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Sirjan, December 1st 1998

Hi There!

Today I wore a jacket all day for the first time. The wind on the high plain which I crossed today was pretty raw. On an attitude of about 1500 meters (4500 ft) a wind like that can make it pretty cold. But compared to the heat in the desert... But let me catch up where I left you. Dogubayazit. Jeez that's a long time ago! I was still riding with Stefan. The 60 km ride from Dogubayazit to Maku (the latter one in Iran) took us two days. We wanted to be early in the morning at the border, so late afternoon we left the campsite. Downhill we waited for some rain; the first I've seen since Ankara. That night we camped near a Kurdic village with a fantastic view over the Ararat mountains. The sun in the morning made the fresh fallen snow glow beautifully. Next morning we got indeed early to the border. This border has the worst reputation between Europe and India, so we had been joking about customs: "And these are my dirty socks, and here's a worn T-shirt." Will the border live up its reputation?

At the Turkish side of the border we have to wait 40 minutes for an exit stamp. A good start is half the work, Stefan reminds me. In the little marble room named No Mans Land on opposite sides on the wall are pictures of Ataturk and Khomeiny. The Iranian side also has a clock, brand Tik-Tak. For a change I am allowed to fix a flat but that makes waiting for an exit stamp less boring. Once in the proud possession of such wealth we head back outside. Was that it? No, there's still the luguage guys. Stefan first. After a little chat with the guy, he goes through - without opening his bags. My turn.
"Do you have guns or drugs?" I regard that as a pretty stupid question; the only way for him to know is to look.
So with a smile I reply "No."
"Do you have beer, whisky or other alcohol?"
With a slightly bigger smile I reply again: "No."
"Do you have porn videos?"
Close to laughing I again answer "No."
Then the bloke asks me: "Why?"

Without any other stupid questions am I ushered outside and Iran is open for us. Iran, when you tell people 'I'm going there', everybody frowns a little. Iran, the country from which every traveler reappears very enthusiastically. Will it be as good as they say? With these and more thoughts we remount our bicycles and head for Maku. I'm faster on my M5 recumbent than Stefan on his sit-up bike. At the sign 'Maku 5km' I wait for him and together we roll into town. The road first goes through a gorge, in which the outskirts of town are built. The centre is built in a wider part of the gorge.

After Maku I'm on my own again. Stefan only has a five day visa so he hurries on by bus to Esfahan. The Embassy guy in Ankara must have loved me, I'm allowed to stay 30 days so I plan to see everything in between too. Well, that's what I thought. Until Gareh Kelisa everything is fine. Gareh Kelisa is an Armenian church high up in the mountains behind Maku. I sleep with the guard of this church (remember, Iran is a Muslim state!) but to the next town with a hotel it's 164 km. Rough camping is illegal in Iran, and I first want to get to know the people/police a bit before I take that chance. 164 km however is too far for my rear wheel. 2 spokes give up. Because of my qualities as spokes repair man I decide to consult the local bike mechanic. He tries hard, with all the love of Allag, but destroys everything. Another 60 kms to Tabriz is all I dare try with it. In Tabriz I really try to get to know something about the local life of the Iranians. Also I practice the language, which makes it easier to come close to the locals. Customs aren't always the easiest thing! The other day I bought a fresh made apple juice. When I was supposed to pay, the guy in the shop told me that it was a present. Next day I came again, and he was angry that I hadn't paid! What is the case in this country: When you get something it is polite to refuse twice before you take it; even when you own a business and it's about money! My Lonely Planet said the same thing; I had read it. But stil l it was surprising!

In Tabriz I meet two fellow cyclists: John (USA) and Wim (Dutch). But because I couldn't find a trustworthy bike mechanic I had sent my bike ahead by train to Tehran. So we decide to meet again in Esfahan in 12 days. Later that day Wim and I do find a trustworthy bike mechanic and I hate myself for sending my bike away. But that's the way life is. Shortly after I head for the train myself. The night train from Tabriz to Tehran stops at sunset for the evening prayer. For a few minutes I'm the only male on board the train. At about half six in the morning the train arrives. 10 hours first class sleeper for just over a US$.

Although everything is cheap in Iran - it's the cheapest country I've been to - I don't want to pay for a room for only two hours. So I wait with all my luggage at the station until I can pick up my bicycle. Tehran is not particularly the city I would advise to tourists. For one thing: the air pollution is terrible! But it is also relatively expensive, an there are quite a few people who seriously try to cheat you. It would be too much honour to say more. From Tehran I head south, over the edge of the desert. I haven't cycled for a while, so it takes some getting used to. For the 140 kms to Qom I need two days. Just outside Tehran I visit the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeiny, which was quite disappointing for me. Especially after seeing the mausoleum of Fatime in Qom. Non-Muslims are not supposed to go in there, but I heard that only afterwards. The inside is superb. It's made of mirror mosaic; 100s of tiny mirrors in slightly different angles reflecting you 100s of times as you enter. Qom is (in)famous in Iran for being the hardcore of the religion; it was here where Ayatholla Khomeiny studied the Qur'an. Nowadays however it is the town full of the scum of all Iran. Iran has one of the most friendly populations of all the planet, except for most people in Qom. The treated me nice, but when the think they have a chance, they try to steal everything they can!

Because of the beauty of Qom, Esfahan is slightly disappointing initially. Especially when John and Wim happen to have left three hours before I arrived. The day I arrived however I did cycle a speed record: 110 km in less than 3 hours. After a few days however I start to really like Esfahan. It is The touristy town of Iran, and therefore made beautiful, but not very impressive compared to Qom, but I feel a bit like I felt in Istanbul. Also here I encounter many fellow travelers, who all have gone crazy because of the carpet sales men. It is not as oppressive as in Turkey, but the following invitation is quite common: "Hello sir, have a cup of tea, while I try to sell you a carpet." Some of the best friends I've made so far this trip are the people in NOMAD Carpet shop. On a spot at the Emam square where you can't miss it is this wonderful shop. I can hardly call it a shop. It is a meeting/information point for travelers. They serve tea and talk. If you want to buy a carpet you'd have to ask for it; they won't unasked start showing this. I hate to say goodbye to these people, but my visa is running out so I have to.

On the road to Shiraz. Through the mountains via Semiran and Yasuj. The area is of rare beauty: rough nature, water(fall)rich area and very, very steep roads. Mother Earth has done her best on this part of Iran. But it is, I'd have to say, too heavy for me. It really isn't fun anymore. This is my day: One and a half hour walking up hill and then brakes on full down hill for ten minutes and then again uphill. Once my front rim gets so hot that I get a flat: the front tire melted. Mother Earth won; the last 75 km's I hitchhike to Yasuj with a truck. All those mountains has one advantage: and that is that the hills I thought of as steep/big mountains before Esfahan I now regard as what they are, just hills.

Quetta, December 19th 1998

Hi There!

Shiraz is one of the most famous cities in Iran. First of all for its wines, which are not made here anymore. Secondly, near Shiraz there's the former capital of the Perzian Empire, Persepolis. Also to Persepolis I pay a visit, but it is less impressive than expected. Well, it was built over 2500 years ago, so what's left of it is still impressive, but I've seen better looking ancient constructions.

From Shiraz, the country I travel through is fairly flat, so my second last day plan to Kerman of 140 km's works out. Well, the plan was to make it the third last day, but the next day there is no hotel in my destination town. By now I have the guts to go rough camping, and the people in this town are a little too interested in having me stay over for the night. So I keep cycling, looking for a nice spot to camp. But nothing satisfies me, so I keep going... and I keep going and going and going... And then suddenly I drop a few hundred meters down into a valley, and before I it the sun is down. I don't have a light on my bicycle, but the last road sign I could read before darkness took it said it was another 10 km's to Kerman. So I keep peddling, and this day I put my distance record on 182 kms.

After this two-days-320-km stunt before Kerman, I haven't cycled a lot, until now.

What happened? I wanted to do quite a few more things in Iran, but because of my Pakistani visa I have only got a week left in this wonderful country. One of the things I still wanted to do was pick up my mail that was sent to Yazd. For that I traveled a day (return) to find a man in a post office who was to lazy to even check if my mail was there! So without any letters I returned to Kerman, where the Qur'an destroyed the rest of my plans by coming up with a national holiday. The mail that was waiting for me in the post office in Kerman, waited for me in a closed post office throughout that day as well; and the following friday (Muslim Sunday). I do not mind seeing this holiday however, because on this day I have learned more about Iran, than I have in the past 40. Everybody went out of doors, and shopkeepers were giving away chocolate milk and cake. On a day like this there's an extra high chance on a contra revolution, so there's more police then ever. Also the people representing the Department of Information are on high alert.

Perhaps you remember the Stazi-system in former Eastern Germany? In Iran it works just like that. Volunteer civilians get money from the government for giving information about possible anti-revolutionaries. And by now there must be quite many of them as 90% of the population is fed up with this government. They're just waiting for the occasion to start a contra revolution. Even for me the Information Department is annoying. Together with another 500 Iranians I witness a motorcyclist going down without a particular reason. Immediately there're 10 police officers around him. One sniffs, nods (means: drunk) and the guy is roughly deported in a police car. Immediately someone with a beard shows up in front of me asking me very persistent: "Where are you going sir!" The message was clear: I wasn't meant to see this.

I don't make it a long way on the day I leave Kerman. All day I'm climbing slowly up to a 2500 meter pass. The road isn't steep, but it seems endless. By the time the sun is about to set, I did just about 60 kms. But it's enough for me. I put up my tent and eat a little while I watch the stars in a perfect sky. Then I zip myself into my sleeping bag as it is getting cool. Next morning I unzip my bag at abou t half past six I'm surprised it's so cold. Inside my sleeping bag it was nice and warm. But outside... While pouring my tea I spoil a few drops on my sleeping bag. Instead of rolling off, or going into the material, the drops freeze; I said it was cold! After I finally make it up on the pass it's the rest of the day all downhill to Bam. 130 kms seem like nothing. The only dip in my mood is caused by the police. Halfway the steepest bit there's like always a police checkpoint. Everybody is allowed to pass. When some tea drinking officers spot me they jump up and tell me to stop. It takes quite skilled braking to come down from 60 km/h in the few meters they give me. I put on my unfriendly face. None of the officers speaks English, and smiling happily, they ask: "Farsi baladi?" (do you speak Persian?)

I do speak a little of the language, but I'm not going to make them that happy! They made me stop, so they'll have to come up with something. So when they ask me if I speak Farsi (Iranian) I answer: "Sorry, do you speak some English?"
Them: "No... No..." And somewhat later: "As Kodzja?" (From where?), but I look not-understanding.
Suddenly one of the officers remembers his best English and asks: "Made in country?"
I find that quite a strange way of asking, but I've heard it before. So with a big smile and with a honey sweet voice, I answer: "Oh... from Holland!"
"Ok Tank yoo mister!"
And with that I can go. The Iranian police aren't my friends, but they can be funny.

On to Bam. Bam is an oasis in a very weird desert: Black sand and black mountains. In all this blackness, Bam is green and brown. Green for the world-famous dates they grow here, brown for the not so famous ruin. However with this I hope to contribute to Arg-e Bam's fame. It is fantastic. The former city of Bam was entirely built out of clay and straw, the traditional way of building in the desert. For hours one can wonder in this deserted town and find 100s of very photogenic spots. From Bam I had the plan to take a bus to the border, because my Pakistani visa was running out. From the day I got it I had three months to enter the country... On my way to Arg-e Bam from Ali Amiri's Guest House I meet two Dutch people who are traveling by campervan to India. Their dog Jippy has a hard time in Iran. A dog is an unclean animal for the Islam, and Kees and Mitchy are busy all day to prevent Jip from being kicked. With them I hitch hike to the border, and because they're nice people I continue with them through the first 700 kms of Pakistani desert to Quetta. That desert is quite infamous for its Afghani drug transports, and for its lawless inhabitants. So together it seems safer than alone...