The people of Iran
‘We are not animals,’ says Ali Shah, the man who brought me from Tabriz to Tehran. That’s a fact I know too well, otherwise I would not have trust him while he and his wife act as my private taxi hosts.
‘You are not allowed to have this,’ says the police man when he discover I carry pepper-spray with me, ‘I know, but I need it for the men in India who can be a problem,’ is my honest reply.
Atefeh, a young woman from Tehran says she hates her government: ‘There’s so much we can’t do. I also want to cycle but I am not allowed,’ she continues she is not at all against USA or Australia ‘I never say things like ‘Down with America’, it’s such a stupid thing to say.’ And it is said that most people would love to go to America, because there’s the possibility of free choice.
As a woman in a man’s world
I notice the huge discomfort when I wash my face in a mosaferkhaneh, feeling naked and bad, undoing my headscarf in an almost open view. There’s a immense anxiety for nakedness. You won’t notice this terror for female bareness when you move around the country by public transport but as soon as you are on the bicycle you feel how every part of nudity that is revealed is too much. Sometimes I am being seen as a wonder, a female on a bicycle, while there’s hardly any skin to be seen, my bare fore arms I often cover when I come in town, just to be on the safe side of conduct. I even start to dream about naked women in a bus, writhing in all sorts of unsavory positions, how very indecent we are.
‘For the wild animals of this country,’ is a somewhat disturbed response of a man who throws himself in front of a bus only to greet and talk to me, and to give his view on the fountain filled with red stained water in the Moharram time. As I have said before: I don’t watch television and I don’t really know what’s said about Iran, other than untrue negativism, I don’t even know much about their chemical weapons other than if USA takes rights to have or not to have them, Iran has equal right to have or not to have them. In my beautiful naivety I keep believing in people their good nature, and Iran, unluckily, has had many drawbacks over the last years, falling back to a degraded country while it has the same potential as any Western one. If not more.
With the moral police still exist, people do get overheard, checked, reprimanded and watched. We, Darryl and I, often checked by police, an authority I dislike a lot. Sometimes I get a bit annoyed by people their responses by what I do, cycling. ‘Why for God sake you are in this country?’ asks a man. He’s a truck driver and wants to impress his friends with his knowledge of English: ‘You’ve got more balls than I have,’ is his very masculine response after he’d asked me where I entered Iran from. His looks can’t be translated other than he suspects me. My irritated answer ‘do you think I am a spy?’ annoys him and he leaves me without greeting.
The last full week cycling with Darryl
Cycling from Behbahan towards the coast is a magic ride. The mountains give way, finally, to flat earth. Mountains seem to be made for a realistic three dimensional movie, where you don’t need this silly pair of glasses, only your God given eyes. It seems to me, when I overlook them curiously, that it is a model for something to be made in the realistic world. To me it seems fake, of such a beauty it is. These mountains have decided to stop here and give a last eruption before they smooth out. I stop, watch them once more, try to see them until the scenery becomes real, but they never are real. They seem to be high and majestic but before you know they lay behind you, they are low and easy going. Once over the last hilly outcrop the Persian Gulf present itself to you, the silver shining sliver of ocean, to be seen after so many hills and mountains I simply magical. Promising. A dream comes true.
The mountains disappear all together, the Gulf is right on our side. It’s still Moharram. In Bandar Deylam I let the huge drums vibrate through my body after it’s filled with a shared fish with Darryl. I am fulfilled.
One is easy, two is more effort
Hitting the coast, we are able to make some speed, was it not that we have a constant head wind. Even an early start is never really a possibility due to intermissions and all kind of holds in the morning. Cycling with the two of us suddenly is subject to both our moods, often this is fun but not always. Discipline as a cyclist is vital, lacking one of the necessary characteristics is not easy to deal with. We all know, cyclists, to be balanced. Being balanced keeps us going. So to eat before we start to feel an appetite, and that is, at least when you are balanced, at fairly regular timings. And to sleep early and long hours is another nice requisite. I get to swallow a lot of comment, while I cycle for quite some months now where Darryl is on the saddle just for a few weeks. I feel his comments are not fair.
The Freak Show continues, one more roadshow!
Another not so fair thing is the many horny guys I get behind and next to my wheels. I feel the need to take one of the countless rubber belts lying next to the road, waste of the motor cycles and trucks. I will hit the guy with it who dare to touch me, and meanwhile I try another defense because it takes a lot of energy to become angry all the time. I decide to stop abruptly once a guy propose sex, and this tactic seems to help. Darryl finds the police annoying, each time being stopped and being escorted. I think this is very handy, it makes searching easy but Darryl rather wants to discover himself. On the other hand, Darryl knows how to handle all the attention, when we enter or exit a restaurant we are the middle of the show. I find myself at times a bit blunt, sometimes even noticing qualities of a celebrity. I don’t like this part of my own behavior but at times it just get too much, all this attention. Don’t forget I am a loner and now I am part of ‘The Freak Show’. Most people, however, want to help or hand over presents.
Darryl is fun to be with, too!
So, we do get chased, by real police and by fake. I get plenty of sexual offers, by young and old alike. We find cheap places to sleep and have to bargain hard to get prices down. We need to find restaurants in sleepy villages, stock up with water and sometimes cycle without being able to find food. We are welcomed like we are the salvation, by hordes of motor-cycles and cars, yelling and waving at us. We are showered with presents. Darryl is always the one spoken to, starting to reply before being asked: ‘Australia, going to Bushehr,’ at times yelling to pulled up windows. His ‘hi, hello’ makes me instantly laugh out loud and his mandatory feeling of giving a decent interview is always fun for me, as I pass him with ‘I cycle on, okay!’ I long stopped giving multiple interviews. One a day is enough for me. So yes, this week supplies us with more troubles than ever. Darryl starts sulking, he doesn’t see the beauty of cycling while being so often disturbed. But I see no troubles really, isn’t this traveling? Troubles can be fun, problems can be charming, the challenge is to balance troubles. Cycling is not only about easy-going and fun, it’s exactly these difficulties which make up the balance, that’s why I cycle! I love the bliss, probably because there is so much hardness to endure. Darryl finds it tough and advise me to think hard about my movement towards Bandar Lengeh, on my own again. He opt, as a good brother, to take the bus.
Although it would not be much fun indeed to fight off a sexual frustrated guy each and every day, I am used to it. Instead, I focus on the little birds along the road, I notice they are the exact same as those in the Western Sahara. Passing flames again, the earth erupting gasses. Passing oil fields yet some more. The earth so full and able…
Cycling. How much fun is that?
Traveling by bicycle is more than just sliding through a country. Darryl said to me, when he decided to tag along: ‘I will do as you do, I will follow where you go and I will have your pace,’ but it is not that simple. I am not a fast cyclist, neither am I weather proof, but I am strong. My power is my head mostly, and in my legs too. The power to cycle is also to be realistic in your goals and being focused. My main task is cycling, not being a tourist. As a cyclist I can not afford to go to bed late, nor did I ever had the desire, being an early bird. My desire is to move, to be on the road fresh and energetic. I may be slow but having a goal makes me focused and moves me. I am enjoying the visual aspects and the surroundings most when I am cycling through, because my nerves are wide open, my senses are sharp. For me there’s no need to visit fish markets or mosques, the smell, the energies sprouting from such a scene are enough for me to catch the moment. The scent of the ocean, it’s mushy odor, the smelly snippets of seaweed circulating in my nose are enough for me to sense the Persian Gulf. Well, even if I wanted to dip in, I’d not have much fun going in fully dressed, loaded with attention.
One of these special guys…
On one of those tiresome evenings to find a place to sleep we meet Hossein and Shahbaz. The latter is a solid guy who looks disturbing but is only very helpful and humble, almost to an underdog position. He has cycled to Mashhad and is so keen on cycling that he followed us on the highway into town. He was trying to hand Darryl his white Nokia to talk to his brother Hossein, but Darryl did not want to talk over a phone while cycling with a motorbike driving alongside him. I understand that quiet well. One thing I don’t understand however, is that by entering into town Darryl wants to a hotel. To get, understandable, some luxury. I should have let him his way while I would go for the mosaferkhaneh, instead I spend way too much energy in getting the price of a hotel down, without success. I get to talk to people over the manager his phone by someone who thinks he can speak English, trying to set a price while the other side wants to talk casual. Then another guy comes in trying to interview me. I am tired! And without a doubt I am hungry too!
I get on the bicycle, ride on. I ain’t no more going to ask for hotels, but for mosaferkhaneh. At the same moment Darryl thinks the guy who acted like a guide to show us another hotel, has disappeared of our stage and motorcycled on. I am on my way to a mosaferkhaneh while Hossein enter the stage. I talk to him, he seems like a trust worthy guy, his unusual curly hair as a circle around his attractive face. A day later he will hand me a mini Qur’an, to protect me. Hossein and his brother Shahbaz go out of their way to help us. One is carrying our bicycles and gear upstairs to, of course, a mosaferkhaneh while the other is off to the police station to get us a ‘proof of something’. In the evening we get to eat a fish curry while the two brothers leave us in peace, only to come back after the meal. We talk endlessly, and very interesting, but my tiredness takes over pretty soon after dinner and I am off. Hossein accompanies me as he thinks it is not good for a woman alone to walk home.
Entering towns are always funny. The look on people’s faces when they notice us, puberty youth trying to impress us with their motorbikes. Where two young guys who want to help us are shoved away roughly by police. Neon lights lit up, mostly on mosques and in their ugliness they become beautiful. Another evening we are shaking together with a light earthquake while we are waiting for dinner. One such evening I have energy left to see the town and walk with Darryl around the huge roundabout. Each of these mornings we leave around 11.00, temperatures in day time don’t reach above 30 degrees, yet I feel so much like cycling in those moments of energy filled hours. We pass date-groves. We pass each other. We make photo’s, eat dates and fruit and cookies, make days of around 80 kilometers. It’s pleasant.
The naked truth
Iran is not a country for women cyclists. After more than a month on the road all I can say is that, besides liking the country and often loving the people, it’s not suitable for women cycling alone. Women don’t cycle in Iran. It is not forbidden but because no one does it, it has become a taboo. So me cycling must be a constant sort of throbbing of the female parts, and so I am in for sex. I can not find another reason why else I get so much unwanted sexual attention. Read on here
Hip and modern city life
On arrival in the big town of Bushehr Darryl and I are in a jolly mood, perhaps Darryl’s last kilometers are ugly and not of a beauty he hoped. We indeed cycled for long on the highway, a strong side wind disturbing us and nothing of any beauty to be seen, except a co-cycler in hugging lycra. When we arrive at a big roundabout we stop to have chicken kebab, have an extended photo-shoot of ourselves and the food and notice how we do not fit in this modern city where people are dressed so elegantly. Most women and young ladies are slim, dressed immaculate with eyebrows shaped into an arty molding. Head scarfs balancing on tall hairdo’s and skinny jeans underneath their mandatory coats. Iranian women are beautiful. I feel out of place with my red sweaty head and dirty muddy clothes, on a bicycle, a poor inelegant vehicle. But swirling through the avenues where the sun start to sink below it’s horizon, I feel great. Darryl and I have reached a town where we can finally rest. A lot of our little irritations are due to so much cycling, seven days in a row, here they seem to disappear in the vastness of being in our own presence again.
I check in at a cheap (€4.25) mosaferkhaneh while Darryl goes opposite to an ‘expensive’ hotel. Darryl’s place is lush, luxurious and has a good wifi flow, with a bonus that I get a free breakfast each morning. I savor the quiet mornings where I write and drink chai before I go to meet Darryl. The next day I wave him goodbye, his posture being swallowed by the traffic, his arm only visible, waving at me. Whoh! What a trip…
The last stretch along the Persian Gulf
The last push to Bandar Lengeh has come. I look forward to it, so often being held in place like a running horse in his starting position, not yet able to run. The last days were not always easy but now I have my own pace again and the going get’s good. The first 3 days I have a strong headwind yet I am able to make days of a hundred kilometers. The road is mostly flat and the surroundings become of a fairy tale beauty where the imaginary force of the ocean has pushed the rocks all in one direction. There’s not much life around and I start to long for lone camp-spots but still I don’t feel completely safe so I turn to a factory on my right.
Very very shrimp
It turn out to be a shrimp factory. A lot of guys are standing, sitting and walking around, some work, most watch me. I ask whether I can camp and that is fine, says the commercial manager Hossein, a young guy. But before I get the chance to erect my tent I am offered a room in the factory, a new building not yet operating. I accept this kind offer and also the food I receive in the evening, made by the cook, a delicious dish of shrimps. As a bonus there is fresh salad, and even wifi. I try not to use the internet stream too much, instead I start thinking of the shrimps. The shrimps and their underwater world, and I who sleeps in luxury at a factory who’s disturbing their life drastic. Even worse: I eat them. We are their enemies and they don’t even know it, before huge netting will seizure them. And see here, this factory, so much money is spend on the battle to captivate them. I am sure Darryl would have had a soothing explanation, but he’s back to the cold and rain and snow of Tehran and Sanandaj, the town where we met… And Darryl, as you’d asked me, this stretch is amazingly beautiful. You definitely missed out on something!
Iran 6: 28th of November to 4th of December 2013
With one more part to go before I am off to U.A.E. And I promise the parts will become shorter…