The dutchies offered to go check first and return if he wasn’t home. So we waited for 10 minutes before we headed up there after them. We rolled into the village trying to find our way with a map app that didn’t have the side roads on it.
It seemed as the entire village had gathered for some sort of gigantic celebration with a live band. We asked around if somebody had seen two cyclists and they pointed us the right way to the warm showers host which lied just next doors, barely 30 meters away from the party.
Apparently the owner who was Swedish was out of town, but the friendly co-owner still allowed to stay there for the night for free. We also met a lovely family who was from Mashhad and they kept us company the entire night. The co-owner of the place cooked us the most delicious meal we had in our entire stay in Iran. Some type of goat cheese, rice and fresh grilled fish seasoned with saffron, in amounts we barely could finish even after a 11 hour long day of cycling. The sale of alcohol is forbidden by islamic law in Iran, but they are very big on alcohol-free beer that often is flavoured with various fruits. The lemon and apple ones were quite good and we often drank this at restaurants. We drank the lemon one, along with coke here. You should try it if you get the opportunity!
The buzz of the loud party in the background was undeniable and a very curious Daniel really wanted to go check it out, so the Iranian family took us all there to check it out.
It was a Kurdish wedding and the entire village with hundreds of people and their families from around the country was there to celebrate. Men were ring dancing to energetic Kurdish music. Harm and Daniel were immediately invited to dance with them. Sadly, women are not allowed to dance and they sat in plastic chairs drinking tea whilst looking bored.
None of us had showered and were completely soaked in sweat and dirt but were still welcomed with open arms and served as much tea as we could drink. Everyone was super happy and curious as to why we were there but nobody spoke English. Whilst Harm and Daniel were dancing, Thea and Annemieke were introduced to the bride sitting under a white crescent moon on her throne, but otherwise spent most of their time laughing their asses off at the sight of two awkward white dudes trying to blend in dancing amongst the local people who definitively have had the moves in their blood for hundreds of years. We stayed up very late because of this unforgettable evening, and would only sleep 3-4 hours this night but it was worth it. The music was so unique and awesome and they kept playing many hours past midnight! Sometimes you have to push through even though you don’t have any energy left – you never know what awaits just around the corner.
Two days later we’d split paths with Harm and Annemieke and cycle the remaining 250 km alone to our chosen border Sarakhs, where we would rest one full day before doing the desert dash. We were lucky to have a full day of insane of tailwinds on completely flat roads on our way to Mashhad. We were cruising at 40 km/h without any effort, barely pedaling. Just like that we had done 100 kilometres at 10 in the morning and enjoyed a long lunch break before continuing. Unfortunately during our lunch the winds turned decided to switch directions to the opposite.
Having fought the wind and a few small sandstorms for two hours, halfway through the Mashhad bypass ringroad, we got this idiotic idea that we wanted to do another 20 km just to reach a shop in order to buy soda as we were really thirsty and didn’t have anything but 35°c warm water to drink for dinner. So we gunned it with all of our remaining energy left just to reach the point of the road that turned so we’d get semi-tailwinds again. This was perhaps 30 minutes before the sun would set and we quickly realised there was no freaking way we would make it, and there would be no camping opportunities forward. Despite this we set our record for the third time in a week doing 150 kilometres in one day. We ended up in sleeping in a large hole in the ground near some ruins. A fox also lived there and greeted us at night.
From here we only had two more cycling days and one mountain pass before reaching the border town. This area is known for its ever constant headwinds coming from Turkmenistan and we sure got a taste of it as they were unusually strong this day. It was completely ridiculous. We were going less than 5 km/h downhill despite pedaling and we had used up pretty much all our energy the past week of cycling 10 hours every day. After Mazdavand there is barely anything for the next 100 km, and no water sources.
We hitched a ride over the mountain pass in the standard blue pickup truck driven by two young guys. You’re not really allowed to host or interact too much with foreigners in Iran, so the guys we rode with told us to duck and hide every time they passed a police car or checkpoint. We felt like spies trying to escape the country as they were driving 140km/h on mountain roads, flinging us and our bicycles around in the back. Sometimes it felt like the wind gusts would tip the car over into the valley.
After about 45 minutes in the back of this truck we were relieved that we finally made it alive to Sarakhs and quickly headed to Doosty hotel for a much needed rest – a place where all cyclists stay before or after the desert dash. As we decided to hitchhike we did save one day of cycling and got two very much needed rest days. The owners here were super friendly and they had delicious food in their restaurant which meant we didn’t have to go out of the hotel to eat. Perfect way to finish off this country.
Iran is an overwhelming place to be as a foreigner coming from Europe. It is loud, chaotic and quite polluted. The actual cycling, at least in July – the hottest time of the month, is very challenging and to be honest not super interesting. It is also a very large country and we’re sure there’s a lot more to see than the tiny bit we experienced.
But the culture and people here are amazing. It’s just vastly different from what we are used to. Everyday curious people would stop us to talk to us and take selfies, offer us food, fruit or a place to sleep. You will get so much attention that you barely can stand it in the end. We didn’t get to experience as much as we wanted of Iran, but the people we came across gave us memories for a lifetime. You never need to look far if you need any help in this country.