Iran

"I wish I could give you all my tomatoes!"

And so, we still had a bit of desert to go across. 350 km across the infamous Dasht-e-lut, the salty desert south-west of Iran. We'd had experienced a lot of desert already in Pakistan, and were truely dreaming of water, green trees and lush grass. But this wasn't the time (yet). This was still the time for desert. We first stopped in the oasis of Zahedan, where we were welcomed warmly by an Iranian family. In particular, we were so relieved, so happy to see women there (yes, they were wearing a headscarf but at least their faces were visible and open). And after that, we headed once more to the desert. To find more sand, more wind, and more of nothing.

O the wind, our miserable companion that keeps on blowing and whistling. Bloody wind that whirls into our ears and our heads, non stop, oblivious. Will you ever stop? We keep on pushing, on breathing hard, on pedaling. And in the end, we do make progress! In this desert, there is even less than in the Pakistani desert. Because the roads are so much better than in Pakistan, the truck drivers do not need truck stops with a teahouse every 30 or 40 kilometers. On top of that, there has been a big rural exodus in Iran over the last few years. This means that the few dots on our maps that are supposed to be villages have been left to the desert. Which means there is not much left of them now. In fact nothing! So we are sometimes facing 100 kilometers with nothing whatsoever on the road! Except, of course, a few simple mosques, that appear on the side of the road on a regular basis: a simple concrete slab with a corrugated iron roof. But to our great disappointment however, here mosques do not have a tea house next to them (which is something no one could think of in Pakistan!).

We cycle forward, from citadel to citadel. Sand-coloured, they are the only shape on the horizon. One disappears when the next one appears. We cycle from mosque to mosque, making the most of their shade... There, we are often interrupted by arrogant policemen, so proud of their uniforms, who force us to get back on our bikes. Because it is too dangerous. The Dasht-e-lut desert is full of bandits. Armed. Who are going to attack us. It is fair to say we are in a region known for its drug traffic-ing (in between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran). But their threats, sometimes yelled at us or communicated through excited body language, do not reach us, as we are lying in a bit of shade trying to shelter from the 50 degree-heat. Only a very concrete and visible threat would make us leave our bit of shade...

The few water points along the road only give us salty water, to our great surprise! We had not thought about this one. Here again, our truck driving friends are forever helpful. Even with unexpected luxury! Yvoine is thus able to seriously impress Mike one day (who is having a rest under the roof of yet another mosque). Sure, she comes back with full water bottles. But also, extremely proud of herself, she comes back with 2 Fanta cans extra-cold, just out of the fridge of the brand-new VOLVO truck she has just waved down... The truck driver, with the typical generosity that is a feature - a blessing - of most Iranians, was ready to empy his fridge for us!

Sand. Wind. Sand. Wind. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Mosque. Sand. We keep moving forward.

Until at last, we get to Bam, sadly known for the earthquake that killed thousands of people there in 2003. The desert is behind us! For sure, we still have hundreds of kilometres to cycle through arid zones, but the true, real desert is over! What joy and relief! We grant ourselves a day of rest and celebration in Bam. This trip gives us so many reasons to celebrate! In fact, just about anything is an opportunity to celebrate: the end of the desert, the top of a pass, the crossing of an international border, the victory over the wind, or over a muddy road. And in the end, we do not need much to be able to celebrate: a good cup of tea, a fruit juice or an espresso, a piece of chocolate or a bit of raspberry jam... Our bicycles turn these small things, so common in daily life, into extraordinary moments!

Bam is a sad spectacle, even 2 years later: destroyed houses and collapsed buildings. Everywhere, all we can see are signs of this catastrophe. The main street is a row of containers from which shops and restaurants now operate. Very little, so little!, has been re-built. As we are wandering around Bam, heading towards the famous citadel now mostly a pile of rubble, come back to mind the great big front covers of all international papers at the time. For a few days. And since then? The sensational of what happened is gone, and it is almost forgotten. Today's situation, however, is so sad. Only the palm trees (Bam is the Iranian centre for dates), strong, green and massive have survived. Re-building what has been destroyed is still to come.

With the desert behind us, we head as fast as we can towards the mountains! We are like magnets, attracted to relief. It is stronger than us. We cycle higher, and the temperature drops at the same time. On the road to Jiroft, we meet our first European sign: a French-Iranian couple in their car stops by the side of the road. They are from Bordeaux! It is so good to find a little bit of "known territory" along the road! Our descent towards Jiroft is awesome: under a beautiful sun, our heads in the handlebars and our bums in the air, the wind is this time singing in our ears! Zoom, zoom, zoom, hairpin after hairpin, our smiles bigger than our faces, we abandon ourselves to the slopes. In Jiroft, we are yet again welcomed by another family. It is so good to be able to share a meal with men, women and children. They are all gathered around the same carpet (no table in Iran, just carpets). Pakistani men, and men from all countries, here is a piece of advice: keep your women visible. They actually bring a good balance all around!

The day after, we leave Jiroft and attack our next pass. This particular pass will end up being our record of daily ascent, more than Tibet! We were not quite expecting it. We climb 2300 vertical metres that day, on roads built by countries where they do not know snow or frost: 13% to 20%! Our thighs and calves are definitely working hard! The uphill is direct and straight forward, no detouring around! On the other side, we get our pay back: a magnificent plateau and thousands of colours. The wheat paddocks are gold, contrasting sharply with the the dry, brown and purple mountains, and the bright green poplars and lemon trees. They slowly dance in the wind. After 2300 vertical meters, we are starving. A car reads our thoughts and stops. They give us some fresh water, some dates, cucumbers, apples and lollies! So often, many times in a day, Iranians stop and give us a piece of fruit, a cup of tea, a bit of food or friendship...

Up and down, and up and down, we are having a ball! The hills are still quite dry (Mike is dreaming of the New Zealand native bush, so lush and green, with no shortage of water!) but we are in love with those non-flat grounds. And this is a long-term love affair it seems! Our hearts are beating hard and happy. This is cycling at its best! Up and down, and up and down, a few small mountains, a dry, arid plateau, a nice road. And a sudden flash of a number: 84! It is quick (especially compared to our pace) but Yvoine is over-excited. Her arm goes up in the air and frantically waves helloooo!!! The quick flash, as a matter of fact, is a French car number plate: 84, for Avignon! The 4-wheel drive stops on the side of the road, and a 4-some French family comes out of it. They are touring Iran on their summer holiday. We have a chat for a few minutes before they leave us to our road... But 5 minutes later, they turn around: "how about we bivouac together?" We decide to meet up 20 kilometres down the road. Those 20 km are enough to collect some grape and a beautiful watermelon that we can share for desert (we actually have to say no to tea). Thanks to Fabrice and Valerie, and their 2 children Vincent and Florence, we are about to spend a night of luxury! For our heads and bodies - tired from the desert -, it is so good to spend an evening in their company. The Italian Barilla ravioli (the exact same ones we used to have in Sydney when we did not have much time to make dinner) and the tomato sauce are a splendid dinner! The shower (yes! they carry 150 litres of water!) in the middle of these dry surroundings is a precious, precious moment. To be able to sit on chairs, around a table, talking, sharing our stories and dreaming of new projects is simply wonderful. We delight in these few hours of warm, welcoming, new friendship. To top it up, at the end of the meal, Fabrice makes us an espresso! A real one with his little espresso machine he has in the back of the car! An unexpected evening that refuels us before we head back on the road, headed for Shiraz.

We are approaching Neyriz, and are about to start the climb of our last pass before Shiraz. A pass so typical of Iran and Iranians. We are just starting the climb when a taxi passes us on its way down. It disappears behind us... only to re-appear 5 minutes later with 2 enormous watermelons he just got at the market down the hill. Yvoine (who is the one carrying the food) succesfully negociates to only keep one of them. Off we go again, the watermelon (a good 10 kg) tied up to the rear rack of Yvoine's bike. A bit further, a pickup truck, full of big, beautiful tomatoes passes us on its way down as well. We hear it brake behind us, turn around, and stop by us: "excuse me, but could I ask you a few questions?" We stop and meet Ibrahim, a tomato farmer in Neyriz, on his way to Yazd to sell them. He is the first Iranian to truely understand, comprehend our trip. "Where have you come from?" he asks us. "From Singapore!" we answer somewhat proudly (and at that particular moment, we suddenly remember our meeting with an Australian soldier months ago. It was our 1st day on the bikes, and we had met him in Malaysia, on the side of the road. He was there because the Australian army was doing military exercices in the Malaysian jungle nearby. The conversation then went about like this:

soldier "where are you off to?"

us: "to France"

soldier: "by bike?"

us: "yes"

soldier: "and where have you come from?"

us: "from Singapore, this is our first day...")

When Ibrahim hears we have come from Singapore, his eyes stare at nothing for about 1 minute. Then, his eyebrows and forehead contract in a funny shape and exclaims: "but Singapore, it is quite far from Iran, isn't it?" He then climbs up the back of this pickup truck and fills a big bag of tomatoes for us (10 good kg). When Yvoine tries to explain that 10 kg of tomatoes is about enough, more than enough in fact, Ibrahim turns around with a huge smile and extremely seriously he declares: "I wish I could give you all my tomatoes!"

We get back on the road, still climbing, loaded with our watermelon and tomatoes. At the top, 4 beautiful girls are waiting for us. They have passed us on the way up (in a car) and are waiting for us at the top of the pass. They are clapping their hands, congratulating us for the ascent and the arrival to the top, and give us fresh figues and water! The sun is setting. We cycle down a few kilometers before setting camp in the middle of a figue orchard. What a day!

The next day, we get back on our bikes, heading for Shiraz, where we meet with 1+2 friends! We knew we were going to meet Gwenael there. But she came with a double surprise: Herve and Laure! Together, we indulge in the delights of friendship, catching up and Shiraz.

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