After a wonderfully quiet night at our camping spot (and relieved our strange observers from last night didn’t return), we pack up and head back up the tiny mountain road back to the main road.
Our first full day day in Iran! I am so excited to be in Iran! Really excited. I have heard so many good things about Iran, especially about Iranians and their hospitality, and having made friends with some Iranians in Brisbane, I am looking forward to seeing a couple of them again and meeting their families. It is strange to me to be in a country where I can’t read the local language. Thank goodness most road signs are both in Farsi and English.
The scenery is stunning and raw – ever changing majestic mountains, elevated wide valleys, sun burnt rolling hills, rivers and little green oasis dotting the dry landscape. It seems like we have been riding downhill forever. The roads are relatively quiet until we start getting to villages and traffic starts to build.
Two things strike us immediately: drivers and rubbish. The driving style here is different yet again and the most nerve racking to date (as I re-read this, we have seen nothing yet and there is worse to come). Still no apparent appreciation of on-coming traffic, distance & speed but now they come alongside you, extremely close and travel while trying to have a conversation with you or just taking photos. If there are a few inches between them and you, it is several inches too much and they come closer. Once they’re done, they drive in front of you, cutting you up and forcing you to brake. More often than not, once in front of you, they’ll pull over slightly but blocking your lane and stop. Coming up behind you is as if they are in a terrible hurry, sitting on your tail, then they overtake extremely slowly and carry on driving at the same speed as you were before, but now they are a couple of metres closer to their destination. Very strange and in traffic, it definitely keeps you on your toes so to speak!! Thank goodness Streak and Storm have the power to get you out of trouble. Sometimes, it is the only way, open up and get away, until the next traffic jam. And traffic can come towards you from all directions, literally. I have to admit I have not enjoyed the riding here one bit. It is slow because of the traffic jams and extremely tiring, requiring our utmost concentration, yet we can’t afford to loose our nerve, or we’ll never get anywhere.
Our biggest surprise is the amount of rubbish. While we were struck at how impeccably clean each village, house, road side, and even small back street in towns and villages in Uzbekistan were, here, the road side is littered with rubbish. We have seen people throwing large bottles, dirty socks, and all sorts of rubbish out of car windows, or dropping plastic bags full onto the side of the road. Yet, they must enjoy the scenery and nature or they wouldn’t travel that far and for so many hours. It reminds me of outback Australia. Some things we see, others we don’t… We wonder whether this is a reflection on how Iranians feel about their country…
Anyway, back to our ride towards Behshahr. We stop at a road side cafe and Anthony orders us a great lunch of chicken kebabs, rice with saffron and pomegranate – delicious. We continue riding, downhill some more, then suddenly, we are running along side a river. We could be riding through European country side – the trees have created a lovely archway over the road. We would love to camp somewhere there but every single piece of land is either taken with large family groups having meals, or it is covered in rubbish.
By the time we get to Minu Dasht, 408 kms from our overnight stop, we are totally exhausted. Hot and tired. Our timing is impeccable as we had just had some hail, strong winds and rain, not too much rain but within 5′ of our finding a hotel room, the heavens opened up – we would have been completely soaked within a minute the rain is so heavy. Our luck continues…
An Iranian friend from Brisbane, Afrooz, is visiting her parents and she has invited us to have lunch with them all at Behshahr. She send me her address in English and Farsi so as we got to the outskirts of Behshahr we can show it to a local for directions. To check it will be legible for someone to read and guide us, I show it to the hotel receptionist who doesn’t quite know what I’m asking. A customer in the lobby overhears me and asks me whether I speak German! Yes, German again!
We only have 200 kms to do between Minu Dasht and Behshahr, but based on our traffic experience the previous day, we give ourselves 4 hours. We stop on the edge of Behshahr and ask a taxi to show us the way. A moped stops and we ask him if he will show us the way and we’ll pay him. There is no way we would have found Afrooz’s parents’ home otherwise. The problem with the Garmin gps (and maps) is that English spelling is phonetic and therefore, the spelling can vary greatly!! And if your spelling isn’t exactly like the Garmin’s, tough luck, no similar option is given.
We arrive at Afrooz’s home. We are both very excited to see each other again. Afrooz asks if we want to take our luggage up but we don’t need anything as we are only staying for lunch. Oh no you’re not, you’re spending the night!! We are?? Of course, why not we thought. That was the first of many surprises Afrooz had in store for us. When I had asked her advice on where she should go in Iran, and she had sent me a message months ago saying, “don’t worry while in Iran, I will arrange everything”, I had no idea to what extent things were going to be arranged for us!
We are shown to our bedroom. We find out the next day that she has given up her bed and slept on the floor to give us her room. Afrooz asks if we want to do some washing. After that 4 hour ride this morning, our clothes are sodden and I very happily throw our jeans etc into the washing machine – no hand washing today, wonderful!! A feast has been prepared for our arrival, and Afrooz’s brother and sister-in-law join us too. The hospitality we are shown once again is wonderful. We are introduced to Iranian and local specialities and fresh fish! We eat so much!! After lunch, Anthony and Afrooz’s parents take a nap while Afrooz and I chat.
At 5.30, we head into Behshahr for a few things that Afrooz has organised or thought of for us. First though is a visit to the skin specialist as I have a couple of things that need checking out (having had an SCC and a BCC removed, I am extra careful and wanted them seen to asap). Thanks to Afrooz’s contacts, we get an urgent appointment. On examination, everything is fine and only one thing needs to be dealt with, more for my own comfort and as the specialist has run out of freezing material, he will burn it off. I am in his hands and feel as comfortable as one can be when a procedure is about to be performed. The disconcerting part was when he opened all the window wide open!!! Haha, it will smell bad!! I ask how long it will take. 2′. I can cope with that. One anesthetic injection, some burning, patting down, more burning etc, cream and bandaids and I can get dressed again. He returns to his desk and in comes a salesman selling his wares while I am getting dressed and putting my top back on in the open surgical room behind. Oh well… Once dressed, we wait for the salesman to finish and the skin specialist writes me out some prescriptions. The visit and procedure cost a whole $20. Off to the pharmacy then off to get a local sim card with data so that we can get internet access and hopefully finally upload photos to our blog.
What a complicated process: Afrooz needs to go somewhere to get a photocopy of her ID. She returns to the telco and forms are filled out, which she signs and has to have her finger printed!!! We have to go somewhere else to get the card cut: more forms, signature and fingerprinting. Then we find out that the new sim won’t be activated for a couple of days. On advice from a friend, we repeat the process the following day to get another, but different sim card, for telephone access only. While waiting outside those various telco offices, Anthony takes a video of how traffic works at traffic lights here – you will be amazed!
Afrooz shows us around Behshahr. The view from the pedestrian overpass is interesting – we get a really good view of the forested hills and also the traffic. We see in the distance, on the side of the hill, the secret spying observatory the US used during the cold war, up to the revolution in 1979. We walk through the beautiful Mellat park that was founded 400 years ago (called Bagh e Shah before the revolution), and where the last Shah had a palace. After the revolution, the government took over the palace and turned it into government offices. The view from the old palace takes us, in a dead straight line, all the way down the park, through Behshahr and up to the Caspian sea. Very impressive.
Behshahr is so well located, between the dense fir and pomegranate forest and mountains, and pretty close to the cool Caspian sea. We didn’t have the time or the energy to explore the forest, but we have seen photos of the most stunning waterfalls. Next time… Time for a cooling ice cream, a visit through the local fresh local produce market and we return home for dinner.
For dinner, the whole family takes us to one of the local parks, Abbas Abad park, up the mountain, a thick pomegranate forest with a lake in the centre of it, and an old fort built across the lake. It is 9pm and the park is teaming with groups of families having a picnic. We go to a restaurant, sit outside in traditional Iranian style – sitting on a carpet covered platform with comfortable cushions in our backs. Well, we tried to sit as they did, but our bodies are not used to this way of sitting, so after a while Anthony and I ended up sitting with our legs outstretched right across the dining table, table cloth and in between dishes!! They were all very understanding. The food was delicious but by now, my stomach is crying ‘enough’!! After dinner, we go for a walk along the lake, hear the history of this park which was saved thanks to Afrooz’s brother.
We sleep really soundly. We are treated to a full cooked breakfast, with home made jams. We have a lovely lazy morning. The three of us, Afrooz, Anthony and I all working on either iPads or PCs for about 4 hours. I tear my hair out with the Indian Visa application again – yes, déja vu… But the application I prepared in Bishkek for pickup in Tashkent was just that, for Tashkent and for a certain day that was long past. We had originally thought we’d try again in Tehran but on reflection, decided to apply in Dubai instead, just in case we get the same issue of the local consulate only being able to provide visas for 1 month. At least, the visa application will be completed and ready to submit in Dubai. Afrooz made several calls on our behalf to Bander Abbas to find out about shipping our bikes to Dubai, which was extremely useful.
For lunch, lunch? More food?! Afrooz thought we might like some food we are familiar with from back home, so we are offered roast chicken, peas, carrots. So thoughtful!!!
Thank goodness for afternoon naps. Even I succumb when I don’t normally sleep during the day. I am surprised that I’ve slept 1.5 hours in the middle of the day but Anthony reminds me that we had been riding the bikes every day for the past 7 days. That’s true. Now I understand! We’ve mentioned it before, but it has surprised us how much the riding of the bikes has taken out of us. We keep being reminded that we are not so young anymore and maybe riding bikes is a little more tiring than we had expected – especially in the searing heat!! The important thing is to pace ourselves and listen to our bodies. That’s when the ‘luxury’ accommodation when we are not camping or staying in the odd village guesthouse is very welcome.
Today has been a lovely lazy day. We stay indoors, chatting all afternoon before heading out to Afrooz’s brother for a bbq dinner. We meet Afrooz’s grandmother. What a character!! I loved how she asked what she felt like asking. What is your religion? Do you pray? Why do we live the way we do? Why did you not come and visit me today? Oops!! My goodness, what a feast again. And that dip Rohane made, baghela ghatogh – I will be making that one when we have a home again!!
Once home, we once again desperately try to upload photos to our blog. We can say that this has been one almighty frustration for the past 10 days. I eventually give up at 2am…
The next morning, I find Afrooz is already on the phone to Bander Abbas for us again. Time for us to pack now as we will be leaving, 2 days after we first arrived for lunch!! How can we show our appreciation for all that Afrooz and her family have done for us??? The flowers which Anthony buys while out doing errands with Afrooz (while I pack the panniers) do not do justice to how we feel, but that is the best we can do right now. We’ve loved every minute, I’ve enjoyed learning the odd word in Farsi, speaking a bit of French with Afrooz’s parents, sharing jokes with them, learning about the culture, hearing how things have changed since the revolution and simply sharing family life with them. One last lunch (another feast with the best ‘hashbrowns’ I’ve ever had) before heading west along the Caspian coast. Leaving at 2pm, while the hottest part of the day, is also the quietest as most people take a nap between 2 and 4pm. We leave with a traditional farewell custom of throwing water towards the departing guests to make sure they return one day.
One of the many things Afrooz has done for us, and the most touching of all: she contacted all her friends and told them about us, our trip, our bikes, our upcoming anniversary to see who might be in a position to help in any way. Unbelievable! One of her friends contacted one of his friends and we have been offered full use of her family luxury villa for a couple of days, just outside Tehran. He is also going to arrange a place for us to do the oil change our bikes need now, having done 11000 kms since we left. People we don’t know and haven’t met doing all those things for us is very touching and humbling…