?
After a few more twisting roads and ups and downs we reached the coast. The first village was pretty with a little beach and a lot of fishermen. We could stock up on food but unfortunately had to continue along the main highway as that was the only coastal road. It suddenly was hot again with temperatures rising up to 30 degrees. We loved it but still had to get used to it as we were coming from the mountains with overheated houses at freezing night temperatures. Leaving that village, the scenery suddenly became dreadful: All day long we cycled along petrochemical plants. We could smell the gas and it felt very unhealthy and we thought that our nightmare might have come true. Later we learned that the gas extraction plants we passed were one of the biggest in the world. Still the Ali Baba warnings in our ears we stayed in Assalouyeh at an overly expensive hotel very anxious about the coming 400 kilometers as we feared it would continue just as that.
But it didn’t. In fact, it was the most beautiful landscape we had seen in Iran. It looked a bit like the Grand Canyon in the US at the seaside, just a little smaller, with its many canyons and reddish rocky mountains. To the right the turquoise sea roared and we cycled from one amazing site to another and through little fishermen villages. Still, after every turn we feared to finally meet Ali Baba, but he must have been busy with other things and most likely isn’t too much into cycling.
Two nights we spent at a small village as we surprisingly discovered that there was a Warmshowers host. Warmshowers is a community for touring cyclist offering a bed, showers and often food for free. As we had contacted Mehran only the day before and he would not be back from work before 8pm we were welcomed by the village people, sat next to the road drinking tea and eating fruit. Mehran told us that either his father or uncle – a teacher – would pick us up. When an English teacher arrived and urged us to quickly come with him, we of course thought it was Mehran’s uncle. But he was just a teacher keen on having visitors which we only learned later when Mehran arrived asking “Who stole my guests?”. Hassan, the English teacher, turned out to be a little paranoid. He has had a rough past as he had been tortured while he was a student for his clear anti-government attitude. He constantly stressed that he has been taking pills against a depression for the past ten years, but when he told us that Merkel had been a spy for the KGB, we got our doubts about a lot of other things he told us about his country. Nonetheless we had a wonderful stay at Hassan’s house with his wife spoiling us with delicious food.
The second night we would eventually stay with our ‘real’ host after Mehran had organized a short cycling trip with the village children. We were lucky having met Mehran’s parents as well as his father is a very educated man, a writer and very knowledgable about literature and other things. He asked many questions about our culture, politics and Western views on events and we spent a wonderful evening discussing the World. Thank you Mehran and Maria for a wonderful time at your place!
Here we also learned that the coast was very safe to travel and that all we heard before was bullshit and going back once more to religion: The majority of Iranians are Shia Moslems whereas almost all Sunni Moslems live at the Persian Gulf. Sunni Moslems get often discriminated with not having access to the same infrastructure as Shias. E.g. the roads in this area are much worse, there is not always access to electricity or water as in other parts of Iran. Sunnis speak mostly Arabic and are disparagingly called “Arabs”. Hence, these animosities.
One evening when looking for a place to sleep, a man, who led us to a mosque, offered Johan money for me, after he had ‘accidentally’ touched me twice. Johan got very worried, that this man would show up at night and we very happily accepted an invitation of an Arabian living and working in this village.
After more than a week in this remote and stunning area we took a ferry to the more touristy island Queshm and we spent a few days at a relaxing guesthouse. We met two other touring cyclists, cycled and walked through a Unesco Geopark before we finally returned back to Bandar Lengeh to take a ferry to Dubai.
At the Unesco Geopark:
Our two months in Iran were filled with lots of pleasant encounters with the most hospitable people we’ve ever met. However, people are very unconfident. Never ever had we been asked so often to tell the World that Iranians are good people. While people are very proud of their heritage, they aren’t of their government. They would always avoid political issues, be it because they feared any consequences or because they were afraid about our opinions. Iran has many humanitarian issues to be resolved, freedom of expression isn’t existing, the media are controlled by the Iranian mullahs and internet access is blocked to an extend that it really gets annoying. The country is run by conservative clergymen, the president acting as a puppet.
Given the amount of traffic and the lack of smaller, traffic free roads, we weren’t in cyclists’ heaven but still felt safe on the road at all times. We were sad leaving behind this hospitable country but very excited about our next destination, the United Arab Emirates.