The week starts with saying goodbye to a cyclist from Denmark while I peddel on with Darryl. The Australian born man changed his plans a bit and decided he wanted to discover the country rather by bicycle than by public transport. It is nice to have some company.
Less happy am I when we are going to camp: lying in a tent made for sisters, brothers or lovers, but too close to someone else not my lover! Darryl decided to sleep outside, although it is cold. He doesn’t have a tent and doesn’t have a matrass. Yet he was convinced he could sleep in the open. He has a sleeping bag and a plastic sheet. Then it starts to rain… Is it strange I don’t like our first night: lying togeter in a tent close to an overflowing riverbank making its way towards me, rain drenching the not waterproof tent and being warm and toasted in my sleeping bag? I asked Darryl to face my feet, and therefor waking up next to his face is not what I looked forward to! Damn.
It’s gonna be a rainy journey
Darryl, did I tell you about Darryl? He’s an eccentric person, just like I might be myself. It happens I like persons who are different, or must I say: I run in such types most of the time because, most of he time, what I do is rather unusual. Darryl, a hippie from the seventies, playing several string instruments in the parks of Kurdistan, decided to tag along, bought a Chinese mountain bike, wrapped his bags with the help of Henrik, the Danish guy cycling, onto it. And off we are, at some point, his morning starts are slow starts. Not to mention the dismantling of his handlebar bag, neatly wrapped just above his front wheel.
The Tough Australian Bushman
As we start cycling in the afternoon we soon hit deep autumn colors bathing in valleys. Mountains are dotted with little thin caps of snow. Soon rain start to fall on us. Three days of rain, and both having little to no rain gear. I got a cheap rain jacket which I supplement with a plastic sheet around the part that sits on the saddle. Nothing so annoying as to cycle with wet underwear. I bought cheap rubber dishwasher gloves and wear thin woolen Icebreakers underneath them. My feet are covered in zip-it bags and this way I keep reasonable dry and warm enough to the next restaurant where we will warm up, or decide to stay the night. Darryl is less well off, he hasn’t got any plastic. He could buy plastic, like I did, but somehow he’s a real tough Australian born bushman. He certainly doesn’t look like one but he amazes me. Temperatures are around 5 degrees and he still wears sandals without socks. His thin synthetic down jacket is drenched and his black jeans, rolled up to show white ankles, seem to be soaked forever. Soon his face is covered in mud and snot, his eyes fouled with sand stuff, cursing Henrik’s advise on buying a bicycle without mudguards. Glasses are dangling on a cord around his neck and his yellow safety vest shines through all-weather conditions. Yet, he’s a real tough cyclist though. Respect for him!
I am finely tuned. Need food regular. Others would say too regular. Drink liters of water, something Darryl doesn’t, and each night his legs are twitching in pain. I need a good long sleep where Darryl seem to play out some more of his tales in the night. Each morning we start slow and way too late, while my strength hides in the morning. But I won’t complain, remembering a former cyclist who kept complaining about my slow pace. And I remember all too well how that feels.
Sister, daughter, wife, friend, lover or colleague?
‘She is my friend,’ is Darryl’s reply to the young, handsome imam who’d asked if I am his wife. ‘I am your sister, remember?’ I quickly add, will we have a chance to sleep in a village where’s no mosarfakhane. Darryl and I have decided it is best to be sister and brother. Me being his wife doesn’t appeal to me. Me being his lover is out of the question but is what Iranians seem to think. Me being his daughter is not ethical acceptable for him. Being colleagues is weird in Iran. So we are brother and sister, blue and brown eyes siblings. And thus it happens we get a place in the mosque of Bisotun, together on one carpet. Ali sets us up on a carpet which he later on changes for a bigger carpet, just to make sure we won’t touch each other. Perhaps Ali has doubts about us being brother and sister? But both Darryl and I do our best to be as fraternal as possible: I wear my ugly hijab and Darryl sits in his white long johns. Ali brings me to the best restaurant in town, not more than a truck stop but good anyway. He also brings back Darryl who was taken along in a car by some ‘friends’. We are by ourselves when Ali leaves us with a thermos of chai in the mosque. I duck under the sleeping bag where I hope Darryl won’t notice my silly behavior of continuous sending mobile text to the one we left behind…
Ladies and gentleman: The Freak Show is entering your town, come and see!
Moving on from Kurdistan we enter Kermanshah. The route around Kermanshah is as flat as the coastal region in Ghana. Clouds nestle in the embrace of the mountain her slopes and it’s peaks. I cycle far ahead of Darryl and enjoy the speed. By entering little villages more chadors are to be seen, women who spot me cycling past them, watch me in awe. As Darryl cycles behind me he only sees heads turned around. I feel utterly out-of-place, especially when I wear the black legging -such a contrast with the women- yet I enjoy cycling. The town of Harsin is of a captivated beauty. For a few moments I feel as if I entered a true fairy tale; a tiny roundabout is surrounded by an overgrow of trees cloaked around old men sitting on benches. Their walking sticks held between leathery wrinkled hands. Little cages with little birds hangs wonderfully placed above the roundabout. The sound of their singing and an absence of motorbikes and cars makes the whole scene perfect. We get to have a belated but beauteous lunch, even though it is still kofta kebab -for the former vegetarian- it’s a treat to the eyes and tummy. The girl who serves us is a bit enthusiast to see our little weird combination. We start to call ourselves ‘The Freak Show’, and she probably doesn’t see many travelers so she want to practice her non-existing English. ‘Oh! Your English is very good,’ Darryl beams to her, ánd all the other people who speak one word of English. Soon the girl is screamed to by a man who don’t agree with her jovial respond to us.
The I.R of Iran, where many people, especially in Kurdistan, make fun about the money. On most of the bills imam Khomeini is depicted ‘Khomeini, Khomeini, Khomeini’, like everything seem to be about in this country, being sarcastic how much they love Khomeini. There’s much to say about the ayatollah’s and I am not going into this subject as we, travelers, know too little about it to be correct.
Darryl, the man nursing the child in him. So do I.
Talking about being correct, one thing is sure: Darryl is far from being decent. Not that I mind, I just do things slightly different. We stop for a little break where I need to change my woolen shirt, I wear underneath the Iranian long pullover, for a thinner top. After I have changed Darryl needs to go for toilet. Apparently he has never done his rituals in the open and this somehow shows, as he squats down right next to the road. And so he is in full display for the two police men who want to check his passport later on. More so, Darryl has been constipated for two days and he is undergoing a tremendous pleasurable, perhaps somewhat painful explosion. His white bum is being framed by his long johns, equally white, now dangling on his ankles. Meanwhile, the police in Lorestan isn’t as easy-going as the Kurdish and keep pointing out the hand written notice on my visa, ‘your Farsi is very good,’ they keep telling me. I honestly reply I speak nor write Farsi, the writing is done by the ambassador of Tbilisi, not by myself. The police keep whining about the hand written line, suspecting me from a corrupted visa to their country, until Darryl crawls back out of the ditch, shaking the police men their hands. Hands just used for his wild-crapping, as Darryl proudly announce his new experience. As soon as the police men notice we have different passports and are not married a grim appears on their faces. Nevertheless, they let us go and I cycle slowly uphill behind Darryl.
Not much later I am again stopped by the same police, now accompanied by a higher ranking official. I get annoyed and call out for pity: ‘I am hungry, I want to cycle and besides, you just don’t understand your own country visa.’ Perhaps not the best approach but they leave me. A few minutes later, still climbing the hill, I am pushed off the road by an eager man who wants to speak to me. His manners are so bad and even dangerous, as I am almost hit by a passing truck, I angrily ask him to move on, as I ain’t going to stop again.
I try to be a good companion
Perhaps it’s my mood, the feminine period of the month is approaching indeed, and Darryl his slow pace is working on my nerves. When he starts to cycle through a very small settlement he does so as he hopes to find a place to sleep. Not at a family, as he prefers a mosarfakhane, to keep his privacy. And I don’t want to appear all-knowing nor fully experienced, I let him cycle through the village, asking people for a cheap hotel. Expected, when there is no mosarfakhane, I try to pursued him to cycle on, the last part of the day: an impressive snakelike road. We put some oil on Darryl his Chinese chain and off we are. Surprisingly, Darryl sprints up the hill!
You know, being with someone is not only fun and great, it takes effort and time to align.
Another thing I try not to be is impatient as I know all too well how it is to be addressed as slow. I recall how it is to give all your effort to something you love to do, something you enjoy doing, while another contemns how you go about your activity. Thankfully Darryl is not the type of man to show his strength, masculinity or bravery, yet he yells at me: ‘You are so slow!’ when I reach the hill-top, at an altitude of 1870 meters and a beauty I captivated both on camera and mind. He must be joking. I say nothing. My reply is smothered in thoughts: ‘Slow? Come on, Darryl, I carry thrice as much as you do. I did stop many times for photos and talks along the route!’ Darryl whizzes up the hill, like he needs to catch a flight, so typical manlike, one who thinks he is in a race. And see now, Darryl is broken. His leg is swollen and he can’t stand on it. He’s got pain and has no energy left for anything else than sitting and sipping chai. At least I know how to dose my energy. I enjoyed cycling up, slowly and at an even pace. But at least, Darryl found a place to sleep. A smoke den.
I bask in silence
On top of the hill is a restaurant where they only serve omelet, chai and kebab. Enough for the hungry cycler. It is warm inside, when I place myself between the men who all come here to smoke the water-pipe. Darryl has placed himself far from the warm spot, but on the hard wooden benches outside the heart of the smokers den. I am well aware that where I sit is not where I belong, between men playing back gammon and suck their pipes, so I decide to sleep a real early night.
The scene changes when men come and sit on the wooden benches around us, playing back gammon, talk, drink, smoke and sending mobile text more than continuously. The place is flooding with men. Of course, they all ignore the corner where I sleep but nevertheless it is noisy and loud and after 1.5 hour I stop trying to sleep. Seeing Darryl hunched over his maps and books and doing his best not to answer all the men gathered quasi thoughtless around him. I decide to pitch my tent in the back yard. Darryl thinks this is not a good idea ‘it is dangerous with all these men!’ I go for a second sample under the stars and it does feel comfortable. There’s no man who stands outside to watch the stars, they all gather inside to smoke and gamble. So I decide to pitch the tent, get assistance of a young drunk boy with a bandana tied around his head. He stumbles over the pegs and watch me in wonderment combined with his drunken gaze, being somewhat puzzled. Some more men has gathered around the tent, something I am not keen on, so I get the guy who runs the smoke den to ask all his customers to leave me in silence. They all leave me, and not one Iranian comes back to watch the tent. But that one man, the Australian born, to tell me the smoke den is empty again, ‘can I come back to sleep inside?’ he asks. ‘No Darryl, I am fine here, I am actually sleeping!’ Darryl can not hide his thoughts: ‘You crazy, courageous girl…’ and I smile.
Seven in the morning, someone walks slowly around the tent which has a light layer of frost on it. I know it is Darryl and it’s a reassuring thought. Although Darryl can be very doubtful and have things his very own way, I like his company for the fun we have. He is walking around the tent, basking in the silence he did not had lately, but now seem to appreciate, the sun is crawling over the ridge of the hill, colors are glowing with richness and a new day has presented itself to us. ‘I am amazed how you interact with nature. Especially after your fight last week,’ is his greeting when I pop my head out of the tent. His brown jacket is smeared in toothpaste. He is not exactly clean-shaven although he tried his best, some patches of gray stubble are still on his chin. Darryl only got one jeans and that’s it, coated in grease, oil, stains and mud. He wears a bright yellow jacket in order to be seen on the road and a pair of glasses is dangling on a cord around his neck, did I tell you? Certainly, he doesn’t look like a cyclist, he neither is one but without a doubt, he knows how to travel!
Wild camping, wild crapping, rain, sun, flatness, hills: Darryl had it all.
And he knows how to change the going. He decided he wants to get a visa extension. NOW. It’s one and a half week before his end date, but he decided he want to go for it today. And so our path divides here, on the hill-top.
After a free breakfast -and a free dinner the previous evening- in the smoke den, another is offered to me 4 kilometers further. I eat again, a double breakfast, but refuse to have it paid for me. The approach is still very Iranian but noticeable different on my own. People are way more waiting, restrained, more quiet: a woman on her own. With Darryl it is much more of a show, every one wants to talk to him. On my own again, men can not directly talk to me as it is just not the proper approach, especially not in the provinces. Even though I am a lone woman I am less of a show element.
As a woman alone in Iran
Yet, as a woman on your own, in Iran, it’s tough. It is double as hard: men keep halting me and I have to write their number plates on scraps of paper, just to get them scared off. Most men want sex, simple as that. The roads I am on are minor but far from tracks, sometimes it is quiet, yet never scary and not once do I get the feeling of danger. It is pleasant to be on these quite roads, the silence is comfortable. The turned around heads on the back side of the cars passing me are dupable, black rimmed heads crammed together on the backside of Peykan cars. Boys yell enthusiast at me, once coming closer they stop their yelling and pass me quietly, realizing I am a woman; and to woman you are not supposed to yell. A huge contrast with Darryl who had hordes of boys behind his bicycle. I take time out to eat lunch in the fields, denying offered lunches in houses. I stop to drink chai from my thermos, write down my thoughts, all along the route. Passerby’s watching me open-eyed.
Arriving in Nour Abbad I am once again escorted to a mosarfakhane. It’s easy, I ask a men where I can find a mosarfakhane and eventually always some one will lead me. Having arrived I immediately see it is far above my budget. The hall is full with business men in suits, and here I am: dirty, smelling and trying to bargain hard. Until one man comes to me, a few gathers around us and the deal is set: I can stay for free, and all the food will be provided too. My bicycle is brought upstairs, into the luxury room and meals are delivered upstairs, while I am already off to sleep. My thermos flask is filled with chai, my phone cards scratched, directions endlessly explained. In short, I am well taken care of.
My different approach; learned from teacher Darryl.
Darryl always compliment the people, telling them how good their English is, although they spoke one word of the foreign language only. So, I do the same, telling a guy how lovely his pullover is ‘did your mother knitted that herself?’ and ‘It looks good on you’. I jostle in some jovial, breezy approach. Because sometimes I feel I am too reserved. Am I changing my approach because of the condition I am in? Perhaps my mood is somewhat too joyous and the guy I’d complimented follows me once I am on the highway, making clear ‘would I mind going home with him, and have some sex?’
Iran 3 from Sanandaj till Khorramabad – 1 November to 7 November 2013