Monday, 7 April 2014


Cycling along the hard shoulder of the main road a young guy on a motorbike idles alongside us.  After our recent experience I warily wonder if he wants to rob us, although there is enough traffic around for us to feel safe.  He smiles but then he reaches into his jacket pocket.  I look for the tell-tale flash of glinting steel as the knife appears.  He reaches out and thrusts it towards me.  It is round and orange and he pushes it into my hand before catching up to Gayle and repeating the gesture.  With a rev of the engine he rides off.  We stop immediately to consume his gift.

that's an awful lot of guano
The road out of Esfahan is not too busy.  Along the way we are deafened by tooting horns and waves and shouts from Iranians on holiday, roofs laden with suitcases.  We pass one of the huge old pigeon towers, built to house the thousands of birds that once provided the fields with fertiliser.  The road and the landscape are fairly flat.  We pass through a line of low hills and on into the sun-baked expanses, going at a fair old lick.  Around midday as our bodies heat up and our energy is dipping we are waved to a stop by a few men at a red crescent station beside the road.  They have a huge cooler full of orange juice.  We drink a couple of litres, accept the offer of biscuits and continue on with renewed vigour.  At the entrance to a small town there's a shady park with grass, pine trees, toilets and sinks with taps.  People have stopped for picnics and we join them.  After the sun, the shade is deliciously cold. We continue on in the late afternoon towards the village of Toudeshk where we know there's a homestay.  Of course, after a day of flat road, it ends with a long slow climb.  When we arrive we are happily tired - 100 kms is a long day after a break off the bike.

desert road
The next morning we continue up the road to a pass in the mountains which we know is the high point of our ride to Yazd.  Mohammed at the homestay has assured us it's all downhill from here.  Mohmammed doesn't cycle much so we're doubtful of this information.  He also has suggested we could complete the ride in two more days, although it's over 220 kms. Half an hour later we have descended a lovely long road and reached Na'in where we stock up on fruit and veg.  It's Nature Day in Iran - the 13th day of the New Year when everyone takes to the great outdoors.  Most shops are closed and the streets are busy with holidaymakers on their way home and daytrippers out for a jolly.  We are accosted by several people who want to talk and take our photos.  We are a bit dusty and sweaty - why on earth does anyone want to photograph us? Riding on we hit a headwind that slows us to a wobbly crawl.  For lunch we seek shelter in a tunnel under the road.  We have to waive the first few we look in as someone has paid a visit before us.  The highway here is out in the wide open desert.  There's nowhere else to hide if you need a toilet break.  Perhaps today is really Call Of Nature Day.

After lunch we decide to ride with music - the road has quietened, the hard shoulder is wide, and there's now a tailwind pushing us along.  It rains.  In the desert?  It rains.  We race along.  At a roadside restaurant we stop to collect water and two Baluchi men approach to chat.  Their three female companions are in full burkas and quickly disappear inside.  The men ask us if we are married.  We have no witty response to this tiresome question, and just lie.  Afterwards I wonder if they wanted to make me an offer for Gayle, to add to their collection.  Towards the end of the day we stop at some trees to see about wild camping.  The trees surround the roads leading to an iron and steel mill.   We um and ahh about camping near to an industrial plant - British spies captured in espionage mission! - before continuing up the road.  The highway is split in two directions by about three hundred metres of no-man's land.  Just as we're despairing finding any cover for the night we come to an abandoned building with walls bang in the middle of this no-man's land.  It's a crumbling abandoned ancient caravanserai.  Magical.  We tip off the road and push our bikes through a gap in the walls and into one of the gardens.  In front of the main building is a pool and ornamental garden.  The walls protect the outer fields from the wind.  There are furrowed plots and dessicated fig trees.  The underground water channel that once fed this oasis with mountain water has collapsed.  The adobe out-buildings are barely standing, but as we pitch our tent and put our bikes out to graze, we can pretend we are travellers in time on the old Silk Road from India.  Gazing up at the stars we reflect with satisfaction on our longest cycling day to date.

home sweet home in the caravanserai garden

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