Nothing beats Iran as a travel destination!
by Peter van der Lans
Cycling in Iran
True, few people believe me, unless they have been there. Iran is a travel gem. On my journeys from Holland to Asia, by bicycle, I spend almost two months in Iran.
Iran is a wonderful country, a very old culture, think only of King Darius III, who was beaten by Alexander the Great and you get the picture. Shiraz is a reminder of the greatness in the long years that have passed.
I came to Iran with little information. In Turkey I had picked up my visa with surprisingly little troubles. In Istanbul and Ankara I had tried to buy a map of Iran but either I went in the wrong shops, or I was blind, I couldn't find one.
Thus I arrived in Dogubayazit close to the Iranian border with little more then I knew from the newspapers and the stories from fellow travelers saying how great it was in Iran. I passed the legendary Mt. Ararat (checked while I passed by if by accident I would see the Ark of Noah, but failed) and came at the border. Immediately it was clear, Iran would be good. Even at the border the guards were very nice.
In the next town, Maku, I found a hotel. That evening, to my shame, the key of the room fell in the toilet bowl! Talk about travel stories!
There was only one road, it was leading east, which would lead to Tabriz and Tehran. But as I am not much of a big city lover I was hesitating. I was happy to find a junction going south. It was a road that would lead to Khoy but I couldn't figure out where to it would go after. But then again, I had time on my own and nothing to loose.
Khoy was more then a day cycling but in town I found a map. In Farsi! Farsi, the local language in Iran which I, obviously, couldn't read. But at least I had an idea of directions. People on the way would tell me the names and I would write them down on the map.
During my journey through Iran, I met just friendly faces and hospitality. Hospitality? Hospitality in a way I have never experienced anywhere else. Let me give you an example to show the mentality of the Iranian people. Iranian Kurdestan
I was cycling to a little town and darkness was coming quick. Just another half hour or so and it would be dark. I was only a few kilometers from the town so I wasn't worried to have to cycle in the dark. However, 5 km before the town a pickup truck passed and stopped in front of me. Four men came out and stopped me. They told me the road to the town was not safe and they would bring me with my bike on the truck in town to a hotel.
I tried to convince them it was not necessary. But they insisted. So I joined them for the last few km
in the pickup truck. In town we arrived at the hotel. The men were talking with each other and then came to me. "Sir, the hotel is really expensive, we can't let you stay there", one said. "We have a house here, you can stay with us, we're geologists, based in Tehran, for our work we rent a house here".
I hesitated but then again, what could I loose? I joined them, spend a great night with them. Only two spoke English, they prepared a great meal and after the meal, the unavoidable ink black tea with sugar rocks and waterpipes came out. I have never smoked so I skipped that. Later in the evening the "madam whiskey" came on the floor (the house had no tables, chairs or beds but was filled with comfortable carpets and cushions.
The whiskey was "Madam whiskey" because on the label of this illegal distiled product was a "madam" portraited.
I asked them if it was not forbidden to drink alcohol as they were Muslims. "You would be surprised how many men drink whiskey here, even though it's illegal".
The next morning they had to get up at 6am and we had decided I would join them for the next 200km to Hamadan. There they would go west and I wanted to go to Esfahan, pearl of Iran. During the journey, we took a short cut, or at least that is what I thought it was.
It turned out to be a hiding place to smoke some opium! I know, I know, Iran, alcohol and dope do not match. But I tell you the truth. The guys, all in their late 40's were giggling like schoolboys. Obviously in the next town they made clear they were sober. The "madam whiskey" was hidden in the coat of one of the guys because at the border of every town cars can be checked by the police on forbidden articles.
They dropped me in Hamadan, we said goodbye and I went in the city to eat something. It was still early and I would be able to make a few more kilometers to my next destination.
Further on in my journey in Iran I would find more examples of this kind of hospitality and friendship. The Iranian people have been very kind to me and I remember the country as one of my favorite travel destinations. And yes, I know about the political situation. It seemed to me there couldn't be a bigger gap between the politics of the country and the people of that same country. I just loved it there.
Over the years traveling by bicycle I found many fantastic people, made good friends down the road but it was never like what I found in Iran.
Some of my travels can be found back on my bicycle website: www.bicycle-adventures.com
. The journey eventually led me into China and to my present hometown in Sitiawan Malaysia but that is another story, or better, another set of stories.
Peter van der Lans