Our grumpy spell gave way today. So many good samaritans helped us out it was impossible not to feel the world was in fact a good place after all. Such are the highs and lows of cycle touring; you never know how your emotions will swing as you tackle the road ahead.
Frustrations from the two previous days were already fading yesterday evening when the three kind men found us a safe place for the night. Throughout the evening the guardian of the orange grove kept coming over to offer us things. Did we have enough blankets? How about a gas lamp for our tent? A cup of tea? There was nothing he didn’t think of but we were very content just to have a little patch of land to sleep on and to watch the chickens from our tent door.
We slept like babies and woke up early to get a head start on the hills. Shiraz sits about 1,600 meters above sea level so we knew there was a good climb waiting for us. Sure enough, we went steadily higher for the better part of 40km and through seven tunnels before the newly constructed road finally reached its peak and granted us a small descent.
The road was reasonably busy but it didn’t pass through many towns so when we reached people selling snacks and drinks by the side of the road we stopped to buy some refreshments and have our lunch. Further encouragement to stop came from two young men on a motorbike. They’d just started following us, bizarrely waving an empty water bottle at us each time they passed. We hoped they’d lose interest and go away while we ate our lunch. We may have been in a better mood overall but our patience with motorbikes remains painfully thin. After a few minutes they sped off and we were happy to see them go.
It was here that our first guardian angels appeared. As we returned to our bikes, two of the merchants insisted on following us. They were friendly and tried to explain but the only thing we could understand through the language gap was the word “stupid” and references to motorbikes. Our instincts said they were suspicious of the young men who’d been on our trail earlier and wanted to make sure we got out of the area without any problems. We didn’t feel threatened and there was a lot of traffic on the road so we would never have been out of sight of passers-by but we accepted their escort nonetheless. All the way to the peak they stayed with us and we really appreciated their help getting through the tunnels.
Their hunch turned out to be right as shortly after our escorts returned home the young men on the motorbike reappeared. This time there were three of them and they flew past us, then stopped in our path. Two of them got off the bike and stood one on either side of the road. We were very wary by this time and stayed well back. After a short stand-off we drew slightly closer and used our camera to take pictures of them. Their reaction was instant: they ran back to their bike at lightening speed and disappeared back up the mountain. We still had no idea what they wanted. Robbery seemed very unlikely since the road was full of other cars and a regular police patrol. Unlike our experiences in Syria, we were not frightened, just confused.
It must have been our lucky day because a passing car saw what was going on and inside was Arash, a tour guide from Shiraz who speaks excellent English. He stopped to make sure we were okay and suggested the water bottle the men were waving earlier could have been a sign they were looking for alcohol or trying to sell us some homemade conconction. There are so few foreign tourists here and the stereotype is that they must all want a drink. He reassured us, gave us some milk and then met us a few kilometers down the road where he arranged for us to stay at a local mosque. There the caretaker Yasser gave us his heated room to sleep in, made sure we were full of tea and left us for a few hours of peaceful dozing.
It really seemed like a lot of people were looking out for us today and as we parted ways, Arash gave us some food for thought on the motorbikes and their young drivers, which have driven us well towards madness the last few days. They are good at heart, it’s just they don’t always know the right way to show it. A different way of seeing things and perhaps in a way he is right. How many teenagers around the world go joyriding and do other stupid things the first time they get their driving license? The difference here in Iran is that access to motorbikes is much more widespread and available at a considerably younger age than in North America or Europe. We agree most of these men will turn out to be perfectly fine citizens when they’re older but that doesn’t make their antics any less stressful for us at the moment!