In at the deep end

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

October 27, 2008

‘I think… I think… It was a cat’ I replied, tenatively prodding the gelatinous lump on my plate that seemed to be staring at me eyelessly.
‘Don’t think about it, just eat it’ Ben said firmly.
I’d met Ben and his brother Sascha almost immediately after crossing the border into Iran, as they were simply passing through the town I’d holed up in when they saw my bike and came to investigate.

The first meal we all had in Iran wasn’t exactly appetising, none of us spoke any farsi so we simply communicated ‘Whatever you have’ to the restauranteer and sat down at our table.
We really wished we hadn’t…
Unless of course anybody is able to enlighten me as to a domesticated (and edible) animal with vertebrae approximately 3/4 inch in length…

Ben and Sascha were driving from Germany to the UAE where Ben was working, and wow what a schedule!
They’d got from Germany to Iran in 11 days and were due to get to Bandar-e-Bas (south of Iran) to catch a boat a week after I met them next to Turkey.

The next day the three of us took the roundabout route to Tabriz, going via the Azerbaijani border.

By and large the scenery so far in Iran was much similar to Turkey, so I didn’t bother taking many photos.

Many dusty and warm (in comparison to Turkey anyway!) hours later we stopped for our first petrol fill-up with our new Iranian petrol cards.
We zipped to the front of the queue (being the arrogant tourists we were!), which was surprisingly long for a country that extracts and refines its own oil, and I was selected to try and figure out the pump.

Simple enough, put the card in, wait, start pumping.
Wait.. 14 litres.. surely no—
“Holy shit!”
Err yeah, lesson one, not all Iranian fuel pumps have auto-shut-off switches…
Drenched in fuel I sheepishly pushed my bike to one side and let Ben and Sascha fill up, with somewhat less embarassing results.

Tabriz is a big place, and despite more road-signs in English than we’d expected, we still fail to find the centre of town.
At one point we tried to do a u-turn (which involved slowing down in the fast lane) which nearly got Ben killed as the car behind him screeched in a cloud of tyre smoke to a halt mere inches from his rear wheel.

Eventually we stopped by the side of the road and Ben wandered off to ask about a hotel and came back with a friendly Iranian chap to give us directions.
At about this point a lady came up to us and asked in English.
‘Are you looking for a hotel?’
‘Yes, do you know of one?’
‘No no no, you should come and stay with my family!’
After the traditional three-time-mock-denial we followed her at a walking pace back to her home.
It must have made quite a sight, three heavily-laden bikes, larger than anything allowed in Iran, following a lady at a walking pace down the highstreet.

As it turned out the entire family, of which our saviour was the mother, spoke wonderful English, and their hospitality surpassed anything we could have expected.
In researching my trip, I’d read many times that people are always surprised by how incredibly friendly and generous people in Iran are, and good god I have not been dissapointed.
I honestly think you would have to rugby tackle an Iranian to stop him from paying for a meal at a restaurant, I always offer three times (at least!) but they always refuse and almost seem insulted! Pushing my wallet back into my pocket and frowning at me.

As I’d was suffering a recurrance of a dodgy stomached I’d contracted from unpasturised milk in the last few days before I left Turkey, I was more than glad to accept their hospitality and slept for most of the next two days.

In between my mammoth sleeps I said goodbye to Ben and Sascha, who had to continue pell-mell south through Iran, and spoke at length about England and Iran with my hosts.

As it turns out Iran is a much more ‘liberal’ country than I’d expected.
Having lived in Saudi, the women dressed in black Abyahs (not sure what the Farsi word is for the shawl) and headscarves came as no surprise, but what was shocking was the beauty the women could convey through their faces alone.
I don’t know whether Iranian women are unnaturally blessed with beautiful eyes or whether their dress simply focuses the mind, but call me crazy I could almost start to think dressing in this manner a good idea!

Western music is technically banned in Iran, but you’ll hear it played openly in taxis, and blaring out the windows of ‘the kids’ cars, and if you turn on PersiaTV, an Iranian Music channel, you will see scantily clad ladies (comparable to music videos in the west) singing the latest Iranian pop music, which sounds indistinguishable from western pop music barring being in Farsi.

At the same time of course, there’s a lot of opression going on, for example I’ve been told that a woman riding a bicycle down the street in Tabriz would likely be stopped and warned by the police for ‘Abnormal Behaviour’.

Having spent two days with my faultless hosts in Tabriz, I journeyed on by their reccomendation to Orumiyeh, a city next to the second saltiest lake in the world.
A bridge is currently under construction over this lake, but as it’s only about 20% completed I opted to take the ferry.
On this ferry I met Professor Mohammadi, a lecturer and researcher of Animal Genetics at the university of Ahvaz, who invited me to stay at his home for a few days.
‘Sounds excellent! I’ll see you in three days time!’ I said, thinking to myself
‘How far can the south coast be?’
1,300KM that’s how far!

Orumiyeh didn’t fulfill my expectations of a lakeside town, and I embarassingly spent my entire time there without actually going down to visit the lake.

I had to continue my journey south through the mountains.

A water trough in the middle of the mountains trickled softly as I stopped and ate my bounty of fresh dates (which since discovering I’ve been eating by the kilo)

It’s not all mountains round there!

A local bus thunders past, unfortunately I haven’t got any photos of the beautiful bright-blue pickups that are so common around these parts.

A photo of my home made radiator guard made from 25cm of free chicken-wire!

I’ll post the rest tomorrow or soon after I think! My heart’s not in blogging today ;)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

  • Steh the belgian biker

    Hi Sam. I heard from Wes your motorbike was stolen. I thought it was a joke. But it seems you found it again after a few hours. What happens ? Iran gives me the desire to cross the border for seeing this superb country and very friendly finally …. I follow your trip. Exciting! take care. Bye


  • James hunt

    Bike stolen?

    Do tell!

    Glad to hear you’re getting on ok otherwise still, haven’t seen thee about on MSN for a few days.

  • James Pa

    Hiya Sam!

    Cool that you managed to get a blog up and some photos too! Shame abou the camera, I spose our next photos will be of Pakistan. See you on MSN