A sandstorm and Iranian hospitality | Cycling Persia week 2

A sandstorm and Iranian hospitality | Cycling Persia week 2

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One week ago we entered the Eastern Azerbaijan province  of Iran and reached the city of carpets, Tabriz.  This country is slightly confusing,  they even live in a different year!  In the Islamic Republic they somehow do  not count the years since Jesus' birth.  For a brief period before the Iranian Revolution  they even advanced into the 26th century,  but then the supreme leader decided to go back to  the future and now they write the 15th century,   which in some way might be more fitting. Contrary to popular perception in the western world, the Iranians we met so far have been  exceptionally friendly, welcoming and inviting. Let’s hope this doesn’t change in  week two of bike touring Persia,  which until now has been a  wonderful explosion for our senses.  Also it seems like almost everyone  is at least a multi millionaire,   but they just don’t get the concept of value for  money, so everything is obscenely overpriced.

We are leaving Tabriz. We  stayed here the last three days.  This was one of the cheapest options with a  private room and a private bathroom for 400 Toman per night, which is about 4 million Rial, so roughly 8€ or 7,5€ per night. Granted, if this place has seen better days,  that must have been quite some time ago.  However, planning to spend 3 months in the country, we need to be  thoughtful with our finite amount of cash. Foreign credit cards do not work in Iran, so running out of money before leaving the country is a concern.  To stay on a low budget we  want to camp whenever possible,   but soon enough we will learn that this is  much harder to do in Iran than we imagined.

I was wondering why the roads  have been so quiet this morning,  then I remembered that it’s friday and  that's equivalent to sunday in Iran. We’ve decided on a rough route.  We’ll go through Kurdistan,  which is much more mountainous, but likely to be  way more beautiful than the main road to Tehran. We’re heading south / south east, towards massive  lake Urmia, or at least that’s what we thought. After roughly 75 kms of fighting our way through a mostly dry and barren landscape we just want to put our tent down.  It's been a hot day with steady  headwind slowing us down considerably. 

While looking for a place for our  tent the wind is picking up a notch. Wow, this looks surreal! Last night we slept in this old stone quarry. I’m pretty sure it’s not being used anymore.  There is no equipment anywhere. We’re close to lake Urmia and that’s why we got into a little sandstorm in the evening.

It was very very windy. So we put our tent here in this little corner to not fly away.  Today we will continue to Bonab and I think tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we will leave this Azerbaijan region and get into Iranian Kurdistan or Eastern Kurdistan. So, how was that violent sandstorm connected to lake Urmia?  What used to be the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth-largest saltwater lake on Earth has shrunk to just 10% of its former size due to climate change, persistent drought, as well as the overuse of its inlets and groundwater.  Since 2018 a river has been partially diverted,  slowly refilling the salty desert with water. By the way we fixed our broken tent pole. We made this …  It’s a piece of steel pipe a little  bigger in diameter than the tent poles. 

Slide that over the crack, hold it in  place with tape, and now it’s fine again. We’ve had more comfortable nights,  but at least it has been memorable. We were on the road just for two kms  and met these two lads from Tabriz.  Who would have thought that  we’ll meet cyclists from Iran. 

They are from Tabriz and are going on a  little tour here, fully packed at his age.  I hope I will do that at his age as well. There is no correlation between my  belly and the speed on the climb…  Or is there? Please tell me “no”! Assad is brewing coffee with his hands. This is insane.

He already prepared two coffees for us. He has hot water in his can. He puts some coffee inside and then he presses it. There you have it...coffee! Thanks! Assad and Ahmad ride at a fast  pace and we struggle to keep up. 

They want to show us a famous kebab  restaurant in Bonab, the next city. What you do with the kebab is that you  sprinkle it with lemon, then there are onions…  Mash it all up apparently and eat it with bread. By the way, this is beef kebab… Assad shows us how to do it.

Assad from Tabriz. *in German* Ahmad from Tabriz. *in German* Assad and Ahmad from Tabriz. So I’ll dig in too. We’re very hungry.  We didn’t have breakfast, because we met these two gentlemen on the road and it was so fun to ride with them.

Now we are here in the best kebab place in Bonab. Bon Appetit! Goodbye. *in Farsi  Bye! Goodbye, dear. *in Farsi

The traditional kebab was excellent. They also did not allow us to pay the bill.  The two are now heading north to a  village where one of them owns a house.  They invited us to stay, but we  did not feel like a 40 km detour,   so we continue southeast, pushing  against the headwind again. It’s a very windy and dusty day. The last two days have been exhausting. We are tired and want to find a place for our tent as soon as possible.  Unfortunately the gas station is not suitable.

Now this is brilliant. It is very windy.  We were looking for a place to camp. We asked at the gas station.  They told us to go 10kms over that hill. There is a city and we can park in the city park.  That’s not so good, we are a bit tired. So, we saw this field.  There are some trees, and we thought  it might be good behind the trees. 

There was a man working in the fields. He immediately waved at us, and now he is allowing us to camp in his little hut here. This is perfect, because then the wind is no problem, right?! So Iran, week two, again amazing! Fantastic! Goodbye! *in Farsi We slept well in Mustafa’s little hut.  Just when we were about to leave he and  his farmer neighbours arrived to work, so we could say goodbye. That was amazing. And now… back on the road! The vast majority of the farmland seems to be irrigated   by gasoline powered pumps of ancient appearance. They chug along all over the place 24 hours a day. 

This might be one result of the heavily subsidised fuel price of barely 3 cents US a litre, which is less than bottled water. We’ve just got a watermelon and  a packet of crisps as a gift.  It’s very dangerous, when we stop somewhere. People will give us things immediately. 

Now we are looking for a place to have breakfast. But in any case we have a watermelon, right?  Amazing! So she got an omelette and I  got minced meat with tomatoes.  Charchadeh … With meat? The name is “Charchadeh”.

And this is omelette. After this hearty brunch it’s  an easy ride to the next city,   where we are invited by a warmshowers host. Welcome to Miandoab, today’s target.

We stopped to tak e a picture of the little mosque behind us and almost overlooked the true sight of this place.  It’s a little bit loud here,  the trucks and everything…  So look at this… This is amazing!  Everyone is saying hello to us, honking… We arrived in Miandoab yesterday and  were hosted by Sayad and his friend Hadi.  How are you? Thank you very much for hosting us here. You are welcome! Before you were strangers, but now you are my friends. Yes!  This is just one example of  how great the people here are.  Goodbye! All the best! Thank you so much!  Bye bye! Goodbye Miandoab. *in Farsi

Off to Bukan we go, to Kurdistan.  Another language, we don’t understand. During the last 3 millennia Persian empire dominated a vast part of the near east. As a result modern day Iran is a multiethnic state. We are excited in the anticipation of the cultural shifts this might bring. After all, experiencing and trying to understand different cultures is one of our major motivations.

Miandoab has an Azeri Turkic speaking population,  which is the biggest minority in Iran.  In the next city people already speak Kurdish, the second largest minority group. However, all schools, universities and government related communications have to be in Persian (Farsi) in all of Iran. Hello! Everyone wants to invite us for some tea. If we would accept all offers, we wouldn’t go anywhere. Thanks a lot! Goodbye! *in Farsi German! *in Farsi Germany! Iran is good! *in Farsi Very good! *in Farsi We kind of got used to being greeted  on the road, especially so in Iran. 

Still, it feels like people are becoming  even more welcoming and hospitable.  Naturally there are regional variations. For example: it appears to us that there is a strong negative correlation with the amount of travellers on fully loaded bicycles people get to see. 

Now, there aren’t many foreigners,  least of all westerners, around here. Actually we haven't noticed a single   one since we entered Iran, so here in the countryside we are a curiosity.  It is wonderful to see how excited they are  that we cycled so far to where they live.  There is little worth visiting around here,  except probably the most worthwhile for us:  genuine people unspoiled by mass tourism.  Of course there are also strong historical and  cultural components to how locals respond to us.   In Iran that might also be connected  to the history of the ancient Silk Road. 

So, hosting guests from very distant  parts of the world has a long tradition.  Last, but certainly not least,  religion is another important factor.  Hospitality is a virtue that lies at the  very basis of the Islamic ethical system,   a concept rooted in the pre-Islamic Bedouin virtues of welcome and generosity in the harsh desert environment.  

Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “There is no good in the one who is not hospitable.” Doing well? Hello! How are you? Doing well? Would you drink tea? Where are you from? Germany. *in Farsi  Tea? Ok!  You have tea here? Yes.

So, you take this sugar.  It’s different from the sugar we know. You put it in your mouth and you keep it. Very hot tea. And you still have it… What is your name? Mathias, Arev… you?  Hussein, Ahmad? Your name.   Ali, Hussein, Mustafa? Rustam… Rustam Sayyadi.

Rustam Sayyadi. From Bukan?  I drive from Bonab to Bukan. Goodbye! Goodbye! Several tea invitations and getting stopped on the road a couple of times   slowed us down considerably, but it is also wonderful! We just met these nice guys. They are Kurdish from Bukan. 

Jurmanji Kurdish. They are teaching us the first words in Kurdish to say  “hello and thanks”, which is amazing. Thank you! *in Kurdish Hello! *in Kurdish We immediately start using our  newly acquired language skills.  The Kurdish spoken in this part of  Iran is Sorani, or Central Kurdish.  It is very different from  Kurmanji or Northern Kurdish,   which is predominantly spoken in southeast Turkey. 

Jumanji however is a 1995 American  fantasy comedy adventure film.  The story centres on a supernatural board game  that releases jungle-based hazards on its players.  In case you have already binged all episodes  of our Amazing World Bike Tour, go ahead and watch Jumanji, but rest assured, it has  zero connection to the Kurdish language family. We are getting closer to Bukan,  the first big Kurdish city.

Zamyad 2.4, basically a Nissan heavy duty pickup truck.    The workhorse of the Iranian economy it seems. It’s early afternoon, we're a  little tired and quite hungry.  We’ve had plenty of tea and  loads of sugar but no lunch. 

Around that time of the day we often also start thinking about where we might end up for the night.  When we stop on the side of the road to orient ourselves,    things start happening fast and suddenly we even get a phone call. Hello. Yes... All is well, dear! Sayad’s older brother has an  apartment in this town and he said yesterday when we make it to Bukan  we can stay one night in his apartment. 

Someone called me speaking German. He’s a German teacher from this city   and now they're trying to find  a way to get us to the place. Actually I got a bit confused there. Oh, in Saqqez, I see… But I think we will reach Saqqez only tomorrow. *speaking German While I make plans with the German teacher via phone a little crowd gathers chatting with Arev at the same time.

“Kelaneh” is Kurdish bread we  often eat for breakfast and lunch. He wants to invite you both to his home. He wants to make Kurdish food for you.  Thank you!  He is serious. He is serious? Thank you!  Do you accept his offer?  I will speak to him and then  we will decide together. 

Is he the boss? We are equal. We finally figured it out. We are going to Saqqez. Now we’ll look for something to eat in the city centre.

Bye-bye. As Mathias already accepted the invitation of the German teacher from the next city  we only have time for a quick bite. The big crowd is gone, but we just  found Mohammad in the city centre. 

There he is. We’ll go and try to find Kurdish food somewhere.   He is in this taxi. Let’s go. As it’s way past lunchtime proper  restaurants are already closed,   but Mohammad finds this  local take-away shop for us. Very nice and local place. It seems like he has to convince the ladies that we’re not looking for a lavish meal, but a simple snack. 

Eating in their kitchen is  actually perfectly good for us. They call it “pirazhki”, which is funny because it sounds like the Russian “pirozhki”. So, its dough, almost crispy, filled with mushrooms, I think there is sausage… All sorts of tasty stuff.  Thank you! What is this?  Tokleo (yoghurt soup). And this one is Kofta (meatball).

Mathias, what’s going on? We are trying now to get to Saqqez. But why are we taking the car  to Saqqez, we could cycle.  Well… because they wanted to invite us today  and we are too tired to cycle that distance.  So he said we’ll do it with the car. Welcome to our place! *in German I wish you a pleasant stay. So, let’s go… It would be a massive understatement  to say that I was fairly sceptical   about putting our two bicycles  in the trunk of a Peugeot Pars.

Now a miracle has to happen. However, as it turns out, they  don’t need to fit inside entirely. Magic happened. The bicycles are in the car. Now let’s see how we get to Saqqez. Unbelievable! These people are unbelievable. We could have stayed in Sayad’s brothers apartment  in Bukan or take Mohammad’s spontaneous offer. 

But as it turns out Sharam,  the German teacher from Saqqez,   had gotten our phone number  from another warmshowers host.  He won me over on the phone with his well-chosen,  formal and almost accent-free German. Pay attention to it! Attention: one, two, three, for, five... One more time! Wait. One, two, three, for, ...oh, God! Hats off! That was great! Okay...one, two, three, for, five...

Tomorrow we are going to a Kurdish wedding and now we are training how to dance Kurdish dances,    which is a lot of “shoulders”. It has very complicated footwork and you need to move the shoulders as well. Well done! Join us again next time, when we continue our epic journey and explore all things Kurdistan.   There won’t be much cycling, but  we certainly compensate for the physical part! A massive thanks to our amazing  contributors on buymeacoffee.com 

especially to Penny & Barry, Guy and Jim who  have been supporting us for over a year now!  Producing this kind of long format travel  documentary takes ridiculous amounts of time,   effort, money, and of course coffee! We love taking you with us, and every single contribution helps us to get another episode out. Via buymeacoffee.com/aworldbiketour you can top  up our budget for more coffee, desperately needed   equipment, food and accommodation supporting  our independently produced niche content.  By supporting us on a monthly basis you can  get your name in the list of contributors,   early access to our latest episodes,  postcards from far away countries and more. 

Since recently you can even send all your  money to paypal.me/amazingworldbiketour  I’m not saying you should, but you could! Links are in the description below. In the meantime you can also  watch how we ended up here,  by clicking on our full playlist from our first   pedal strokes all the way to  Iran and hopefully far beyond! In any case hit the like button and leave a  comment. We and Youtube absolutely love them. 

All this helps tremendously in  getting our project sustainable.  Until next time, and may the wind be in your back!

2024-05-25 11:14

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