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17th-19th April 2011 : Tehran whistlestop and baking in Yazd

July 10, 2011
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I drew the short straw to go back to Tehran to apply for the Turkmen visas, so before I knew it I was on bus number 4, 15 hours overnight sitting next to a sweaty, samosa eating snorer. Great.

I arrived in Tehran very drowsy but I had a job to do: get to the Turkmen embassy and get in the applications. I wasted no time and decided to take a moto-taxi (something I missed out on last time I was here and something I had been looking forward to all bus ride) and told the driver to get me to the embassy on the other side of the city as fast as possible.

Forget theme parks – moto taxi in Tehran is a fucking blast. All road laws are forgotten, as we sped through red lights, on the pavement, on the wrong side of the road, without a helmet, at 50km/h. The journey took 20 minutes and cost $5. It was the best taxi of my life.

Safe to say I arrived in good time and got the application in, which involved handing over a photocopy of all the passports through the tiniest hole in the wall of the embassy. 15 hours on a bus just for that! I left feeling somewhat bewildered as to whether it had been a success – the less than helpful guy on the other side of the hole just shouted ’85 dollars! Pick up in Mashhad’ and closed the little window in my face.

I spent the rest of the day killing time before the bus by visiting Niyavaran Palace, the luxurious home of the former shah, drinking fruit juice and lazing about in the park. By 2200 i was back on a bus and heading to Yazd , ready for another hot night on bus number 5.

I arrived in sandy dusty Yazd at 6 in the morning, totally dazed and disorientated again. I never want to step foot on another bus during this trip, I miss my bike. I hailed a cab and went to the hotel, finding Mathias and Julian fast asleep in the dorm. Mission accomplished, I got into bed, having recovered from my drowsiness and eager to see what Yazd had in store for me.

Yazd is a remarkable city – its the second oldest inhabited city in the world after Damascus, and its desert location makes it quite unique. All the buildings are made of dried mud bricks, and the narrow winding covered streets of the old town create a cool, peaceful, hypnotizing atmosphere.

The most characteristic attribute to Yazd is without doubt the Bagdirs – natural air conditioning towers that channel the wind down into houses from above. They are dotted all over the old city and still work perfectly well today, creating a wonderful cool draft on a hot day. It was great to walk around the old city and get totally lost – the rustic nature of the place meant you were quite free to amble where you pleased – climbing on to rooftops and inside abandoned or rubbled houses, of which there were plenty. It gave you a great insight into an ancient city that is still very much alive and living today – it hasnt been preserved for the sake of tourism like you might imagine, creating a very real, rugged and lived in atmosphere.

Being in the desert, you can imagine what the dry heat was like. After sweating away in jeans walking around in the morning I tried to get to a park and lay for the rest of the afternoon under the shade of the trees, as nearly everyone else in the city seemed to be doing, eating biscuits and writing my journal. Aside from the seeing the sights of the city I took the time to relax and get ready for the desert cycling to come.

One afternoon we were sitting in a sandwich shop, having lunch. As we got up to leave Julian noticed the man behind the counter was rolling a joint. We joked to him that he shouldn’t smoke on the job – the next thing we know we are sitting with him and the two other workers behind the counter smoking hashish and drinking sherry. It made for a great, relaxing day.

Our hotel was definitely a highlight of our time in Yazd – The Silk Road Hotel is a beautiful place with an open courtyard and lots of sociable space – for only $5 a night we really couldnt complain. We met some great people, including Eddie and Piero from France who we met previously in Esfahan.

By this time, our little holiday and bus jaunt off the bikes was coming to a close. It was time to hit the road again, and the clock was ticking on our visas. Between here and the border lay 1,000km of tough Iranian desert. We were prepared, with 10 litres of water each loaded onto our bikes, and very eager to get some km on the clock.

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