Travelling by Pedalling


The Iranian jungle

Today, together with Iris and Dominik, we leave Ardabil behind and head towards the Caspian Sea. But first we have some things to arrange. We return rented shoes to the second-hand outdoor shop that we used for the climb, we arrange train tickets from Tehran to Shiraz, we exchange money and admire a spectacle of Imam Hussain’s mourning. There are plays in the street with warriors posing a war, a procession with dolls carried on stretchers with arrows in the body. People on horses who receive lashes from other people, camels and people with flags and drums.

When we have done everything we wanted to do and packed our things we say goodbye to Pouya. The man who offered us a place to sleep in his workshop and the man who helped us safely up and down Mount Sabalan, thank you Pouya! We eat something around the corner and then leave. We don’t have many miles planned. We are going to a wooded area that we have heard about from local people. We left late because we thought we would have a relaxing day, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have a strong headwind. We leave the city on a busy highway and cycle in a row of four. We can take turns on being the cyclist in front to share the heaviest load. It is stormy but a beautiful evening sky. Dark clouds on one side and a beautiful sunset on the other with Mount Sabalan in the foreground. When we arrive we look for a good spot, set up the tent, chat, wash, have a lot of fun together, eat a cookie and go to bed.

Today we will descend from 1550 meters altitude to sea level. We exchange the cool mountain air for the humid heat. The dry environment becomes densely forested mountains and green plains. First at a higher altitude it is still fresh and we cycle in the clouds with green hills around us. As we descend we feel a little more heat.

We’re taking a break. We are standing on the side of the road and want to ask at a restaurant if we can buy some bread when we are invited by a family. They are having an big breakfast at the restaurant. We can enjoy all the goodies. More food is ordered and we try to communicate with hands and feet, our best Persian and them with their best English. Some selfies are taken, they show their fur coat shop next to the restaurant and then we say goodbye again.

Only when we are all the way down do we realize why people have warned us about the heat. People have told us that we really don’t want to cycle along the Caspian Sea at this time of year. The sweat is pouring, my clothes stick to my body and the irritation feelings towards my clothes come back. I don’t want to wear long sleeves, I don’t want a hijab and I just want to be able to swim if I want to. We concede to the latter. Iris and I see a lady with clothes on in the water, so we can do that too! We ask if we use their water at a shop on the beach to wash our clothes. You can and they even offer us a shower! We go into the water what turns out to be warm, but despite that we enjoy the free feeling it gives us, then we take a cold shower and wash our clothes. That evening we sleep on the beach in our tent.

Today is a day that we have to cycle over a major road. It is one of the toughest cycling days for me. If you have read the last blog you know that I have the stomach flu. It’s not gone yet, my energy level is very low and the pain in my stomach is severe. We make slow progress with enough breaks and searches for toilets. We have decided to look for a place to sleep with amenities. We think we are going to a campsite but when we arrive it turns out to be much more than that. You pay entrance fee for the car so we can enter for free. It is a secluded part of the beach where there are shops and restaurants. It is very busy there. There are many people enjoying there holiday and day trippers who have a picnic and we see a number of tents. We look for a quiet area to set up the tent. It is special to see how people go on holiday here. That evening we can take a cold shower in the shower cabins on the beach. And while we are getting ready for bed when a herd of horses gallops up. The horses stay on the property all night to graze and gallop.

In the morning I wake up in a tent surrounded by the herd of horses. Today is one of our last cycling days in Iran. Tomorrow we will sleep in Tehran, where we leave our bikes and from there we take the train to Shiraz. Cycling from here to Tehran in two days is not possible so tomorrow we will take on the challenge of hitchhiking 370 kilometers with four people and four bicycles. Today we cycle relaxed without really wanting to get far because I can’t handle much and we accidentally end the day on someone’s land, where we can pitch our tent for a small fee. We have a toilet and shower at our disposal which is very nice for me at the moment.

Today we take up the challenge, to hitchhike around 300km. I feel tension because I have the idea that this could be very difficult. We decide not to cycle first, but to hitchhike immediately. It’s so many miles that we can’t afford to lose a lot of time. We get the first lift pretty quickly. The man wants to take all four of us with him, but that will never fit in his small pickup car. Q and I go first and Iris and Dominik stay behind. The man can’t take us very far but wants to drop us off at a good point to hitchhike further. He happens to have a friend who lives in the Netherlands but is now in Iran. He first takes us to work to meet this man. We chat a bit, drink some water and leave quickly. The next place turns out to be a difficult one because there is a intersection 40 kilometers from us. A truck stops and it goes to Tehran!! Wow we think we have already found the perfect ride but they have no room for us at all. They drive on again and we raise our hands again. In the meantime we keep in touch with Iris and Dominik. They have a to the next big city on the route. When we also find a lift to this city, we slowly start talking about giving up our hitchhiking attempt to Tehran. It’s getting late and everyone who tried to help us tells us to catch a bus. When we are dropped off at the bus station in Rasht and the man asks us a disproportionate amount for the ride, we give him some money what we think is a decent amount. At the busstation we decide to buy four bus tickets. We can relax a bit again! We are sure we will arrive in Tehran tonight.

We helped with loading the bicycles into the bus and leave. We all relax for a while because when we arrive we still have a lot of kilometers to cycle in the dark…