Translated by: Alexandra Kiss
I was really looking forward to write this part of the blog. If Iran did not exist, it would have to be invented. But it is impossible to invent such a thing, so it is good it exists. I have never seen such a colorful country with so many contrasts.
Entering Iran was like travelling back in time. In the streets, there are swept-back haired men in slacks and checked shirts, on a motorbike or in old-fashioned jalopies. It feels like being in the USA of the 60’s, however, with an eastern decoration. The faces are also different from what we are used to: darker skin, black hair, women in hijab, men in long trousers, regardless of the extreme heat. Iran is the melting pot of cultures. Persian heritage filled with Arabic traditions, a pinch of Turkish, and recently elements of the American culture are added to these.
In Iran, there is no freedom. Most of us could not imagine that everything is controlled by religion and politics. Your practice of religion, your habits, morality, career, child raising, what to wear in the streets, your sexuality (as you can end up at the police station after a romantic walk in the park). It is controlled what you can drink and eat (however, not all of the Iranians are religious, even if officially they have to be), and once you are an Iranian, it is not easy to travel and to get a visa. The saddest thing of all is that you don’t have free will, the right to choose. We asked our friends to what extent the system affects their lives. Can they exclude it from their everyday life? According to the answer, it is not possible. It feels as if their heads were constantly pushed under water. It might be more difficult for them as they are not religious, they do not believe all the humbug they are given (many other people either), they have travelled to many other places, so they have seen people who were allowed to live their lives as they wanted to. For them, the way to survive is to travel abroad for some months by bicycle. They breathe in deep, and when their lungs are filled with air, they dive again. Maybe a day when they are drowning, they will not return, they will swim away with the dolphins. We recommend this piece of writing to them, to Mina and Habib.
Adults are treated as children in Iran. They are told what to do and how to do it. It got on our nerves, you can imagine how annoyed Iranians must be with this, which can be seen in the way they drive. It seems they find their freedom in the traffic, they do what they want on the roads. Nobody respects the Highway Code, and no one cares about whether it is respected or not. Such rules are broken in front of the police, for which your driving license would be taken away in other countries. It is easier to imagine all these if I give you examples. It happens sometimes that three, four, or even five people sit on the same motorbike. The father is driving, the four-year-old son is sitting in front of him on the gas tank, the mother is at the back with a baby in her laps. Between the mom and the dad, there is the seven-year-old daughter who is old enough to hold on alone. Or they just drive through red lights because no one is coming. They go in the wrong direction of the traffic to make their journey shorter. They don’t use the indicator at all. There is enough place for two cars in one lane, for experienced drivers, three cars don’t mean any problem either. It meant a huge, unimaginable chaos for us. Still it works well for them, we saw only a few crashes. Despite that it seems to be a suicide to go into a roundabout, I have to say that we were surprised in a good way. They are more attentive then their Ottoman counterparts. They slow down, let you in, and do not honk like crazy.
Besides this, they drive too fast, they may have never heard of stopping distance, and some cars are unbelievable to remain in one piece. In Iran, every driver has a fuel card. The first fifty liters of petrol cost 700 toman, which is 0,02 US dollars. After exceeding 50 liters, it costs $0,35. Of course, everyone has at least one car. The roads are full of thirty-, forty-years-old, heavily smoking trucks. Air pollution is so bad near big cities (and in Tehran) that we were suffocating. We have never experienced such smog before, not even in Istanbul, despite its heavy traffic. The capital city is surrounded with mountains, which make the smog stay in the valley. Not only cars, but many motorbikes are on the roads, too. Mostly Hondas and other local or Far eastern vehicles are the most popular. We didn’t see helmets at least on the half of the motorcyclists. Ops, I mean most of them had a helmet, but not on their heads. It was somewhere in their hands or on their handlebars. It is said that 10.000 people die yearly in motorcycle accidents, in Iran alone. This number is not surprising as the condition of the motorbikes is mostly poor and the equipment is missing.
Peugeot 405, 406, 206. Renault 5 imitation, Iranian fabrication. Kia Pride, or let’s say its Iranian version, Saba Seipa. They also have their own brand, Imco. Peycan is the local fake version of an English car type. You can find it in any amount, color, and condition. Zamyad, another type fabricated only in blue, which gives you the feeling of an American Dodge Ram. Those who can afford import cars from Europe, however there is heavy taxes on it. The rebellious souls drive an American car. We saw only a few cyclists. At the patrol stations, you can buy petrol, no chocolate, coffee or plush pig in most cases.
The landscape and the atmosphere
There is an abundance of natural variety in Iran. This country is hardly bigger 18 times than Hungary, but mountains, sea, desert, prairies, deciduous forests can all be found there. Among the buildings the mosques are the most beautiful, however, we preferred the Turkish ones. Their serais are not bad either. Old buildings are rare, we were told that the old is demolished and a new one is built instead. Nothing special, square-shaped houses with some decoration. It was only in Mashhad where we saw nice dwelling houses, photos can be found in our album. Cities and towns which we have visited were not so pretty. The houses seem to be unfinished. Iron pipes, bare roofing, floors incomplete. There is not a lot of garbage in the streets. The parks are really pretty, they are well-kept, well with drinking water, benches, and toilets can be found there.
It is incredible how crowded, noisy and smoggy is Tehran. The population is as big as that of Istanbul, but jam-packed in a quarter smaller area. The traffic is a chaos but it works well at the same time. Metros were so crammed with people that we could hardly squeeze ourselves in. There are separate compartments for women, and for all (it is useful to pay attention to the yellow inscription “Women only” before getting in). And there come the street vendors. They carry heavy shopping bags, many things they want to sell hang on their arms. They have everything you can imagine. Some goods they offer, including but not limited to bubble gum, insole, lighter, superglue, razor, tooth brush, tooth paste, torch, socks, balloon blowing kits, nerve-wracking special balls, vibrissae cleaner, Mp 3 player, rubber gloves, power bank, needle kit, perfume. They walk up and down in the metro compartments offering their super-quality products, even the torch that is used by American Police (at least they say so), and in order to take it under an endurance test, they hit them to the handhold rails. People either buy something, or they are extremely annoyed by these vendors. Personally, I found it amusing to watch how people bargain for or test the products. The price of the underground ticket is around 0,2 dollars, while a return ticket costs only 0,35$.
The best and the funniest way of commuting in the city (if we don’t like the crown and the vendors) is taking a routed taxicab. They are private minibuses driven by professionals or by men who are just pick people up on their way to bring the best out for everybody. If we got off our bikes near on a road, a car would horn us for sure, asking whether we want to have a ride. We ask in which direction he goes, and if it fits our plans, we accept the ride. The price is not clear-cut, we just checked how much others would pay. After a while, we were able to count the price of different distances. A journey of 5-6 kilometers would cost 0,5-0,7 dollars. Once it happened that a guy tried to trick us, but without success. We told him that we knew exactly the prices and we would not pay more. He accepted our answer, and we had a decent farewell. In many cases they gave us back the money if is seemed to be much, and once a man offered s a free ride. However, he accepted the half of the price when we insisted. The more courageous ones can also try it with motorbikes, if they are willing to pay a double price. It can be real adrenaline bomb for the passenger as the stuntman-like driver tries to find the free way between cars. There is not many famous landmarks in the city, only some markets, memorials, a TV tower, and a 4000 meters high mountain, which you can approach by funicular. Tehran is not really pretty, still there is something fascinating in it. Does this charm come from Tehran’s bustle?
The speed and the accessible content of course is restricted. This the citizens outflank by connecting to foreign servers and with other programs. We don’t really understand the government’s struggling.
The media is also national and strongly filtered. Solution is: parabolic antenna that gets the foreign Iranian broadcast. Politics, video clips, discussions about Iran, for Iranians, all unreservedly. If a policeman comes and wants to take down the antenna… well anything can be solved (like Dadan’s Bulgarian pal said, ’’If you can’t solve it with money, solve it with a lot of money!’’) This goes just like so.
The sun-bleached portraits of the fallen Iranian heroes are still alongside the streets. Khomeini Ajatollah peeks on every corner, watches with all-seeing eyes to check out whether everything’s going in the same old way. Propaganda, bans and inspections or not, things change slowly, so there is to be worried about. The warn-out citizens are welcomed by underground clubs and restaurants, which existence is spread by rumours and problems with the police are solved just like those of the antennas. If a grim religious leader weren’t enough, they often add the actual old guy, Khameni. They like wall-paintings, of which the toughest we see is: the soldier in uniform is walking out of the sea (Persian Gulf probably) and behind him are burning American warships and a helicopter is falling down. I know the USA isn’t quite white-handed, but I’ve never seen such an aggressive and inciting propaganda anywhere else, although I’ve only been at a few places.
There are no discos or clubs (officially), you should clap moderately on concerts, dance is best to avoid in public. Except for weddings, but still you can revel in public only for a while, then the core of the family goes home and has fun decently. There are no pubs of course, they throw house parties instead and they take the necessary narcotic stuff there. The country supposedly has quite a lot drug user. The common border with Afghanistan probably contributes to this fact too.
In Iran, people eat consciously. They have so to speak warm and cold dishes, however they refer to it based on whether a food stimulates or reposes blood pressure and not the temperature.
Sugar rich food is put on the table for breakfast, things that increases the blood pressure. Bread, marmalade, seeds, honey, yogurt, cheese. They don’t eat any meet for breakfast. For the main meals the garnish is usually rice, which provides the greater percent of the meal. Rice with some kind of meat, stew (khorest), vegetable. The side meal for them is the meat, they eat enough of the rice. The portions are different. They eat much less potato and pasta. The rice is cooked in a totally different way than at home, which also shows its principal role (there is a special device for cooking rice in most Iranian kitchen). What is more, there exist different types of rice: a type elaborated for celebrations and a simpler one. They decorate and savor it with all kinds of spices (for example saffron) and dried fruits. They eat less soup too, than us Hungarians, but still it’s present in their kitchen. They serve all dishes at once and everyone takes what he wants and in the order he likes. They eat a lot of leguminous and dishes made from them. After dining they too have tea (coffee is rare), with which they serve roasted seeds, candy, chocolate. Iranians drink alcohol too of course, it’s just somewhat harder and more complicated to get it. In the evening they consume a yogurt-like drink called dough (very similar to the Turkish ayran) to which they attribute a sedating virtue.
People are wonderful in Iran! They are welcoming, friendly, curious, opened for new things, and for the unknown. During the thirty days we spent we only had to put up a tent three times. This is not an extraordinary experience, we read the same from Zita and Árpi, the 360 degree bicycle honeymooner couple. We didn’t had to look for accomodation, people just came to us and asked if we would like to join them home, be their guests. The reason is that they like it and it makes them happy having a guest in the house, if unexpected, even better. Where does this come from? The culture, or from the Islam and prophet Mohamed, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, we have never been given as much care during our journey as in Iran and we feel like we won’t be either. They took care of us with love, without bias, information or questions. They didn’t ask what is our nationality, what confession we belong to, if we have a job or if are honest. They just came and gave everything (during the conversations everything was mentioned of course). It wasn’t good because we were able to eat and sleep free, but because as soon as Iranians noticed us, the care and attention just came naturally. Be that two saffron icecream, a bottle of cold water, a tea, a shady place, a bag of cucumbers, a few cold energydrink or fresh baked bread. They gladly talk about anything, they are curious about the world, still proud of their own culture too. We think it’s a magnificent combination.
Iran is a wonderful country, anyone who can should go and check it out. It isn’t expensive, assertive, neither ostentatious, and everyone will gain many great experience. The obligation to wear a hijab and long trousers is only a necessary inconvenience. Zoli Kobra put it into the right words how to approach these characteristics of the country. He said that the rules must be accepted and respected, and things should be done the way local people do, even if tourists are allowed to wear short trousers. Our freedom is a mirror to the restrictions they have. We should not throw this into their faces, but identify ourself with them.
If you have the chance to visit Iran don't miss it!
Translated by: Balázs Koltai
On Wednesday we had a tearful farewell from Mina and Habib with whom we built an inseparable friendship. We found our way out from Teheran easily, the only challenges were the huge smog and the burning sun. My knee started to hurt in the afternoon, first only the right but later both, after loading the left stronger. We were 50km-s away from the capital. The plan was to ride up to the Caspian Sea and from there to go down to Mashad using a bus. In Rumehen we received some bad news: the way leading to the sea was being blocked by a rockfall, the road remained closed at least for a few days while debris cleanup takes place. We were just enjoying our lavash (Iranian thin bread) topped with chocolate cream when Ali Reza offered his help. The conversation turned into an invitation that ended up in 4 days with him. Ali Reza and his cousins transported us with their car up to the sea, we slept in a 100-year old village house, ate kebab made of goat innerds, I beat everybody in tablesoccer and we bathed in the sea as well. In Iran it’s so easy to make friendships like maybe nowhere else in the world. They come, ask, invite and then they hardly let you go.
Because of the visas we still had to leave. We had to enter Turkmenistan on the 5th of June and exit the country on the 9th after keeping a tough pace through 460 km. The guys helped us arranging the cash exchange then they transported us to the bus port as well and we departed towards Mashad at 8:30 PM.
The journey with the bus was the usual: long, boring and uncomfortable. At 9 AM Farid (our host in Mashad) and Andrea, an Italian biker guy were waiting for us. We were hosted then by Farid’s girlfriend, Sarah. Some talks, backgammon party, visiting Imam Reza’s grave and unique Italian gnocchi cooking were the highlights of that day. On the next day we picked up the Turkmenian visas and spent the rest of the day with resting and chatting. We really got to like Andrea. An open-minded, cheerful, helpful guy having a good sense of humour and we managed to teach him to play backgammon. He rode to Iran to spend there 1-1,5 months after working as an English teacher for half a year in Biskek. Then he flies home to Switzerland to work a bit then sits on the saddle again in October if everything goes well.
At 9 AM on the next morning we were already rolling out of the city towards the border city of Sarakhs 200km away. Thanks God Masshad is the warmest city of Iran and we have experienced that as well. No worries, we thought, that’s gonna be a good preparation for the Turkmenian Karakom desert. We spent the first night on a concrete cube. A bit hidden from the main road the waterworks had some pumpstations and those were covered with the cubes. We climbed up there on a ladder and set up our beds on a square of ca. 3x3 m. Weather was ideal and the anti-mosquito spray was used as well. We had dinner at full-moon, it was beautiful to see the whole countryside lit by the moonlight. A local man found us very interesting so he joined us for our breakfast. He liked our mush. I personally liked that day’s etap the most, despite of suffering from thirst for a few hours in the morning. We undercalculated the needed amount of water and had half a litre per person for 28km. A truck driver seeing our worn faces took pity on us and threw a half litre bottle out of the window. On that day we learned what that means: water is life. Small things that you can easily access at home can turn into the greatest treasures. We had lunch in a small city and filled up our water tanks as well. During this, a family was watching us from the house opposite of us and soon a little girl and her brother appeared, came to us and started to talk with us. They offered us tea and we got a hand-drawn souvenir as well from the girl. In the afternoon a tough climbing was ahead of us, followed by a long downhill and that’s where we reached Iran’s probably most beautiful landscape. Hills covered in grass everywhere, like if they would had been formed by God out of green and brown marzipan. Golden cornfields and bare cliffs with the tiny road carving in between of them.
We planned a caravan seraglio to overnight there and for which we had to get off from the main road 6 km away. We were quite tired and still had to climb 3 steep hills but finally we made it. Our smile drooped quickly seeing that the seraglio was surrounded with fences and closed. At the same moment Ali appeared, the caretaker of the site who opened up the gate for us. We set up our tent next to an old Mercedes truck. It felt great to wash off the 2 days’ dirt with our travel-washbasin. Nothing special has happened during the night except that a horse kicked out one of the tent anchors.
In the morning we had a look on the huge, 1000 year old seraglio. The Turkish seraglio in which we were previously (and which is the third largest in Turkey) would fit in one of the corners of this one. Ali showed us around, covering up everything like the water reservoir, the King’s and Queen’s suite and the “dorm” of the poorer travellers. He asked us to write into the guestbook. It surprised us to see how many bikers had already been in the Robat Shariff Caravan seraglio, for example from France, Poland, Italy and now from Hungary as well.
We reached Sarakhs at around sunset. First we went to the border to find out that we have to be there the next day at 7 AM to avoid queues. Our search for accommodation ended up on the police. No worries we didn’t make anything illegal, just asking the police where to set up our tent. First they recommended in the middle of a roundabout but luckily a smarter person suggested the red cross where we can sleep for sure.
The friendly guys at red cross who were there on a first aid course welcomed and hosted us warmly. We were offered a room to sleep, we could take a shower and our bikes were safe as well. We did not need anything else on that evening.
We woke up early the next day and at 7:30 we were already on the boarder where we bumped into Marko the Slovenian cyclist and experienced a unique middle-Asia border crossing. But about all these you can read next time from Eni.
Translated by: Pál Capewell
We spent two weeks in Tehran, overall. Our friends, whom we got to know through Warmshowers last year, would have loved to have us for an extra week though. Due to our Uzbekistan visa however, we had to depart. We travelled much less in Iran than we planned to; sadly, getting our Chinese visa turned into a hassle, taking much longer than anticipated. Originally, we only planned to get our Uzbek visa in Iran, but (finally!) we met with Zoli Korba, who suggested we get our Chinese visa in Iran as well because it was so easy for him two years ago.
Getting a visa for China wasn’t a walk in the park. The biggest challenge for us to overcome was their strict demand for pre-booked air tickets and accommodation, which was quite the opposite of our biking adventure. Chinese authorities hate the words biking, adventure, and will not issue anything based on them. Thus, most people turn to trickery: free cancelation hotel rooms, fake air tickets, etc. Luckily for us, the people at the embassy in Iran didn’t give us a hard time. They did request for an invitation letter though, via the Hungarian Embassy in Tehran, containing what is beyond our understanding, but that seemed to be it. Still took a couple of days though.
So we decided to go to the Hungarian Embassy, where they received us with a warm welcome and made us sit for a bit. Going to be honest with you here: it felt really good to read the words “Hungarian Embassy” in Hungarian and see our coat of arms. Back home it’s really nothing, but once you travel for two months and are 4000km away from home, it does make your heart skip a beat. Annamária, the Hungarian consul (whom to we again say a big thank you for her help and kindness!) wasn’t sure herself what the Chinese Embassy wants her to write, but she did her best. She confirmed that we are really who we say we are, our passports are legit and valid, have all the necessary vaccinations, and that yes indeed it is our wish to explore China on our bikes, so she kindly requests the honorable Chinese Consul to grant permission. The next day we went to the Chinese Embassy to submit our papers, only to be welcomed by closed doors. The guard informed us it’s only going to open the next day for some reason. So there we were, had to spend ninety minutes on the road for nothing, and now ninety minutes back. Oh well, tomorrow is a new day, with new chance for luck, we thought. Since we couldn’t save the online visa request form, Eni hand wrote the whole thing, with her pearly letters that are pretty enough to make the highest scholar envious. You guessed right: that wasn’t enough and acceptable, so we had to search for an internet cafe to to fill in the forms and print them out. This wasn’t an easy mission, but luckily for us, we met Mehrdad, a kind and most helpful Iranian university student, who took the role as our guardian angel and savior for that day. He took us to his place but we couldn’t get that form out no matter what we tried. Then, he took us to a “shopping mall” where we finally got everything sorted after which he drove us straight to the Chinese Embassy - and didn’t let us pay a dime for all his expenses! We had a lovely picnic in front of the Embassy till 14:30, when it opened. We handed over our papers, put a check for the highest possible number of days (“90 Days?” “Of course 90 days, your country is huge!”), opted for two entries so we could check out Mongolia as well, and we were informed to pick it up next Tuesday.
What did we do from Friday till Monday night?
Plan A: Visit Esfahan and discover whether it’s really that picturesque as people claim it is
Plan B: Go hiking into Damavandra Mountain (highest mountain of both Iran and the Middle East)
Plan C: Stay in Tehran, and go to a conference where we can meet Issa Omidvar.
Who is Issa Omidvar?
In 1954, Issa and Abdullah Omidvar, two Iranian siblings, decided to depart on their British imported motorbikes to travel the world. Their objective was to travel through Asia and meet the world’s most primitive tribes. Through their ten years journey, out of which seven was on their bikes and three by a Citroen car, they explored Asia, Australia, Polynesia, Africa, South-America, the United States and Canada, and Europe. They reached into places no civilized man has reached before, and assembled a mind-blowing photo, video and written report. For half a year they lived with a hunting tribe in the Amazons and crossed the snowy parts of North America on dog sleighs to discover and observe the everyday life of the Inuits. Departing from the west coast, Issa and Abdullah explored Australia and the everyday life of the indigenous people, which totally disappeared by today. They not only were dedicated adventurers and travelers, but with their carefully planned and smartly assembled and prepared journey, they managed to write themselves into the history of anthropology.
One month would never suffice for Iran, so we decided to come back after our long journey and give a fair chance to the country, during which we would use our “A” and “B” plans. Meeting with such individuals though might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we decided to go with plan “C” and meet Issa Omidvar.
We had a quick, early breakfast on Saturday morning, then drove through the city with Habib, and before we knew it, we were walking downwards to the conference site. Mr. Omidvar welcomed us warmly and was quite curious regarding our journey. Despite being in his mid 80s, he seemed very agile both mentally and physically. He promised us we’d have a chance to talk further on after the conference. Eni came up with the idea that we should do an interview with him. So, we typed up the questions in her phone, and after the conference we asked Mr. Omidvar if it would be possible to do an interview. The answer was a yes! He took us all up to the Omidvar Museum for a tour, then, when everyone left, we made ourselves comfortable in the restaurant behind the museum and listened to his stories. He recalled his experiences with zest, and in full color. Within every sentence of his, one could feel the endless appreciation and acceptance he has for every single culture. We spent a lovely couple of hours with Mr. Omidvar and his friend, who turned out to be a famous director and producer in Iran. We also gained some inspiration for our own journey, and we felt fully recharged. Since Mr. Omidvar’s journey, the whole world opened up, it is quite the challenge to discover an untouched region. But for us, everything still seems untouched and new! And who knows, we might actually find some hidden treasures! We edited, formatted, worked on the video for two days, and not to brag, but we believe it came out rather decent. You can view it by clicking here.
On Tuesday we successfully obtained our 90 days Chinese visa, only with single entry though, so there was no way to visit Mongolia. I hoped Kirghizistan will make up for that with Eni.
Fortunately, we had the chance of meeting and dining with our Hungarian friend, Zoli, on numerous occasions during our stay. We got to know a very fair and nice person in him. Open-minded, funny, a very good chat partner. He met people from all walks of life, but instead of bragging, it all came across in a subtle, humble way. He has an above average acceptance and welcoming of new cultures and mindsets. He gave us a whole new perspective on a number of issues as well. Every second spent with him was interesting, we didn’t have a dull moment. We really hope one winter he can show us around in Hargita, and have us over in his little house in the mountains. And while we were busy interviewing Issa Omidvar, Zoli climbed Mt. Damavand! Congrats, Zoli!
We really enjoyed our two weeks with Mina and Habib. We talked and laughed endlessly. Eni and Mina often cooked mind-blowing meals, while taking pictures of the creations all the time. Habib taught me - for the second time - how to play backgammon.
Mina and Habib would also like to set off again soon somewhere on their bikes. The likely destinations include the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand or perhaps Latin America. Eni and I keep our fingers crossed so that it may happen, as Iranian citizens don’t have an easy case when trying to travel. It’d be such a pleasure though to have the four of us travel together somewhere! Hopefully not long now!
Translated by: Balázs Németh
At first we would like to apologize because of the lot of the pictures. I could not stop posting. We already have experienced in Turkey, that the long-distance buses are different from Hungarian ones (actually there is no long distance in Hungary). Seats are bigger, space is longer for legs and there is a screen at the back of the seats like on planes. If we would give a star to Turkish buses, buses in Iran would get at least 2 more. We found 28 seats on the bus against 40 in Hungary. The right seat line was double, the left was just single one. Or it was not really a seat. It was basically an armchair with a leg holder like in the living room of American houses. It is very comfortable. The driving speed limit is not a rule, just also a suggestion for the buses. We succeed the 620 km in 8 hours with a longer break. The transportation of our bicycles was not free, but it was quite okay. The whole distance has cost 11000Huf (~35Euro) with everything.
As we were closer to Tehran we were more and more excited to see our friends. We need to wait for the kisses, because it took almost an hour, to catch them on the station. The bus station of Tehran is a little bit bigger than Népliget (one of the Hungarian station in the capital) and buses park where they think it is free. There is not numbered and separated arrival part of the station. Habib, the member of Persian family came to pick up us at the bus stop. But he also couldn’t have solved the parking in easy way, because of the traffic jam. We also got in trouble, because everything was written in Persian letters and each place was colorful. It looked like a parody when I ran between the marketplaces with my mobile on my ears to find Habib. Finally we met and we hugged each other. We thought that we stuck on the station. We got home fast and started to put in our luggage again to the house. We found it so boring, but maybe standing under the sun and writing parking fines it worse. Mina (Habib’s wife) fallen upon Eni’s neck when she saw her. Mina couldn’t have come to the station because her leg was broken.
We took a shower, ate a dinner and enjoyed the joy in the rest part of the night. We could not believe that we are in Tehran again and we can see each other.
We had a long sleep. Eni felt herself better than yesterday. She got an illness with throat ache and dizziness. We suspected that her immune system was too weak and she caught a light pharyngitis which she wanted to unbend in Tabriz. Habib went to work. He has a joiner yard and presentation room with his cousin and he must finish his job and get out for some free days. They made a surprise for us at night that they take us to the desert with some of their friends. It was fantastic idea! We packed everything for the evening what we need for (tent, sleeping bag, mattress, plates, headlamp, knife, clothes) and we went to sleep immediately, because Habib said that we need to wake up early. At 5:30 we put our stuff to the car and we turned south to the Maranjab desert, to the direction of Isfahan. We meet in the car with the other 2 friends of Habib and we left Tehran. We could have wondered the statue/tomb of Khomeni Ajatollah. He was not a megalomaniac and his followers did not think that it might have been a big statue from 2 milliard dollars. We were looking for a place for breakfast. Or it was not a real desert, but it looked like a desert. It was almost completely bare while we were going south. The traffic was massive because all of the families tried to make use of the weekend. Next to the highway there are a lot of families with rug on the sand. Our friends got a nice place a little bit further from the highway. We drove 150-200 meters between the sand bumps. Unfortunately we forgot our basket with food because of hurry but we were taken pity by others so we could have eaten as well.
After breakfast we maintained our breakfast and wondered the landscape which had breathtaking shapes and colors against its barrenness. The first city we stopped, called Nushaba. It is famous for: 15 years ago the ground ruptured and fell down under one of the habitant. After he looked around under falling and he was shocked from the view. There was one fool who said that there is another city under Nushaba. After the inspection, scientists came and checked the tunnel system. Finally they set out that it is a 1500 year old tunnel system on 3 levels. They dig the tunnels by hand in the clayey ground. They used it to hide from enemy. After that people realized that there is no hill and other place to hide they needed to go under ground from danger. They needed it escape several times. Arabic, Afghans, Mongolian, Turkish people attacked them what we know. For the tunnels they made ventilation pits and they could have stayed under the up to 10 days. After they needed to go up and get some food water and check out the sun.
Can you imagine how that to stay in the tunnels without light for 10 days was? They stored food, water in different rooms and there was also restroom. Average side could have been about 160cm, because Eni was just suitable but I had to take care of my head lot of times. Maybe it had different places for women and man for better secure? We do not know. But the fact that all of the houses had one entrance to the tunnel system via secret door under the fireplace. They designed the tunnels that if you did not know the way, you got lost immediately and you can be disposable. A password was needed to the entrance what was known by just the habitants in the city. Now you may know it, but please don’t tell it to anybody. It was “Oi”. It does not have a meaning but it was the life for the people in the city. It is said that this is the biggest tunnel city in the world. At some places, the wall was wet and spreadable and sometimes it was absolutely dry. We got known that they knew and used Pascal rule 1200 years before that the scientist would had made it. They used it for air and water transportation if we understood it correct way. We have mentioned sometimes that water is in the tunnel and water in the city. But how do they get water? We checked out a 500 year old water container what was built to in the middle of the city. They got water from the hills via tubes. Imagine a 10-12 m diameter vertical tube with the same size of height. To keep the water refreshed, they used wind chimney where the fresh air could come in and go out. There were stairs from the ground level to the bottom of the cistern. We could also have got water standing on stairs. It was so interesting. The whole village looked liked after a time travel. Walls from mixture of mug, clay, straw are still used nowadays. Straw was needed that the walls do not crack after rain. We were so hungry so we looked for some food. We had lunch in a small restaurant in the village as a kebab wit 7up. We smiled, because drunk 7up last time when we were children.
The moment came what we were waiting for the whole day. We are going to the desert!!! It looked like we drove out one of the thin streets of the village and suddenly there was a small booth next to the street. That was the border of the desert. All of the cars must pay a fee of entering to the national park. We have got strong wind all the day and now we saw what it can do in the desert. We recognized a police car next to the road. They put a wreck of a car up to a trailer in a sand storm. They did not see each other, 3 of them dead. It may possible that they did not drive just 40km/h, because it is not usual here. We saw less and less plants and the ground became sandy from rocky. We helped some cars to escape from the prison of sand. You have better to be a good driver between dunes. Habib was tired because of all day driving and hotness and he asked me to be a driver for a small amount of time. I asked, of course. It is not usual that I can drive in a desert. So I drove for 20-25kms while Habib and Eni sleept in a car. We drove 45kms to the direction of desert when we reached Shah Abbasi caravanserai and we checked it about free beds for sleeping. The serai functions like a tourist attraction. You can sleep in the rooms as well. But you need stay at the place for poor people on the corridors and in smaller rooms. We can’t sleep every day in a caravanserai, but we were more interested in sleeping in the desert. Other part of the team also realized it fast that the children crying and loudness it not the recipe for a calm night. So finally we went to the desert for the night. For sleeping we needed to go inside to a desert a little bit more. On the way we found a wild camel herd eating a grass next to the road. Of course we stopped immediately and tried to catch the camels. They were peaceful and did not get disturbed by us. If we went to close they just walked further. There were bigger, smaller, black, white, brown camels. We also pulled up water in a plastic bag. Some of them even allowed to be stroked. We could also have noticed another interesting animal at “work”. It was dung-beetle tried to clean up the important nutrients left by camels. This bug has a huge force, like when I would try to roll a car standing on my hands.
Finally we found our place for sleeping on the real desert sand what you can’t find everywhere just in Egypt and Arabic countries. The huge dunes were red in the sunset some hundreds of meters behind us. We started to install the tent which was not an easy task because sand was not the best base for tent spikes. Finally we got some stone and rolled around with string after dig it in the sand. For the dinner they made a chicken kebab on coil with stick, like “saslik” in Hungary. It was very delicious and we were also hungry. We talked during dinner and sing some Hungarian songs to them. We found some interesting animals at night. At first we thought that it is a small bug with light but when we got closer we realized, that those are the eyes of a lizard at the light of our headlamp. They were 8-10 cm long yellow-white lizards. After some minutes we saw a desert mouse which was much bigger than mouse at home. It has longer legs and it stood up for those and looked at us. We were tired because of the long day and we went to sleep early. During the night we needed to pee and we went out to the sand from the tent. All of the stars were visible with Milky Way far from the light pollution. It was wonderful.
We ate the breakfast about 9 on our big rug. Sand made it difficult because it used our food as a landing field. We packed everything and put inside a car after we started to go on foot to the top of the closest dune. We have been just once on dunes before. It was yesterday and those were much smaller in the distance. There was something like a hill in front of us. The height was about 100-150 meters. The sun shined quite strong at the time, but the sand was hot just some fields, we could have stood on it. It was a great experience to look at those big changing sand dunes. It looked like a top of the ice cream in the container designed by a confectioner’s spoon. While we were walking up I had a felling like in the snow. Of course we made a lot of pictures with our action camera. We left our main camera in the car because it would have got a lot of sand. It is hard to describe the feeling of the desert. It was wonderful, peaceful and scary, wild in the same time. Habib changed the rolling option to the way down. It caused that after the action he just sat on the ground for a while. We guess he waited until sand comes out from his ears and his sickness is over because of rolling.
Our wondering was not ended yet, because we dropped off to the car and went to the salty lake or to the area of the lake without water. The salt condenses from the water after bigger rains. In this time there is 20-30cm water in the lake, otherwise zero. We can go through on it by car it tells everything about the deepness of the lake. It is the same flat area as before but a little bit lower level and it has a lot of salt fields in a shape of honeycomb. It was a vet dollop and our sandals got a wide layer of this. We took a lot of pictures and we experienced that jumping in a same time can’t be feasible even if someone counts outside.
We started to go home. We talked a lot and let the air come inside and through the car. During leaving the desert we needed to help for a stuck car. 8 of us suffered at least for 15 minutes until we could push it from the sand because the Peugeot sunk to axis. We also had lunch in Nushabad but it was a picnic in a park where we could visit the toilet and wash the sticky sand from our skin. On the way home we stopped for an ice cream which was extremely good in the afternoon hotness. We could admire the big mosaic picture near by the parking lot.
Our “weekend” was wonderful and exciting. I can’ put it in hierarchy of our list of experiences but the desert visiting will not be forgettable for a while.
Translated by: Mariann Kiszely
We registered on the Warmshowers, the „couchsurfing of cyclists” last summer.
This is how we got to know Mina and her husband, Habib. The couple from Teheran loves cycling: the have been to Africa and to some countries in Asia, and they spent 3 months on a trip in Europe last summer. We spent five days with them in Budapest, and we became friends. They are very open-minded, friendly, extremely modest and they have a good sense of humour.
During the year we were in touch with them, the helped us to get the invitation letter for the Iranian visa.
In Tebriz Mina's niece Vida and her husband, Ahmet were our hosts. Our arrival was stormy indeeed. We took about 100 kms that day, riding in the urban traffic made us very tired, the rain, the wind and the thunder were just a plus.
When we arrived to the small flat in Tebriz we were tired, wet and dirty. We were embarrassed in our dirty clothes, we were packing our muddy and wet bike bags when the door opened. Vida stepped out and greeted us. They had been waiting for us, they had heard a lot about us from Mina and Habib. The greeting was very warm. After a hot shower and a delicious dinner we had a long conversation then we fell asleep on our toshaks. The toshaks can be found in smaller flats and they are similar to a mattress, people lay the toshak on the ground so it can be used as a bed by the guests.
The next day Vida and Ahmed took us to one of the oldest bazars of the town. We were waiting for the day when we can experience what we read in the book of Ármin Vámbéry: „After having spent a couple of days in Tebriz, it became clear to me that I was living in the East, and that the distant Istanbul, the colourful curtain of the Eastern world shows only a falsified picture of the East that was made similar to Europe.( Ármin Vámbéry, Travels through Central Asia)
Today they still sell carpets in the oldest part of the roofed bazar. In the small shops that are only of a couple of square-meters they sell yarn and silk that is necessary for the preparation of carpets. In the bigger shops we saw different kinds of carpets. There were handmade carpets and machine made carpets as well, ones with Tebriz pattern, some made of yarn and others of silk. The number of „regs” also influences the price of the carpets. The reg means the number of handmade knots on a seven centimeter-section. The more expensive carpets can have 70 regs! There were tapestries as well, that people put on the wall. These are masterpieces, we had to go closer to see the material, we did not believe that they were not paintings.
The silk carpets are very expensive, so they are usually bought by wealthy people. Out of curiosity we asked a merchant to show us his most expensive carpet. He showed us a carpet on the wall, its size was about 1,5-2 square meters. The price was approximately 4,5 million forints. He was waving his head and told us that he had been trying to sell the carpet for two years, but nobody bought it.
We visited the merchants selling spices as well. I got to know how to choose rice, and this time I do not mean the choice between the type „A” and „B”. I was fascinated and I kept asking questions from Vida.
They keep the rice in big sacks, I smelled the the white and longer one, the smaller and chubby one and the smoked rice as well. All of them had a very interesting smell. In Iran they eat a lot of rice, there is a big difference between the preparation methods. I learned that rice can be prepared in an everyday and ceremonial way as well, all the housewives know this. When I was young I learned from my mother how to prepare rice in a way that it does not become sticky – in many cases I still do not manage to prepare it – but here they have several versions.
You have to gently blow on a handful of rice, then smell it. It seemed to be a breath-test for me as well at first, but it works, you can smell the aroma and the odour of the rice!
It was interesting to experience how conscious the Iranians are about their meals. They know their food and they know how their body is effected by them. They know that the sweet morsels „wake up” the body in the morning. They do not burden their stomach with sausage or different kinds of meat, neither with cold cuts, as the body needs a lot of energy to digest these. ( I have to tell that as I love meat it was a bit difficult for me to get used to a more vegetarian diet. )
People usually eat bread, peach or strawberry jam, nuts, honey, cream, cucumber, egg and helva (sesame cream) for breakfast in the morning. They have several kinds of bread, none of them is similar to our one. ( sometimes I miss the white bread that we have at home! ) One of our favourites is the fatir bread, it is round-shaped and it is similar to the pie. The lavash is a very thin pasta, they eat it for breakfast or for lunch. The sangak is square shaped and it is porous. Its curiosity is that it is baked on small stones. One morning we found a very small stone at the bottom of our sangak. The tafton is similar to the lavash, but it is a bit thick. The barberi is circle shaped, and it is a solid kind of pie.
They almost always eat rice for lunch and dinner. The housewives can decorate the meals with different kinds of spices, dried fruits, flower petals and milling products. Their spices are intensive, but not hot. They like using saffron, that gives a very special smell and taste to the food. Besides the rice, they usually eat some juicy meal. My favourite one is the „khores” that can be prepared using meat and vegetables as well. The proportions are interesting: at home the meat takes 50% and the garnish 50%, here rice takes 80% of the meal.
We had vegetable soup and „white soup” with carrots, milk, lemon and pasta several times for dinner. Sometimes they substitute rice with pasta, but this is not very frequent. They like drinking „doogh” for dinner: it is a yogurt diluted with water and flavoured with thyme or mint ( it is similar to the Turkish ayran). It is important to season the food in the evening in a way that it should decrease the blood pressure, so people can fall asleep more easily.
We got to know Vida's family as well, we met her parents and her younger sister. It is interesting how many languages they use in the family. Vida speaks azeri Turkish with her parents, but Persian with Ahmet. Everyone understands the other language as well, but they know which language is usually used when they would like to communicate with someone from the family. Of course the Persian is the official language everywhere in Iran, but it is very interesting how all this works in the everyday life. Vida's sister, Neda is a graphic artist and illustrator. She is full of ideas and she has beautiful pictures. Unfortunately the state does not support students who studied art, she does not have much work. One evening when we had dinner in the house of Vida's parents, she asked me modestly if I was curious about her pictures. Of course, I would love to see them- I replied. We went to her room, where she showed me her drawings and sketches. My heart shrank: I would love to help this young girl! How many opportunities she would have, if she had the possibility to blossom out! I am not very familiar with designer topics, but still, I showed her some webpages on my mobile phone on which there was already a software that deactivated the internet blocker.
I encouraged her to apply for scholarships, to travel and to see the world. It was a bittersweet feeling to sit on the floor in the room of such a talent, knowing that I cannot really help her...
We said goodbye to Vida and Ahmet after two days. Our stormy arrival was followed by an adventurous departure. Balázs's next dream came true the following day, as he had the possibility to travel on the deck of a Peycan that had a plateau. But how did this happen? One of Ahmet's friends came by car to help. We put the bicycles and the luggage to the plateau and headed to the bus-station. Balázs loved the Peycan. He was smiling, grasping the handhold and waving to us. I regret not having taken a photo about him, nothing else could better describe his happiness. I travelled with Ahmet, Vida and Ghila.
At the bus-station, after some bargaining we got our tickets and we put everything into the bus. We had to say goodbye to our hosts very quickly, as the driver was already hooting.
We had 630 kms and an 8 hour long bus trip ahead of us, we were waiting for our arrival in Teheran where Mina and Habib were waiting for us.
Translated by: Éva Kapusi
We wasted 3 hours of our lives with the border crossing at Kapikoy. The bureaucracy took an hour and a half and the time difference was the same so by the time we jumped into the saddle again it was already 3:00-3:30. We were descending and everything seemed different again from what we were already accustomed to. The cars were different, the license plates were different, everything was written in Farsi (Persian) and we were watched by portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini everywhere.
To tell you the truth, we weren’t well informed about Iran’s history but we quickly filled that void with the help of the Internet. To fully understand what is going on in this country we have to learn about their past.
I’m not going to write too much about Iran’s history since anybody can read more about it if they wish. (We find the country’s 20th century history fascinating.) Make a long story short, in 1925 Reza Pahlavi, a former army officer, names himself the Shah (king) of Iran and he adopts the politics of Ataturk for his government. The country is developing nicely and the infrastructure is being built but, according to the masses, this is all accomplished via dictatorial practices. Furthermore, he wants the country to return to its ancient Persian roots instead of following the teachings of Islam. In 1941 Iran is attacked by Soviet and British forces due to the Shah’s support of Germany. The Shah was overthrown and his son, Mohamed Reza, took his place while the Shah was exiled to Mauritius. This was when the younger Pahlavi’s reign began which was characterized by his friendship with the United States, Israel and Egypt. The new Shah wanted to implement an American way of life in Iran but he didn’t succeed. Due to his irresponsible and erroneous economical and agricultural decisions the country started going bankrupt. Meanwhile, the Shah was leading a luxurious life and surrounded himself with the elite. Fearing that he could be overthrown he implemented the secret police. The oil price explosion of 1973 didn’t help matters either even though Iran greatly benefited from the Arab States’ boycotting of the oil commerce. Even though money poured into the country, the people didn’t benefit from it since all of it was spent on the army, the administration of the Shah, and the elite. In 1978 the Shah wasn’t able to curtail the Iranian Revolution (many people perished during the demonstrations preceding the revolution) and in January of 1979 Iran’s new era had began. The Shah fled the country and resided in the United States for awhile. As a consequence, on November 4th 1979 the US Embassy in Tehran was attacked by an angry crowd and a 444-day hostage situation developed. Ben Affleck made a movie called Argo based on the aforementioned events. (It’s an interesting movie and I highly recommend it.) This was the start of the Iranian Islamic Republic. The United States and Israel were blacklisted. In 1980 the 8-year long Iraq-Iran war had started. The war had many casualties and neither of the two countries came out of it as a winner. The radical Islam leaders implemented many new laws in order to guide their society back to a righteous way of living with the help of the Prophet Muhammad. Among these the most obvious are the head covering (hijab) for the women and the long pants for the men that are mandatory to be worn. Ayatollah Khomeini (who looks like an evil wizard according to Eni) returned from his exile and quickly became the leader of the Islamic Republic. He introduced the radical Islam government that has been in power ever since. We can see his portrait on every street corner as well as on the local currency. I’ll write more about the everyday things we experience in this country but now I’d like to continue with our story.
After crossing the border we found ourselves at a sparsely populated, rocky mountainous area. We followed a swift-moving river downhill and we found a campsite on the banks of this river. We got permission from the men working nearby to set up our tent there. Later we learned that one of them was the owner of the “property” and they even gave us some yoghurt, bread and water.
The next day we continued our journey downhill into the valley and we couldn’t believe our eyes at how beautiful the scenery was along the route. There were walls reaching to the sky on both sides in the sometimes narrower, sometimes wider valley. The bare landscape was replaced more and more by cultivated terrain. We met 3 Iranian cyclists who were training for their trip to Lake Van the following week. We started chatting with them and they quickly offered their help to find a currency exchange office in the nearest town, Khoy. This happened on a Friday which is the official day off in Iran. We saw many families picnicking under the trees along the road sitting on their blankets and chatting happily. We found a currency exchange office in town which was right next to a shop where they were roasting seeds. We killed two birds with one stone by purchasing some freshly roasted sunflower seeds while exchanging money at the same time. We were not aware of the currency exchange rates so we were worried that they might overcharge us but we experienced the honesty of the Iranian people on many occasions since then. We got 3,290,000 rials for 100 dollars. Well, it took a few minutes to count that much money. The official currency is called rial but everybody quotes the prices in toman which has one less zero. It’s very easy for us to convert the prices into Hungarian forint since we just have to cut two zeros from the rial or one zero form the toman to get the prices in forint. Sometimes the price is marked in rial and sometimes in toman so we always double check before paying, but the real problem is when the numbers are written in “Persian” (although we learned those pretty quickly). We said good-bye to two of the guys after exchanging money but the third one, Hussein, accompanied us to a kebab restaurant and then he went home to change into long pants. (Some men wear shorts for biking but they always change into long pants upon arriving back to the city.) The kebab was delicious and the service was without complaints as well. After Hussein returned, he invited us to stay with him for the night and continue on tomorrow. We accepted the invitation since it was late in the day. Hussein lives with his sister in an apartment and their parents live next door. We had a great time together. Eni and I took a bath and washed our smoke covered clothes (we had a problem with our gas stove so we had to cook dinner and breakfast over an open fire) and then we went shopping for groceries because we wanted to cook dinner for our hosts. We spent 329,000 rials in the store. We have never paid this much for food before! Of course, this is only a little less than 3290 forints (about 10 dollars). We made penne with a tomato and mushroom sauce for dinner and for dessert we layered chocolate pudding with cookies. Hussein had called one of his friends who came over with a Paykan (an Iranian automobile; I’ll write more about it later) which I was very excited about. We had a long conversation with our hosts. We were naturally most interested to hear about the mood of the Iranian people.
The next day we awoke to a delicious breakfast which we ate together and we even got some to go. We visited some of the sights in town with Hussein before heading toward Tebriz. We said good-byes at the edge of town but only for a short time since he surprised us an hour or so later by driving up in a car to give us a talisman. The traffic is massive in Iran; lots of cars, trucks and buses. Some of these are older than Eni and I together. Because of this, the smog is unbearable in the cities. We made it to Khoskseraj the first night and tried to find a suitable place for the night at a truck stop. We had some tea in a restaurant where we asked about the possibility of pitching a tent somewhere. There was no suitable place but a nice guy from the restaurant led us into a chapel and said we could sleep there. We locked our bikes to an iron railing where they were protected from the rain that started falling.
Our plan for the next day was to reach Tebriz where we already had a host. We met Mina and Habib, a married couple from Iran, in July of last year when they were our guests in Budapest. They found us on Warmshowers.com (Couchsurfing for cyclists) while they were cycling in Europe for 3 months. We became very good friends and couldn’t wait to see each other again in Tehran. Mina’s niece, Vida, lives in Tebriz. Arriving in the town of Merend, a nice man bought ice cream for us. He wanted to invite us for lunch in his home but we were unable to accept his invitation because we were pressed for time and still had quite a bit of distance to cover that day. We met Akbar, Iran’s (possibly the world’s) most active Warmshowers host, at a small kebab restaurant. He has already hosted 554 cyclists from around the world by the time we met him. As we learned, his friends called him after seeing us, to let him know that there are a couple of cycle tourists in town. We sat down to eat and started chatting. He showed us his photo albums organized by the nationality of cyclists. He gave us about a dozen phone numbers for hosts in different Iranian towns. He is truly an amazing human being. He also gave us Zoli Kobra’s Iranian phone number whom he hosted a couple of days before. After we snapped a picture together, we continued our journey with a long uphill ride exacerbated by a headwind. While we were ascending for 12 kilometers, people greeted us from their cars, welcomed us to Iran, asked us where we came from and thanked us for visiting their country. A few people even stopped to give us some goodies. We got a bag of cucumbers, dried fruits, as well as the aforementioned ice cream all in one day. Every uphill comes to an end at some point and this was true here as well. We started our long descent toward Tebriz and even the wind changed its course in our favor. The kilometers were quickly rolling by as we were breathing in the exhaust, but this was still alright outside of the city. Tebriz is the seat of East Azerbaijan Province with a population of 1.6 million. The traffic was very heavy going into town and although it was much more chaotic than in Turkey, we noticed that the drivers were paying much more attention to us cyclists. When we reached Azerbaijan Square with its approximately 100-meter diameter roundabout with cars entering and exiting from every possible direction, we thought if we survive this, we’d survive anything. To our surprise, we had no problem whatsoever. They slowed down and let us in. To tell you the truth, our hearts were still beating faster than normal. We’d like to write more about the traffic in Iran because it’s insane and amusing at the same time. There are some laws that make our lives more challenging. One of them is the fact that when we are on a bicycle the wind always blows in our face. If we don’t take an umbrella with us it will definitely rain. Another law we discovered is that our hosts always live on a hill. This was the case in Belgrad, in Sofia, in Kayseri, and now in Tebriz where we were completely exhausted by the time we reached our hosts’ apartment. Along the way we saw a wedding procession, soccer fans, and the city from above lit by lighting. It started raining, but this didn’t bother us at the end of our 97th kilometer. Ahmed, Vida’s husband greeted us with a big smile. They were waiting for us with hot water and a mouth-watering dinner and they catered to our every need in the next few days. We became very good friends with this couple who were the same age as us. You can read about our days in Tebriz and our arrival to Tehran soon.