This is one of the more interesting -not to say glorious posts- because it has a real newsworthy interview with a newspaper of Iran. It also holds an interrogation which I enjoyed but Darryl not so much.
Sefid Dasht is nestled between mountains as if it were a new born baby in it’s mothers arms. One of life true wonders, Darryl likes to talk about to me, the baby I should have. Life should be given on and Darryl sees a beautiful opportunity for me. I can see his point of view and the baby he thinks I should have is transformed in my mind by new born places, each and every day, Sefid Dasht being such a wonder. This town is miraculous situated, encompassed by high and pointy peaks. Truly wonderful. Hidden. Gem like. Except that there’s nothing to be found, hardly any food, and for sure no decent accommodation.
Of course, we do find a place to stay, first thing the owner does is removing the thick mud brick from under my shoes. I see Darryl smiling lovingly at the man, and me. But he is left by himself, he has to clean his own shoes. I can’t remember whether I assisted him. Probably not, most likely I was trying to order food.
Rules in Iran
I wonder how much of these rules are lived by since I am accompanied by Darryl, known as my brother. All of a sudden the rules once imposed on me seem to melt now I am with a man on my side. The mosaferkhaneh, where we are the only guests, is run by a former nomad, a Bakhtiyari. Although he runs his home for the traveler with friendly professionalism, his barging in the room to offer me sugar and a pillow is more than unusual. But the most astonishing is that another man comes to sleep with us. Isn’t this Iran, where social conduct prevails strong. Or is it that the countryside people loosen up a bit now we are such an unusual couple? Perhaps it is just a mixed dormitory?
I am offended, doing well to adjust. Even so, I can see the equal good side of a secluded society. Darryl says: ‘If you were in Europe you would not find it a problem,’ fact is, we are not in Europe. I am moody too, waking up at 6.30 in the morning, after a disturbed sleep where Darryl rings his daughter in the middle of the night, where another man enter our room to sleep and where the sharp rattling voice of the owner’s wife sounds through the cold air as an alarmed witch. I dislike her a lot, not to say I despise her. Our energies don’t go well, although I am sure she likes me, coming closer each minute she is allowed entrance to her husband’s place of work. She then comes and sit next to me, where ever I am, even the room I see as our private. She watch me like I am her television, ask me time after time how many children I have. Each time I answer ‘I don’t have children’ she will address the same question to Darryl ‘how many children does your sister have?’ is undoubted what she ask Darryl in a language we don’t understand.
A compromise: a train ride
A language the Bakhtiyari and I both do understand is that of money matters. Having kept the child alive, a quality I like in Darryl, he’s gone and I have no clue where he is or when he comes back, our train is leaving in an hour and we haven’t settled the bill. I can’t reach him on his newly bought phone, which he is just able to manage, if it is not stuck on the bottom of his handlebar-bag. He said he wanted to take care for the bill but I know this is going to be a lengthy matter since Darryl did not asked prices beforehand. So here I stand, with a two days stay, many chicken kebab meals and liters of chai, but no prices. The Bakhtiyari can ask me what he wants and that’s exactly what he does. He even ads to the bills our parked bicycles ánd the price for a room for 8 people. With me, he has the right person in front of him: I won’t have it. His bill is chopped up by a third of his happy counting, he agrees and when Darryl stumbles in, we are off to mount the train.
The Dorud – Andimeskh Railway: This super scenic railway trundles through beautiful, remote and virtually roadless valleys skirting Lorestan’s pointy peaks and passing through dozens of tunnels. Most trains runs in the evenings but there’s a day service departing Andimeshk. Often overcrowded to the point of sheer mayhem, the journey is a cultural experience but also a test of endurance.
We got on the train with our bicycles easily. Before we could buy tickets, someone translated on a piece of paper what we wanted, so the man selling tickets knew we would take our bicycles with us. Inside, we get a superior spot, in a fairly empty wagon where the workers of the train seem to take their breaks. Continuously rather. As soon as we move in, Darryl grabs his bags and is off to some place else, in the understanding that this spot we’re given is terrible. Within a few minutes he’s back, and stay where he is seated. I guess he realized we were given a gift. As so often in this country.
Khomeini Fairy Lands, Small Sweet & Magnificent
Sefid Dasht is a tiny town connected by road only towards the direction of Esfahan. A direction I am not going to. Heading South no roads are to be found in this area. Sometimes not even a track. Only a train track. Not wanting to cycle on major routes I decided to go inland and compromise with a train ride towards the bigger town of Andimeshk, the first town where the train is meeting the road again. Darryl would like to sit in the train for longer but I am not willing to comprise more, it does not feel good. Though I enjoyed the ride together with Darryl. It is just so much more comfortable with a man on your side. We had some good laughs too, always too loud. When Darryl and I speak it also seems too loud…
So, a compromise yes, but oh! What a beautiful countryside we are in. Even from a train window I am dazzled and surprised. This rough area with red rivers embracing running muddy ones, where hills are pointy and sharp, skies are artfully painted in yellow and blue, a track leads through this fairy land where it sometimes disappears in the unknown green sloping grassy fields. Vertical cut out of rocks indicates Allah’s own dramatic thought on creativity. To see what the earth is made of is suddenly very understandable, the lines, the earth, mountains and it’s gravel. Canyons seems to be restively grown one after the other, hastily hurrying towards the flat plains of Khuzestan. We drive through tunnels, dark sets in and our view is that of ourselves mirrored in the black windows while a guy walks past, every time letting us know about a bomb blast in Baghdad.
There’s no traffic in this fairy land, villages are small and built like romantic beehives. It is of an unrealistic beauty and I am having a view like I am in a three dimensional movie theater. This is where I want to come back to, without Darryl, as it would be impossible for Darryl to cycle here, but a wish for me to be truly in it.
We are placed in a compartment without passengers, only crew. Who seems not to work too hard, instead socializing with us. I come to a conclusion that the looks of Iranian are not especially sexual but more of a disbelief: ‘She can not be a woman’. For Darryl it’s often plain annoying as he is always the one people talk to. There’s a constant demand and he finds it bothersome, a second guy would be perfect for him, he reveals to me. So, we both agree: Henrik should have come with us. Nevertheless, having Darryl with me renders me a difference in approach and a lot of fun and laughs, although equally it ensure patience, refrain from impulsive reactions and a lot of waiting for me.
‘It’s going to be a boring day’, says Darryl as soon as we leave the next morning from Andimeshk. The plains are sudden and a huge contrast to the mountainous surroundings I was in for about two months. It reminds me of India -although I don’t know yet how much this is not true- with it’s flat, sunny lands and remarkable architecture we come across. It’s sunny and warm and people are different here, they seem to be super jovial. It stinks often along the road, of garbage and dead, of factory waste and stagnant streams full of scrap. We are not doing much better, although we appear to be clean, our clothes are still covered in mud. We pass a lot of nomads too, but I refrain from trying to get Darryl into their camps. Roads are mainly flat and we happily cycle on.
Sometimes I am being stopped by a policeman, nothing serious ever is requested. While cycling with Darryl we are often being stopped. Perhaps we are such an odd couple. Perhaps his Australian passport and my Dutch one -some Farsi words dotted underneath the visa sticker, done by the consul of Tbilisi- are reason for questioning?
Barking dogs won’t bite but at least they chase away
My reaction to authority might be rebellious, while Darryl’s definitely subdued. And so it happens that we are having a pee break, I never come to that stage, instead we’re being held up again by an undercover police who scrutinize our passports thoroughly. To such an extend that I wonder if he is able to read them. Usually police men of Iran can’t.
They never tell why they are acting like our passports are as if they belong to the most wanted criminals on their earth. They just examine you as if you were a very suspected wrongdoer. For me, as a person who is curious and want to know all the in- and outsides of any matter which has my interest, this is difficult. So I ask these police man: ‘What’s the problem?’
We end up for four hours at the police station. There’s a funny kind of interrogation and I get a body search and all my stuff -literally all- is being checked. Seriously and exhaustively. I ask several times what they think of us, why they do this and what is actually going on. Darryl thinks we should be quiet and tame, but the Buddhist in me is far off. I have the right to know what is going on. ‘We have no rights in this country,’ is Darryl his comment. I don’t agree, I am not an ant.
The day started with Darryl saying nothing would happen today, a boring flat day ahead of us. And since this is our first days on the plains of Iran, we would be in for a 100 kilometer. I know better, and excitedly comment that a new day can bring us many adventures, unknown yet. While cycling there’s no such day as a boring one. Even with peddling out of the city we attract a lot of attention. Darryl is splashed with pomegranate and holy trinkets and a lot of cars and motorbikes pulling next to him, asking where he’s from. I just have to watch my mirror and smile at the scene behind me.
Read here the Police Station Story
I better keep pedaling!
After our little adventure we cruise towards Shushtar. Darryl’s mood is one so tense it could be cut into two massive pieces. I try not to intensify things more, so I keep quiet. We are halted again by a police car, and I give them my passport, framed by a broad smile. After being hold up unnecessarily, we move on, I feel pushed to cycle on in the darkness, I do so. I try not to stop, only when I really have to pee and get some nuts in my empty stomach. When we pass nomad camps, a place where I would love to erect my tent, I keep pedaling. We get lightened by a motorbike who assist us all the way into town, so that we may enter Shushtar safely. When we get to the markez shahr, center of town, Darryl ask for a hotel. Not the best thing to ask as people will now bring us to a hotel, not to a mosaferkhaneh.
And so we are left behind at a traditional hotel, ‘Sarabi’s House’. By a comfortable young couple who let us follow their car to a ‘hotel’, as asked for. Only by seeing the walls, in the middle of the bazaar, I know enough. Then, by seeing the entrance, and a little further on a big, upright standing tourist with cargo pants, I just know the place is far above my budget. It is. I protest ‘I want to go to a mosaferkhaneh,’ is what I beep, my voice bursting with oppressed tension. I don’t even want to start bargaining because that would be disrespectful, since my bid is way too low. So I take on a pose showing no interest and ready to cycle on. Darryl kind of explode, I suspect he must feel like I am acting as a typical 15-year old girl. So pubertal. Darryl ask me what I want to pay and my answer ‘25.000 toman’ is fulfilled. We can stay here, according the prices we are able to pay. Darryl pays a little more than the 6 euro’s I am willing to pay. I feel utterly oppressed, not wanting to stay here because of my budget while a simple mosaferkhaneh will do. I feel now a burden for the people who run this place.
Then, our otherwise somewhat vagabond attraction is lost for the moment. Darryl locks himself in his room and I am off for the last food to be found. It is late, I have far passed the state of feeling an appetite. Again, I eat bread with rather dry meat, while the owner of the restaurant wait for finishing my meal with the door-key in his hand.
A feeling of uneasiness hangs in the air
And I know I am to blame. My behavior was not matching Darryl’s, he’s absolutely upset by what I did. He has to think for two days whether he wants to keep on cycling with me. I have to promise not to bring us in any danger again, and he will think some more whether to continue cycling with me. In a meanwhile I enjoy the luxury of the hotel, it’s private shower, towels, shampoo and most of all, clean sheets. Usually sheets stink of men, many men, with greasy hair or dusty heads. Staying for such a low price in this beautiful hotel, I feel a little demanding when asking for the wifi code but once I get to use the free wifi flow, I take good advantage of it. Out on the courtyard, while the sun has set below the clear blue sky, when the temperatures sink below 18 degrees, when the pigeons fly their round above Sarabi’s House, their wings making a sound more soothing than the chinking of glasses soon to be filled with chai.
While I cycle around this town another horny man who try touch my bum while passing me on his motorbike is hugely disturbing me. He is following me for some time when I am cycling through the beautiful town packed with crumbled mosques, traditional houses and winding alleys. Just before his hand touches me, I beat it away. I park my bicycle, pick up a brick and yell to him: ‘If you are a man, dare to come back.’ He doesn’t, instead drives off. Yet another coward. Men around, selling bundles of fresh herbs, asking me what’s going on. I hurry to the traditional hotel where I sit in silence and where no one bothers me.
From now on I will carry a self invented whip: a piece of thrown away rubber motorcycle belt.
In Iran, it dawns on me once more, peace is only to be found in your own house, surrounded by high walls. Would I be born here, I would cover up too in chador, and keep the ends of the garment tightly between my teeth.
Darryl has decided to cycle on with me
We continue our route towards the coast. Police men asking for my passport can expect a wonderful cooperation from my side. In fact, no one is wanting to see my passport, perhaps because I offer it before they ask me. We pass through empty desert but for the pipe lines transporting oil. We are cycling on minor roads where no food is to be found, where we are depending on the people, asking for bread. Or so do I, Darryl rather goes hungry. Flames are erupting out of the earth, gas detected and caught by beams of fire. The smell of turpentine reminds me of my oil paintings. The route is vast, of an unimaginable beauty where hills plunge and sink. More horny men I would have liked to kicked their balls, trying to have sex behind their trucks, quickly halted, Darryl just out of sight. What do those man think? Crazy. We pass nomad camps and the feeling that they, as I, are living from the little we carry, having a simple life and are connected more with the source, however chosen, I feel a strong bound. And each time I pass those nomads moved towards pasture for their cattle, I would love to visit them. Set my camp next to theirs… Darryl suspect we will be robbed. I doubt it, but cycling with Darryl is good enough, so I happily carry on.
We enter Kebabistan!
We pass many a dead dog stuck to the surface. Little irritations keep adding up between Darryl and me, and I know cycling might be hard on him, whether it is me, whether cycling is more than just peddling. At the end of a pleasant day, just when Darryl mentioned that we had no problems with police, a police car waves me down. I stop and hand over my passport, according Darryl’s deal, which I agreed on. ‘No, don’t need passport madam, dangerous here. This road very dangerous for bicycle,’ is what the four police men try to make clear to me and the next 10 kilometer we are being assisted again. I like being assisted, Darryl loath this escort. But being helped means we always will find a cheap place to sleep, and food. Quickly I try to make clear to the police driving in front of us, before they deliver us to a mosaferkhaneh, that I need food, and as a real vegetarian calling out: ‘Kebab, kebab’.
The police hands us over to a restaurant where we feed ourselves like hungry wolves, having missed out on a lunch again. Finally we are fed and the best of all: we are left alone and can eat our meal in silence, such a welcoming need. Then we are brought over to the police station, where they ask us if we are terrorists? I have to laugh but Darryl keeps his posture, still very anxious towards police in general, ‘Yes, we are,’ is my reply, knowing that their English is not that good. After about an hour, and a lot of going back and forth, we are brought to a government building where we can sleep the night. We get a private room, there’s a shower and our bicycles are locked in the adjusting prayer room. We are once again left alone, having handed over our passports and required to leave an empty bed between Darryl and me…
‘It’s probably going to be a boring ride today’ says Darryl once more. He must have fate in Iran…
We did not have to pay for our diner the evening before, neither do we have to pay the next morning for breakfast, kebab again, and about a 6 eggs omelet. While we are eating I notice a guy trying to make photo’s of us, this really pisses me off, as mornings are one of my favorite moments of the day, where I prefer to be in silence, and certainly not be seen as a monkey in a zoo. It turns out to be a journalist of Haftgel. Soon another journalist appears. He’s patiently waiting till we finish our breakfast before he asks us permission to interview us, and before we know we are the news of the day. Read the interview here, is is a real nice interview and I enjoyed doing it, and so, it quickly turned out, the ride of today had a very original start, though a very late one.
As a cyclist, one must be a bit disciplined
Do we want to make a 125 kilometer a day, we need to hurry. Darryl is wanting to cycle on to Bushehr with me, but under one restriction: in 5 days 600 kilometer. It would be possible but not if we start around eleven each day. Of course we could cycle on in the nighttime, but I see no reason for doing so. For me, cycling is being surrounded with visible beauty, and able to accept people’s offers to sleep at their houses. Darryl and I cycle on, we have fun, we have some troubles but in general we still enjoy each others company.
Each end of the day we enter another town, lined up long before the actual heart of town, with an endless row of lights. Almost always are we helped to find a place to stay.
It’s my time again: goat kissing!
When goat shepherd Mahmood, who’s keeping his flock together on a motorbike, ask us to stay the night at his house, it is not me alone who can decide. It’s getting dark in half an hour. Darryl must sense my disappointment in refusing his offer to sleep at a farm with animals I adore. He doesn’t need to ask what I want as that is clearly visible on my face, so we try to catch up with the old shepherd who went into his village hidden from the roadside. We do find his house -by showing people the photo I took from him- and end up at his brother’s house.
Abdul Mohammed and his nifty wife Zeinab are having 3 girls (Pariah, Yassaman and Rogsahreh) and one boy (Yassin). They have 150 goats and it is quite unsettling to know that his son will not continue the farm. This generation wants to get out of such a boring (pleasantly quiet) village.
Once again, a delicious, grand meal is prepared. Chai is set in the middle and we all enjoy each others company, with a dress-up party as climax of the extraordinary evening. There are a lot of female visitors, most part of the evening behind the curtains, and a tattooed elderly woman who silently watch the show. God only knows what she thinks. The next morning she sits along the roadside, overlooking her flock of goats. One of the questions her brother asked us was: ‘do you have a television with you?’