Leaving Esfahan was almost as much of a challenge as getting in had been, involving riding on the motorway ring road, on which Joel got our first puncture of the trip, but luckily spotted immediately the culprit; a staple, and marking the point of entry with a marker, to ensure a quick fix. The entire valley was full of smog, and cycling through it was truly unpleasant. We imagined how beautifully clear it must’ve been before the invention of the motorcar. Added to this difficulty, we had a laughably strong head wind, and an ongoing slight gradient, which looked deceptively flat, and thus confusing (we thought we were just weak!).
By the wayside, we saw a smiley looking couple who waved excitedly at us. We continued past and waved back. Soon they overtook us in their car, and motioned for us to pull in. They wanted to take a picture with us. Ok, we weren’t feeling too energised, but Abbas and Fariba’s smiley-ness was infectious, so we obliged. They asked where we were going, and told us they were going to Mubarakeh, a town about 30km away. They invited us for dinner, but not offering any contact details, we thanked them but carried on imagining that nothing would come of it.
At the top of the next hill, lo and behold there they were again; this time asking us to speak on the phone to their son, Elyas, who spoke very good English. It was arranged! We told them it should take us a couple of hours to get there, but promised to call on arrival.
They came to meet us and we followed them through the town to their house. Elyas was full of energy and so excited to have some English speaking buddies. He was very entertaining, telling us of his future plans, and his love of America! He amazed us by telling us that at just age 17, he’d already written two books. Published! We wondered about the content…
After a day’s ride, we were struggling to keep the energy levels up. It transpired that this was the grandparents house, and as it was Friday (like our Sunday) the whole family was gathering for a meal. When they said whole family, we didn’t expect 20 of them! It didn’t take two many cups of tea, for our energy to return. The house was full of laughter, and kids playing. The spread was impressive, and pretty tasty! The non-alcoholic beer was flowing, and Joel entertained the masses with his contact juggling skills. Even Grandad had a go!
We ended up staying an extra day, as they were so sad and begging us not to go. We were taken up a mountain and then to see the uncles’ shop; handmade leather goods, and photo printing services. From the shop we saw a passing parade, mourning the death of an imam, one of the 12 (can’t remember which, sorry) religious men, that are revered in Iran. The men in the parade were whipping their backs rhythmically as they passed. Very odd. Elyas says this is a very sad day and everybody shows their sadness openly, but you wouldn’t believe it from the peals of womens’ laughter coming from the kitchen later on (as they surrounded me armed with tweezers, attempting to reign in my unkempt eyebrows.) A wonderful experience to be guests in such a happy family home, unforgettable! (if, sadly, a little indoctrinated by the regime – unfortunately Elyas asked me how i’d like to live in Iran, and being one for honesty, I tried diplomatically to explain our views on freedom, i.e. against the death penalty, especially for being gay or renouncing Islam(!), amongst other things largely to do with women’s rights. He had been translating for his family, but when I explained about a member of my family coming out, he translated something else for them.I found it fascinating that such a pro-America-and-the-West youth could maintain such starkly contrasting viewpoints! i.e. in favour of this madness.)