Thursday, 23 August 2012

From Barcelona to Tehran: Epilogue


I would like to thank each and every one of you who helped me get this job done. My special thanks to my dear friends Luis Marmelo, Majid Khosravi Nik, and Stephaen Callahan who helped put my bike and equipment together for this trip. How can I thank those who were with me on this trip by reading my notes and dropping me a line? Knowing that someone would read my blog always gave me more reasons to keep going and helped me beat loneliness. I would also like to thank the people who allowed me to put up my tent on their property or in their village especially in Turkey and Iran where campgrounds were hard to find. And last but not least, I am grateful to those strangers who gave me a glass of water or tea, who shook my hand or gave me a hug, those drivers who sounded their horns to encourage me, the pedestrians who stretched their hands to give me a high five, or just shouted “hi” in English or in their own language. I would like all of you to know that without your support, I couldn’t have completed my journey. Thank you.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 72

Day 72: Home Sweet Home; From Gachsar  To Tehran in Iran 

July 11, 2012; Distance covered today: 117 Km; Total: 6000 Km

It was difficult to go to sleep last night, knowing that I have only half a day ride home. 

Tehran is a city of 12 million people. Its pollution and heavy traffic is notorious. To avoid riding in its heat and smog, I started early. I was on my bike at 6. I had an easy job to get to Karaj, the last city before Tehran, because it was all downhill, but from Karaj, I had to ride on a flat road. In Tehran, the heavy traffic made it really difficult, but I was in high spirit and just kept going. I had to be extra careful to get home safely though. The traffic was insane.  

I should have probably stopped to take some pictures of the scenery, but I only wanted to get home. And I was fast.  Somewhere close to Tehran a gentleman stopped me and introduced himself as the former cycling champion in Iran. He wanted to take me to the federation right away where cycling federation and officials had a meeting. He insisted so much, but I only wanted to get home, and declined his invitation. 

Finally, after 70 days of riding through Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Iran, covering 6000 km, finally, at 11:30 am, I arrived home where my sister, her husband and my niece welcomed me. Job done! What’s next?

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 71

Day 71: The Last Climbing; From Abbas Abad to Gachsar  in Iran 

July 10, 2012; Distance covered today: 120 Km; Total: 5885 Km

Knowing I was safe in the villa, I slept well last night. After eating a good breakfast, I packed up and left. The weather was cool and humid. I soon arrived in Chalus where I had to turn south toward Karaj and Tehran via Chalus road, one of the most beautiful but most dangerous roads in Iran. The road is very narrow with no shoulder. It zigzags up the mountains from the sea level up to 2500 m high in the mountains where the notorious Kandovan tunnel is. And after the tunnel, it’s all downhill.
In Chalus, a gentleman stopped me and introduced himself as a member of mountain climbing federation. He said that he, along with a team, was going to cycle through Armenia, Georgia, into Turkey the next day. He asked me to go to the climbing federation in Tehran and share my experience with the members. I got his contact info and set off for the mountains.

Strange... This is the second wield humongous  bike I saw in Iran

It was the last week before month of Ramadan, so there were a lot of people traveling. My goal was to pass Kandovan tunnel because it would be very difficult to find a spot to camp before the tunnel.
I knew this road like back of my hand. I had been on this road so many times before, so as I expected, in Marzan Abad, riding got very challenging due to the heat. 

Climbing begins

I kept riding and riding. I didn’t stop for lunch or anything… the only thing I ate was some kind of cake (kolooche) with yoghurt. I really pushed it hard to pass the tunnel. My average speed was 7 Km an hour, and the uphill did not give me a break at all. The weather, which is usually foggy and cool in this area, was hot and sunny. It really was hard, but I was pushing it knowing that the next day, I would be home. 

In Syabishe, I stopped and had some more cake (kolooche) with yoghurt when a gentleman and his son came to ask me if my bicycle had gears. I laughed and said that I wouldn’t make it without my 27 gears. He gave me a knife as a gift, and we took a picture together. 

This gentleman gave me a knife to as a gift

At about 7 o’clock, I arrived at the tunnel. Kandovan tunnel is 5 km long and it is very dangerous to ride in. The air is so polluted in the tunnel that even going through it in a car can make breathing difficult. I hitchhiked to go through the tunnel. And after the tunnel, I was the king of the road. I was faster than cars, coasting down the beautiful meandering road to somewhere after Gachsar where I asked a gentleman where I could pitch up my tent. He generously invited me to his cherry garden and let me camp there. 
The Gentleman who allowed me to camp in is cherry garden

After setting up my camp, washing my clothes, and washing myself, I went to his restaurant to have dinner which was some chicken with rice. 

I cannot stop thinking about tomorrow. I am so excited.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 70

Day 70: An Easy Ride; From Khoshkebijar to Abbas Abad  in Iran 

July 9, 2012; Distance covered today: 170 Km; Total: 5765 Km

I woke up at 5:30 and was on my bike in an hour. I felt tired, and very sleepy because I had only 3 hour of sleep last night. I dragged myself to Lahijan, some 30 Km from Khoshkebijar. I then felt a little better and rode strong. There was a little bit of tail wind to help me as well. 

Today, the only thing on my mind was to get home. All I wanted was to cover as much land as possible to get closer and closer to home. The more I got closer to home, the stronger the feeling became. I didn’t want to stop and talk to people or take photographs anymore. I just want to get home. Therefore,  I was fast today. 170 km until 3:50 pm!  
My camping spot

At 12, I stopped to eat a melon, then at 2:30, I stopped to have a drink. At 3:30, I arrived in Abbas Abad where I had arranged to spend the night in my friend’s villa. I didn’t have the key to get inside the building. I could get the key of the backyard from a neighbor, but I had to pitch up my tent in the yard. 

I had no trouble at all with the motorcyclists or drivers. It was very safe and calm to ride my bike today. I don’t know if it is going to be the same on Chalus road which is one of the most dangerous and at the same time, the most beautiful road in Iran. It is very narrow and meanders through mountains and forest. I had been on that road before, some 12 years ago. At the time, I had some trouble with the motorcyclists as well. I should see what happens tomorrow when I am on the road.
I took a shower, washed my clothes, bought my groceries, and had a nap. Tomorrow, I will start very early.

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 68-9

Day 68-9: Khoshkebijar  in Iran 

July 7-8, 2012; Distance covered today: 0 Km; Total: 5596 Km

I woke up at 9 to have a huge breakfast; organic eggs, cheese, butter, homemade marmalade, and tea. With my sister, I sat in the porch an enjoyed watching the chickens and ducks in the yard. 

My sister's chiks
My sister's

With my nephew, I went to his shop to check my email. He, Bahador, would tell everyone and anyone, “me dayee; Ba charrkh az Espania Bomad Inja. GPS, laptop, hame chi dare berar”. This means, “This is my uncle who has ridden his bike from Spain. He has GPS, a labtop and everything, bro.”  He kind of bragged about my trip. For the whole day, he was introducing me with the same style.

We went to a teahouse in Khoshkebijar which was said to make the best tea in Gilan county! I talked to the owner, Hamid, who said that he would mix a few kind of local tea. It is very common to drink tea in the teahouses in this area. 
Lunch with Vodka
 We went out to have lunch in a very good restaurant. Sometime during our lunch, asked me if I would like to have some vodka with my lunch. Surprised, I asked if there was vodka served in that restaurant. Then he produced a bottle of vodka from under his T-shirt and mixed it with his and his friend’s Coca cola! So much for Islamic country.
The best tea in Gilan County

We also went to the beach where I saw some really upsetting scenes of people being watched, controlled, and ordered. The religious police were omnipresent to make sure people were following “Islam”. They would arrest people if they were listening to loud music even in their cars, if women were not covering their hair, if anyone was drinking alcohol or was under the effect of alcohol, and such deeds. 
Religion female police

When I was on the beach, I witnessed a young boy being rescued by the life guards. He was hanging on a football in high weaves. The ball saved his life.
The ball and the survivor

We went to the only gym in Koshkebijar where I met the coach who was proud to help two obese patients to lose 120 Kilos within a year. I met the champion who had lost the weight. It was amazing to hear their stories and their achievements with such limited equipment.

The magic gym which has set a world record in weight loss: 126 kg in one year

I then went to use the unfiltered Internet in one of Bahador’s friends where I met some young people who bombarded me with questions about the West. I put up my blog and talked for them for about an hour. They were very funny.
Happy kids of the towm

I went back to my sister’s and had dinner.

On Day 69, I did nothing but rested and enjoyed good food.

Monday, 20 August 2012

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 67

Day 67: Never Ride on a Weekend in North of Iran, Never; From Khalkhal to Khoshkebijar  in Iran 

July 6, 2012; Distance covered today: 160 Km; Total: 5596 Km

It was  8 o’clock when I left Khalkhal. I climbed for about 35 Km to 2500 m high. It was so foggy that I had to turn on my lights. I could hardly see anything, and the weather was really cool. From 2500 m high, I rode on a steep road down to sea level. The scenery was beautiful. But…

 A bee farm



Rice fields in north of Iran

Friday is the weekend in Iran, and today was a Friday. Yesterday was Nime Shabaan, one of the most important religious holidays in Iran. On days like this, many people get one day off to stretch the holiday to be able to travel. Anyways… on days like this, on the roads, specially in northern part of Iran, the traffic is insanely heavy, which might be a normal thing in other countries, but what is problematic is the “lawlessness” on the roads. The drivers and specially motorcyclists do anything they want—fast, reckless, dangerous, joy riding with no one to control them. What happened to me in this condition? Motorcyclists would ride their bikes toward me like the kamikaze to kick me out of the road; some would come from behind and pass by me like a bullet. They would almost hit me. 

Some would do the same and at the same time, shout into my head as loud as they could to scare me.  I was so annoyed and angry that I also got aggressive and angry. I did no smiles to the people, no friendly wave of hand as I was riding, no stopping to have a sip of water or tea or a chat with people. If I heard a motorbike approaching me from behind, I would be so scared and cautious that sometimes, I would get off the road and wait for it to pass.  When I say “motorcyclists”, I mean some young people in their T-shirts and sandals, with no helmet or anything you would see in Europe. Some had three people on one single motorbike. 

Down the road near Asalem, there was a police check point where I stopped to complain about the motorcyclists. The police man said that he could do nothing about the situation since there were so many of these kind of riders. I told him that he could fine them,as easy as that. But he kind of said, “Welcome to reality; laws and rules, but no enforcement when it comes to traffic”. 

I passed Asalem and was riding on the flat straight road on the sea coast toward Anzali. I was so disappointed at what had happened to me for the last couple of hours. I was so disappointed  not because of the motorcyclists who bothered me, but because of the fact that I saw many young people in Iran, who I used to believe in changing the situation to the better. But, in fact, they were culturally not even close to thinking about changing the situation. 

I was so disappointed. Iran is going downhill with this young population. You may say,  "this is only a very small portion of the young population", but before the good minority be able to inspire the bad majority, the bad would turn the good into one them. Just like what happened to me. For 60 some days, I was reciting the song, "Doost midaram to ra ... Hamvatan .... Dorrst midaram to ra ... ey cho man." as I was riding toward my country. But today, I was shouting at the motorcyclist, insulting them, and showing them a finger when they were bothering me. They turned me into one of them. I was really disappointed. What happened to my mission of "finding a friend a day"?

It was about 2 o’clock when I stopped at a supermarket. By then, I was riding with no aim at sight. I didn’t know how far to go or where to stop for the night. I was seriously considering getting a bus home. I had had it. It was too dangerous to ride in north of Iran. At the supermarket, I had a drink and a piece of cake when I decided to ride fast to get to my sister’s house. I didn’t know how far it was to her house, but I needed some motivation to keep going strong because I was so demotivated. From then, I kept riding fast.

I was wondering what day it was, a Thursday or a Friday, so I asked a man on a very old motorbike if it was a Thursday. As we were riding, he looked at me and said, “Are you in love?” I said, “For a traveler like me, all days are the same”. “why do you travel like this?” he asked. “Well… I want to meet human beings, and know about their lives and…” He interrupted me and asked disappointedly, “Did you find any?” I remembered the motorcyclists and all the hardship I went through all day. I told him I saw some crazy ones today. He then said, “Be my guest tonight” (meaning goodbye). Then he speeded up and left. 

It was really difficult to ride on the crowded roads to get to Khoshkebijar.  I went to my sister’s. She was not in, but my nephew, 31 years old, opened the door and sent me to the shower. He was rather surprised to see me on a bike. He thought I had ridden from Tehran.

In the evening, my nephew, his fiancé, and I went to a restaurant and had some good food.

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 66

Day 66: Free Food and Riding Fast; From Arbab Kandi to Khalkhal in Iran 

July 5, 2012; Distance covered today: 167 Km; Total: 5435 Km

Although I was wearing my earplugs last night, I woke up a couple of times to the noise of dogs barking just outside my tent and travelers stopping for whatever reason. 

At 4 o’clock, the owner of the restaurant who also has a bakery woke me up. I packed up and bought some bread from him and left at 6. The ride started with some climbing, but after an hour it was a slight downhill all the way to Ardabil. At 9 o’clock, I arrived in Ardabil where I bought some cheese and milk, and had it with my bread when, out of curiosity, two guys stopped to talk to me. One of them was a funny man whose job was to hunt mice and sell to the laboratories. He said that Iran is a good country where you can easily make money, even by catching mice. He and the other guy invited me for lunch, but I had to get going. 

The breakfast took me 20 minutes. I started riding nonstop until 1 o’clock. While yesterday, I was entertaining the idea of getting a bus home, today, I was determined to finish the trip no matter what. I was fast and full of energy. At one, just before I turn toward the town of  Kowsar, I saw some crowd up ahead. It was a special day today, Nime- Shaban, one of the biggest holidays in Shia’a. There was free Sorba and cookie. People were dancing and having fun. I stopped and soon someone gave a bowl of Shorba. I finished it, and then there was a second, and some cake as desert. The way the people were approaching me was so funny. As usual, they thought I was not an Iranian, so they would start speaking English. There was a guy who would make fun of me and made up some kind of language just to have fun and make others laugh. After some time, it was getting too crowded. I left immediately after I finished my Shorba.
The Shorba event spot
Some kids at the event
Another free Shorba station
Some really good kids

The sun was really scorching. I could feel my skin being burned. I stopped at a gas station to wash my face and apply some new suntan lotion. I started climbing really steep roads in really hot weather. After two hours or so, I  arrived in the town of Kivi, where there was another free Shorba event. I got three bowls of Shorba this time. There were some really good kids I talked to. Around the free-Shorba station, there was lots of garbage from the disposable plastic bowls and glasses.
The road after Kivi was in a really bad condition, narrow with lots of potholes. At about 6:30, I arrived in the city of Khalkhal. As I was riding on the streets of Khalkhal to find a public park to camp for the night I saw an interesting bicycle. 
Interesting design but does it work?

I found a park where it was said lots of tourists camp at night. It was a very crowded park with lots of people hanging out. The toilets were filthy though. Some people in the park came to me to talk. I then cooked and got prepared to sleep.