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.
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.
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.
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.
Some random Shiraz shots:
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.
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.