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You'll never go hungry cycling through this country

Matthew Harris's picture
Stopped alongside a truck in Iran. Cycle Traveller. Source: Arctic Cycler

We arrive in Qaem Shahr as exhausted oily grease spots. The road through the mountains leading up to the high pass is never flat; climbing, then falling, and then climbing again. All this was done in the bright sun. Then descending towards the Caspian Sea, the weather changes – it becomes colder and starts to rain.

This long and hilly road through Iran is full of dangerous truck drivers. But once in Qaem Shahr, we are welcomed into our host's family. The smiles on their faces, the twinkle in the eyes of the 95-year-old mother and father of the family, their kindness and lovingness, make cycling here so special. Cycling through Iran is all about the people.

Our evening is amazing. The family are all so keen to show us how the people of Iran are – welcoming people, that, like everyone else in the world, just want to enjoy life, and be part of the world community.

Flowers among the change to dry scenery cycling toward Chaman Bid, Iran. The road to Masshad

The next day starts with drizzle and a main road. Getting through the kilometres we need to cover to get to Turkmenistan in time means stretches of straight, busy roads. Rather uninspiring.

My mind wanders, thinking of all sorts of things.Then I see a sign to Mashhad, and a shiver runs down my spine. I am really here – in world touring cyclist territory. I have read many blogs, seen many videos, and now here I am.

A man and his little boy on a motor-bike stop in front of us and give us strawberries. Another family pulls over and invites us to their home in a town 180km further along. Then back to eating up the kilometres in this friendly country.

We turn off the main road at Bandar-e-Gaz, and then, there it is – the Caspian Sea. There are a few little clothes shops, and kiosks and people hanging around. I am really excited.

Lying on my mat, I look up at the millions of stars. The frogs are croaking, and the cicadas chirping. The mud flat next to the tents leads off towards the Caspian Sea. Its warm and still. What a cool place to be. And I have cycled here!

The road to Chaman Bid, Iran.

It's 124km to Aliabad the next day. We missed our welcoming committee cycling into the city. They stop the car ahead of us.

‘Welcome to Iran. Welcome to Aliabad.’

We wave, say hi, but we need to cycle on. This happens every 10 minutes in Iran, and we have to meet our next hosts in the city. My phone buzzes – an SMS – 'we are behind you'.

We follow our friends Mustafa and team to their home to stay a few days.

Eating our way through Iran

The Caspian Sea region is green, with rice plantations and other farms, with high, jungled mountains rising on the horizon. We are taken to a famous waterfall near Aliabad and ascend through the steep greenery to have a cup of tea admiring the waterfall.

Then meal number one – kebab and rice – at the base of the waterfall.

Whisked away to a mountain village, we sit down on an open house warmed by a log fire. The chickens are killed and grilled. A friend of Mustafas – famous in Iran we're told – comes to play the guitar and sing.

Matthew Harris cycling Iran. Cycle TravellerThen back to the town for a rendition of the tar – amazing music – and time spent with a group of very happy, lovely people.

Who knows what is going to happen next. We go with the flow.

Back to our host’s house, another meal is waiting – meal number three since our late lunch. What a lovely afternoon and evening.

Then comes the stew with rice and yoghurt. And the fruit.

At 1am. My head is spinning from experiences and exhaustion – cycling, jungle waterfall walk, fireside grill and live music in the mountain village, live audition of people playing the tar in the town. We must stay another day – we must stay they say, but the kilometres to Mashhad need to be cycled. Happy and tired, I collapse into bed.

Oh. And we cycled 93km along some side roads. A lot less noisy and pleasant.

A milestone to celebrate

We continue on our way to Mashhad – the second biggest city in Iran near the borders with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Given our 2am descent into slumber yesterday evening, our departure is quite late. We wave our kind hosts goodbye and cycle into the grey. We can't see the mountains, or much at all.

Matthew Harris in Iran at 10000km. Cycle Traveller

A highlight is the stop to celebrate my 10,000km. At 10,008km we stop in a town to celebrate properly with cake, and at 10,015km our passports are checked.

When we reach the little village of Loveh, we are the talk of the town. We have just talked with the next group of kids that came to visit with their mothers.

Our tents are set up next to a bubbling brook looking out over the valley and we plan to have an early night tonight.

Psssst. ‘Hello!’

I stick my head out of the tent. A man is there with his little boy and a plate of food. He stokes up the fire, and we sit around trying to find room in our stomachs for the extra food. The boy takes a stick, puts it in the fire, and makes patterns in the air with the glowing embers. They smile. We smile. Hand on our heart – ‘mamnun’ – ‘thank-you!’

Another day on the road on the way to Mashhad follows. Not every day is a scenery highlight. The road is straight, flat and boring, and the wind against us. Coming into Mashhad, Def Leppard gives me energy, and it is like a spin racing class, with sprints and acrobatics on the highway.

Cycling by the Caspian Sea, Iran. Cycle TravellerI laugh as I see the signs for Mashhad counting down the kilometres. I have come a long way from home, and I am happy.

It's now time for a day or two of recovery before the Turkmenistan dash – 550km in five days (Read about the 'Desert Dash' in How to cycle through Turkmenistan in five days).

My legs and bum are sore, and it is time for a rest.

About Arctic Cycler

Matthew Harris, the Arctic Cycler, is cycling around the world from The Netherlands home to Australia. Born in Adelaide, and having lived much of his adult life in the Northern Hemisphere, you can follow his adventures on his blog Arctic-Cycler.com. Or read his previous posts on Cycle Traveller:

All images courtesy of Matthew Harris.

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