Sunday, 13 April 2014

back in the big smoke

We missed our friend Cyrus when we passed through Tehran at No Ruz so we decide to leave the bikes in Yazd and return to the capital.  The first task for us is to collect our Turkmenistan visa.  This is done quite painlessly, although we have to hang around at the embassy for over two hours while we complete the paperwork and the visa is issued.  It rains on our walk through the northern suburbs of the city.  This is a bit of a surprise after coming from the desert where the weather has begun to warm up.  Tehran is bustling again after the holidays and traffic is heavy.  It's a huge relief to get the visa - it's the last piece in our Central Asian visa jigsaw.  While we were in Yazd we had extended our Iranian visa without a hitch - 24 more days will be enough to see us to the border.  We have heard from the two English cyclists, Dan & Ollie, who are here in Tehran sorting out their onward visas.  Unfortunately for them the Uzbek embassy asked for a letter of recommendation from their embassy - no good in Iran since the British embassy has been closed for three years.  Their fall back is to head across to Kazakhstan and cycle all the way around Uzbekistan.  This looks like a phenomenal challenge - the distance is huge, roads are few, and it's all desert.  Our stay in Baku with Pam & Joe was a real blessing.

Cyrus invites us to his workplace - a private kindergarten where the teachers teach in English some of the time.  He is employed as a consultant to advise the teachers.  It's striking that most of the staff, all female, do not wear their headscarves in the class room.  It's as if we've just arrived in a different country.  Somehow this simple effect makes the women seem quite different - a visual trick that gives them personalities and individuality.  Of course this is nonsense - or is it?  The headscarf is like a uniform.  Later we talk about the potential effect of a day of protest where women decide to discard the headscarf.  I think I prefer the idea that on one day men also wear it.  See how they like it.

Cyrus lives with his wife, Shahla, in a bright apartment just out of the city centre.  Although, nowadays, there isn't really a city centre anymore.  We joke with Cyrus that he could pass himself off as a tourist and as we walk homewards he is accosted by a passerby who doesn't realise he's Iranian. He takes us past a shop where four young men are fiddling with instruments - guitars and bass - before bursting into a funky riff.  Buskers.  Somehow the singing and music looks like an act of rebellion.

At home Shahla and Cyrus could be in Europe. The sensation is increased because Shahla prefers to speak French, which she knows better than English. They have organised a party in honour of our coming - a nice treat for us - on Thursday night, which is the equivalent of a Saturday night in Iran. A few friends and friends of friends come, including some ex-pat workers.  Shahla has prepared plenty of good food and a few bottles of arak appear.  It's a very chilled out evening and we're glad that most of the conversation is in English and French.

The next day we head south to our favoured hostel in the city where we have reserved two rooms.  This is because tonight our friend Gertrude is flying in from Nepal, on her way home to Germany.  She has a three week visa and we plan to spend the first week with her.  The flight is in the evening and we go to meet her at the airport.  It's way out of the city but the journey gives us time to catch up before we show her inside our little prison.  We are delighted to find amongst the inmates Raimon, Gabor, Franzi and Jona - all here to collect visas for cycling across the Stans and we cook and eat together in the scruffy kitchen on the roof.  Raimon has been here a while and has suffered his own visa woes.  Having cycled all the way from Barcelona he was stumped to find that his embassy wouldn't provide the letter of recommendation for his Uzbek visa.  After two visits, much pleading and coming to the decision that he would have to give up on his intention to cycle around the world and take an onward flight, things suddenly changed with the Spanish finally acquiescing.  

Tehranis out on the town

The next day is spent introducing Gertrude to the joys of Iran (motorcycles on the pavements, one-way streets with three-way traffic, omelette and chai, rials and tomans , park life, sabzi ghoresht with rice and banana milkshakes) before catching the evening train southwards back to Yazd. 

take-away dinner in the park with Gabor, Raimon and Gertrude

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