Where is Ali Baba?

xxxlm, xxxxx
800km and 2,551 meters altitude gain (5,378km and 36,539 meters altitude gain in total)

 

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.

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Ambush interview with an Iranian radio station
Ambush interview with an Iranian radio station

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Right around the corner is the first fishermen's village
Right around the corner is the first fishermen’s village
The sea, the sea!
The sea, the sea!

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The world seen from an Iranian perspective
The world seen from an Iranian perspective
Still pretty...
Still pretty…
...becoming more industrial...
…becoming more industrial…
...not so pretty anymore.
…and now not so pretty anymore.

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.

A beautiful and protected nature park right after Assalouyeh
A beautiful and protected nature park right after Assalouyeh…
...and sadly the beach is still full with garbage
…and sadly the beach is still full with garbage.
Is he Ali Baba?
Is he Ali Baba?
The pyramid next to the road is a water reservoir, which are abundant in this part of Iran
The pyramid next to the road is a water reservoir, which are abundant in this part of Iran
Which was first? The road or the power pole?
Which was first? The road or the power pole?

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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 welcome committee at the village
The welcome committee at the village
Suddenly the women wouldn't wear merely black and I looked much less like a bird of paradise
Suddenly the women wouldn’t wear merely black and I looked much less like a bird of paradise
If this isn't delicious...
If this isn’t delicious…
Sightseeing with Hassan
Sightseeing with Hassan

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With Hassan, left of Johan, his son and a friend

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Family photo with Hassan's family
Family photo with Hassan’s family

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!

Just some of the kids joining our little bike tour
Just some of the kids joining our little bike tour
We've had sooooo much fun!
We’ve had sooooo much fun!
Mehran's family. Mehran is the second from the lefthand his father is carrying his baby with me standing between Maria and Mehran's mother
Mehran’s family. Mehran is the second from the left and his father is carrying his baby with me standing between Maria and Mehran’s mother

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.

On the road again
On the road again

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Tailwind!
Tailwind!

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At the Arabian's house
At the Arabian’s house

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Coffee break behind an abandoned building
Coffee break behind an abandoned building

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It's very hot
It’s very hot
Dinner with fish at a family's house
Dinner with fish at a family’s house
Our hosts - the woman with the facial mask was clearly the boss of a huge family
Our hosts – the woman with the facial mask was clearly the boss of a huge family

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A nice fishermen's village
A nice fishermen’s village

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A typical beach in Iran: small platforms - with or without roof - and a barbecue in front. At the back toilets and showers, perfect for camping as long as you don't mind people's chatters until the wee hours
A typical beach in Iran: small platforms – with or without roof – and a barbecue in front. At the back toilets and showers, perfect for camping as long as you don’t mind people’s chatters until the wee hours
Beautiful sunset
Beautiful sunset
Beach cleaning at sunrise
Beach cleaning at sunrise
Johan and his least favorite friend
Johan and his least favorite friend

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Great load factor
Great load factor
A typical roundabout usually featuring something typical from the region - the Quran can be found most often, no surprise
A typical roundabout usually featuring something typical from the region – the Quran of course is displayed most often…
...and here some prawns for a change.
…and here some prawns for a change.
Even the youngest ride a motorbike
Even the youngest ride a motorbike

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.

Squeezed in between the cars on the ferry
Squeezed in between the cars on the ferry
Cycling through an old fishermen's village famous for its many wind towers
Cycling through an old fishermen’s village famous for its many wind towers
The same village seen from the Portuguese castle or what's left from it
The same village seen from the Portuguese castle or what’s left from it

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The old harbor
The old harbor
A lot of camels
A lot of camels
Shipyard where wooden ships are still built like 100 years ago
Shipyard where wooden ships are still built like 100 years ago
Ali Baba?
Ali Baba?

At the Unesco Geopark:

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At our guesthouse with the owner and the two other cyclists Heiner and Patrick
At our guesthouse with the owner and the two other cyclists Heiner and Patrick
Last day on the island
Last day on the island
A refugee camp outside a small town back on the mainland
A refugee camp outside a small town back on the mainland
Enjoying one more Iranian hospitality
Enjoying one more Iranian hospitality – the kids of our host
Fresh crabs as a starter...
Fresh crabs as a starter…
...and shark as a main.
…and shark as a main.
Our room for the night
Our room for the night

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Last full day cycling in Iran
Last full day cycling in Iran
Last time camping in Iran at the beach
Last time camping in Iran at the beach
Last night spent with an Iranian host
Last night spent with an Iranian host
At the harbor - and no, this is not our ferry
At the harbor – and no, this is not our ferry
Our luxury speed boat to Dubai
Our luxury speed boat to Dubai
Bye bye Iran
Bye bye Iran

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.

Wo ist Ali Baba?

xxxlm, xxxxx
800km, 2.551 Höhenmeter (insgesamt 5.378km und 36.539 Höhenmeter)

25. November – 9. Dezember 2015 – Wir konnten es kaum erwarten, endlich das Meer zu sehen und waren sehr neugierig, was uns erwarten würde. Denn weder unsere zwei Reiseführer noch unsere Internetrecherche lieferten irgendwelche hilfreichen Informationen. Würden wir an einer Gasförderanlage nach der anderen vorbeifahren? Würde es sehr einsam werden mit nur wenigen Dörfern und noch weniger Menschen? Oder würde es sogar gefährlich werden, immerhin wurden wir ja vor Ali Baba gewarnt?

Nach ein Paar weiteren sich windenden Straßen und mehrfachem Auf und Ab erreichten wir endlich die Küste. Das erste Dorf war sehr hübsch mit einem kleinen Strand und vielen Fischern. Wir füllten unsere Vorräte auf, mussten aber leider auf der Hauptstraße weiterfahren, da dies die einzige Küstenstraße war. Auf einmal war es wieder heiß mit Temperaturen von bis zu 30 Grad. Wir fanden das zwar super, mussten uns aber trotzdem erst wieder daran gewöhnen, kamen wir doch aus den Bergen mit Nachtfrost, wo am Vorabend noch stark geheizt wurde. Kaum hatten wir das Dorf verlassen, wurde die Landschaft schrecklich: Den ganzen Tage fuhren wir an einer Förderanlage nach der anderen vorbei. Wir konnten das Gas riechen, alles fühlte sich hier sehr ungesund an und wir dachten schon, unser Albtraum sei in Erfüllung gegangen. Später erfuhren wir, dass die Gasförderanlagen eine der Größten der Welt sind. Wir hatten noch die Ali Baba-Warnungen im Hinterkopf und so buchten wir uns in Assalouyeh in einem viel zu teuren Hotel ein. Jetzt waren wir noch mehr gespannt auf die kommenden 400km, da wir befürchteten, es würde genau so weitergehen.

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Ambush interview with an Iranian radio station
Überfall-Interview mit einem iranischen Radiosender

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Right around the corner is the first fishermen's village
Gleich um die Ecke ist das erste Fischerdorf
The sea, the sea!
Das Meer, das Meer – ENDLICH!

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The world seen from an Iranian perspective
Die Welt aus iranischer Perspektive
Still pretty...
Noch sehr hübsch…
...becoming more industrial...
…dann wird es zunehmend industrieller…
...not so pretty anymore.
…und dann ganz gruselig.

Aber so ging es nicht weiter. Tatsächlich fanden wir, dass dies landschaftlich der schönste Streckenabschnitt für uns im Iran war. Irgendwie sah alles wie im Grand Canyon in den USA aus mit roten Felsen und Schluchten, nur ein bisschen kleiner und als Zusatzbonus das Meer. Entlang des Meeres fuhren wir von einem Fischerdorf ins andere und kamen aus dem Staunen nicht heraus. Noch immer hatten wir Angst, dass uns nach der nächsten Biegung Ali Baba begegnen würde, aber er wahr wohl mit anderen Dingen beschäftigt und nicht sonderlich an uns Radlern interessiert.

A beautiful and protected nature park right after Assalouyeh
Ein geschützter Nationalpark mit Assalouyeh im Hintergrund…
...and sadly the beach is still full with garbage
…und leider sehr viel Abfall am Strand.
Is he Ali Baba?
Ist das Ali Baba?
The pyramid next to the road is a water reservoir, which are abundant in this part of Iran
Die Pyramide neben der Straße ist ein Wasserreservoir, in dieser Gegend überall zu finden
Which was first? The road or the power pole?
Was war zuerst da? Die Straße oder der Strommast?

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Zwei Tage verbrachten wir in einem kleinen Dorf, da wir zufällig entdeckten, dass es dort einen Warmshowers Host gibt. Warmshowers ist eine Organisation, die Radfahrern Übernachtungsmöglichkeiten und oft auch Essen bietet, und das umsonst. Da wir Mehran erst am Vortag angeschrieben hatten, konnte er nicht vor 20 Uhr von der Arbeit zurück sein und so wurden wir von den Dorfbewohnern begrüßt, setzten uns neben die Straße, tranken gemeinsam Tee und aßen Obst. Mehran schrieb uns, dass uns entweder sein Vater oder sein Onkel, ein Lehrer, abholen würde. Als dann ein Englischlehrer ankam und uns drängte, schnell mitzukommen, dachten wir natürlich, dass das Merans Onkel sei. Allerdings war dem nicht so, der Lehrer hatte nur gerne ausländischen Besuch! Dies erfuhren wir, als Mehran später vorbeikam und fragte: “Wer hat meine Gäste gestohlen?” Es zeigte sich, dass Hassan, der Englischlehrer, ein wenig paranoid war. Er hatte eine harte Vergangenheit, wurde zu Studentenzeiten wegen seiner Anti-Regierungseinstellung gefoltert. Ständig betonte er, dass er seit zehn Jahren Tabletten gegen seine Depression nimmt. Als er uns dann irgendwann fragte, ob wir eigentlich wüssten, dass Merkel früher als Spion für den KGB tätig war – er begründete dies mit ihren hervorragenden Russischkenntnissen – zweifelten wir doch an den manchmal fragwürdigen Aussagen zum Iran. Trotzdem war Hassan ein sehr lieber und hervorragender Gastgeber und wir hatten eine sehr schöne Zeit mit ihm und seiner Frau, die uns fürstlich bekochte.

The welcome committee at the village
Empfangskommittee im Dorf
Suddenly the women wouldn't wear merely black and I looked much less like a bird of paradise
Auf einmal trugen Frauen nicht mehr den schwarzen Chador und ich kam mir nicht mehr wie ein Paradiesvogel vor
If this isn't delicious...
Wenn das nicht lecker ist…
Sightseeing with Hassan
Hassan fährt mit uns durch die Berge

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Mit Hassan, links von Johan, seinem Sohn und einem Freund

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Family photo with Hassan's family
Familienfoto mit Hassan Familie

Den zweiten Abend verbrachten wir dann schließlich mit unserem eigentlichen Gastgeber, Mehran, der für den Nachmittag noch eine kleine Radtour mit den Dorfkindern organisiert hatte. Wir hatten einen sehr schönen Abend mit Mehrans Eltern, da sein Vater, ein Schriftsteller, sehr gebildet ist und sich hervorragend mit Literatur und vielen anderen Dingen auskennt. Er stellte uns viele Fragen über unsere Kultur, Politik, westliche Ansichten zu Weltereignissen und wir hatten den ganzen Abend lange Diskussionen. Herzlichen Dank an Mehran und Maria für die schöne Zeit bei euch!

Just some of the kids joining our little bike tour
Nur ein Teil der Kinder, die an der Radtour teilgenommen haben
We've had sooooo much fun!
Das war sooooooo schön!
Mehran's family. Mehran is the second from the lefthand his father is carrying his baby with me standing between Maria and Mehran's mother
Mehrans Familie. Mehran ist der Zweite von links und sein Vater trägt sein Baby. Ich stehe zwischen Maria, seiner Frau und seiner Mutter.

Hier haben wir dann auch erfahren, dass der Küstenabschnitt sehr sicher zum Reisen ist, und dass das, was wir vorher hörten, nur Blödsinn war. Und wieder einmal ist alles nur auf die Religion zurückzuführen: Der Großteil der Iraner sind Schiiten und die Sunniten leben fast alle am Persischen Golf. Sunniten werden im Land oft diskriminiert und haben nicht denselben Zugang zur Infrastruktur. Die Straßen sind hier beispielsweise in einem viel schlechteren Zustand und es gibt auch nicht überall wie selbstverständliche Elektrizität oder fließendes Wasser. Die Sunniten hier sprechen in der Regel Arabisch und werden oft abfällig als Araber bezeichnet. Daher also diese Animositäten.

An einem Abend, als wir wieder einmal auf der Suche nach einem Schlafplatz waren, führte uns ein älterer Mann zu einer Moschee. Nachdem er mich zweimal ‘aus Versehen’ berührt hatte – ein Unding für Moslems – bot er Johan Geld für mich an. Johan gefiel das natürlich überhaupt nicht und war besorgt, dass der Mann irgendwann plötzlich in der Nacht auftauchen würde und so akzeptierten wir dankbar das Angebot eines (echten) Arabers, der hier im Dorf lebt und arbeitet, bei ihm zu übernachten.

On the road again
Unterwegs

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Tailwind!
Rückenwind!

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At the Arabian's house
Beim Haus des Arabers

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Coffee break behind an abandoned building
Kaffeepause hinter einem verlassenen Gebäude

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It's very hot
Es ist sehr heiß
Dinner with fish at a family's house
Abendessen mit Fisch bei einer Familie
Our hosts - the woman with the facial mask was clearly the boss of a huge family
Unsere Gastgeber – die Frau mit der Gesichtsmaske war definitiv der Chef der riesigen Familie

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A nice fishermen's village
Ein hübsches Fischerdorf

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A typical beach in Iran: small platforms - with or without roof - and a barbecue in front. At the back toilets and showers, perfect for camping as long as you don't mind people's chatters until the wee hours
Ein typischer Strand im Iran: kleine betonierte Plattformen – mit oder ohne Dach – und ein Grill davor. Im Hintergrund gibt es Toiletten und Duschen, perfekt für uns zum Zelten, solange es einem nichts ausmacht, dass hier das Strandleben bis weit nach Mitternacht stattfindet.
Beautiful sunset
Wunderschöner Sonnenuntergang
Beach cleaning at sunrise
Bei Sonnenaufgang wird der Strand gesäubert
Johan and his least favorite friend
Johan und sein unbeliebter Freund

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Great load factor
Hervorragender Ladefaktor
A typical roundabout usually featuring something typical from the region - the Quran can be found most often, no surprise
Ein typischer Kreisverkehr, auf dem immer irgendetwas Typisches aus der Region steht – den Koran gibt es natürlich am häufigsten zu sehen…
...and here some prawns for a change.
…und hier dann zur Abwechslung ein Paar Garnelen.
Even the youngest ride a motorbike
Sogar die Jüngsten fahren schon Motorrad

Nach mehr als einer Woche in dieser abgelegenen und umwerfenden Gegend fuhren wir mit der Fähre auf die Insel Queshm, wo wir wieder ein Paar Tage in einem Gasthaus verbrachten. Dort haben wir zwei weitere Reiseradler getroffen, radelten und liefen durch einen Unesco Geopark bevor wir uns wieder auf die Rückreise nach Bandar Lengeh machten, um mit der Fähre nach Dubai zu fahren.

Squeezed in between the cars on the ferry
Auf der Fähre zwischen Autos eingequetscht
Cycling through an old fishermen's village famous for its many wind towers
Fischerdorf, das für seine vielen alten Windtürme bekannt ist
The same village seen from the Portuguese castle or what's left from it
Dasselbe Dorf von der portugiesischen Burg aus gesehen

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The old harbor
Am alten Hafen
A lot of camels
Viele Kamele
Shipyard where wooden ships are still built like 100 years ago
Eine Werft, wo die Holzschiffe noch wie vor 100 Jahren gebaut werden
Ali Baba?
Ali Baba?

Im Unesco Geopark:

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At our guesthouse with the owner and the two other cyclists Heiner and Patrick
Im Gasthaus mit dem Besitzer und den beiden Radlern Heiner und Patrick
Last day on the island
Letzter Tag auf der Insel
A refugee camp outside a small town back on the mainland
Ein Flüchtlingscamp am Rand einer kleinen Stadt auf dem Festland
Enjoying one more Iranian hospitality
Noch einmal genießen wir die Gastfreundschaft im Iran mit den Kindern unseres Gastgebers
Fresh crabs as a starter...
Frische Krabben als Vorspeise…
...and shark as a main.
…und Haifisch als Hauptgericht.
Our room for the night
Unser Zimmer für die Nacht

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Last full day cycling in Iran
Letzter Radeltag im Iran
Last time camping in Iran at the beach
Ein letztes Mal zelten am Strand im Iran
Last night spent with an Iranian host
Und die letzte Nacht bei Iranern verbracht
At the harbor - and no, this is not our ferry
Am Hafen, und nein, das ist nicht unsere Fähre
Our luxury speed boat to Dubai
Unsere luxuriöses Schnellboot nach Dubai
Bye bye Iran
Auf Wiedersehen Iran

Unsere zwei Monate im Iran waren mit vielen schönen Begegnungen mit den gastfreundlichsten Menschen, die wir je getroffen haben, gefüllt. Trotzdem sind die Menschen hier sehr unsicher. Noch nie wurden wir so oft gefragt, der Welt doch mitzuteilen, dass Iraner gute Menschen sind. Die Menschen hier sind sehr stolz auf ihre Herkunft, aber nicht auf ihre Regierung. Über Politik wird nicht gerne geredet, sei es, weil sie Konsequenzen befürchten oder weil sie Angst vor unserer Meinung haben. Noch müssen im Iran viele humanitäre Probleme gelöst werden, Meinungsfreiheit gibt es hier nicht, die Medien werden von den Mullahs kontrolliert und das Internet ist in einem Ausmaß zensiert, dass es wirklich selbst uns sehr genervt hat. Der Iran wird von konservativen Geistlichen regiert, der Präsident ist deren Marionette.

Aufgrund des sehr starken Verkehrs und der Tatsache, dass es nicht so viele ruhigere Straßen gibt, ist das Land nicht unbedingt ein Traum für Radler, trotzdem fühlten wir uns fast immer sicher auf den Straßen. Wir waren dann doch traurig, dieses gastfreundliche Land verlassen zu müssen, aber auch sehr gespannt darauf, was uns nun in den Vereinten Arabischen Emiraten erwarten würde.

From Shiraz to the Persian Gulf

309km, 1,636 m altitude gain (4,578km and 33,988m altitude gain in total)
309km, 1,636 m altitude gain (4,578km and 33,988m altitude gain in total)

12 – 24 November, 2015 – In Shiraz we chose once more for a more costly accommodation to be sure we would be able to relax and get ready for the final stretch. As we reached our chosen hotel – an old heritage site with rooms built around a courtyard – Johan negotiated hard to get a five-US-Dollar discount. Not bad but also not much, especially for what we got. Tired as we were we moved into our room by first cycling through a few winding alleys to get as close as possible. We then carried our numerous panniers through the courtyard which also serves as a restaurant and lounge area and then a few narrow steps up to our tiny room. While everything was very atmospheric with tiles on the walls and colored windows, we were still a bit disappointed about our small room without bathroom for 30 US-Dollars. The next morning we decided to move on to another hotel and once more moved all our panniers down the stairs, through the courtyard, loaded our bikes and cycled back through the alleys to the hotel reception. That day’s receptionist immediately offered us another 10-US-Dollar discount and so we cycled back the alley, walked our panniers through the courtyard and up the stairs again.

View from our room
View from our room

That afternoon we learned that ‘our boys’ would continue cycling the next day as they didn’t get a visa extension in Shiraz and we invited them for a farewell dinner at our hotel. We exchanged contact details, made a few more farewell videos and wished each other well before they finally left. We had a great time together and we’ve become very used to their company and their massive appetite – it’s hardly imaginable that there are people eating more than us – and we were sad to see them leave. But that’s the fate of travellers: we meet people, we get to know each other better and then we have to leave again. It is sometimes heartbreaking but always an enrichment and the idea to see each other once again somewhere on the planet makes it more bearable. Take care, Samuel and Jakob!

Shiraz didn’t impress us as much as Esfahan, but was still worth a visit. The city is known for poets, literature, wine and flowers. While wine is no longer produced and consumed in Shiraz, like everywhere else in Iran as alcohol is banned, there are a lot of citrus trees lining the streets and gardens. We visited the mausoleum and shrine of the King of the Light and for that we got a personal guide wearing a sash with “International Affairs” written on it. We werent allowed to enter it on our own. At the entrance I got a chador and we were told not to take any photos. At the speed of light – I thought the guide would soon suffocate – we got explanations about the King of the Light and his brother, but forgot everything immediately, too much information at so little time. We had to enter the mosque separately and I entered a glittering hall to see women touching the silver bars of the shrine followed by touching their own faces. They continued moving along the shrine and touching everything. The hall was beautifully decorated with small-cut mirrors to intensify the light from the chandelier but also to make sure, people are concentrating on god and not on their faces. It’s an impressive site with a beautifully restored old part as well as a new part that only opened eight months ago.

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The only way for me to enter the mosque
The only way for me to enter the mosque

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We also visited the mausoleum of Hafez, one of the most famous Iranian poets. It is said that every Iranian household owns at least three books: the Quran and the poems of Hafez and Saadi. We were also told that people sit around the tomb and in the gardens reciting Hafez poems. To our biggest disappointment we only saw overly made-up Iranian women and men with their selfie sticks taking selfies.

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Another beautiful and very peaceful site is the small but fine Pink Mosque known best for its huge and beautiful colored windows. It’s called the Pink Mosque for it’s extensive use of pink tiles for its interior design.

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Some random Shiraz shots: 

The Shiraz fort
The Shiraz fort

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And then it was time to move on again. This time we chose a more remote route through the mountains to avoid heavy traffic. At the end of the first day we stopped in a village to find a place to sleep. We were quickly helped and showed to a mosque where we could sleep in the huge hall, only separated in the middle by a curtain. We made ourselves at home, chose one corner of the huge room for our mattresses and the middle – with the only light above – as our dining area. We soon started cooking outside when suddenly two men arrived, looking puzzled at us only to disappear in the mosque, switching on a tape with the call for prayer and coming out again. Now we at least got the confirmation, that not every call for prayer is live! However, we had to remove all our stuff again, as we had decided to camp in the women’s prayer hall. Fantastic! As quickly as we could Johan put everything in one corner while I continued cooking. Soon five women arrived to pray for about ten minutes in our bedroom and then left again. There were a handful more men joining the prayer in the other chamber of the hall while we were eating. Once praying was finished, we got about ten invitations to sleep at people’s houses. We declined as we didn’t want to pack everything once more. Instead, two boys would now sleep in the men’s prayer hall to make sure we were safe. The following morning Johan had a very weird political discussion with one of the boys, aged around 20. It was around the topic that the Iranian government is banning Western media channels such as BBC and CNN. The boy was convinced that it was the right thing to do, as the US government is very bad and supporting the IS. Thankfully we met more people who weren’t as brainwashed as these two guys.

At 'our' mosque
At ‘our’ mosque in the early morning
Ready to leave
Ready to leave

The route we chose was more remote than we had expected and much more beautiful. For two days there was no mobile phone reception and traffic was very low as well. We cycled through a rocky and very hilly desert with an ever changing scenery from tree-lined roads to barren mountains where it seemed that no life would be possible. At times it resembled a huge construction site with a myriad of sand piles. In the last larger town before the Persian gulf we could camp at a hotel after a lengthy and unfriendly discussion with the hotel managers. The following nights we stayed with Iranian families for the first time, as we couldn’t find a good spot to camp. At the second homestay we got warned about the coastal stretch we wanted to cycle: there would be a lot of Ali Babas and two cyclists had been robbed there some time ago. We left the next day with mixed feelings and very unsure about how to overcome the last part of our cycling through Iran.

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We're not really fond of tunnels
Another way to block a road you’re not supposed to ride on
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Johan’s new mode of transportation
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Beehives in the mountains

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Against the wind – what else?

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We're not so fond of tunnels
We’re not so fond of tunnels

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Our campsite at the hotel garden
Our campsite at the hotel garden

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Local nomads

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Local nomads

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The first family we stayed with
The first family we stayed with…
...and whith who we had a wonderful evening.
…and with who we had a wonderful evening.

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A road just for the two of us - unfortunately only for about 10km
A road just for the two of us – unfortunately only for about 10km
Super yummy food: Rice, chicken with French fries, raw vegetable salad and prawns
Super yummy food: Rice, chicken with French fries, raw vegetable salad and prawns
With our hosts - the men from the gas station
With our hosts – the men from the gas station
And the second family - the ones who were worried about Ali Baba at the coast
And the second family – the ones who were worried about Ali Baba at the coast

We are Family

515km, 2.480 m altitude gain (4,268km and 32,352m altitude gain in total)
515km, 2,480 m altitude gain (4,268km and 32,352m altitude gain in total)

6 – 16 November, 2015 – Esfahan is the number-one tourist destination in Iran for good reason. We were blown away by its historic bazaars, tree-lined boulevards, the magnificent Imam Square, the second-largest square on earth, the Armenian quarter, its beautiful historic bridges and the Jameh Mosque, a veritable museum of Islamic architecture. We spent five full days relaxing, sightseeing, buying ourselves some nice souvenirs, extending our Iran visas and re-filling our batteries with good and often not so very healthy food – actually we had a burger or similar fast food almost every day. Fast food places are booming everywhere in Iran and hamburgers, hot dogs – often misspelled as hat dogs – or falafel sandwiches have become staple snacks besides kebab.

The great Imam Square: 

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At a mosque
In front of a mosque at the square

Imam square

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School kids
School kids

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DSCF3172DSCF3201At the bazaar: DSCF2755

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Curry!
Curry!

At our hostel we met the first touring cyclist, Jakob from Stuttgart, and we exchanged roadside stories. There we also met an Iranian who was looking for French-speaking tourists. As I was the only one around he started chatting with me to practice his French. After all the usual questions such as “Where are you from?, What is your name?, Do you like Iran?” he invited us for lunch to his home. We were a little bit surprised by this spontaneous invitation and decided to decline it as we weren’t really sure about the man’s real intention. Was he a tour guide and expecting money from us? Was he trying to get anything else from us? Or was he just another friendly Iranian keen on demonstrating Iranian hospitality? We would never find out.

The Jameh (or Friday) Mosque: DSCF2653DSCF2836DSCF2698DSCF2895

In Esfahan we also noticed the exaggerated beauty-mania Iran is famous for. Never had we seen so many women – and men by the way – with plasters on their noses or face masks given their recent plastic surgery. Women are wearing an awful lot of make-up, shave off their eyebrows to repaint them in for us bizarre and unnatural shapes. Not only look all noses the same in a very unnatural way but also their lips and cheeks have been injected. We were easily able to distinguish a natural from an artificial Iranian face within seconds. For us a very disturbing and sad trend, as Iranian women and men are very handsome, even more so without plastic surgery.

The men’s mosque at the Imam Square:

DSCF2824DSCF2872DSCF2881DSCF2928At the river: 

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With a Polish guy we met at our guesthouse
With a Polish guy we met at our guesthouse
The dam had been opened just the day of our arrival - before there was no water in the river
The dam had been opened just the day of our arrival – before there was no water in the river

In the meantime we also noticed that it was getting winter. At an altitude of around 1500 meters day temperatures were still around 20 degrees but declined heavily at night. Night frost became more common day by day but we were grateful for the still low precipitation.

Some random Esfahan shots: 

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At a fancy restaurant - a former hamam, food was just average though!
At a fancy restaurant – a former hammam, food was just average though!

We couldn’t leave Esfahan without going once more back to the Imam Square, this time with our bikes. Again, we got several invitations to come with people to their homes and again we declined. As soon as we are sitting on our fully loaded bikes, we are no longer the ‘normal’ tourists and attract a lot of attention, even in tourist-spoilt cities like Esfahan.

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Best friends? Not really, we just met and got invited for tea.
Best friends? Not really, we just met and got invited for tea.

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On our way out of Esfahan we met another touring cyclist on his way to Shiraz – Samuel (19) from Germany. Samuel has been cycling from Germany to Iran and is writing about his adventures on samuelontour.com. Together we cycled to Shiraz. We finally were a family! In Iran it is forbidden to share a hotel room, if a couple is not married. Hence, we kept telling people, that we are married, which always triggered the question of children we declined and which usually resulted in an awkward silence. But now we had another problem – just one son wasn’t enough either!

Leaving Esfahan
Leaving Esfahan
With Samuel
With Samuel
Always trying to find a good road to cycle - this time a gravel road next to the busy highway without shoulder
Always trying to find a good road to cycle – this time a gravel road next to the busy highway without shoulder

On our first evening together we slept at a mosque. While Johan, the organizer, checked the room I waited together with Samuel when a man approached us and started the usual talking. As soon as he found out that Samuel was neither my husband (!!!) nor my son he turned to Samuel whispering in his ears. Samuel’s reaction told me clearly that he got an immoral offer from a gay Iranian. And this, while the government declares proudly, that there are no gay people in the country ;-). It took a few minutes to make the guy understood that Samuel seriously doesn’t want to have sex with him before he drove off in his car. Samuel told us, that this has happened quite often to him and all the times in Iran. We spent the night in a warm and spacious room with two huge beds, a bathroom and even our own kitchen. In the morning we got breakfast served and our 10 Dollars for the room returned – again, people were treating us very well!

The mosque we stayed at
The mosque we stayed at

DSCF3349The longer we cycled the more interesting became the landscape. We were moving at an altitude of around 2000 meters. The barren desert-like landscape was lined by rugged mountains in the far distance, some of them snow-capped by now. Traffic lessened the further away we got from Esfahan and we could either cycle on good dirt roads right next to the main highway or on a wide shoulder. We crossed a few passes, often struggled with headwinds but sometimes also flew with the wind.

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Fixing a problem with Samuel's chain
Fixing a problem with Samuel’s chain

The second night with Samuel we spent at the Red Crescent. This time, they were housed in a real building, not just containers and we got our own room, could use their showers and kitchen and once more enjoyed the warmth inside. This journey along the edge of the desert was becoming a very comfortable one as we had anticipated another 5-day-journey without showers or any other luxuries.

We are family!
We are family!
Second breakfast only shortly after our first, our porridge wasn't filling enough
Second breakfast only shortly after our first, our porridge wasn’t filling enough
Johan having fun on the road
Johan having fun on the road

Our third day after leaving Esfahan was our longest in terms of kilometers and time in the saddle. Almost all day we had to climb and the headwind didn’t make it any easier. I spent most of the day in Johan’s or Samuel’s slipstream to reduce waiting time for them and to make it easier for me. It’s not my preferred way of cycling, as I don’t like looking at the back of somebody all day long, even if it is Johan’s back. By 4pm we reached the top of a pass at around 2,500m and still had around 25km to cycle into town, which we reached within an hour as we now cycled mostly downhill. Shattered and cold we asked a few people for a place to stay and they drove us to a house, where we could stay in a filthy room for a bit more than 10 EUR. Despite Samuel being unhappy about our decision, as paying for accommodation wasn’t neither adventurous nor interesting, we took the room. In the end we all were glad to be able to stay at a warm place instead of pitching the tent in a dark park at freezing temperatures.

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P1230557After a slow start the following morning and with only Samuel being showered we continued our journey with today’s planned destination of Pasergardae, the place of Cyrus the Great’s tomb. At the beginning of another pass we met Jakob (19), another German touring cyclist, who joined our little family. Finally we were a ‘real’ family according to Iranian standards. Pasargadae is lesser known and besides Cyrus’ tomb not a really exciting site. The four of us still spent a few hours there and convinced Jakob to camp with us at the nearby restaurant. The following morning we woke to a completely frozen tent – very mystique, but very cold. Thankfully we could dry our tents and sleeping bags in the once again overheated restaurant. Something we noticed everywhere: now that it was getting colder, people started using their gas heating to an extent that was becoming extremely uncomfortable for us with inside temperatures of 25 degrees and above.

Samuel and Jakob
Samuel and Jakob
Lunch with Samuel and Jakob at Pasergardae
Lunch with Samuel and Jakob at Pasergardae
Cyrus' tomb
Cyrus’ tomb

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Our little campsite behind the restaurant
Our little campsite behind the restaurant
Freezing cold!
Freezing cold!

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After half a day’s downhill cycling on a road meandering through a huge canyon we reached Persepolis, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the cultural highlights of our Iran trip. Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Darius I in 518 B.C.. He created an impressive palace complex with monumental staircases, exquisite reliefs, striking gateways and massive columns that left us in no doubt how great this empire must have been. The whole complex had been covered in dust and sand and was only rediscovered in 1931.

Second breakfast for our hungry boys, coffee for the older ones
Second breakfast for our hungry boys, coffee for the older ones

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Onion harvest
Onion harvest

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Persepolis: 

For the family album :-)
For the family album 🙂

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Trying to take a picture without disturbing glass in front
Trying to take a picture without disturbing glass in front

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We once more camped all together at an official campsite under pine-trees close to the Persepolis ruins and did not leave the following morning before having a final look from the outside at the palaces. Shortly after our departure we lost our ‘kids’, who obviously were keen to reach Shiraz as quickly as possible. So we continued once more alone, crossing two more small passes before rolling down into Shiraz. Traffic was massif and cycling no fun and we were glad when we finally reached our hotel.

Watch Samuel’s videos of our time together here: video 1 and video 2.

Coffee break as there was no more need to hurry having lost the boys anyway

Getting closer to Shiraz
Getting closer to Shiraz

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Through the Iranian Desert

619km, altitude gain of 2,659km (3,753km and 29.872 m altitude gain in total)
619km, altitude gain of 2,659km (3,753km and 29.872 m altitude gain in total)

25 October – 5 November, 2015 – We were ready to leave before 8am after a bad night’s sleep with noisy neighbors when two men from the local newspaper approached us for an interview without even asking if it was OK for us. Thirty minutes and many questions and photos later we left the mosque with a bag full of raisins and walnuts – a gift from the journalists. They filmed us while we were leaving the city and wished us good luck for our next part of the trip through the desert.

We were now looking forward to quiet roads and starry nights. The first night we camped behind some abandoned stables off the highway and while cooking dinner we were approached by a man in a car.  For minutes he talked in Farsi to us. When he finally noticed that we didn’t understand a word, he left again. We wondered for a while how he found us as we had followed a small track and thought nobody could see us here.

This is our daily bread - not that you are mistaking this for new scarves
This is our daily bread, best eaten fresh from the bakery as it feels like chewing on cardboard after a few hours – not that you are mistaking this for new scarves
Photo session at the mosque
Photo session at the mosque
One of the reporters
Reporter 1 and photographer…
...and reporter 2, the English teacher, asking all the questions.
…and reporter 2, the English teacher, asking all the questions and with our bag full of raisins and walnuts..

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Finally an empty road
Finally an empty road
There is still some life in the desert
There is still some life in the desert
Who's the camel?
Who’s the camel?
Wonderful camping in the middle of nowhere
Wonderful camping in the middle of nowhere
Preparing breakfast...
Preparing breakfast…
Breakfast at a what we thought well-hidden place
…eating breakfast!
A typical desert village
A typical desert village

During the day temperatures still climbed well beyond 30 degrees and the cloudless sky and treeless desert left us with nowhere to shelter from the heat. Every once in a while people would stop to give us food or just ask if we were OK or needed anything. In the early afternoon we reached a small desert town and were stopped by a police car. By the time I caught up with Johan, he was surrounded by four men – three policemen and an English teacher. I got a little worried only to learn later, that the police had seen us earlier and as they didn’t speak English they had picked up the English teacher to welcome us. They wanted to make sure we would find a good place to sleep and food for the evening. I was overwhelmed when the English teacher asked us to tell our friends and families at home that Iranians are good people. That was not the first time we were asked that. Iranians feel pretty misunderstood by the Western world and they are extremely keen on being seen as hospitable and kind. Often we would be asked if we also thought that all Iranians are terrorists, as this is – according to their understanding – what BBC and CNN would broadcast.

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Another village
Another village

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Relaxing at the guesthouse
Lunch break
Outfit, headwind and heat make for hard desert cycling
Outfit, headwind and heat make for hard desert cycling

After three days of difficult cycling through undulating barren landscapes and daily headwinds we reached the desert town Tabas from where we took the train to Yazd. Iran is four times the size of Germany or three times the size of France which made it impossible for us to cycle every single stretch. Trains in Iran are pretty cool, but leave at pretty uncool times, which again makes them very cool, as they are empty and a lot of train staff takes care of a few passengers. Our train left at 2am in the morning and we got our own comfortable sleeping compartment and our bikes got their own next to us. In fact, we were the only passengers in our carriage. In the morning we had breakfast in the train restaurant and we felt a bit like sitting in the famous Orient-Express.

Change of scenery
Change of scenery
Sand dunes
Sand dunes
Power nap at almost 40 degrees Celsius
Power nap at almost 40 degrees Celsius

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At the mosque in Tabas
At the mosque in Tabas
The gardens of Tabas
The gardens of Tabas
In the mosque
In the mosque
And the mosque at night
And the mosque at night
Leaving Tabas by train
Leaving Tabas by train
Sleeping in the train...
Sleeping in the train…
...and breakfast with the train staff
…and breakfast with the train staff.

In Yazd we checked into a far too expensive hotel for a shabby room and filthy shared bathrooms only to change the next day to a traditional hotel at the same price with our own clean bathroom. Yazd is one of the highlights in Iran with its forests of windtowers, the so-called badgirs and winding lanes through the mud-brick old town. We cycled through a labyrinth of small alleys, got lost in the huge covered bazaar and chilled with good coffee and food in one of the many rooftop restaurants while enjoying a fabulous vista of old Yazd.

Impressions of Yazd: 

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The famous badgirs (wind towers) of Yazd – formerly used as air-conditioning
Cycling through the narrow alleys
Cycling through the narrow alleys
The view from the roof top cafe at our hotel
The view from the roof top cafe at our hotel
Sweets shop
Sweets shop
The dome of a mosque
The dome of a mosque
Imam Hossein celebrations
Imam Hossein celebrations

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Praying
Praying

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At the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where it is believed that a flame has been burning for over 1,500 years
At the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where it is believed that a flame has been burning for over 1,500 years
At the bazaar
At the bazaar

From Yazd we continued once more North in the direction of famous Esfahan. Unfortunately the wind had changed and instead of coming from the South it now blew straight into our faces. Cranky we continued anyway. Wind is the most unfair cycling condition and without doubt the most hated by cyclists. As our cycling friend Annika from Tasting Travels nicely put it in one of her blog posts: Mountains are fair as you know that after a long climb a downhill will follow. However, you cannot expect that a headwind turns into a tailwind the next day. Nonetheless we pedaled on and gave up at around lunchtime to visit an old castle from 4000 BC and the beautiful and much less touristy mud-brick town Meybod.

Roadside billboards
A typical roadside billboard…
...and another one!
…and another one!
At the Maybod castle
At the Meybod citadel
Always searching for the perfect shot :-)
Always searching for the perfect shot 🙂
The castle in its full glory or what's left from it
The citadel in its full glory or what’s left from it
Johan successfully hiding his new and far too short haircut. In fact, I wasn't allowed to take his picture for the coming three weeks!!!
Johan successfully hiding his new and far too short haircut. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to take his picture for the coming three weeks!!!

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Meybod
Meybod

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Shopping
Shopping

Even though we were still cycling through the desert it was clearly getting winter. The evenings and nights were cold with temperatures close to or below 0 degrees Celsius and during the day the quicksilver seldom climbed over 20 degrees anymore. On our way to Esfahan we camped two more times, once for free behind a what we thought abandoned caravanserai. We had just finished our abundant dinner of two hard boiled eggs each and were ready to crawl into our sleeping bags, when a car passed. It seemed that there were still people living at the caravanserai, but they either hadn’t seen us or weren’t interested, they left us alone all night. The second night we camped for very little money in a hotel garden.

At a police checkpoint. They would always exhibit terribly damaged cars to promote safe driving
At a police checkpoint. They would always show terribly damaged cars to promote safe driving

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Another quiet campspot behind a caravanserai
Another quiet camp spot behind a caravanserai

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Selfie with a 'roadworker'
Selfie with a ‘roadworker’
What is he doing there?
What is he doing there?
The truck drivers love their Macks
The truck drivers love their Macks

Thanks to the headwind we made very little progress and needed four full days to reach Esfahan. The scenery was relatively boring compared to what we had seen before and on top we were cycling on busy roads without shoulders and often had to leave the road to avoid collisions with passing trucks. The last 40 kilometers into Esfahan were absolutely dreadful with extreme heavy truck traffic. We must have breathed in tons of diesel exhaust and cycling didn’t feel very healthy anymore. Additionally we were cycling through a vast industrial area with mainly steel and petrochemical plants. That day I thought to myself that this might be the first day we wouldn’t get anything from passing people. But also this time I was wrong. Right at the entrance of Esfahan we were handed over two pomegranates, 500 meters further we got a rice-dish – perfect for us as it was lunchtime. In the middle of the busy traffic in the city center a man stuck his hand out of his open car window with a bucket full of a yummy rice-and-saffron dessert. Iranians treated us once again very well!

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We had just finished our second breakfast when this man came over to give us more food. He couldn't stop and each time we accepted something, he would get more out of his car :-)
We had just finished our second breakfast when this man came over to give us more food. He couldn’t stop and each time we accepted something, he would get more out of his car 🙂
An old caravanserai along the silk road which can be found every 30 km to 40 km
An old caravanserai along the silk road which can be found every 30 km to 40 km

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To avoid the worst
To avoid the worst

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And now me?
And now me?
Enjoying our lunch we just got from another nice Iranian next to the busy road
Enjoying our lunch we just got from another nice Iranian next to the busy road

New Clothes, New Customs – Getting a Feel for Iran

Fast facts Iran

  • Three times the size of France or four times the size of Germany
  • Population of 78 million people
  • According to Iran Journal, Iran is the country with the most plastic surgeries in the world – and we tend to confirm that, as we’ve never seen so many (wo)men with plasters on their noses or with injected lips and cheeks
  • Bordering countries: Irak, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia (West and Northwest), Turkmenistan (North/Northeast), Afghanistan and Pakistan (East/Southeast)
  • Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Proto-Elamite and Elamite kingdoms in 3200–2800 BC. The Iranian Medes unified the area into the first of many empires in 625 BC, after which it became the dominant cultural and political power in the region (Wikipedia)
435km and 2,767m altitude gain (3,211km and 27,414m altitude gain in total)
435km and 2,767m altitude gain (3,211km and 27,414m altitude gain in total)

13 – 24 October, 2015 – Getting through customs and to Iran was easy. Between the two borders I dressed up and replaced short trousers by long trousers, T-Shirt by long-sleeved tunic and wrapped a beige scarf around my head. Once our visas were checked and stamped the customs officers who had to check our luggage welcomed us, chatted a while with us and let us through without checking anything. After five strange days in a little welcoming country we were now very anxious to experience Iranian hospitality we’ve heard so much about. But first we had to cycle through barren mountainous and remote landscapes where we would hardly meet a soul. At the end of the first day in Iran we stopped at a small and desolate village to find a place to sleep but only succeeded after almost an hour. A shop owner let us sleep in his storage room that strongly smelled of gasoline.

New outfit and two faces that would follow us for the coming two months
New cycling outfit and two faces that would follow us for the coming two months
On our first day in Iran we had to pass a pitch-dark tunnel. While there was not traffic at all before, several trucks passed me in the tunnel - tunnels are always the worst experiences wherever you are
On our first day in Iran we had to pass a pitch-dark tunnel. While there was not traffic at all before, several trucks passed me in the tunnel – tunnels are always the worst experiences wherever you are
The barren landscape
The barren landscape
At our first Iranian 'homestay'
At our first Iranian ‘homestay’

We continued early the following morning still having the smell of gasoline in our noses. Traffic had picked up quite a bit as we were now on one of the main transit routes for trucks between Turkey and Turkmenistan. After all these quiet roads we still needed to get used to heavy traffic. Arriving in Quchan, our first town in Iran, felt bizarre. We hadn’t seen any Iranian women so far and suddenly the town was crowded with women dressed in their black Chadors – a huge piece of fabric wrapped around them. People were staring at us, I think not many tourists have ever passed this town. Whenever somebody could speak some English, that person would approach us and ask if they could help. A nice couple even helped us with buying me a new cycling outfit and accompanied us to many different shops until I found something suitable for Iran. I still felt a little awkward in my now even more colorful new clothes but they confirmed that there was no need for me to wear black as all Iranian women. In fact she told me that she would wear dark colours only at official occasions and for work. I was relieved as I didn’t want to get arrested by the moral police for non-conformal attire.

Pretty cycling with pretty barren landscapes
Pretty cycling with pretty barren landscapes
Where is the black sheep?
Where is the black sheep or is it even a goat?
One of the first villages close to Quchan
One of the first villages close to Quchan
Arriving in Quchan - a typical black religious banner
Arriving in Quchan – a typical black religious banner
A woman - finally! And a billboard with men that died in the Irak war. You will find these pictures at the entrance of every village and town in Iran.
A woman – finally! And a billboard with men that died during the Iran/Irak war. You will find these pictures at the entrance of every village and town in Iran.

It was more difficult for me to get used to the scarf and it happened more than once that my scarf went loose and I often only noticed when I saw people laughing about my clumsiness. That reaction also made me feel much more comfortable in my attire, knowing that most Iranians didn’t care too much about what I was wearing. And covering up also has its advantages: I saved a lot on sunscreen and bad-hair-days belonged to the past, even better, my hair wouldn’t get as filthy anymore from the truck and car exhaust, so I was also saving on shampoo.

What we definitely couldn’t get used to was the sudden lack of free access to information. Not only were our Facebook and Blog websites no longer accessible for us, most Western news sites were suddenly blocked after we went there more than once. Internet was slow and at times non-existing, even in big cities. Everything is controlled by the government in this country.

My new outfit - over time you might notice that this is getting shorter and shorter as it would shrink with every washing :-(
My new outfit – over time you might notice that this is getting shorter and shorter as it would shrink with every washing 😦

We were now cycling in the direction of the Iranian desert but still had to overcome a few mountains and passes. Until now we were still waiting for the so famous Iranian hospitality, so far we hadn’t noticed any difference to Central Asian or Southeast Asian countries. But that would change almost immediately. We were cycling uphill and – surprise, surprise – with a very cold wind in our backs. At the police control at the top of a hill we were treated with hot tea and later at a village the local English teacher would invite us to stay at his home for the night. We declined, as we wanted to benefit from the tailwind and the downhills knowing our luck with this element. The landscape reminded us a lot on Kyrgyzstan with its rugged mountains and sparse vegetation around us. Around 10km before our final stop for the day – dusk was around – a police car turned up, escorted us into town and showed us a truck stop where we could sleep for free and enjoy the Iranian staple food chicken kebab.

Lunch break with fresh herbal tea and yummy sandwiches
Lunch break with fresh herbal tea and yummy sandwiches – and trying to get used to sitting on the ground instead of a table
Potato harvest - there is clearly no lack of workforce
Potato harvest – there is clearly no lack of workforce

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With our host at the truck stop
With our host at the truck stop

That night it rained heavily and we were happy we weren’t sleeping in our tent. We were now looking forward to our first real rest day in Sabzevar in a while – but first we had to cross another pass with tired legs and Johan not feeling well. Again we were rewarded by beautiful weather and stunning rugged landscapes. Traffic continued picking up tremendously after the pass which I didn’t like too much and Johan didn’t mind at all. Our rest day in Sabzevar turned out to become a rest week – at least for me – as Johan got the flu and stayed most of the time in bed trying to recover.

Coffee break right before the pass
Coffee break right before the pass
At this point we thought it would now only go down - but another peak was waiting for us
At this point we thought it would now only go down – but another peak was waiting for us

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Arrival in Sabzevar
Arrival in Sabzevar

The day we could finally move on again it rained. We left anyhow, we couldn’t wait riding our bikes again. So far we hadn’t gotten a real feel for Iran staying in hotels most of the time. Not only did it rain, we also had to cycle against the wind. Not a good start for a long cycling day. Within no time the rain got worse and the temperature dropped. At lunchtime we luckily reached a village and knocked at the door of the Red Crescent facilities to ask if we could eat inside to get warm and dry. We were welcomed by four young guys in Red Crescent uniforms and seated on the ground in front of the heating. Of course we were not allowed to unpack our lunch and instead ate Dizi after the Iranian table – a square plastic tablecloth – was set on the ground. As the rain and wind just continued they invited us to sleep at their facilities and we happily accepted. We both weren’t keen on cycling in the rain and even less on camping in the rain. It also happened to be the first day of the 10-day-long Imam Hossein mourning ceremonies and in the late afternoon a few villagers accompanied by an English teacher visiting her family for the celebrations came by to have tea with us and ask us all kinds of questions, e.g. if we had problems with using the Iranian squat toilets. They invited us to join their celebrations at the mosque and we again happily accepted. We went by car to the mosque that was around 200m away. I then went with the English teacher to the women’s mosque and Johan continued with the men. Before we entered the mosque, I got introduced to the about 100 women already sitting in a huge hall along the walls. Everybody was curiously looking at this stranger in even stranger colourful clothes. We sat down as well and shortly after the Iranian table was laid out once more, dinner was served: bread with yoghurt, Dizi again, which is a greasy soup where you soak in bread crumbs and later add sheep meet and vegetables. The women couldn’t stop looking and smiling at me, and telling me how happy they were that I was joining them. After what I thought was a short prayer by one woman and a reply by all the other women, everybody stood up – to first take a photo with me – and then to leave. Within one hour we had eaten and the celebrations were over – only to be continued over the coming ten days. I was a bit disappointed as I earlier saw processions on TV where men dressed in black chastised themselves. I thought similar things would happen here. When I met Johan later again, not much more happened in the men’s mosque.

Saffron
Saffron – looks like crocus
The two well-known guys again!
The two well-known guys again!

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Lunch at the Red Crescent
Lunch at the Red Crescent
Johan was welcomed by the local youngsters like a football star
Johan was welcomed by the local youngsters like a football star

The following morning we left after a long photo session at chilly temperatures and of course against the wind. At least the rain had stopped. We were heading into the mountains and were climbing until after 3pm before we could start our fast descend – we only had little time left before nightfall for the remaining 40km, but with a strong tailwind and a continuous downhill we managed easily. Each time we stopped for a break, a car would stop and people would give us food. By the end of the day we had collected ten pomegranates, three apples, two cucumbers, one rice pudding dessert, three bags full of pistachios, chocolate, four tangerines, special cookies from Kashmar and other cookies. We finally got a feel for Iranian hospitality. We stayed for free at a mosque in Bardeskan where we had our own room with a bed and could make use of a shared bathroom including shower. We were just preparing our dinner when we heard a knock on our door and a few locals who earlier showed us to this mosque gave us another box of cookies and invited us to their home for a tea. We declined with a bad conscience but we were keen on going to bed early as another long cycling day laid ahead.

Our room at the Red Crescent
Our room at the Red Crescent
The very basic facilities!
The very basic facilities!
...and climbing...
Slowly climbing,…
...and climbing...
…and climbing…
...and climbing...
…and climbing,…
...stopping for another important photo shoot
…stopping for another important photo shoot,…
...with some rolling landscape in between...
…with some rolling landscape in between…
...and finally and happily descending.
…and finally and happily descending.

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Our room at the mosque
Our room at the mosque
What's left from our donations
What’s left from our presents