Refreshed after a night in Aggy, unimpeded by a hot sun wake-up call thanks to the cliff-face, we hit the road, now laughing and singing “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” and making up silly verses beginning “Oh Allah,”. We had learnt our lesson, so it seemed; don’t try and look for a lift; just go with the flow and all will be good. The scenery was spectacular. We stopped to enjoy a melon bought from an old man with blackened hands. As we ate, another old man came over and presented us (with equally blackened swollen hands – from working the land) with a handful of little cucumbers. We tucked them in a pannier for later and rolled on down the valley; where another old chap rushed over to us with the old favourite bike-tourer gift of two melons. Ha! One would be plenty, we attempted to mime that the bikes were heavy enough already; but thank you very much for your kind offer. We took the smaller one, and just as we set off again, a truck pulled in in front of us beckoning wildly for us to pull over. He was offering us a lift. Well would you Adam’n’Eve it, after all that wasted time trying to find one yesterday! Joel and Ali heave-ho’d the bikes into the back of the proudly Mercedes (manifested nicely after our Janis Joplin renditions?) truck, alongside two tractors on their way to Qom, religious capital of Iran. (Not that they were noticeably religious, these tractors, they bore no ostentatious signs at least, suffice to say they were ‘Made in China’, so perhaps they follow that new religion increasing in popularity everywhere – consumerism…)
We rode in the front all the way to Saveh, finally enjoying the opportunity to admire the view, out of wind, making conversation with Ali, the favourite kind of which was naming vehicle makes and their countries. He was a wonderful host – he pumped out the Iranian tunes and kept the chay flowing freely. We arrived late into Saveh, where a not-too-friendly-looking-sort on a motorbike warned us against pitching Aggy in the middle of a roundabout, as if we would anyway, and led us to a park, full of Iranians camping out overnight on their way home from their holidays. The guy lingered for a while, whilst we erected the tent and then made a yummy greek salad, asking to feel the sharpness of our knives, and motioning that there might be thieves about; slightly unnerving, but without common language, you never know if you’re talking to a respectable person, or a complete madman, so we hoped for the best and, after locking the bikes up super-good, avoided the locals’ stares by getting an early night. If only we’d brought a pop-up tent, we thought, we’d blend right in!
Leaving Saveh, we found a shop that sold meths! Finally, we were free to cook our own dinner once more, and have a coffee! The road was long and uphill, and after a good hard slog, we stopped to do just that. We whipped out the melon from the farmer yesterday, we attempted to give pieces away to the surrounding truckers. They weren’t having any of it, instead, one went to his cab and presented us with another, no doubt in his opinion tastier, specimen. The eternal melon! Will we ever be without one? And what’s wrong with peaches, or maybe even plums – far more compact and lightweight! How funny…
As we searched for a camp-spot again that evening, lo-and-behold, another offer of a lift materialises, this time to the jewel of ancient Persia – Esfahan… T’would be a good few days ride away still, so, tired from a day’s ride, we accepted; thinking only of the prospect of a hotel at the other end. As the sun was already setting, we knew it would be late when we arrived. I was already exhausted and getting hungry, so tried to sleep.
We were dropped on the outskirts, and navigating our way through the polluted suburbs turned out to be extremely hard work. The air was filthy and eventually I was riding with tears in my eyes, headscarf precariously wrapped around my face so as to cover my mouth, to act as an air-filter. It was horrible. The city is really sprawling, and we must’ve ridden for a good hour before hitting the centre. After much ado, we came to the Amir Kabir Hostel – accidentally – the LP’s best bet for meeting fellow travellers. It was full, but we were offered to pitch our tent in the inner courtyard. Perfect.
The Lonely Planet had been right, the place was chock-a-block full of interesting traveller sorts, including an Aussie cycle-tourist and two guys who’d been at Ozora – the festival in Hungary we stopped at en route. It was really exciting; meeting people, speaking English, and swapping tales. We checked into a room the next day, delighted to have found such a little community. We ended up staying 4 more nights, enjoying the buzz of the pretty city, which felt more liberal than any we’d visited yet. We hadn’t intended staying so long, but Joely hurt his shoulders; ironically after 5000km-ish riding; by reading in the park.
As Iran has had sanctions put in place by the rest of the world, it isn’t possible to withdraw money from any ATMs, nor is it possible to pay by visa. It’s cash only for foreigners. Having come from Turkey, we had mainly Lira, and approx £220 worth of sterling and euros. In total, that made about £500’s worth of currency. It was starting to look like this wouldn’t be enough, having been ripped off many a time in little shops with unmarked prices. We need to keep aside $100 each for the ferry to Dubai. For some reason, the bazaar exchange rates are better than those in the banks. In Esfahan, we decided to try and sell Joel’s iphone, thinking this might fetch a fair bit, given that Apple products aren’t readily available locally. One shop offered £150ish for it, but that was too low. In a cafe, with a nice American-educated manager, I raised the idea to seek some advice; he said his wife might be interested (he already had a fancy new one) but we should first make our way to the Apple (!) store to find out it’s value. How honest of him, we thought, and followed his directions. The shop was obviously not an Apple store like the swanky ones we have in the UK, the sign was glued on wonkily, and the shop sold other brand products like Samsung! The chap we spoke to inside was concerned about our reasons for selling this sought-after bit of kit. We need the cash, we explained.
He was obviously fairly distraught at the idea of parting with one’s phone, and came up with an alternative solution. He had a bank account offshore, meaning we could transfer him some money; and he would simply hand over the cash – then and there! I tried to do so in the shop, using my online banking, but had left the chip and pin card reader in the hotel. No problem, he assured me; here’s the cash – transfer it later, no problem, tomorrow – no problem…
What an absolute legend! We left the shop with the cash in our pocket, and for now, cash in our bank account (I transferred it later that eve). Moments like this really restore my faith in the kindness of humanity. Thank you Majid. We owe ya one! We gave him our details and told him if he ever needed anything we could help him with, to contact us and ask.
On the way back to the hostel we bought a big box of the local sweet speciality, gaz, to share with the other guests to celebrate!