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The year is 1391, the country Iran

Sheikh Lutf Allah and Jameh Mosques, Esfahan.

I felt instantly clean, fresh and rewarded after a long days ride in the hot sun. Looking back towards the idilic campsite we had made on the beach, snow-capped mountains turning into thick green jungle as they dissolved into the sea. Rio De Janeiro-esque, minus the bikinis and ice cold cervejas. As our new friends called to let me know that my dinner was waiting for me (a guy working in the nearby hotel decided to treat us to rice and kebabs), I managed to drag myself out of the cool Caspian Sea. Feeling refreshed, clean and very pleased with myself, I sat with Mary and tucked into a hearty dinner.

Boy oh boy. Long sleeve shirt, trousers over cycle shorts, scarf wrapped around my head, this is clothing for cold weather riding. But here along the Caspian it is over 30 degrees and I am sweltering. My shirt is sticking to my back and all my gear has faded from sweat and sun. It’s been an inspiring ride over the mountains to the coast. Looking out at the sea I think back to idilic swims back home. Boy do I want to swim. I watch Pete cooling off in the shallows. Boy oh boy. If I were a boy i would be splashing around too.

Kids riding through the winding streets of Yazd. Zoor khane. Old school air-conditioning and no photos of bikes, cycle touring or camping.

“Hello Mister” “You are welcome to my country!”

I feel like a celebrity.

Strangers, always male, over-enthusiastically swerve their cars into the hard-shoulder. 120 – 0km in two seconds. Barely waiting for the wheels to stop turning, jumping out, huge smiles, ready, waiting for us to approach on our bikes. Mood depending, seconds later, I find myself the focus of a hundred group photos.

With my loaded bike at the side of the road I quickly realise I have acquired a new super power…I am Invisibility Girl! While I play with my new found power, Pete poses for cameras and shakes lots of hands. I am in a parallel universe. At this moment our versions of the same time and space are utterly different.

still no bikes.

The year is 1391*, the country Iran. A land of square roundabouts, hamburgers and hospitable people, not to mention one of the World’s oldest civilizations. As the exceptionally cantankerous passport control guy was soon being reduced to a dwindling memory we found ourselves fending off a small swarm of men, all clutching wads of different currencies in an attempt to generously provide us with the best possible exchange rates of Iranian Rials. It was news to us that Iran has both official and black market exchange rates for the Real or Toman as it’s more commonly referred to. At the time of exchange, the black market rate was about 21000 Reals to 1 Euro, wth the official bank rate at 16000 per Euro. Due to ever increasing inflation one zero is usually knocked off the value of the notes and Reals become Toman. In theory it’s pretty straight forward, in reality it means that you have to carry a brick of money around with you. Cool at first, a little cumbersome and inconvenient after about three minutes.

I was always abit of a tomboy growing up, I climbed the trees and crawled through bramble tunnels just as my brother and the boys next door did. The garden at Strawberry Cottage, the Thompson family home, was a veritable world of adventure. I was a girl but that didn’t stop me. Mum had to make two batman outfits as neither Ben or myself wanted to be the sidekick. We were brought up as being seen as and treated as equal. I’ve never really questioned it or thought about it. It was a given. Now we are in a country where the word ‘forbidden’ prevails for women. It is shocking for me. But it is transient for me. This is not reality for me like it is for every Iranian woman, I am so very aware of our different situations, and it’s not a good feeling at all. If you want to do something that is forbidden here you have to do it in secret. Behind doors. Underground. There is quiet frustration and desire for all the things that I have always taken for granted. Freedom and choice. Simple words so easy to say, and now I think about them in an entirely different way.

Tucking into some delicious chicken (100 metres from the abattoir). Khamenei and Khomeini. Don’t see too much cycle touring going on in these photos?

Bazaar. Sleeping on the job. Chicks. Cows feet. Given up on the bikes then eh?

As we cycled away from our five months in Turkey we were both excited and nervous to be heading into Iran. This won’t be a post full of political commentary or criticisms. However, I would be turning my back on the mammoth green, white and red elephant in the room if I didn’t mention any of our observations during our time here. To be blunt, we were nervous because our heads were full of a confusing blend of excitement and paranoia, thanks to negative western media and overly gushing happy traveller tales. In my head I found myself unconvincingly trying to ridicule the possibility and horrors of being indefinitely detained under suspicion of doing things we shouldn’t be… What if I found myself suddenly and uncontrollably taking photos of soldiers at a military base with a high-power telephoto lens, with an American Eagle tattoo spontaneously appearing on my face, whilst screaming obscenities about the government with Mary sat topless on my shoulders waving a bottle of tequila? I had to remind myself that in all likely hood we were about to have a bloody good time exploring this mysterious country… and so far this is exactly what’s happened.

We have met amazing people here, and we are having incredible experiences with our new friends, like we do everywhere we go.

We have been lucky enough to stumble across honest, generous and funny individuals. We have witnessed traditional Lori wedding celebrations, Pete with the men at one party and me with the women at the other. The room was packed with cross legged ladies, it was hot, loud and brilliant. Women danced with scarves in their hands and kids were passed over our heads like presents.

We have been enveloped into family life in the sleepy village of Gawkoshak, where we swam (me fully clothed of course!) and sat under pomegranate trees and ate sour apples.

People make this journey worth riding. Landscape is one thing, adventure another, but the quality of human contact is the best. I appreciate the time I’ve spent with everyone, many of whom I hope one day to meet again.

Grand bazaar, Tehran. Havij bastani, (carrot juice and ice cream)… so good! Sugar.

The paddy fields of the lush and mountainous coast of the Caspian Sea… beautiful, but where are the photos of us in tight clothes, with a glow in our eyes, radiating wholesome goodness as we cycle into our dreams?



More photos of Iran here

*Since the 1979 revolution Iran has been using the Solar Hejri/ Persian calender


14 Responses to “The year is 1391, the country Iran”

  1. Thumbs up, you two. Interesting as always, and thought provoking.

    Keep it up.

    Safe travels. A


    pete Reply:

    Thanks Anis! We’re planning on living with you (free of charge), re-learning to dive with you (also free, if not then at a heavily reduced cost), and generally having fun with you when we reach your neck of the World Wide Woods. If you don’t mind we’d appreciate it if you were based somewhere extremely cool. How about it?


    Posted by Anners | June 9, 2012, 9:22 am
  2. Great reading and you sound as if you are having a ball. I was in Iran in 2009 as part of a long trip and like many others I can honestly say that it was my favourite country.


    pete Reply:

    Hi Ann. Thanks for the comment, we’re just reading about your own adventure on crazy guy.


    Posted by Ann Wilson | June 9, 2012, 11:12 am
  3. hey pete(my unfatiful friend)…great adveture you’ve had since today in Iran.i think you are experiencing the great moments in your liftime.i read this comment and i’m real surprised….have a nice trip


    Posted by hamed | June 10, 2012, 4:48 pm
  4. i mean ”unfaithful”you don’t even reply my SMS(a littel bit sad right now)


    Posted by hamed | June 10, 2012, 4:51 pm
  5. Wonderful reading your experiences from the two perspectives this time … mmmmm … very interesting … don’t worry Mouse, you certainly are not likely to stay invisible for long! Love you, happy safe travelling on through Iran and back to visiblity in the next country? Its not stopped you enjoying yourself though by the sound of your acceptance into the Lori wedding hooley! Mum Jen xxx


    Posted by Mum - Jen | June 11, 2012, 8:54 pm
  6. hey you guys (its Gin not ben). The kids and I just watched your last film. They were disappointed when it finished and wanted more so had to show them the whole back catalogue again! Keep the movies coming, you’ve got a mini following who cant read! x


    Posted by Ben | June 15, 2012, 6:14 pm
  7. I’ll see if I can dig that Batman costume out and pop it in the post, sis – that should get you a bit more visibility! Great to read more about your travels, love hearing what you’ve been up to xx


    Posted by Ben | June 16, 2012, 9:37 pm
  8. Hey Hamed. I sent you an SMS reply, a few days back, with info about tents and a link to reviews. Did you get it?


    Posted by pete | June 19, 2012, 7:13 pm
  9. Da dam

    Hey how is the trip going on ??
    I still enjoying when I’m watching to our photos in Babak fort ,
    wish to see you in new york huh .


    pete Reply:

    There’s a hot dog with your name written all over it!


    Posted by Johnny Roberts | July 1, 2012, 8:48 am
  10. Wow wowowowowowowow.

    What a wonderful and interesting read. Loved the two perspectives. Oh and stunning photos! Phew!

    Safe travels and tailwinds!

    Tom :)


    Posted by Tom | August 19, 2012, 6:23 pm
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