Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — June 2008

Day 98 (Iran): Tabriz - Miyaneh

daily distance: 174km
total distance:
riding time: 8-9h

I bid farewell to Aydin and his family. It was one of those moments that one the one hand make this trip hard - because it is one of those emotional moments, but at the same time so worthwhile because you have had the good fortune to meet up with wonderful and great people.

Starting at 7am was a good idea - despite having to fight the already heavy city traffic that seemed to be going on and on for miles and miles. Smoke was belching from big trucks and conveniently right into my face for the most part. Not so much fun - plus the city stretches for miles on end it seemed. It was all uphill for the next 40km or so. There was a good amount of friendly honking though I can not for the life of me get used to the loud honking powered by gas horns when the trucks are right next to me.

Still trailing in heavy traffic I eventually reached the top of the pass and headed downhill to a lake and a city by the name of Bostanabad. This was the goal to reach until lunch time. Temperatures had dropped a lot compared to the last days though there was still a heavy headwind that I had to fight.

When I arrived in Bostanabed I took this picture thinking that it was kind of humorous (OK, so this may just be me thinking this is funny, but the light remained the same all the time).

At any rate, I moved on and tried to get my bearings and take a quick break. Next thing I know, there was a police car next to me, signaling me to stop. Alright I thought, you guys are bored, there is a foreigner in town and now we take a look at the passport and then we’ll let him move on. I had been quite successful at avoiding this kind of stuff for a while now by putting on a big smile, yelling some city name that I knew was ahead of me and waiting for the direction being signaled.

The police stopped someone on the street who knew English and he explained to me that there was no problem, but it was clear that he was uncomfortable with the situation so I told him that he should feel free to move on and not worry about me. The police force increased from 2 to 8 rapidly with a similar increase in the position of the officials. In the end, the police chief came, I still had no idea why I was held - someone was waving my passport and no one could give me an answer as to the question why I was being held. Then they said something about a camera. I said, sure I had one and they were welcome to take a look at the pictures. It dawned on me that someone must have informed the police that I had taken this picture. It was the only one that morning. Hm … 10 minutes later they had been there.

Then things became a bit uncomfortable for me. The uniform guys are OK to deal with, but at some point the mood shifted and I noticed a plain clothes officer milling around in the background. Things had changed, the mood of the uniformed guys was extremely referential and I overheard talk about the police station and the foreigner police. That was no good - I figured that it was a good thing that I had the number of the German embassy handy just in case. This was only a contingency, but things become very real all of a sudden. Then the crowd dissipated, I was given my passport back and everyone was gone. I stood there and didn’t quite know what to make of this situation. If this was supposed to be an advertisement for Iran, it didn’t quite work …

I also felt a bit oppressed … hard to say what exactly went on. They never told me, but I felt intimated for sure for a while. Maybe that was the purpose of the exercise. There was nothing in the background of the picture that I could see that would have been problematic. Slight self-censorship followed during the rest of the day …

I had lunch after a power outage stopped me from doing some updating work (these things are rather frequent and some cities there is a schedule for the outages).

When I moved on the wind had changed dramatically. It was fully in my back now and I could fly on at 35km/h and more on the straights. I covered an insane amount of km during the next hour or so until the wind was again in my face for the rest of the day.

The valley I was riding through was gorgeous and because I was lacking some food, I decided to head to Miyaneh knowing that I wouldn’t move from there any more. I covered 174km today in total and I was shot.

When I arrived I was helped by three young guys who saw me asking for directions in a store. They pointed me to a hotel first (way out of my league) and we found another small and happy-cheap one with clean bathrooms and linens. It was great. On the way there I was again approached by two men in a car about prostitution. Seems like it is a common thing. They first asked whether I was interested in women and when I said thanks and moved on whether I was interested in men. Nope, neither. A slight argument followed.

Then out for dinner - it was great fun, including an English lesson for the owner. Again, conversations were extremely enlightening. Thanks so much for the help guys.


June 30, 2008   No Comments

Day 97 (Iran): rest day in Tabriz

This was an unplanned rest day. Aydin and I had talked about me leaving at 6:30 am to escape the heat, but that wasn’t too be. The very yummy blackberry juice took its toll and I hadn’t slept much all night, but instead … no details. It was just stomach cramps though, but I was awake all night. The cramps were pretty fierce so there wasn’t any place I was going to go today. Instead we hung around and I lay low. Updated the website and slept some more in the afternoon. Aydin and I had some more great conversations over the course of the day during which again I learned much about Iran and the its functioning that I otherwise would never have learned I feel.

I also got a haircut (note that they were very proud of the razors) …

and later watched the painful game during which Germany lost to Spain. Deservedly I should say. Though given the 2 1/2 hour time difference I was close to falling asleep during the second half.

June 29, 2008   1 Comment

Day 96 (Iran): rest day in Tabriz (fortunately for you, Mr.)

No biking today. Instead I was slated to go on a tour of Tabriz with one of the booksellers of the town. Naser was an excellent tour guide and is a great person. We first tried to get an extension for my measly 15 day visa. The tourist information guy was extremely helpful - spoke fluent German, English and Spanish and was pretty angry at the personnel at the Istanbul consulate for giving me only 15 instead of the usual 30 days. He wasn’t hopeful that I would get an extension because I had not spent enough time in Iran, which is apparently nine days. I was going to try anyway.

On to the foreigner police - what a surreal experience. Guy no. 1 was too high for me, so he called his subordinate. He was friendly and started out saying: “Fortunately for you Mr. you still have 9 days on your visa.” I nodded understanding. Alright, this might be difficult. So it went back and forth a bit. “Fortunately for you Mr.” was said about 10 times with a sardonic smile on the face. It was a bit frustrating. Nothing to be done. My questions about the next offices where I could apply wasn’t answered. He just said Tehran and Isfahan. My explanation that it might be difficult to reach any of those places within nine days did not faze him the slightest. Tehran is also not recommended as a place to apply for an extension. So this throws a monkey wrench into my plans a bit. Will have to adjust a bit I think. I asked again about other offices on the way. The guy tells me that he speaks German. Great. Wonderful. Could you answer my question? “Das Buchstabieren mancher Woerter ist eine schwere Aufgabe.” [Spelling some words is a difficult task]. Where in the world did that sentence come from? I nod politely, figuring that it might be best to appease the guy and maybe get something out of him anyway. No chance. In the end I insist on him writing down where to apply for the visa extension between Tabriz and Tehran and leave.

Naser and I spend the rest of the day touring the city, a bike store which could have been in Germany (meaning extremely expensive bikes, up to EUR 5000) the old bazaar which is fantastic and reminded me of the one in Istanbul. The conversations were absolutely great - it was a pleasure and I learned so much about a range of different things going on here. Hard to put into words.

We eventually go to Aydin’s workplace and head home afterwards. We see this …

We meet up again and have some drinks (meaning banana milk and blackberry juice) and after dinner with Aydin’s family eventually hit the sack. I feel well-fed and figure that this is probably the caloric intake I should be doing every day. But oh boy, what a night I had ahead of me …

June 28, 2008   No Comments

Day 95 (Iran): just before Marand - Tabriz (are you Markus?)

daily distance: 86km
total distance: 6448km
riding time: 5h

I wanted to get to Tabriz before noon, figuring I would escape the heat. That didn’t work out really.

On the way to Marand, I saw some scary stuff too …

In Marand I wanted to check up on a couchsurfing host - but that came up empty. People were not there or had family members over. Bummer. But I got my first taste of government people relations in Iran. As I entered Marand, a young guy (I will not mention names here in Iran at the insistence of a number of people) was riding next to me and we started talking about this and that. He showed me the internet cafes, they were all closed, but in the end brought me to a friend of his who had a good connection. But the more important thing was the conversation we had … A caricaturist, he showed me some of the works he has done and some are politically inopportune I would think in Iran. I was treated to breakfast and we discussed a range of things and the topic inevitably turns to politics in some way or another. It was interesting suffice it to say.After leaving Marand, I was forced up another big climb (10km uphill) on what was supposed to a “downhill from Maku to Tabriz”. It became hot again and the wind was straight in my face on the last 40km to Tabriz. No fun really. Apart from the police car that shouted: “How are you? How are you?” at me. I was shot when I entered town. There was an ice cream place. Good stuff. Then all of a sudden one of the guys whips out a cycling shirt and leads me into the center of town. Well, he rides off and figures that I would follow him. Communication was hard, there was not common language really, but it was enough to determine that I was looking for a bookstore and the center of town generally speaking. He got me to some book vendors on the street and this is when things turned completely into the surreal.

As we were talking I asked for a place to buy a copy of a guidebook (sorry, all is closed on Friday) or an internet connection (sorry, those are closed too on Fridays). Darn. I said that it would be great to find one at any rate as I have to check on whether I can stay at someone’s place. At this point one of the guys says: “Are you a couchsurfer? Are you Markus?” I whip my head around and look at him. “Yes!” Well, then you’re staying at my place. I had no time to answer you yet, but you had emailed me about this.” It was a complete coincidence. And I am very fortunate to have made this connection. Aydin still had to work for an hour or so during which time I slurped down a few banana milk drinks and was invited to ice cream by a random person. As we trotted to Aydin’s place we were already in a deep conversation about everything Iranian, which was not only interesting but also eye-opening. At Aydin’s family’s place I was welcomed very warmly and made feel at home. There was great food (bikers are always hungry) and after some time we set out to explore some parts of Tabriz with A’s brother and a friend of his. More food was to follow later on - including Iranian pizza and more ice cream. The best part however is certainly the high degree of hospitality that I am enjoying and the glimpse into the life of people.

Thanks for writing in about the blackout during the Germany - Turkey game. I guess I was the only one here who got the break in Farsi then.

June 27, 2008   No Comments

Day 94 (Iran): Maku - just before Marand (in for the long haul)

daily distance: 173km
total distance: 6362km
riding time: 8-9h

The story of the day is rather short - quite in contrast to the length of the riding time and distance. I started in Maku and continued down the valley trying to figure out more about what was around me. A different alphabet doesn’t make orientation easier and different transcribing on maps and street signs can be confusing. Translations can be fun though (it asks you to maintain a low speed) …

The day was hot and long. I hadn’t planned on riding for as long as I did, but the places inbetween were unappealing. The heat was oppressive but was long as I kept moving things were OK. The ride was supposed to be flat, but 800m altitude is anything but. It was varied though. Desert-like stretches were interspersed with places that were lush and green and much more pleasant to ride in. It was also good fun to just feel cold water over your body, especially given that I am riding in long pants, which makes things a bit less fun.

Towards the end of the day I tried finding a place and having covered 100 miles (162km), I was ready to bag it, but couldn’t find a place for a good long time. People I asked turned me away (most likely because I didn’t make myself clear I think) or there were too many people milling around. In one town I asked and after 20 minutes of discussion among the locals there was still no result. Plenty of great places abounded though and language wasn’t an issue. The first person spoke some English, but it seemed to me that his wife’s English was much better. She however didn’t intervene, but it was clear that the sporadic sentences her husband whipped out didn’t impress her. Another person came into the conversation and translated things, but that didn’t lead anywhere either.

In the end I moved on, about to bike into Marand and into the upcoming wind (very fierce now), but then an older man called me over and after a bit of back and forth we figured out what the deal was. He let me sleep under the roof of his garden hut and brought me a big bowl of apricots, was intensely curious as I cooked my pasta and despite the language barrier we had a good time. I was done though - the long day had definitely taken its toll on my body. From what I can tell, I downed 12 liters of fluids over the course of the day, which is a bit on the high side. Won’t do that any more.

There are good news on the donation side of things: as some of you remember, the delivery of some spare parts took a bit longer than anticipated. DPD has however agreed to donate EUR 500 in total. Thank you very much for this support!!!

June 26, 2008   No Comments