Maybe we should have listened. So many times we’ve been told a road is too tough, too dangerous, too long or too busy for our bicycles and every time we’ve managed to find a way through so when crowds of locals started telling us the same old story we didn’t give it much thought. And, to be perfectly honest, we were so tired of people gathering around us to stare and ask questions we had little patience for any conversations, even ones meant to help us.
“This road is impossible for you,” the local English teacher said. When asked why, we were told it was deserted. Fantastic! With so much of our daily movements watched by curious locals the idea of an empty landscape couldn’t have been more appealing.
“You might have to walk,” he said. No problem, we thought, remembering walking our bikes over rough paths in Spain and Greece.
“It’s dangerous. You should take the main road instead where more people can help if you’re sick or hurt,” our friend added in a last ditch attempt to change our minds. We assured him we were in more danger on the major routes with traffic flying by.
We said goodbye and set off for this alluring road, which was supposed to take us through a string of villages and towards Shiraz. The start was promising. Smooth asphalt took us past date palms and tiny communities. We waved to the lady out milking the cows and smiled at the children by the side of the road. We silently wished the man following us on his motorbike would go away.
Soon we reached the end of the asphalt but instead of a dirt road all we saw was a mountain. A crowd of locals gathered. Even in the smallest villages we can gather a group of twenty people in seconds. We asked for our road and only got fingers pointing to where a herd of goats were walking across the hill. Really? Well, we’d come this far a little further wouldn’t hurt surely. Now the locals were excited. Two crazy people trying to move with huge bikes over a goat track. We were seeking solitude but instead we dragged our bikes along to the inevitable cries of “Hello Mister” and other joys. To imagine the scene, perhaps you could think of the Sound of Music except instead of going over the Alps with a singing Maria and the lovable Von Trapp family we were accompanied up our mountain trail by pop music played over mobile phones and a group of Iranians, ranging in age from kids young enough they had to be carried by their parents right up to the octegenarian shepherd. We didn’t feel very endeared to anyone except the shepherd who seemed to know where we wanted to go.
The going was difficult pushing our bikes through rocky terrain but we plugged on, half out of curiosity to see if a dirt road would magically appear over the next ridge and half hoping that if we just walked far enough everyone would go home and at least we’d have a quiet place to camp. We ran out of luck on both accounts: no road appeared after a kilometer of hard work and our fellow trekkers stuck to us like glue, peppering us with the questions that will slowly drive you mad in Iran.
Hello Mister. How are you? Do you speak English? Do you speak Farsi? Each Iranian trailing behind you will repeat these at least three times, all of them wanting to have their own conversation with you even if it repeats what you’ve just told ten other people. Then someone will add in an “I love you” said at random and from the other side someone else will tap on your arms and point when they want to say something but don’t have the vocabulary. The tapping of course can be done even if you’re tired or trying to ignore them and don’t try walking away a few feet for peace. They’ll just come with you to see what you’re doing. In the midst of all this, at least half the people will be snapping photos constantly on their mobile phone.
Looking back on it is humourous but at the time we could feel the stress mounting dramatically.
Soon it became clear that we would not be able to follow this track any further. Now our focus was to find a place for the night. We turned around and set up our tent on the first flat patch of ground we could find, praying that now everyone would go home and give us some peace. It wasn’t to be. Five die-hard young men continued to watch our every move, cooking supper, laying out our sleeping bags, fixing Andrew’s shoe. Only when we closed the door to our tent, physically shutting them out, did they finally go away. As we relaxed we realised we’d been under the watch of local eyes from the time we rolled into the major town of the area around 11am to when we physically shut out our eager companions at 5pm. Watching the sunset in silence, just the two of us, was never so sweet.