Normally we’d love a good downhill run but we couldn’t really appreciate it this morning. The faster we went the more the freezing air blew through our clothes and on our cheeks, chilling us to the bone. By the time we reached Maku, a town flanked by mountains on both sides, we were only too happy to put our bikes on the bus for the rest of the ride to Tabriz. Women travelling alone sat side by side at the front and we were pushed further back along with a few other couples. We took our place on the velvet covered seats (complete with buckets hanging off the side of each one for the shells of sunflower seeds that people here love to eat) and promptly fell asleep.
When we woke up a little while later we were surprised to see so many Iranians out enjoying the winter weather. One hill was filled with parents and children out sliding down the slope on inner tubes and not far away another group was hiking with backpacks beside a stream. A string of police checkpoints and long queues at petrol stations (fuel is being rationed here) provided further amusement.
Despite our nap, exhaustion reigned when we reached Tabriz four hours later. It’s funny how bus rides seem to wear us out more than cycling. Negotiating over price, pulling bags off the bikes, squeezing them on the bus and then putting the bikes back together again is quite the energy-sucking ordeal. We were also disoriented, having been dropped off at the bus station some way out of town without a map or any idea of which way to go next.
We asked for directions but none of the twenty or so people watching the strange foreigners could help. They made numerous offers to sell us a ticket to a string of Iranian cities, to find us a hotel or give us a ride in a taxi but when it came to directing us to the centre confusion reigned. “Centre of town?” we asked hopefully, swinging our arms around to try and get someone to point in the right direction. “Yes, centre of town,” they responded with a smile and a nod but no indication of which way we should go. It happens to us all the time. People speak just enough English to say “hello” or “what is your name” but more complicated attemps at conversation just leads to a parrot effect.
After several tries we found someone who did speak English. “It’s very dangerous on a bicycle,” he said. We convinced him we were up to the task and our man kindly offered to let us follow his car to the centre. The “dangerous” roads of Tabriz were surprisingly relaxed compared to Syrian cities. One taxi driver even stopped and waved us through an intersection when he had right of way. He must be new on the job! It’s early days yet but the crazy Iranian drivers we’ve been warned about have yet to appear.