Iran….the good stuff!
Back on the bikes, it felt soooo good. Apparently the weather didn’t really agree – the barren expanses of desert fetched up gale force headwinds and crosswinds. Still we just about kept on the road and enjoyed some peaceful campsites and camp cooking. Such a contrast to India!
In this part of Iran the desert is so vast that distant hills float on a mirage and there’s no denying that the earth is curved. Fortunately, towns are socially spaced. Not too frequent to feel crowded but just enough to survive carrying 5 litres of water or less. And occasionally, a blissful ‘caravanserai’ might crop up. These historic Silk Road trade stops are sometimes little more than a petrol station, other times they are magnificent courtyards with free chai, cosy sleeping rooms and hot showers. Just what the cycle tourist needs!
We battled on to Yazd and the ‘Silk Road Hotel’ which, for the first time since Goa, supplied us conversation with, wait for it, native English speakers! Fortunately the Kiwi, Ozzie and Yank ignored our wide eyed gabbling and accepted us into their merry fold. We’ve chatted with some fantastically fluent English speakers along the way, but there’s nothing quite like your mother tongue and some shared culture after a while on the road!
I dragged my sorry ass into a seatbelt for another 10 hour drive. This time it felt a bit more worthwhile, the ancient sites of Pasargadae, Persepolis and Naqsh-e-Rostam were definitely worth the trip if you like looking at ‘old stuff’. At around 2,500 years old they certainly class as ‘old’ yet some of the carvings at the grand Persepolis palace look so fresh it sometimes seemed as if the workmen had just downed tools for a tea break. In contrast, the old city of Yazd is beautiful in its simplicity: mud walls, narrow alleys and arches, it feels medieval but a whole lot cleaner. Of course, this being Iran, there are also several striking mosques, all adorned with the most intricate and extensive patterns in my favourite shades of blue.
We just about dragged ourselves from the cosy comforts of Yazd through dramatic desert. Sadly, we pedalled past these unique campsites and kept on plugging to pitch camp outside some grotty town. You never know what you’re gonna get! Closing in on Esfahan we hit our first major hill climb, and one sweeeet downhill, marred only by the rain. Farzad and family, our couchsurfing hosts, were exceptionally tolerant of our filthy state and, as ever, plied us with all the tasty goodies and interesting chats we had the appetite to manage.
Esfahan is renowned for its architecture, and rightly so, if the visa were easier it would be up there on the list with Athens and Rome. The palaces and mosques are beautifully decorative, spacious and peaceful. Even better, the Iranians love their gardens (and so do I!), so there are ponds, fountains and comically manicured hedges around many corners.
Back on the road again Pete had convinced me we should make a detour to an Iranian ‘ski resort’. I was full of enthusiasm for the skiing, just not so much for pedalling up the mountains that would come with them. After day 1, I was no more convinced as brutal headwinds reduced us to walking up one particularly miserable pass. We survived a chilly night wearing literally every item of clothing we owned. Including the waterproofs! I hope that Iceland Air thief is toasty in our down sleeping bags! By day 2 the wind dropped, the sun shone and the snow glistened. I was actually kind of enjoying myself!
Arriving in Chelgerd in the snow we headed for the nearest hotel. $60 and 4 stars was a bit beyond our budget so we were saddling up to find somewhere cheaper when the manager drove up. His ears pricked up when he heard I was a vet and before long we were warming up with chai, a heavily discounted hotel room, puppies and ponies. Marvellous! All I had to do was examine a post-colic horse, give some advice and dose some ponies with ludicrously oversized worm pills. Easy enough, even in my rusty state!
After a cosy sleep we layered up to hit the slopes. It took a little while to find boards and boots to fit, and bindings to last more than 3 turns (an impossible task!), but it was worth it for some cruisey runs down the soft stuff. The ‘resort’ consists of an 800m long button drag lift. The 50% of the time that it’s working that is, oh and don’t forget it stops for prayer time. We resisted our sibling racing habits to minimise the risks of winding up in hospital with a stupid injury. Nothing I could do about the button rope snapping in my hands and dumping me on my arse though. Fortunately nothing broken, just one less button at Chelgerd. Oops! With all this, we spent a bit longer on the slope than planned, so threw some of Pete’s ‘professional hotel photography’ into the deal and scored a second night’s comfortable snoozing.
The following morning our anticipated early start after breakfast with the regional governor (!) was delayed as he never showed up. Ah well, we got on the road for a beautiful day’s riding through the mountains. It was one of those classic cycle touring days. We enjoyed a free picnic lunch by the river after the local shopkeeper refused our money for bread and goodies. Afternoon cookies were pressed into my hand by a passing driver, whilst still cycling! Then, when my gears started crunching we made a stop for water and tweaking at an isolated truck stop. They offered us their prayer room for the night, which with snow on the ground and a bitter wind blowing was a considerable blessing!
While Pete fiddled with the bike I tried to ask if it was ok to cook in our prayer/sleeping room or if I should cook outside. I failed miserably to overcome the language barrier but was visited by various men bringing a gas cylinder, oil, frying pan, salt and of course tea. Eventually I decided this meant it was ok to cook in the prayer room!
Geek facts of the week:
I’m sure you’re missing ‘recipe of the week’ but I am so happy to be bringing you these pointless stats again after the break!
total km cycled so far: 3560
km cycled this week: 930 (ok so it was 2 weeks, but only 8 days on the bike)
Max speed=60.1km/hr Yeehaaaa!