Thursday, 31 January 2013

poppies and pileups and not Persepolis

When the rain eases I can hear the sea from my tent. I almost reached the coast last night but was accosted outside Bushehr by Jamshid who took me home and to a party. A drive into the desert; a tent where crosslegged shepherds, their women silent in shadows, passed pipes packed with more than I first realised. Moreish, I kept my wits if not my tongue, wasn't robbed and, head soaring, managed to insist we drove home gone three. I was awake late dreaming, dead sleep at dawn. This morning, skin crawling, I refused a breakfast rerun and rode straight to the beach to bathe my itchy mind. I've still a headache. Persian hospitality!

Its been raining almost since I left Shiraz. Motorists here leave no room for error or conditions and I've seen loads of crashes these three days; two in immediate aftermath. Each oncoming car adds itself and persons haphazard to unhelpful chaos. Following suit I was reprimanded I think, pushed away, by an elder lady for attending to a young woman in shock and blood. Feeling profoundly uneasy I left her fussing the casualty's hijab. Obviously its not about me, but there's a diversity interview question in there somewhere. This morning, behind a sickeningly staved-in lorry-cab, a line of men salvaging fruit boxes into a line of pickups, lest they perish...

It'd be a shame not to have any regrets so despite the must-see fanfare I didn't daytrip to Persepolis. I wrote cliches home about preferring mountains to ruins (much older and still going strong) but really there's so much to see between the sights I hardly care for them. Sorry Sadj but I've seen quite enough this week... I'm exhausted! I slept one night bunked with workers at a cement factory, another camped in a dry riverbed; tonight I've a sodden dune. Days have been fast downhill, losing altitude and latitude (I think?) until the Persian Gulf where mountain magnificence gives way to a fairly fetid swampscape stuck with palms and eucalyptus. Damp air, big insects and once a camel; like a different country. Its good to be along the sea again after so long inland, and nice not to navigate... I'm enjoying a new feeling of South Asian difference. Fingers crossed for sunshine, any day now.

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And, in the morning it shone and the swamps dried up. And the day after that there was an internet computer for a muddle of photos

Sunday, 27 January 2013

up wind down south and pick-ups

I'd have liked to linger in Isfahan. I sat at sunset on the Si-o-se Pol bridge pretending not to mind the rapidly growing crowd of mister-what-is-your-names. A couple with bicycles spoke English and we rode along and across the dry riverbed a few times; there are lots of impressive bridges. But each time I try to fathom the distances on my country map I lose count and give up, only sure that really I best keep moving. So I left for Shiraz on Wednesday morning. Eating breakfast on the pavement South out of town I watched a veiled figure run across eight lanes of traffic, stopping only to scale the reservation fence. She worked in the tall, windowed hospital building over the highway and had a glass of tea and packet of sugar lumps, for me. Perhaps from now I'll try to record only the more exceptional of these welcome-incidents.
I shied South-West away from the motorway, missing mountain roads and feeling the exits a little too perilous. I've a grim affection for most of the little hardships of bicycle touring. Cardboard-stale bread with cheese best described as a latter stage of milk. Macaroni meals, my solitary grime and outdoor toilet. Hard climbs beget fast descents; freezing nights have lovely mornings. But I cannot make my peace with headwind. Maddeningly intangible as an obstacle it contains no promise, offers no achieve. No summit or photo opportunity; only dead resistance, even stealing the song from headphones. For three long days tumbleweed mocked my pace. Twice the sheer frustration brought me, pathetic, to tears. Low-drama, snotty at the roadside, bemused motorists wondering. Lots of time, then, to admire the landscape. Really there's been every kind of magnificent. I started writing descriptions in my head and then there were too many different ones and I ran out of space. Great reaches of brownish nothing. A single tree on a red rock. Watercolour skies in everyblue cut with jagged horizions. Goatbells across verdant plains. Minarets twilit through conifers. 

I'm looked after, as ever. My favourites are the ones who pull over fifty yards ahead, get out and wait silent, smiling, to hand me a bag of cake or a glass of chai, nod heads, touch their hearts and drive off. It's nice when it doesn't matter mister which country. With donated calories so consistent I got shabby with my planning, like the careless little biblical birds without thought for food or raiment. Huffing up the second or third big climb after Yasuj in early evening urgency, convinced I wasn't too far from the flat, fleet Shiraz-highway at Ardekan, Hamed offered me a pull. I've long wanted to hang on to a truck so the offer was too good to refuse. I hung on a few miles until my arm gave out - I could hardly wave him off. Of course then the dark fog rain came and with sheer rock to left and right there was nowhere to pitch and indeed nothing to eat. There's a couple of lessons there, perhaps. Thinking I could make it over the pass, thinking I was near the top… I lit my bike and filled my mind with filling my belly, a restaurant, a hotel in Ardekan I thought, before an easy, highway day to Shiraz in the morning. Ali in a blue pick-up found me an hour later, trudging still shy of the top; he didn't have to insist. We drank thermos chai and listened to Farsi pop, checked my bike in the back after the bigger bumps and in no time at all I'm fifty miles to Shiraz by night, too tired to sleep in my nice hotel. A little shame, the downhill looked fantastic.

I'm bored of trying to figure out how to load good quality pictures around the government firewalls. Sorry. I think they look better if you click on them.