måndag 29 april 2013

Leaving Iran

Last Sunday I left Sabzevar and headed out into the desert again. The strange thing is that many people have told me that the wind usually blows from west to east, but that has not been the case for me. And this day I had to struggle with a head wind for the whole day. It’s hard for the body to cycle into the wind for a whole day, but I think it’s just frustrating when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. Out in the desert it’s hard sometimes to find a nice place to stop for lunch. For a long time I never saw any trees where I could stop and hide from the burning sun, so eventually I stopped by some big rocks and found some shade under a big rock. Another thing that slowed me down a bit was that the ball bearings in one of my pedals were broken and I had to keep pressure on it to make it spin around. I continued on and eventually made it to Neyshabur and met up with my host Yaser. I had a nice relaxing evening and the next day he showed me to a nice bike shop where I could get some new pedals. Later we met up with his friend Somaye and went to see the Tomb of Omar Khayyám and some other places around. We had a nice day and finished it off with a good dinner.

The next day I got back on my bike and pedaled on with my new shiny pedals. I didn’t have any luck with the wind today either and I was slow until the road turned north and I had a relaxing side wind. When I came close to Mashhad the dark clouds that I had seen for a while eventually came over me and it started raining. The big problem isn’t the rain, it’s the trucks passing by splashing dirty water all over me. So when I arrived in Mashhad me and my bike, which were clean just an hour ago where now really dirty. But I was happy to be in Mashhad and met up with my host, Sajjad at the edge of the city. We loaded my stuff into the car and drove to his home where I could get out of my dirty clothes and into a nice and warm shower. Sajjad is a musician and has a big passion for country music. It’s not really the genre you associate with Iranian people. But he is really good and works with musicians from different genres and also makes his own music and covers others with some really nice videos. Check them out on youtube:

At night me, Sajjad and his sister Sara went out and had a nice dinner at a restaurant before heading home where Sajjad got out the guitar and played some music. I tried to stay up longer, but it was difficult to keep my eyes open after cycling 120 km. So I went to bed and had a great night’s sleep downstairs in what used to be Sajjads studio. The next day we went to Vali’s homestay where the owner had helped me with my visa to Turkmenistan. I was hoping to meet some other cyclists there since it was a place that I had read others recommending. But I didn’t see any guest there, so I’m happy I didn’t stay there since it would probably have been boring. I filled out another paper and we made plans to meet outside of the embassy the next morning because I had to bring my passport. I thought I would find a good map of Central Asia in Mashhad, but we looked around everywhere without any luck. Later we went by Sajjads brothers hair salon where I got a nice haircut. At night some friends of Sajjad came by and we had a little party. We had a great time and I made some friends that I would see some more of during my time in Mashhad.
The next morning we met up with Vali outside of the embassy and handed in my passport. We met some cool people outside of the embassy. One Japanese guy travelling the world, he was also going to Turkmenistan but not with bicycle. And while everyone else there had a jacket on and were a little cold in the shade, he came walking bare foot in sandals and with just a T-shirt. Another funny guy was an older man who started by high fiving everyone before trying to guess where we were from. And he guessed right that I was from Sweden and that the other guy was from Japan. And at the Japanese guy he kept repeating Genghis Khan, Genghis Khan. At one a clock we were back at the embassy to pick up the passport and luckily I got my five day’s transit visa. I had heard that some cyclist only got three days, and it would have been almost impossible to cross Turkmenistan in that time.
At night me, Sajjad and some friends went out for a really nice dinner at a traditional restaurant. And I have to say that I’m going to miss the Iranian food. Everything is good. After dinner we stopped by another friend’s house where we had a good time with of course some tea, sweets and good music. Ehsan was also working with music for other artist’s and also on his own album.
On Friday me and Sajjad and Niloo drove out of the city to her family’s summer house where Sajjad took some nice model photos of her. It was a really nice place and it was nice to get out of the city and see a little bit of nature. Later we had a great lunch at a nice place where you could sit outside in a garden. After a Shish kebab I was stuffed and we had a look around before heading back into town.
In the evening we had made plans to meet up with two other couchsurfers and there host at a café. And if you think I’m doing something extreme you should meet Caroline. She started walking with six other women from France. They got fewer and fewer and eventually she was the only one that kept on walking. She met up with Cedric, also a Frenchman travelling by foot. His goal was to reach Mongolia while Caroline was going around the world for a total of ten years. They were really inspiring and had a lot of great stories to tell.
It was already late when we said goodbye and good luck to Caroline and Cedric. But we decided to go and see Mashhads biggest attraction, Holy Shrine. I knew a little about is before I came here but had no idea how big it was. Even if we were there after midnight there where a lot of people there, especially around the shrine. It was really big and luckily Sajjad knew his was around. Almost at least, He told me the place had grown since last he was there and we could see that they were expanding with new buildings. And it was beautiful at night when the place was lit up. But the main part blew my mind .After walking through a golden port you enter into a building covered in gold and beautiful walls. And everywhere the roof was covered on mirrors and it almost makes your head spin just by looking at it.

And even at night it was crowded around the shrine and people where kissing it, rubbing scarfs at it and lifting up their children close to it. After standing there for a while it was nice to get out and away from the hysteria. We went back and had our latest dinner so far at 3 am.
The next day Sajjad had been in contact with Caroline and Cedric and they had decided to stay another day in Mashhad and at Sajjads house. We had a great day and evening together with lots of stories and more great food by Sajjads mother. Later some friends of Sajjad came by to say goodbye to me and we had a good time with more live music.
On Sunday it was time for all of us to leave Mashhad. I really had a good time in the city and made a lot of friends that I will keep in contact with and hopefully meet again. I said goodbye to Caroline and Cedric next to the Holy Shrine where they had stopped walking when arriving in Mashhad. And since they were walking every step of the way that’s where they started again from. Sajjad showed me the way out of the city and I headed out into the wind again.
I had two days of cycling over 200 km to the border. The first day I just kept pushing on and managed to do about 100 km in the wind and found a nice place for my tent among some hills. I started early the next day and got warm directly since the first stretch was uphill. Many stores where closed since it was early in the morning. But here in Iran you don’t have to go hungry for long. Halfway up the hill some nice people invited me in for breakfast, so with a full stomach I cycled up the last bit of uphill.
After that it was mostly down through a nice valley with the warm morning sun shining. I reached the border town Sarakhs at around three a clock and asked some people for a place to camp or a cheap hotel. Two nice guys showed me a place where truckers stayed for the night waiting to cross the border and told me that it was okay to camp there. It didn’t feel very nice and I decided go with a hotel for the night. I wanted to be fully rested for my five days to come when I have to cross Turkmenistan without much rest. And also a good time to update the blog since I haven’t had time for that.

So tomorrow I’m leaving Iran unfortunately. If I knew beforehand that it was going to be this great I probably would have planned to stay for at least two months. It’s my favorite country so far and the people here are so friendly and hospitable. Before I had mostly heard bad things on the TV about the country, and it’s too bad that most people don’t know how great this place is. I’m sure I’ll return here someday to visit all the friends I have made here during this time.

A big thank you to all the people that I have met here. Everyone from those who have hosted me to those who stop me by the road to give me fruit, bread, chocolate, nuts and so much tea!!=)

lördag 20 april 2013

Halfway to Mashhad

I had a good time in Shahrud with my host, Hamed. He showed me around town and we drove up to the mountains to have a look at a waterfall close to the village Mojen. It felt really strange to go from the edge of the desert and after just 40 km being up in the mountains with snow still on the ground. And to get to the waterfall we had to walk in the freezing cold water through a gorge.

The next day I was back on the bike and headed out into the desert on the road towards Mashhad. I did not have a very good start on the day with a head wind. But after pushing on for a couple of hours the wind settled down and after lunch the ride was much easier. And the weather was really good except for the wind. It was about 25 degrees and cloudy, so I didn’t have to deal with the burning desert sun. My host from Semnan’s husband was working with cultural sites around the Semnan area and had arrange so that I could spend the night at Miandasht caravansary, but when I arrived the housekeeper had left for Tehran and the place was locked. But I found a nice place for my tent in the back where I had protection from the wind during the night. And from the back I found a way into the caravansary where I snuck in and had a look around the magnificent complex.

The next day I was really happy when I started cycling and felt the wind in my back. But it only lasted for 30 km when the road turned a bit and also the wind. So for most of the day the wind was coming from the side and when leaning into the wind and the big trucks passes by breaking the wind flow I have to steady the bike. It felt more obvious that I was in the desert today with the scorching sun. The wildlife is also changing since I came into the desert region, the bugs are getting bigger and creepier and yesterday I say camels in the wild for the first time. And that’s one of the times I really stop to think about how far from home I have come.
Yesterday’s cycling was really hard, but I really wanted to make it to Sabzevar where I had a place to stay with a couchsurfer. But to get there I had to cycle 150 km and when stopping for lunch after 90 km I was really tired and hesitated if I should continue on. But after getting some food in me and drinking a lot of water a got some new energy and kept on going. The wind turned once again and or the last stretch to Sabzevar I had to struggle with a head wind. But I finally made it and today I’m taking a break from the bike to rest up before tomorrow heading out into the 30 degree desert again. I’m just lucky I’m cycling here now during the spring, I can’t imagine how hard it must be during the hot summer.

And one thing that gave me some extra energy yesterday was a text message from back home letting me know that Skellefteå AIK crushed Luleå in the playoff finals of the Swedish Hockey League!!!!!

onsdag 17 april 2013

Desert landscape

I spent four days in Tehran and had a great time and met a lot of nice people. I moved into Bagher’s apartment after the first night at Hassan’s place. And on Friday me, Bagher’s wife Solmaz and her siblings Nazanin and Amir went to a big park in the hills overlooking the huge city of Tehran. And getting somewhere in the city takes time since there is a lot of traffic and people are driving like crazy. I never think I could be able to drive in this City. But Amir got us there and back again alive and at night we had a great dinner at Solmaz’s parent’s apartment who lived just across the street. Her mom made amazing food and as it is everywhere in Iran, people always want you to eat more and more and more. So I think I have gained some weight during my first two weeks here in Iran. And I have gotten used to the meal times now when often I have eaten lunch at 5-6 and dinner can be as late as midnight.
My last day in Tehran most of my friends were at work, but Amir wasn’t, so me, he and his friend decided to go for a swim. We drove for a while out of the city to a swimming pool only to find out that it was women’s day to use the pool, so we turned back and found another place that was open for men. We had fun even if none of them spoke much English. At night we had another great meal at Solmaz mother’s house and I said goodbye to all of them.
The next morning Bagher got on his motorcycle and showed me the way out of the city. He followed me for 30 km and showed me the right way to continue towards Mashhad. But even if I had cycled 30 km I wasn’t out of Tehran and the traffic continued to be heavy. But eventually is eased off and I could start to breath fresh air again. After cycling about 100 km a car stopped by the road and some people got out to say hello and to give me chocolate. We talked for a little while and they invited me to stay at their house in Garmsar. It was 30 km away so it would be a long day on the bike for my first day after a few days rest in Tehran. But the weather was good and to begin with I went through a nice valley that was leaning slightly downhill. After leaving Tehran the landscape had changed and everything was very dry as I was entering the desert. When I arrived in Garmsar a called Ali and was told to go to Aradan. I didn’t know where it was so a asked some people for help. And two young guys on a motorcycle showed me which turned out to be more than 10 km from Garmsar. After a while I met up with Ali and he showed me the way to his wife’s parent’s house in Aradan. I tried to explain that I had eaten lunch but they got out some food for me anyway and said Iranians favorite word, eat more! But after cycling for almost 150 km during the day there was no problem eating more. After a little rest me, Ali, his wife Maryam and her brother Danial drove around Aradan to have a look at the sights.

First we stopped and had a look at a parade for the memory of Fatheme witch was very interesting to see. They were hitting big drums hard and people were tapping their hand against their harts to the beat. And men dressed in black walking in the parade where hitting them self in the back with small whips.
After that we stopped by a house in the town where the president of Iran, Achmedinijad had grown up. And they had sighs at the entrance of the town with pictures of the president. Before heading back to the house we visited a very old settlement where houses were carved out of the rock. It was beautiful to see as the sun was going down.
At night some more of their family arrived for dinner since it was holiday in Iran. We had a delicious dinner and played some card games before going to bed. The next day’s cycling wasn’t very exciting. The fact that I was in a desert area become more obvious and there was no villages for a long time on my way towards Semnan. About 30 km from Semnan the dark clouds that I had seen over the mountains started closing in and it started raining a lot. The wind also picked up and for a while hail was hitting hard on my thighs, feeling like someone where poking me with needles. But as I closed in on Semnan it stopped and when I arrived in the city the sun was shining again. I met up with Gazhal from couchsurfing and we went to her very nice apartment where she lived with her husband and their six year old daughter. She was very knowledgeable about the historical places around Semnan and we had a look around the old mosque and the bazar.
After leaving Semnan I knew a had a big hill to get over in the morning. So far in Iran the landscape had been very flat compared to the big hills in Turkey so it had been a while since the last climb. And this one was about 30 km uphill and one of those that didn’t seem to end. After every turn there were more uphill, so it was a relief reaching the top. But at the other side I was greeted by a cold headwind, so instead of gliding town the hill which I had been looking forward to the whole morning I had to keep on pedaling. I reached the city of Damghan in the afternoon and had decided to get a room for the night. The only hotel I found looked really expensive so I asked some people for a cheaper alternative. They came me directions to a place further down the road. When I didn’t find it I asked another guy in a car who didn’t speak any English, so he waved down another car with a very nice man who wanted to help but he also didn’t speak English. But in the third car who stopped was a English teacher and a friend of Manafi in the second car. Manafi had been in Sweden and said that the people there had been so nice to him that he now wanted to help me. I followed him to a house where he had a very nice apartment where he let me stay for the night. And he also went out and came back with a huge bag of fruit, cookies and chocolate suited for maybe two families.
In the evening me, Manafi and the English teacher Hamid went out and had a big delicious dinner at a very nice restaurant. Their plates where normal sized while mine was loaded with meat. I had a great night’s sleep and in the morning Manafi loaded my bag full of bread, fruit, cookies and chocolate. So much that I had problem closing the bag.

I only had a 60 km ride today to Shahrood where I’m staying with a couchsurfer. And tomorrow I’m heading into the desert towards Mashhad where I think I’ll arrive in five days.

torsdag 11 april 2013

Made it to Tehran

I really had great time in Zanjan and made some good friends. My host Behnam was also a long distance cyclist with a dream of cycling around the world. And I really hope he will get the opportunity one day, and it makes me feel very fortunate to be able to live out my big dream.

I had about 300 km lest to Tehran and hoped to make it in three days so that I could go to the Uzbekistan embassy and get my visa before the weekend. And with a nice breeze in the back and a great lunch in my bag from Behnam and Behrooz’s mother I pushed on. At two a clock I had cycled just over 90 km and reached the city Abhar. There I got stopped by two guys who asked me if I had time to go to picnic with them. It seemed like a good idea and I parked my bike at Hassan’s house and we drove out to a little cottage close to the city where they tried to teach me a card game with limited English. We had a nice evening and later more people arrived and they started up a barbeque and we had a delicious dinner with grilled chicken kebab.
I slept at Hassan’s house and we had a nice breakfast before I headed off. I didn’t cycle as long as I thought I would the day before since I stopped in Abhar. I had a great time there but felt like I needed to push on a little more today so that I wouldn’t have to cycle in late into Tehran the next day. And the wind was my friend today also to begin with and I made good distance before lunch. After I had to struggle a bit with the wind and my energy was a little low. When I had cycled about 120 km some people outside of a factory waved me in and showed me the way to the boss who spoke good English and we had a nice conversation over a cup of tea. He asked if he could do anything for me and I told him I was looking for a place to set up my tent for the night. He made a couple of calls and since he had friends working at the municipal office he arranged so that I could set up in the garden next to the building. Also he gave me food for dinner and if that wasn’t enough a car escorted me all the 15 km to the city of Abyek. The grass outside of the office was perfect and I had access to a bathroom, so I was very pleased and set up my tent there and got ready for the evening.
But just as I was ready another man came by, he didn’t speak any English but told me to follow him. We walked into the office building where he showed to a room where I could spend the night. So a packed up my stuff just as the rain started and. And the food that was given to me by Hamid they put in the fridge for my lunch tomorrow and order me more food. It’s amazing how friendly and helpful people are here and if you need help with something you will get it. And later Hamid called to make sure everything was okay and later someone from the mayor’s office called to check up on me and asked if they could do anything more for me. I had gotten so much already and couldn’t possibly ask for anything else. And after a good night’s sleep and breakfast I was led into the mayor’s office to meet with him. He didn’t speak English but had translators on the phone. I got a number that I could call if I needed any help when I was in Tehran and again they asked if they could do something more for me.
From here I had about 90km into Tehran and Azadi square where I had made plans to meet up with my host Bagher. But the traffic into the city was the worst I had ever experience and I had to look out for cars coming from everywhere. But I made it to Tehran alive and met up with Bagher’s brother Shayan and his farther and we loaded my bike into their blue Nissan pickup and drove to their friend Hassan’s house since Bagher was working. It was nice to arrive and jump into the shower and just relax for a while. In the evening we went over to Bagher’s place for a nice dinner and a night with great company.

I slept the night at Hassan’s place and in the morning we drove to the Uzbekistan Embassy to get my Visa. And after waiting in line for a while the process was very quick and now I’m all set for Uzbekistan. Now I just need to get my visa for Turkmenistan witch I can do now that I have my Uzbek visa.     

söndag 7 april 2013

A warm welcome to Iran

I left Agri on Sunday morning and headed towards Dogubayazit. When I came closer to the city I could see Mt. Ararat amongst the clouds. I passed through the city and spent my last Turkish Lira on some food and continued about 20 km further towards the border before setting up my tent for the evening.

And when I woke up all the clouds where gone and the view of Mt. Ararat at 5,137 m was amazing. This morning I only had 20 km left of Turkey and with a nice breeze in my back I was there ready to cross over to Iran. And after passing 2-3 km line of truck waiting there where not many people at the border. But I had some problems getting out of Turkey and the border officer went away with my passport two times and asked me some more questions. I guess it was because I had entered the country two times in a short period of time. First when I came with the ferry from Chios and then later arriving from Cyprus. But eventually he let me through and to the Iranian border. And they were very nice and curious about my trip and after a first visa control I was taken to an office where they asked some more questions, and while I was waiting for them to finish they gave me candy and bread full of chocolate cream. It didn’t take very long and they all wished me good luck on my journey and a good time in Iran.
And after changing some of my dollars to Iranian Rials I was ready for my 15:th country on this trip. I first passed through the city Maku who was squeezed in a valley. Many people where waving screaming hello and cars honking at me. I was invited for some tea and something to eat by some brick makers outside of the city. They invited me to sleep there, but it was only lunch time and I wanted to continue on for a little longer. In the evening I found a nice camping spot and I had a view of Mt. Ararat this night as well, even though it was far away in the distance and I could only see the top of it and the last sight of Turkey.
The next day was holiday here in Iran and they celebrated 13:th of Farvardin when everyone goes out into the nature. So everywhere people where having picnics and when I cycled past many of them invited me in for tea, bread, fruit, nuts, cookies and more tea. At one place I stopped five times within 3-4 km and after a while I had to say no so that I could get somewhere today. At lunchtime I met a nice man who spoke English and he invited me in for a delicious and very nice lunch with his big family.
I continued on and stopped at some more picnics along the way. After eating some tasty cookies and tea with some nice people in Shahr I decided to search for a place to set up my tent for the night. But on my way away from the main road I met Dariush who said that I could set it up in his garden. I followed him there and he showed me a good place for it. But after a little while he said that I should instead sleep in his house. I couldn’t turn down an offer like that and cycled after his car to his house. I parked my bike and then he wanted to show me around so we got in his car and drove up into the mountains. There was a very nice place next to a volcanic mountain where everyone seemed to be going. Up there we met his family and relatives and ate a great dinner. His niece and nephew spoke very good English and I had a great time there until the sun went down and we headed back down to the city.
And after a nice warm shower me and Dariuch went over to his brother in law’s house and met with the rest of the family. It was a really nice day and perfect for cycling with great weather and many meetings with wonderful people. And I have never drunk so much tea in one day before with probably 25 cups trough out the day.
I set out early the next morning, and I hadn’t really gotten used to starting cycling at 7:00 in the morning since I got into Iran. Because the day I crossed the border the clock was moved forward for day light savings and entering Iran meant a new time zone with + 1,5 hour. So in the beginning here in Iran getting up at 7:00 felt like getting up at 4:30. But now I’m used to it and the days are long with the sun setting at 8:30 witch is great when camping.
I had my sight set on Tabriz for the day and started by cycling uphill for about 20 km. And at the top I sat down with two friendly shepherds for some tea and bread. It was perfect with a break then and it was exactly what I needed before continuing onwards to Tabriz. I arrived there in good time which was good since it is a big city with a population of 3 million and some crazy traffic. I made my way into the center and contacted Ali from couchsurfing. He couldn’t host me but helped me find a really cheap guest house and showed me around town at night.

The next day I left the city and continued on. And after a bit of uphill I was greeted by dark rain clouds when going down on the other side. It rained a lot but for very long and after lunch it had stopped. By then I had cycled into a really nice valley where the road leaned just slightly downwards and I was just gliding through as the sun peaked through the clouds. I set up my tent in the valley and the next morning I continued down the valley, and the road was leaning downwards for almost 50 km to the city of Mianeh. When buying some food outside of the city a met some nice people who spoke English and where very interested in my trip. We talked for a bit and when I told them I was going to Tehran they invited me to stay with them there once I get there. I had posted my itinerary on couchsurfing and had received more than ten invites from people there. But I think I’m staying with the nice people I met before since I’ve been in contact with them and they seemed to be good people.
I cycled on towards Zanjan and stopped for the night about 70 km from the city when it started raining heavily and thunder and lightning was closing in. I found an old barn by the road and decided to set up my tent inside where I had cover from the rain. Or so I thought. Because the roof started leaking and the muddy floor splashed dirt on my tent. But I managed to set it up so that none of the water dropped down on the tent and I had a good night sleep. Before I fell asleep I heard a couple of men walking by, they looked in with a flashlight and said something about tourist, laughed a bit and walked away.
The next day I had a short ride into Zanjan where I met Behnam from warmshowers nd I got a warm welcome to the city. Yesterday we went to the very old bazar and at night we drove up to the hill for a great view of the city below.
And I stayed here another day and me, Behnam, Behrooz and their uncle went for a trip. First we visited Soltniyeh dome, one of the world’s biggest brick building. And after that we drove on to Katalehkhour Cave. It was a beautiful place full of stalagmites, stalactites and other amazing rock formations. Tonight we went out and met some more of Behnam’s friends over some tea and water pipe.