Iran, Part 4: “You have made it through Hell, welcome to Heaven”

Astara to Bazargan, Iran.

Number of km (from Shanghai to Bazargan, the Iran/Turkey border): 9764
Number of countries crossed: 6

“Congratulations, you made it through Hell. Welcome to Heaven,” said the cheeky looking Turkish security guard as we passed through the heavily guarded Iranian border into the land of the Turks. How refreshing to find someone with a sense of humour, we thought. We, like so many people around the world, used to share his view, before spending almost a month in Iran. In any case, it was a relief to finally be able to laugh about where we were without worrying about causing offence.

Heaven and Hell or Hell and Heaven?

Heaven and Hell or Hell and Heaven?

The last leg in Iran was from the famous Persian rug city of Tabriz. Unfortunately we arrived on a Friday, the holy day for muslims and therefore all the rug shops were closed. The bazaar however was very much alive and being the largest covered bazaar in the world (the one in LA is apparently modelled on this though we suspect the goods being sold are somewhat different!) we were fortunate to have some very friendly local guides. We had been approached the night before by a friendly academic who had heard we were in town and came to offer his services to show us around. We were quite tired after not having a day off for over two weeks but Mahdi insisted on showing us as much as we could take before heading off for a post-lunch nap. He represented so many of the other people we had met on our journey through this amazing country – genuine kindness and willingness to go out of their way to help complete strangers; highly educated yet frustrated by the lack of professional opportunity in his country; extremely interested the world outside Iran, not naive at all, just engaged.

Matthieu and Akbar: the man, the legend. Akbar has met every single cyclist that has passed by Marand in the past 3 years. You simply cannot escape him. But since he meets you with a fruit juice box and he's an all-round nice guy, why would you try?

Matthieu and Akbar: the man, the legend. Akbar has met every single cyclist that has passed by Marand in the past 3 years. You simply cannot escape him. But since he meets you with a fruit juice box and he’s an all-round nice guy, why would you try?

The biggest Tabriz bazaar in the world

The biggest Tabriz bazaar in the world

Abdul "The Butcher" Mohammed assured us that the liver was from an animal not leftovers from the hospital next door

Abdul “The Butcher” Mohammed assured us that the liver was from an animal not leftovers from the hospital next door

Strangely enough, this fish restaurant in Tabriz got very different reviews in Le Guide Michelin and in The Good Food Guide

Strangely enough, this fish restaurant in Tabriz got very different reviews in Le Guide Michelin and in The Good Food Guide

It was three windy days to the border and on the last night we camped in a wonderful spot beneath an imposing rock face. As always when we camp we do a search of the area to make sure there are no hidden houses round the corner, no obvious goat trails that will be filled at dawn and of course, no bear caves in the rock. We were all clear other than a large burrow. This seemed acceptable to share our night in the vicinity of so we set about cooking up our tuna pasta. Perhaps we have become too comfortable, maybe it had just been too long without watching Bear Grylls but we made the mistake of leaving our rubbish bag right next to our tent as we settled in for the night. Barely 45 minutes later a wonderful bushy tailed Mr Fox trotted up to us with absolutely no second thought and began rummaging. The whiff of empty tuna cans was too irresistible. For us it was a wonderful moment spoiled a tad by our initial girly screaming – it could have been a wolf!

Mr Fox

Mr Fox decided there was more meat in the empty can of tuna so trotted straight past....

Mr Fox decided there was more meat in the empty can of tuna so trotted straight past….

After the initial excitement of seeing duty free on the Turkish side of the border and finally entering ‘Europe’ we reflected on our experience in Iran. There had been equal amounts of anticipation and trepidation before we entered, more than any other country thus far on the expedition and so we were expecting a lot that ended up not being quite as we thought. This is our conclusion:
1. Persian hospitality is worthy to be known as one of the best in the world though male visitors should be prepared for neck stroking, knee caressing and winking, none of which should be taken the wrong way even if it goes way beyond the usual comfort zone.

2. We met so many kind, educated people it is hard to believe that internationally Iran cannot set the example of a sensible, moderate, peace seeking nation that those within the country seem to want.

3. The litter is completely unacceptable and very sad to see because there is beauty beneath the plastic bottles – the worst part is that most of the people we met did not see anything wrong with throwing everything out their window, let alone making a stand against it.

4.  Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to not drink beer for a month – the hazy vision and shakes disappear after about 10 days but the general feeling of despair continues with each difficult moment encountered. Not having alcohol in a culture though does have many other positive effects that are most visible in the feeling of safety and social order in cities and towns – no one would even consider camping in the Bois de Boulogne or Camden Green without a full security system and a few night watchmen.

Overall, Iran was awesome though it will likely not be on the holiday list until we begin “Road of Smiles: The Return” in 2043.

The only anti-US sign we saw in Iran, rather let down by the shop 50m up the road selling NFL jerseys

The only anti-US sign we saw in Iran, rather let down by the shop 50m up the road selling NFL jerseys

Of course it's safe. There hasn't been any accident today.

Of course it’s safe. There hasn’t been any accident today.

Who said Iran was a sexist country? Women are even allowed to drive buses

Who said Iran was a sexist country? Women are even allowed to drive buses.

One of these two chaps can certainly grow a moustache...

One of these two chaps can certainly grow a moustache…

Ali's Granddaughter.jpg

Shortly after this photo was taken, the guy on the right slam dunked a 100k rial note on the counter and paid for our bill.

Shortly after this photo was taken, the guy on the right slam dunked a 100k rial note on the counter and paid for our bill.

Hello friends

7 thoughts on “Iran, Part 4: “You have made it through Hell, welcome to Heaven”

  1. I was starting to worry, as it has been a while. Love the updates – I blame you if one day I suddenly quite my job, say good bye to the wife and kids, point my dark blue btwin cruiser (with a basket in front!) and start pedaling west. Keep it going, boys, ride like you stole it!

  2. I can’t believe how far you’ve come and how amazing your photos are. It’s such an amazing adventure. I wish you guys all the best of luck, nearly there now!!!

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