At the border to Iran it is very busy. Thanks to my exotic state I get a special treatment and can quickly pass. On the other side of the border I ask someone for directions to the next town. Quickly he drives ahead of me with his car all across town to the main crossing. here he explains in detail (in farsi) the route all the way to Esfahan (where I will probably be in 2 weeks). No problems to get lost anymore then...
While I cycle the first kilometers in Iran I start learning the arabic number with the help of the speed limit signs. In the evening I translate my entry stamp with that new knowledge and am quite surprised: 6.2.1384 - they use the persian calendar here!
After 20km in Iran I have already been invited for tea, had to pose for pictures and give signatures, have an accommodation offer for the night and someone gave me a soft toy. I am totally overwhelmed.
The roads here are in a fantastic state. On the other hand, there is a lot of traffic. No wonder, in a country where diesel is 10 times cheaper than coke! Furthermore the road are lawless zones. Everyone drives where and how he likes. Traffic lights are always ignored. You must always count with every possibility, for example oncoming traffic on the shoulder. A rearview mirror is not a nice thing to have, but essential to survive, if you want to see when a bus or truck comes roaring along with a blowing horn and you have to flee from the road.
From the shore of the Caspian sea, where there are lots of rice fields, the roads climbs up to 1500m. Somehow I had expected it to be only hot and dry here in Iran. So I am quite surprised when I drive from one storm to the next on the way to Hamadan.
Along the Zardkouh mountains I cycle towards Esfahan. Here always at altitudes between 1500 and 2400m, the conditions are just perfect for cycling. In the valley floor there are beautiful fields shining green and yellow and on the side great mountains, especially the 4070m high Mt. Oshturan still covered with lots of snow.
In the towns I am surprised, how often I am approached by people who speak quite good english (and plenty where "Hello mister" is just about it...). In Qazvin even by a women. Leila invites me home to her family where we spend an interesting evening together with her sisters and brothers. "In the west they think we are all terrorists, don't they" is an often asked question...
On the road there are a lot of motorbikes. If they appear, it is a good indicator, that I am approaching a town. While I cycle they drive alongside me curiously asking questions until I don't follow with my Farsi knowledge anymore. As soon as one has left, another one comes by. This goes on all the way until I have left the town. But best of all is the police that follow me in their car: I recognize them only when I hear "Hello, hello - country?" over their loudspeaker. "Swiss" I yell back, cycling at 30 km/h. Delighted they turn on their police patrol lights!
Esfahan nesf-e jahan - Esfahan is half the world
There are places, where you associate the simple name of it with pictures and that make you dream already. Esfahan is such a name for me. Esfahan, the jewel of Persia; the town of the many mosques, the bazaar and bridges. According to this, I am looking forward getting there. I am not let down. The huge cupolas of the mosques, decorated with superb tile mosaic are glittering in the sun like giant Faberge eggs. The simple but elegant architecture of the Emam mosque with the incredibly detailed tile mosaic is simply breathtaking. The giant bazaar is a covered labyrinth. Thanks to the clever placed openings in the ceiling, it is cool and bright inside. In the countless shops you can buy virtually everything. Many handicraftsman are working here too: textile printers, carper makers, smiths, painters... In between there are teahouses, green gardens and mosques.
Walking along the riverside at sunset, with a soft ice must be the most popular evening activity. I join the thousands of iranians.
From Esfahan I cycle through the Zagros mountains towards the south, to Shiraz. There are mostly dry, barren tablelands to cross, that remind me of the Altiplano with its typical grass. My evening entertainment when I camp along the road is next to reading, writing and "studying" the starry sky, my radio. Almost every evening I listen to BBC, where I hear about the terrible happenings in Usbekistan. In about 4 weeks I plan to be there (not in the Fargana valley, where the troubles happened though). I will watch the situation carefully and hope that things calm down.
On the road I often get stopped by people offering me cold drinks, fruits etc. which is sometimes almost embarrassing to me. But they are just happy to help me.
Having come to a bigger town tonight, I ask for a accommodation. There is no good hotel, but only cheap guesthouses a man answers me. That is exactly what I am looking for and so he tells me where it is. Only 500m further he stops me again. I should come to his house he offers me. Hamid is the local english teacher and I accept his invitation. His whole family spoils me for a day. At dinner (which is eaten on the floor) everyone is amused to see, that I cannot sit for longer that 15 minutes with crossed-legs to eat.
Before Shiraz I visit the 2500 year old ruins of Persepolis, the cradle of the persian culture. Especially the well preserved reliefs are fascinating. On the last km before Shiraz I get a preview of what it is probably going to be like the next weeks: the sun burns brutally and the temperatures are already well in the upper 30th.
Shiraz is the town of the great persian poets and the green gardens. The iranians like nothing more on a friday evening, but going for a picknick with the whole family in those parks. Mohammed invites me to such a picknick with his family. Later we exchange music. Who knows, maybe Züri West and Stephan Eicher will soon be popular in Iran...
From Shiraz I cycle on partly unsealed minor roads to lake Bakhtegan, where I camp and admire the thousands of flamingos on the lake - a dream.
"Tell all the Europeans and Americans, that we like them"
A little bit further I pass one of this little villages. Majid invites me to his house. He ans his family are so nice, that I agree to stay for the night. Next morning my bags almost burst with 5 Kg apricots and apples from own their garden. If it had been for Majid, it would have been 20Kg... When I say goodbye, he says:"Tell all the europeans and americans, that we like them!".
The countryside is dominated by fig trees. They live with the little rain that is falling during the winter month and don't need any water anymore in the summer. The fruits are a little smaller then the ones that we usually get at home, but sweeter. These dried 'energy bombs' have been my favorite for quite a while already. I never leave a town without at least half a kilo.
Across the desert
In Kerman I rest for a couple of days and stock up on supplies. The route lying ahead of me looks impressive on the map already: 900km across the desert to Mashhad! Before the desert I cross the naked Payeh mountains. The road then leads out of the mountains and the red hills are getting less high. Out of a sudden the terrain opens. I stop to let the moment sink in. In front of me lies a seemingly endless plain. My eyes have difficulties seeing a horizon in the glimmering heat. But what I see is in reality only a fraction of the giant Dasht-e Lut's real size.
My bottles filled with water look ridiculously little in contrast to the giant dryness and the brutal temperatures. Will they be enough? Of course it will be, I have taken plenty of water calculated by what I cosume. But that is only the theory...
Up to 8-10 liters of water I drink daily. Between 8am and 8pm it is frying pan hot for 12 hours. I measure 45°C in the shade! Because of the wind, I fell best when cycling. Rests are uncomfortable as it soon gets too hot. But I cannot cycle for 12 hours! Perfect would be to make a break for a couple of hours during noon, but the needed shade is in no sight.
But then out of a sudden I find just that. In the middle of the desert there are several open-air mosques. A little house with a covered, shady platform next to it, where I find shelter for a couple of hours from the fierce sun.
The helpfulness of the Iranians is unbelievable one more time. Often cars stop, ask a couple of curious questions and give me drinks and fresh fruits. But best of all is a frozen bottle of water that I suddenly hold in my hands. But the effect of cold water lasts only for 30 minutes and I return back to my own water bottles whose temperatures regularly overstep 30°C in the afternoon. Was this now just a dream, or reality...?
When I reach Ferdows, a little town at the edge of the desert, after 6 days, my cloth are stone hard from the salt that I had been sweating. I enjoy the shower very much, although the owner first warns me, that I have to wait 30 minutes to get warm water. As if this was, what I needed now...
Of course there are also moments when the constant curiosity of the Iranians is a pain in the neck. Today is such a day. For fully seven hours I have been cycling against a terribly strong headwind, getting nowhere really. I am in a bad mood and on edge. If then every couple of hundred meters a motorcyclist comes along, asking curious questions, I am simply not in the mood to answer all the time.
Suddenly a car stops in front of me. An old man gets out and before I can react, he has hugged and kissed me, as if he had just found his long lost son! What I need? Water, bread, fruits? No thanksI have everything and it's not far to the next town anymore. But he persists and finally I give in and thankfully take some fruits.
Precision landing in Mashhad
Since I have my visa for Turkmenistan (Ankara) I know precisely on what day I can enter there. Almost exactly on the planned day I reach Mashhad, 6600k after Ankara - precision landing! From here it is now only 200km to the border.
Mashhad is the holiest town of Iran a an important pilgrimage center for shiites. Although I can only partly visit the waste complex around the shrine of Emam Reza as a non-Muslim, it is very impressive.