Saturday, 22 March 2014

happy new year

the ideal (although note that this is a two-lane road)
the reality (n.b. motorcycles are on the pavement)
Majid cooks us wonderful vegetarian dinners and entertains us with more conspiracy theories, life philosophies, tales about living in Canada, and an analysis of the economic woes of Iran.  The economy is an interesting one - it was a mess back in 2008 and it still is now - made worse by continuing economic sanctions and a currency that has dropped two-thirds in value.  The government subsidises petrol, gas and bread prices.  I never had a good grasp on economics but in theory the currency devaluation should principally affect prices of imported goods, but inflation is high across the board.  Wages are not keeping up.  As a visitor prices are cheap, but for Iranians it's getting tougher.  Majid has a Canadian passport and his friends wonder why he still lives here.  He explains that he has a relatively easy life here, compared to Canada.  Here he has a job with flexibilty and low living costs.  In Canada he has Iranain friends who have bought into the Dream - have a good job and a big house etc. and are slaves to it.  One friend, a doctor, emigrated there with his family and is working on a hot dog stand while he tries to pass the local medical exams. Majid says he would return to Canada if he was married.  And therein lies another problem - how do men and women meet here?  Every Thursday Majid sets off early and climbs the mountains behind Tehran.  It's a good place to escape the city and best of all he meets other like-minded Tehranis.  "These mountaineers are special people."

No Ruz road safety campaign?
No Ruz is the traditional New Year in Iran, marking the end of winter, at the Spring Equinox.  It is the equivalent of the Chinese New Year holiday as the whole country sets off to visit family or go on holiday.  For five days the country completely shuts down, and for a fortnight there is no school.  As cyclists we are warned of the ensuing madness on the roads as city drivers take to the main highways and drive like they're in the usual dodgems.  Majid hosted our friends Friedel and Andrew back in 2008 and together they cycled a desert road in eastern Iran.  Majid recounts the horrible story of a fatal car accident they witnessed - one car on the empty road behind them shooting a curve and dropping off the road.


cell 102
But before we head out into the madness that is No Ruz, we move to one of the cheap hostels in the south of the city, the Mashhad Hostel, a place we stayed in 2008.  The same staff are there, the same tiny little rooms, grotty kitchen and clean-enough shared toilets.  We even get our old cell back - number 102.

Here we meet a clutch of very friendly Chinese and Taiwanese backpackers - a new phenomenon for us.  
cool Chinese backpackers

Around the corner is our favourite little cafe that still serves the same tasty egg and tomato dish.  ("What do you call it in Farsi?" "Omelette.")  
simply delicious

We collect the bikes and my new sunglasses and while away the first couple of holidays.  The city suddenly seems deserted.  Majid had told us the city is much pleasanter in No Ruz - less traffic and so the air is cleaner and you can always see the mountains.  Most of the shops are closed and the frenzied Christmas-like shopping activity has died down.  
as rare as hen's teeth - an empty road mid-morning downtown Tehran

We missed the bazaar the last time we were here and now it is closed.  Oh well. We have also missed our friend Cyrus who has gone to Turkey with his missus.  We are really keen to meet up with him again so we hope we can before we leave Iran. Before we leave we meet Raimon, a Catalan cyclist going our way.  He's arrived to start the big Central Asian Visa Trawl.  We should meet up again on the road insh'Allah.

final adjustments at Mr. Jabbari's bike shop

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