In an anxious mood I start the trip towards Bandar Lengeh. Darryl had advised me it would perhaps better for me to take the bus. I would be without his guarding support, although he said that I was more supporting him than the other way around. He said it would perhaps be a struggle for me, dealing with all the police asking for my passport, checking my misshaped visa.
After 10 days cycling together with Darryl I knew I would miss his company, as it is easier out here being with male company than on my own. Yet, I know my capacities. It’s easy to loose your confidence while you are confined, either in a hotel room or by words or by the city you are in. None of this is as spacy as the nature cycling through. Only by being surrounded with the pureness and vastness of the nature will you be able to look at your true feelings and capacities in full truth. Besides, what are we talking about? I am just cycling in Iran, nothing that outrageous.
Sure no public transport for this lady
There’s no doubt that I would take the bus towards Bandar Lengeh, how much the father in Darryl would have thought this better for me. It’s going to be a long cycle through semi desert, all along the coastline of the Persian Gulf, and I damn look forward to it. Be it in a somehow disquieting way.
Onward towards the stark warm coast line
I am alone. It is quiet. I am going fast. The head wind change direction after 3 days and I got her right in my back. Shanti and me are cruising happily. There’s a smell of rotting shrimps, many flies where ever I sit down. The tropical ocean gives shades of light grayish azure. I feel myself dropped in a moon-like landscape and feel as if I am in a wonderfully painting. Lonely, simple mosques are dotted at unexpected intervals, I wonder who will visit them. Through wind and harsh weather the signboards flapping in the wind, leaving a crackling sound when I pass them.
The various great places I get to rest
What I truly love about cycling on my own is the complete freedom of decisions I get to make. There’s no one to take into account, so when the sun is taking a quick dive into the vastness of the mysterious ocean, I decide to take a right, towards the ocean, because there I’d seen a building. It turns out to be a fish factory. The next day I want to have the security of the army and the following day it turns out to be a camp-spot at an immense oil company, Petropars, ‘the leading oil and gas developer of Iran’. I get to stay at two family’s, one of them handing over their house fully as my private kingdom. I do enjoy free meals again, get invitations over and over, both for accommodation and sexual pleasure. Of course, the latter I decline. Some men give me fruit and milk while others are very surprised to see me cycling on this stretch of road. And I, I am loving it, every inch of it!
The route is simply beautiful. Sandstone formations shaved into artful shapes forms simple, stark compositions with the thin silvery line the ocean is. There’s not a whole lot to see, there’s not too much traffic either. Tiny mosques and palm trees are often the only added beautification’s to the surrounding I am moving through. Nature quiet pristine. Roads are long, sometimes I can see them sliding through the hard sandy surface they’re built upon, far ahead of me. There’s not much climbing to do but one must be lucky to speed up those roads: wind múst be in your back. Which is not the case the first days, and I am disappointed in myself, I still can not make more than 90 kilometer a day. Looking down at the odometer and seeing a number like 8 kilometer an hour doesn’t make me happy. I wish for the wind to turn.
A change in wind
As I have learned what to wish for, asking the wind changing it’s direction, is realistic. And so it does. Then, with the wind in my back, I finally am able to make days of 120 kilometer, and I feel as I did in the Sahara. Great. I’d taken about 8 days out to cover this stretch of 550 kilometer but I manage to do it easily in 5 days. Often I have to stop cycling by the time evening falls, as men in their cars are following me. They must sense I am searching for a place to camp and they probably want to take part in this event.
One man, a business man who’s going to visit his ship resting in a harbor, has stopped his car far from where I am taking some time out to make photo’s of the landscape. He walks towards me in his crumbled synthetic trousers and asks me: ‘Do you want to be my friend?’ A very decent question which, translated, means: ‘Do you want to visit me in the evening?’ My answer is clear, although formulated wrong: ‘No. I have enough friends already, and I want to keep things simple.’ He accept it and walks away, steps in his car and drives off.
It dawns on me I have no problems with police, not at all. Police does stop me and I have learned to cooperate. So each time I am stopped, I give them my charming, innocent smile and add: ‘Do you want to see my passport?’ Fully surprised their answer’s always the same: ‘No’. They just want to make sure I’d be careful because the road is a dangerous place to cycle on, trucks drive fast and I must ‘please be careful.’ I find the police men furtive laughing always very cute, it makes them innocent men who have the right to talk to me without being suspected. That’s the right a police man has, talking openly and without problems, even to a lone female. And it feels so normal, to me. Yet most men hesitate to talk to me or feel very uncomfortable to deal with my demanding, however careful formulated. Perhaps my asking: ‘Can I please camp inside the gate?’ is a bit progressive, standing at the entrance of an army camp. Ahmad is the one appointed to help me out: he brings me a whole package of Golestan Chai tea, a thermos full of hot water, leaves a jerrycan of water behind, ask if I need a blanket or bread and has shoveled the ground underneath the tent to an even surface.
At times, breakfast and lunch are free. Some days I spend no money. One such day I am presented a booklet by a restaurant owner who is adorned with precious stoned rings while his television blares a Bollywood movie with a young Amir Khan, filmed in Kashmir. Other days I have to be slightly more cautious as where I stop, overall I am always on my guard. I register who stops and who does so for the second time. I can not take a rest just somewhere or I will have loads of spectators. I have learned to be timid or completely ignore men on their own. Men with women are fine and I can be as jovial as they are.
Petropars Pretty Good Care
Police would stop me, telling me I should hurry before dark set in. And I try, cycling past a seemingly never ending oil refinery. When I see a hole in the fence, a fence which would go on for about 80 kilometer more, I sneak through it. Sand swirling behind my wheels I arrive at a small post where guarding men are a bit surprised to see me, but let me pitch my tent. Then they change their mind and I can stay in an empty trailer. I am tired. I have developed another blister filled with blood -I suspect my underwear is rubbing against the saddle-, I had to battle a strong headwind, temperatures are heading towards 30 degrees, and I am hungry. I am constantly surrounded by guys who are curious, want to have themselves photographed with me. I know I have to go through this just a little bit before I will have rest. It won’t come so far, suddenly I am told I have to get out of here. ‘What? Are they kidding?’ is what I think, ‘no problem, I will stay here,’ is what I say. Sometimes you just have to act dumb. They have informed their supervisor and he might have found a woman staying at their refinery a bit too unusual. We agree I have to leave the trailer but I can stay in my tent, I will be guarded all night by the security men who guard the gates. I shift my luggage and set up camp, on a dirty patch of dusty ground, next to a car and no private space at all. I get chicken pieces and with the bread I bought fresh not so long ago, I try to eat slow but notice I gobble it down, washed away with chai. A little disturbed that someone wants to speak again to me ‘please madam, one moment,’ I turn around to see a man dressed too clean and too neat to be a guard. He appears to be one of the superiors of this incalculable oil refinery and once he’d made sure I am who I say I am, he wave me goodnight: ‘If anything will happen, call the guards. But I assure you, nothing will happen.’
However, I have to leave the spot at 05.00 in the morning as not to disturb the workers who are brought in by busloads, as not to keep them up with my one-woman-show. An understandable demand and as it turns out the next morning, I am being watched by busloads of poor workers who have never seen this show.
Quickly I am off to have my chai and breakfast somewhere along the road, in the poor covering prickly bushes.
Cycling along the coast, even with it’s massive oil- and gas refineries, is beautiful. Poison green particles carpeted the road, men brushing it away, it seems to be the material matches are made from. Huge flames out of massive pipes are aggressively spitting their fire. I pass huge factories producing methanol but am also led to restaurants who serve the needy on a Friday. High mountains shaped as last convulsions before they decided to drop into the ocean while grown up men pass me on their motorbike, giggling like teenagers. Roads are pleasurable rolling alongside the sometimes emerald green ocean, as far as possible on the edge of the hills. The atmosphere on the coast is different, I sense a feeling of more easiness, more flexibility and somehow more free, although I know it is not, but I do have seen a female taxi driver (she slowly drove alongside me to wave). I cycle past fields chock-full of tomatoes, which seems to attract flies. Men waving to me, some are deservedly proud to have such a good harvest. I see a fox slipping away when I take a break in a stony rocky spot, as well as I notice guys crossing on their motorbikes, disappearing in the beauty of dramatic shaped desert decor. I pass a Bhaktiari donkey, all dressed up, a young nomad spurring it on energetic, so he is able to sprint in front of me.
I remember Darryl had asked me to be honest about this stretch of road, he is always a bit worried he’d miss out on the beauties of our earth we live on. A problem I have as well, and this stretch of road is truly of an unspoiled beauty, -what a contradiction-. I would not have wanted to miss out on this. But perhaps I enjoy it so much because I am alone again, it can not go unnoticed that the barren moonscape seem to whisper what the ocean is hiding deep on the bottom. Mystic and eerie, the answer known to me. I love cycling here, often have to stop and take in the surroundings. Men cheer me on, as if they are proud that I cycle in their vast country and it dawns on me that this reaction is quite different than a few days back. On my own it seem to be less freaky? And I notice too that my fear of men is coming from Iran itself.
Allah uh Akbar
When I cycle through a tiny village, trying to find a place to camp, I expect better chances by a man who walks out his porch. The answer he’s going to reply is known to me but still I think it’s good to be polite. ‘Mosaferkhaneh‘ is what I ask for, his reply is ‘sleep in my room’. The several women of the house who see me scratching my head offer me a shower and I gladly accept, days on end without a shower but a sweaty synthetic headscarf leaves me behind less charming. Another time a whole house is given to me, the man, Hassan, who lives in it will sleep at his parents: as I always make sure I am not going to stay with a lone male in a house, and so I am left behind in a Bandar style house. I notice in each province houses have similar decoration styles and the people in this region are decorated themselves. Especially, of course, the women…
Why do we have to protect us for the evil enemy: MEN
As Mariam has said that the chador is a protection against bad men, now another girl tells me the masques the traditional elderly women are wearing here, are, not surprisingly, to protect them for men. Did I think initially those masques were perhaps to protect the women against the bright ocean sunlight, it shows once more how naive I am. Those masques are made from a heavy interfacing and fit as a frame, like glasses, around the eyes. Here, not the eyes are framed but the surrounding around it, like you want to put the attention on the eyes. It is hold on their heads by a flimsy elastic band or some strings and the way the masque is designed make them look like ugly raven, a huge nose is jutting out of their faces. I find their style nevertheless interesting but it doesn’t make them attractive. Hence, ‘for men’, as the girl tells me. In my, perhaps European point of view, although I am very much against showing nakedness, I see covering yourself up, with chadors and full facial covers, as hiding yourself, thus making men more curious what’s behind it all. I agree on keeping the beauty of your own body to the one you are close with, but hiding behind meters of black cloth just makes men get to want under these black hide-outs. Why else are Iranian men behaving so immature when they see me? Later on, on the ferry to Dubai, I am the only one who’s approached, while all the other women are left in peace. I can’t help thinking that in the Netherlands we can go half naked in the streets and no one will bother us. But here, no matter how I will be dressed -would love to to the chador-test- I will be seen as an easy woman, just because I am a Westerner…
Non excitement at the Iranian coast
Women dress very feminine though, their salwars are tight from their calves to their ankle and embroidered precisely. Colors can be splashing and decorations festive. Some women wear the raven-like masque, most don’t. But all wear a long dress over the beautiful salwar. I decide I also want such a salwar, and I am off into the markets: the vegetable market to find mint, the textile market to find embroidered textile. Days in Bandar Lengeh are void of any… thing, it is a boring place where I have troubles finding a good meal. I end up staying here for 6 days since I show up at the ferry ticket office the day after I have arrived cycling though semi-desert for 6 days, and I am in for some rest. So it is either no rest or 6 days rest. I choose the latter and after I have found a bakery for bread, a restaurant for subzi (vegetable broth with meat) and a small eatery for barbecued liver and mutton with a stash of spicy herbs, I consider myself set.
The atmosphere of this little coastal town bears some of Pakistan and in far corners I can see snippets of India, perhaps because the many full stacked shops sell goods from this not so far away country. It dawns on me how poor this country is while on the other side, very near to where I am now, is an seemingly abundance of money.
And then, after watching the map, seen how far I cycled and how great the ride was, how amazing the scenery, how long the distance and special the people I met, I am off to board the ferry. But not after another weak interrogation, which seems to be sparkled on by the handwritten scribbles on my passport, and as I have learned from Darryl, I am polite, patient and obedient. Inside though, I am smiling with the silly, childish questions asked to me and the quick satisfying mood of the officer once I have spread out my map and shown him places I have cycled through he never have heard of.
Iran 7: from 5th of December to 15th of December 2013 (how the ferry ride went you can read in the next post about U.A.E.)