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10th March 2011 – Ali Reza and fresh eyes in a new country

April 30, 2011
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So our first night in Iran, in a beautiful spot, with great weather, new cars, road signs, money, food and customs. This is what I’ve been waiting for – the trip has really begun.

We pack up and leave, taking time to savour every new experience on the road towards Tabriz. We stop in the first town of Maku and play on the outdoor fitness machines, occaisionally stopping to duck away from the sound of what seems to be gunfire in the near distance. Turns out its kids playing with bangers – a popular thing to do during the run up to Iranian new year which is set to be in about a week.

We pick up supplies for lunch in the first shop we see in town and have our first experience of dealing with Iranian money – a confusing affair as a result of hard inflation over the last few years, meaning that the name and numbers of the currency printed on the notes is almost entirely obsolete. Everyone talks in Tomans, which is equivalent to ten times the price printed on the notes in Rials. 10,000 rials equals about one dollar (or 100 tomans) meaning we have fat wads of cash in our hands. We over spend in the shop treating it like monopoly money, and spend about 10 minutes thinking we’ve been rippedoff ‘no, tomans not rials!’ its going to take a while to get our heads round it.

The mountain scenery distracts us for the next 50km, as does the forward friendliness of the Iranian people. After 10km a car pulls up ahead and a girl gets out, waves us down and hands us her phone, which has an English speaking person on the other end. He asks us where we are going and says if we need somewhere to stay when we arrive in Tabriz we should let him know. We shake hands with the girl (not what we were expecting to do!) and they drive off, leaving us a bit bewildered. Signs of things to come for sure.

We take a shortcut road towards Shut (hoping the name wont fulfill the prophecy) and stop at a petrol station to wash up. Within 10 minutes a boiled kettle appears with bread from the petrol merchant. I ask where i can fill my syrian stove and a customer bundles me into his car and we drive around Shut looking for somewhere to fill it, but to no avail. He is very apolagetic (its OK mate, not your fault!) and returns me to the gas station, in the mean time explaining to me that Iran is a very bad country and the government are evil. I politely keep quiet, not wanting to encourage political conversation on my first day in the country.

Back at the petrol station and it turns out the road ahead is closed afterall, much to our amusement. We decide to head back, weary that we’ve lost half a day of road. On the way back to the junction we’re flagged down by another car, this time a guy steps out, speaking english and explains that he lives in the next town and we can stay at his house, eat, wash and relax. He talks about our map and our route as if he has had cyclists stay at his house before, and sure enough they have. We follow him to his house and are invited in by his non headscarf wearing wife (yet another surprise) and his 4 year old son. His name is Ali Reza, and we sit and talk about Iran, and about the Tsunami that hit in Japan yesterday (we were oblivious to it, so quite glued to his television, which was hooked up illegally to Turkish sattelite broadcast). Ali explains to us that he is not Muslim, and neither is his wife. They have to save face and pretend in the public eye to avoid any trouble from other people and the government. That explains the more casual attitude of his wife then. He tells us of his time in the Netherlands, and that he used to own a coffeeshop that was local to where i lived in Amsterdam. Small world! We get on great, eat great food together and have a good nights rest up on the floor of his living room, feeling content to have our second night in the house of a great and very unparticular Iranian family – signs of things to come yet again.

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