After almost one week spend in the lovely city of Shiraz to give Antonio’s knee a rest we hit the road again, this time Northwards towards the smaller town of Marv Dasht, situated next to the ancient ruins of Persepolis, which was our real destination.
The road was flat, smooth and mostly with a wide shoulder. After a 2 hour climb to get out of Shiraz it all went downhill from there – literally, luckily, not figuratively. Around 22km from the city there was a nice foresty area with lots of pine trees (the first ‘forest’ we’ve seen in a while!) and it was full of families having a pick-nick and making tea or even camping by the little stream that flowed through the forest, ending in a waterfall. A very scenic area and we would have loved to camp there, but since we only just started the day we decided to continue, but not before we snapped some pictures of this family being joined for their pick nick by their adorable baby goat. I just hope he didn’t end up as kebab that evening…
We arrived to the gate of Persepolis around dusk and looked for a place to pitch our tent, as the accommodation in town was way over our budget. Right next to the entrance to Persepolis is a park (another planted forest) that was used in the early 70s by the Shah to host a giant feast for representatives of 50 countries, where apparently over 5000 bottles of champagne were consumed. Now you can only see the remaining metal structures of the 51 tents that hosted the party, and we pitched our own ( a bit smaller ) tent some distance away, right next to the guards that secured the area at night. Perfect! Safe (because next to the guard), a toilet just around the corner and even some benches to sit comfortably as we boiled water for our tea, as we were lacking champagne.
As often happens in this country (every time we stand still looking confused at an intersection for more than 30 seconds) we were soon joined by a gang of young men, friends of the security guard, that joined us for tea. After being invited for tea many times before we decided to return the favor and share our green tea with them – a gesture they appreciated for sure, but despite our objections they maintained that the tea would have been a lot better with a copious amount of sugar, which is the tradition here. Typically, the sugar is not dissolved in the tea, but a chunk of sugar is held between the teeth while the tea is sipped through. Because the sugar dissolves quickly, it is quite normal to consume about four cubes of sugar per tiny teacup, and as, according to wikipedia, Iranians consume an average of 1.07 kg of tea per person per year, I think you could make really good money as a dentist in Iran.
One of the men to join us was a student in another city who gave tours of Persepolis in his free time and he asked if we wanted to join him the next day. Sure we would! After a freezing night in the tent (3 degrees!) he picked us up at 9.30am the next morning and guided us around the ruins of Persepolis untill lunchtime. Without a guide we would still have been impressed by the ruins but with a guide that explained all the reliefs for us while continuing to bash current Iranian politics, it became much more interesting. So interesting, in fact, that we wasted the entire day wandering around, drinking tea, having lunch and meeting with more of his friends so that by late afternoon we still hadn’t moved and decided it would be better to spend another cold night camping. Of course, this our new best friends found ridiculous and insisted that we must stay overnight in one of their homes, and so, we ended up staying the night in the House of God.
“God” was the nickname of one of the friends (we never found out his real name) that was not only very old but also spoke fluent Italian and assisted in the excavations of Persepolis. He also had some good stories of Iran pre-revolution and, surprisingly, some home made “grape juice” from real Sherazi grapes. His family joined in for dinner and we stayed up until midnight sipping wine and exchanging stories, despite the fact that we were exhausted. Obviously “grape juice” is forbidden so I’m pretending that this never happened and will not include the photographic evidence.
The next morning we wasted a lot of time trying to find an extra blanket in the town of Marv Dasht because it had been so cold camping. Our sleeping bags are fine, but a lot of cold is coming up from the ground and our sleeping mats are simply not insulating enough to keep us warm, so we were hoping that an extra fleece blanket would do the trick. Eventually we settled on a light but warm fleece blanket big enough to cover the tent floor. Now the only hard thing was deciding between a pink-and-white polka dotted design, or one with red roses. The roses won, a beautiful addition to our camping inventory I must say.
Out of Marv Dasht we decided to take the smaller roads through the rural area surrounding Kamfiruz, where there are supposed to be some waterfalls and forests. This despite the objections of our newfound friends, who thought it much better that we took the main highway towards Yazd before turning towards Isfahan (“Lots of traffic, many police, very safe!”). This did not disappoint, especially the first two days the roads were good, quiet, mostly flat. Also, contrary to the warnings of our friends (“people there are very….uneducated…”) people were almost as friendly as elsewhere in Iran and invited us to stay over in their house in a village that we don’t know the name of. The next day we had some hills, but in a fun rollercoaster kind of way, and as the road took us past a lake we did not complain.
We arrived near Kamfiruz late afternoon, as the wind suddenly picked up. To get into town and ask for a place to stay there we needed to turn right on a T-junction, but as the now gale-force winds were blowing from that direction, this turned out to be impossible. So after a feeble attempt to cycle into the wind anyway (and getting nowhere) the only option was to turn around and go left instead, towards the petrol station about 500m away. Because the wind was now blowing from our backs we made it to a record speed of 27km/hr while going slightly uphill without pedaling. We definitely hope to repeat this experience, but next time in the right direction. Luckily, we could shelter in the petrol station and finally it was decided that we could sleep in the prayer room as long as we would leave by 7am the next morning (so that, I guess, people could actually use it for prayer). Not bad for our first petrol station camp!
The next morning the wind had disappeared and we made our way (finally!) towards Kamfiruz and it’s waterfalls in a park called “Lost Paradise”. Very promising! Although we never found the waterfalls that we saw in pictures (they might have been taken in nearby Margoon waterfalls where we didn’t go) it was beautiful scenery anyway, and definitely a runner up for the “Most-scenic-pick nick-spot-awards” that are to be held in the nearby future.
From Kamfiruz onwards the road got increasingly hilly, and whoever planned the road apparently deemed it sensible to draw a straight line over the mountains instead of following the winding river through the valley. Quicker for cars, I’m sure, but quite painful for us! After a small village the pavement disappeared altogether and the road was now only gravel and loose rocks, still with short steep hills. As it was almost dark and we were exhausted, we found a campsite next to a dam, prayed that it wouldn’t rain too much so we wouldn’t get washed away and fell into a deep sleep after dinner, only to be woken up by a heard of sheep the next morning (but with all our belongings still more or less dry and intact).
The next morning after an hour cycling or so the pavement reappeared, but so did the rain. This annoying drizzle didn’t stop and after 3 hours cycling we were soaked and cold to the bone, not because our waterproofs didn’t work but because the road was still going up, up and up so we were sweating despite the cold.
Getting grumpy too, as there was no place to find food (except for a ridiculous amount of cake and candy that we found in a small shop and that we devoured in seconds) and not feeling like cooking in the rain, we decided to stop a pickup and hitch a ride until the next town, or at least until the intersection that would lead to the town. Luckily, a pickup stopped after a few minutes. The driver wasn’t heading all the way to the village but was happy to drop us off at the intersection, although he seemed very confused as why we would want this. We thought this was obvious by the look of our tired faces and the rain that was still dripping down (now accompanied by wind too). He gladly took us in exchange for some of the leftover candy and we loaded the bikes in the back….only to be dropped at the intersection 3km further down the road all the way downhill. This probably explained his confusion. We suck at hitchhiking!
He kindly told us it would be another 15km to the next village where there would be a restaurant. We made it there but the restaurant was nowhere to be found. Now in a seriously bad mood we hid in a small shop where we warmed up with tea and tried to dry up a bit (no luck) when we decided to stop cycling for the day and try to hitch another ride all the way to Yasuj, the next biggish town with a hotel 60km further. Eventually we found a pickup that wanted to take us there, for a staggering million rials (around EUR35) which was way above our budget. After a hard negotiation we settled on a price of half a million, still a lot of money (the price of a bus ride halfway across the country) but fair given our state of despair and lack of alternatives. The ride that followed would be one of the most dangerous I have ever done, maybe only beaten by our insane taxi driver in Penang (Malaysia) or the 180km/hr race to the UAE/Oman border. There were steep mountain passes, snow, falling rocks, skidding cars and deep cliffs but we made it to Yasuj, alive, shaking and still soaking wet. All we now had to do was to convince the driver to NOT drop us off at the edge of town but in the center and find a hotel. The hotel turned out to be located on the edge of town and very expensive. Dripping water and mud all over the polished marble floor of the reception, we initiated the conversation with the friendly but slightly delusional lady in the reception.
“We have just come from Kamfiruz”
“Ooooh, Kamfiruz, very nice, very good!”
“Yes, beautiful, but very wet!” (pointing at our dripping clothes)
“Very good very good!”
“We even had snow!”
“Snow? Yes yes yes yes, very nice. Snow in the waterfall. Very good!”
Hmm. She was kind enough to lower the price from two to one million (pretty good deal) including breakfast and wifi, so we were on it.
Other than that, Yasuj is not very exciting but it does have one very good feature: a bus to Isfahan!
To be continued.