With many questions and a stern lock our passports and visas are checked at the Iranian border. After an admonishing hint to Judith that she always has to wear the headscarf, we immerse ourselves in a completely different world. A world in which the hospitality has highest priority, in which there are not many tourists, in which many limits are set, especially for the women and in which we can no longer read the scripture and yes it is written from right to left. But now everything in the right order.
Along the river Aras we drive between big mountains in a narrow valley to Jolfa. Everywhere we are greeted with a friendly “Welcome in Iran”. Several times we are asked about our origin and we are attractive selfie motifs. In a cheap accommodation we stay overnight with our own gas heater in the room. It should be noted that Iran has the largest natural gas reserves in the world. In the evening we want to get to know the Iranian cuisine. Disappointed we get, as at noon and as in an Iranian hotel in Armenia only lentil soup, kebab with a lot of rice and a black grilled tomato. We hope that Iranian cuisine has more to offer.
On a highway with little traffic and a wide service lane we cycle to Marand. In Marand, the youngest warmshower.org member Yashar is waiting for us. At the age of 17 he is extremely mature and grown up. We get an accommodation in the art school of his friend. In the evening he helps us to get a SIM card and he takes us to an English school, where we are immediately involved in the lessons. We are bombarding each other with questions and experience a very interesting insight into the unknown country. In the morning we are led by Yashar to his father’s bakery, where we get a „Barbari“ (flat bread with sesame). Yashar accompanies us a bit further towards Tabriz. Along the less frequented highway, we enjoy stalls with dried apricots, which we have rarely found in Armenia. The sellers make fun with us and selfies. At lunchtime we stop at a restaurant and of course there is again kebab with rice.
At noon spontaneously the food is payed for us, a few tips for the onward journey are given and of course we pose once more for a selfie.
In Tabriz we are picked up by Hosein by bike, our next warmshower.org host. He leads us the last 20 kilometers to the apartment of his parents. There we experience an incredible hospitality. His family speaks Turkish because, like most Iranians in this region, they have a Turkish background. Thus, they are very pleased with our few Turkish words, which we can still remember from Turkey. We are dressed in spare clothes so that we can once again wash all our clothes. While we wait for dinner, which is taken at 22:00 clock, we are introduced by Hosein in the Persian language. Iranian cuisine has more to offer than just kebabs with rice. The mother proudly serves us the “ghormeh sabzi”. This dish is found throughout Iran. These are finely chopped herbs such as dill, parsley, peppermint, radishes, basil, chives, onions and cress. These are steamed for an hour with meat and chickpeas. The fresh herbs are also eaten raw to almost every meal as “sabzi khordan”. The flat bread “lavash” is usually as well on the table.
The next morning Hosein wants to guide us through the largest bazar in Iran. The mother criticizes Judith’s clothes and quickly finds remedy in the wardrobe of Hosein’s sister. Satisfied, the mother nods and now Andi is the only tourist. In the oldest bazar in Iran, we once again dive into a world that is new to us with the most diverse fragrances and expensive Persian carpets. Accompanied by Hosein, we also dare to look at the first mosque from inside. In the evening, Hosein’s father takes us to the lemon pressing with his camion and shows us a bakery. In this another Iranian bread version “sangag” is produced. It is a flat bread, which is 1.20 meters long and baked on pebble stones. That same night we are taken with our bikes by camion to the bus station. Actually, we wanted to drive along the Caspian Sea to Teheran. However, as we study the weather forecast, we quickly get off this plan. Because it is cold and wet weather announced for the whole upcoming week. Thus, we decide to flee to Teheran.
In the morning we are greeted with warm and sunny weather in Teheran. Unfortunately, today is a big holiday and all cafes and most shops are closed. Hosein a warmshower.org friend from Iran, who was once our guest in Switzerland, unfortunately does not live in Teheran anymore, but he can give us some good tips about his city via WhatsApp. Thus, we are looking for a new home over warmshower.org. Sahar and Vahid want to welcome us, but they are away for the holiday to Isfahan. To our astonishment they leave us the key to their apartment. So we live in an apartment, whose owners call us friends and whom we have never met! We are happy to have some time for ourselves. On the second morning we meet our hosts Sahar and Vahid and after a breakfast together with some travel tips we cycle out of Teheran. Just before we leave, Sahar examines our cycling cloths and recommends Judith to cover her hips and presents her a nice blouse. After a few kilometers we are tired of driving in the exhaust gas and decide to hitchhike to Qom. As soon as we stop, Kia stops and helps us to stop a coach. Faster than we thought, we are in Qom. In Qom is the sacred Shrin of Fatima, which is a popular place of pilgrimage for the Moslems.
It gets already dark at 17:00. We see a caravanserai on the map and decide to spend the night there. Once there, we find the door closed. We are not the only ones. Anja and Peter solitaire-camper.de a German couple, who are traveling with their truck camper, are also stranded there. We spend a cozy and entertaining evening, in their with attention to detail self-built camper. In the morning they proudly serve us a Nespresso cappuccino, which we of course enjoy with pleasure.
With tailwind, it goes quickly towards Kashan. As we stand in front of the closed door of the bakery in Maskat, an Iranian asks us if he could help us. Unfortunately he does not speak English. With our little Farsi and with hands and feet we can tell him that we want bread. Without further ado, he invites us to his home. In a large room with many persian carpets we are served a breakfast on the ground. Once in Kashan, we enjoy tea and dates in an old former persian bath house. Here in Iran there are so many and different dates. We can hardly eat enough of them and of all the delicious walnuts, sultanas, dried figs, pistachios and almonds. In the last minute we decide to look for a warmshower.org stay in Kashan. We get in touch with Elham, which fortunately take us to here home on such short notice. Before we are received by Elham, we meet Paul the German cyclist, who started six months ago in Zurich. In a coffee we exchange a few experiences. Then Elham picks us up. Elham presents her traditional Iranian instrument. As we sit so comfortably, it shakes suddenly. We all feel dizzy. But when we see the lamp wobble, we know that it was an earthquake. On television, it was confirmed that the earth has quaked at the border to Iraq with a magnitude of 7.2. Several hundred people lost their lives and entire villages were destroyed.
The next morning we decide to drive into the desert to Maranjab to visit the salt lake. Although it is only 50km away, it is a day’s stage. The road is partly sandy, very bumpy and wavy. Just before dusk, we reach the salt lake. We collect firewood. Some trucks drive by and transport salt into the city. One of these trucks sees our campfire, stops and fills up all our water bottles with fresh water. A second truck driver lends us his lamp, which we put in the morning to the agreed place. Then it is quiet in the desert and a beautiful starry sky shows up. After a very cold night we drive five kilometers over the salt lake. The lake is now getting whiter and the salt structure is becoming increasingly clear. Since it is a dead end, it means the same way back. The dromedary herds grazes this time directly on the roadside. Fascinated, we observe these animals for a moment. At the sand dunes we stop, because we have a small anniversary to hold on, namely our 6000 kilometers. Strangely enough, today the salt trucks have stayed away. We are all alone. Suddenly, the silence is disturbed with shots. The military, which is stationed in the desert, rehearses in case of emergency. We are a bit tired and we hope that they will see us and we will not cycle into the danger zone. After four hours of exhausting drive we reach Aran.The drive into the desert was very beautiful. However, we are happy to be back in civilization and we enjoy a freshly squeezed carrot juice “from havitsch”.
After our first night in the park we drive towards Meymeh. A partly steep pass road leads us to our highest pass with 2700m. In the last village just before the pass it is already dawning and we do not feel like camping in the cold at this altitude. When we ask the inhabitants for a place to sleep, we are sent to the mosque. There we get a heated room with a nice persian carpet. In the next room the evening prayer takes place and over and over again someone looks through the window into our room. Several times there is a knock on the door and we are given tea, apples and lavash. Early in the morning we climb the last meters to the pass and enjoy the fast, airy descent to Meymeh.
In Meymeh traffic is increasing again. The last 30km before Isfahan we can ride with a blue pickup. Reza, once again a warmshower.org host, is waiting for us in Isfahan. He takes us to his friends to a half-year celebration (half year to persian new year). At 22:00, flowers are planted in the garden and at 22:30, we have dinner. After our tough day on the bicycle we almost fall asleep at 23:00 o’clock. Finally at 1:00 clock our host is in departure mood and at 2:00 clock we finally come to our sleep. The next morning we meet with Paul, the German cycler. Isfahan with the two bridges, the Hosein Khomeni Square with the traditional tea house, the inviting cafes and the freshly squeezed carrot juice, we like all very much. Once again at the bakery “sungag” (iranian bread) is presented to us and the butcher proudly shows us his work.
We decide not to extend our Iran visa of 30 days and take the direct highway to Shiraz. To gain some time and get ahead faster we are hitchhiking from time to time. One day even the police helps us to stop the next Zambian (blue pickup). The reputation “crazy driver” of these pickups we can only confirm. We are very relieved once we can safely get out of the car. Because while driving, the driver was constantly on the mobile, made fun with the other drivers and was even filming.
In Safasshahr we arrive at lunchtime. When we search for a restaurant, a car stops and we are invited by Moij to his home. He still lives with his brother and his parents . The two brothers are very innovative and open in two weeks, a coffee shop and a crossfit studio. In the evening we enjoy a delicious dinner once more on the floor.
In the pouring rain, we leave the town the next morning and try our luck once more with hitchhiking. It does not take long and a pickup stops. Only in Shiraz we realize, that our driver did not really have to go to Shiraz, he did this extra 200km to go there and back only for us. In Shiraz, it is still pouring down and it’s cold. We meet Moij’s sister Fatima and her friend Romina. These two help us to change our dollars, which is not an easy task! Our host Mohammadhadi and his wife Nila live a bit outside and luckily they pick us up by car. The independent architect and also independent engineer are enthusiastic bicycle travelers. It once again bothers us how unfair the world is. Just because we have the Swiss passport, we can travel quite freely and cheap. For an Iranian it is almost impossible to get a visa for example for Europe and it is also extremely expensive. The next day, together with our hosts and some relatives, we take a trip to the hearty, old “mountain village” Ghalat. It is a cold but beautiful autumn day. We enjoy the warming fire, a hot tea and a juicy pomegranate. It is harvest time of pomegranates. On Friday we drive with Mohammhadi and Nila by bike through Shiraz. Unfortunately, the parks, the bazar and several other attractions are closed, as it is Friday, the Iranian Sunday.
The same evening we take the bus to Borjazan, where we camp in the park in front of the police station. The next morning we are happy about the warm weather. We drive towards Khormoj. There is a salt mountain, which would be worth a hike, but we continue over the last mountain range to the Persian Gulf. At sunset we cross these beautiful sand mountains. In the dark we arrive at the beach of the Persian Gulf in Del Aram. Some locals do not find it a good idea to camp there and they give us access to a well-walled, but still unfinished construction site. Later they bring us a warm, Iranian soup “Asch”.
The next morning we cycle to the nearby village and meet Reza. He works in Asaluyeh in a petrochemical factory. His parents live in Bushehr, where he spends one week after two weeks of work. He likes to give us a ride in his little Peugot. Although it is not very comfortable on the front seat, we are happy and grateful for this ride. In the evening in Asaluyeh we enjoy once again our beloved, freshly pressed “ab havitsch” carrot juice (exactly translated: water carrot). The Iranians enjoy it together with ice cream (saffron ice or milk ice cream). As we cook on the beach front, a man comes with two pizzas, two salads, coke, fries and deep-fried mushrooms. He saw us cooking and wanted to make us happy. Since we were already full, we gave this feast to two boys, which were looking at us with big and happy eyes. A little later as we sit in a cafe, we are invited by Mohammed and his friend to their flat. As they show us some cycling pictures, we accept their invitation because the park did not suit us. Mohammed loves cycling, is part of the judo national team and plays duddlebag. However, he does not speak English and luckily we have the google translator.
On the old, lonely main road we drive comfortably to Parsian. We camp on a quiet spot in the semi-desert. With tailwind we cycle the next morning on the lonely, but beautiful coastal road towards Bandar Lengeh. Back on the main road a truck driver gives us a ride. We enjoy once to belong to the large road users.
In Bandar Lengeh we get on the bus to Bandar Khamir and arrive the same evening by ferry on our long-awaited destination the island of Qeshm. We sleep in a quiet place surrounded by sand mountains. The population on the island seems rather poor and the villages are more like a construction sites. Again and again we meet women with masks. According to our internet research, this comes from Arabia and the old women hide their wrinkles. Luckily, there is only a very small minority living this tradition. From Salakh leads a very nice gravel road along the Persian Gulf. In Suza we experience once more how suddenly the streets empty and the shops close for the prayer time.
For the night we find a nice spot and the next morning we reach after a short drive Qeshm. Since it is Friday and all cafes are closed, we take the ferry to the island of Hormuz. We cycle to the impressive rainbow mountain with the many different colored rocks. We stop at the beach with red sand and finish our tour with the crossing to Bandar Abbas. That same night we wanted to take the ferry to Dubai, but the Iranian bureaucracy is complicated and we can not get the ticket in time. So we have to take the next ferry in two days. Now we are stranded in Bandar Abbas and have no accommodation. With warmshower.org we try our luck to find some accommodation. Unfortunately, Ahmed already has guests and he thinks the park is safe to stay overnight. In the park we meet Mehrdad, who has an issue with his bike. Luckily we have all the tools and can help him. He believes it is not a good idea to sleep in the park and invites us to his home. Thanks to the google translater, we can communicate because they can hardly speak English and we do not speak enough Farsi. Mehrdad lives together with his brother and sister with husband and son. The men recently opened an import and export company. For the last time we enjoy the Iranian hospitality and are cooked by Maryam with the finest Iranian food. Because of a sandstorm the boy has no school. So it does not surprise us that the ferry was canceled the next night. So we have no choice but to fly. With the help of Ahmed from warmshower.org we quickly get two bicycle boxes. We pack our bikes and our friends Mehrdad and Kianush bring us to the airport. As a farewell, Maryam gives Judith a headscarf. Finally, on the last day she has a headscarf which does not always slide down. However it’s soon over anyway.
Arrived at the airport, we have to unpack the bikes and wrap them with films, as they are not accepted in the big boxes by the airline. We meet a cycler from Belgium, who also cycled 7000km from Belgium to Bandar Abbas in 2 months. We are quite astonished. He has much less weight and solo cycling makes the big difference.
Conclusion: Never before have we experienced such a great hospitality as in Iran. We can only learn from them! All prejudices are totally wrong and we are extremely sorry for them. Again and again they apologise for their government under which almost all feel restricted and suffering. Especially the women get to feel it very strongly with the clothing and headscarf regulation. Many internet sites and TV shows can only be seen with VPN. They have even Iranian TV shows broadcasting from London, of cours, there the woman wear no scarf. Only because they have an Iranian passport their travel possibilities are very limited! The men only get their passport, driving license and graduation after two years of military service, unless the father served in the Iraq war. Although the country could be one of the richest countries in the world, because of its gas, oil, gold, copper and iron sources. Nobody knows where the money goes. The unemployment rate is very high and many do not find a job in their field of study. We very much hope that the government and thus the situation for the population will change soon and will turn out well!
We can highly recommend Iran as a travel destination. Nowhere on our trip did we felt so safe. The Iranians love tourists, the warmshower.org works perfectly, in the parks can be camped easily and in the small villages it is possible to spend a night in a mosque. But the 30-day visa is definitely not enough! It can be extended well in Teheran, Isfahan and best of all in Shiraz. We have decided not to extend it for three reasons: 1. the headscarf, 2. more expensive flights around Christmas, and 3. the bureaucracy of extending the visa. You have to be aware that with Mastercard, Visa, Maestro and Co you can not get any money. For the whole travel time enough Euros or Dollars have to be carried, which can be changed in the bigger cities to Rials, luckily we have learned this shortly before entry. The money has no value and so we usually have several millions in the purse. The locals speak in everyday life of Tuman and leave the many zeros away (10 Tuman = 100’000 Rials ≈ 3 CHF). Until the end we can not get used to this currency, because they say ten but mean one hundred thousand. Also with the bathrooms, we can not make friends. After a visit you are always wet at least at three places: feet, hands and a.. (no toilet paper). The shower do not have a delineation or a curtain and is in the middle of the bath. As a bike traveler you better avoid the busy highways without service lane by using smaller streets, hitchhike or take the bus. There are many limits set for the people. One part we feel as cyclists daily with the many barriers. Again and again the bike has to be carried over an obstacle, a ditch or laboriously heaved onto the high sidewalk.