I really hope we don’t bore you with our blog posts about Iran. But this country is so big and interesting that we decided to dedicate a 3rd blog entry to Bicycle Touring Iran.
After spending one and a half months cycling in Iran (Astara – Rasht – Qazvin – Isfahan – Yazd – Shiraz) Matt and I are now pretty familiar with the customs and specialties of this country. There are many unique traditions in Iran. For example, saying goodbye to guests: Many times our hosts accompanied us to the door step and held the Quran up in the air. According to an old tradition, we then kissed the spine of the Quran, touched it with our forehead and passed underneath it to bless our trip going forward. As we rolled away with our bikes they throw a bucket of water after us in the hope that we will return to their house in the future.
Nevertheless, we still get surprised on a daily basis. Whenever we think we understand some of the Iranian culture we get hit with another twist that we haven’t known before. The other day I was sitting behind a girl who was having some dinner. Although she was eating, I saw that she couldn’t sit still and tried to twist around whenever she took a bite. Someone then explained to me that in Iran it is considered very unfriendly to sit with your back towards an older person.
As winter is coming, Matt and I both have a constant running nose now. The other day we got introduced to a girl my age. After we said “hi”, she couldn’t hold back, she bursted into laughter. It was weird because we were just standing there and I thought we did not do anything funny. She laughed so hard, she was in tears! We then got told that Iranians never blow their noses in public. They always go to the toilet to do it. I imagine blowing your nose in public in Iran is comparative to farting in public in our culture. We must have looked like two strangers endlessly farting beside one another to her. I understand her laughing now. Every day we learn something new.
In our time here we have stayed with many young people. The younger generation of Iran seems to be less religious than the older generations. Many people told us that they disagree with some of the Islamic rules in Iran. Girls don’t want to wear a headscarf whenever they leave the house. Some are annoyed that they can’t hang out with their unofficial girl- or boyfriend in public places (the police can arrest unmarried couples when seen in public together). Many young people would like to travel, they want to see Europe or Australia but the visa process for Iranians just doesn’t allow it. Others want to leave the country because the education here is not as good as abroad they told us. To be honest we haven’t talked to many young people who see a happy future in Iran for themselves. Although we love travelling through this country, this gives us a different perspective on Iran.
I don’t want to finish this blog post with something sad, so here to another example of Iran’s unique hospitality: It was close to lunch time when Matty and I were cycling up a mountain. We were at 2.200 meters’ altitude and had another 200 meters climb ahead of us when a car pulled over. A couple got out of the car and said hello to us as if we were old friends. They are cyclists too, they told us within the first sentence. They introduced themselves as Marzie and Alireza. They said that they are going to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in a cottage on the top of the mountain and that we are more than welcome to join them. Hungry as we were we accepted the invite without hesitation.
Fast forward an hour we were sitting around a fire with 28 family members, a cup of hot chai in our hands and the afternoon sun in our faces. There was so much going on that I do not even know where to start describing. The boys of the family were playing football and the girls were trying to steal the ball away of them. One man was collecting wood, Alireza looked after the fire and a third man carried pieces of coal from the fire to the shish kebab grill. Marzie was preparing the chicken shish kebabs. She had a 10-liter pot full of chicken pieces coated in saffron in front of her that she pierced onto the long metal skewers. I did not count how many chicken sewers she prepared, but there must have been at least 80 of them. One of her cousins put another tea pot directly into the coil with the words “chai on fire”. The whole family was doing stuff, everyone was talking, telling jokes and shouting when the football game of the boys got to wild.
The food we got to try with this family was absolutely amazing. All the 28 family members plus us two ate on one carpet in the cottage (sitting on the floor for eating like always in Iran). I have never had lunch with such a vivid, loud and energetic group of people. As a starter we had lettuce dipped into something similar to maple syrup. I never thought of maple syrup as a dressing before but it tasted excellent. We then ate the 80 – actually I think there must have been 100 at least – chicken saffron skewers, rice with fried potatoes (Iranians always put potatoes or naan bread with turmeric and butter under the rice when it is cooked to keep it warm on the stove without burning the rice), fresh green herbs and pickled collie flower.
After lunch we went out into the garden again. Now the fire was built to a real bonfire and everyone was sitting around it as the sun set and it got dark. We then had some more chai on fire, sweet cardamom-ginger-pastries and big pieces of watermelon. Later in the evening they made a special kind of Turkish coffee in a teapot in the coals. They boiled water with Turkish coffee powder, a whole lot of sugar and a few pieces of cinnamon. After boiling, they took it off the heat and grabbed one piece of coal. The white parts of the coil were then blown away and the coal was dipped into the coffee for ten seconds and then discarded. Delicious!
To top it off they offered us to stay in the little cottage for the night and gave us precooked dinner in case we get hungry again. This is where I am right now writing this blog entry. Full as a bull, tucked in under three blankets and with my feet close to the little gas heater in our room. Life’s good.
Ps. The next morning Merzia and Alireza drove back to the cottage to bring us breakfast in a basket including hot chocolate and freshly baked naan bread. When we said goodbye they gave us walnuts, bread, Persian rose tea and a beautiful purse as a goodbye present. Seriously, how good are the people of this country?
Talk to you soon
Matt and Jasi