I woke up feeling really low today. All the initial excitement of making it to Iran has melted under the baking sun.
With temperatures easily reaching 40C, riding on the highway with no shade is pretty challenging. Being wrapped like a Christmas present – hijab, long trousers and a vest – stops me from enjoying the tiny bit of breeze coming from the lorries passing at high speed just next to us on the road.
We have been cycling for a couple of days through gently rolling hills, surrounded on each side by mountains coloured of beautiful shades of gold. Whoever said that Iran is colourless obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. The roads are large, and drivers give you enough space not to be worried of being on the motorway.
Everybody is cheering at us, horning and shouting “Hello! Salam! Welcome to Iran!” and I am pretty sure now I know how it must feel riding the Tour de France as a GC contender. The most curious will pull over to offer literally anything they have. Going through remote little villages and stopping to fill up the water is never unaccompanied by tea offered by the locals. We even had someone coming over with bags of food to take with us, solving the issue of finding a place to stock up for dinner.
The generosity and absolute lack of maliciousness is overwhelming.
I left London being completely disillusioned about human beings and learnt to take everything with a good pinch of cynicism, knowing for a fact that no one can look after you but yourself and that trusting anybody it’s often accompanied by regrets. But Ross once said that this journey of ours would have helped me break down the icy wall I have managed to build around me.
And, I must admit, I do feel the wall melting down. I am like Antarctica at the time of global warming. I wonder if the heat plays its part, but the kindness of Iranian people…well, that definitely goes a much longer way.
On the way to Marand, we met Denis, the first cyclist on the Iranian leg of the journey. He was as glad as we were to bump into each other, finally having the chance to communicate with someone beyond the very basic English and the embarrassed smiles making up for the language barrier.
With so many wild camping opportunities, the ever-attentive Iranian hospitality, the guys of the Red Crescent ready to offer a shower (and a tea, of course!) and the legality of placing our tent in any city park made our daily schedule more relaxed. We would not starve, we would not get lost, we would have a safe place where to sleep. And that is all it mattered.
After nearly a week on the road, we finally reached Tabriz. We were already expecting a bigger city but no one prepared us for the chaos ahead. We have heard cyclists complaining many times about the crazy ride into Istanbul and, having partly experienced that on our own skin/wheels, we thought no traffic could be worse than that. It obviously turned out we were wrong. Complete anarchy overwhelmed us.
The free communal campground in Tabriz – with the fluffiest grass I have ever seen! – was just about perfect to recollect ourselves, do some bike maintenance and washing the dusty/sweaty clothes. Hamed, the founder of this lovely oasis for the travellers, came by to say hi. We had dinner together, and the insight he gave us of the country made us feel much more relaxed about Iranian customs and traditions.
We decided to stay a few more days to let everything that happened during this week sink in. The change is palpable, and acclimatisation was much needed.
After three days in Tabriz we collected our belongings, we took a big breath, and we got back on our bikes.
Ahead lied the road to Tehran.