Arrived

 

Made it.

Yup we made it. Container shipped over with a load of chemicals,  a transit van and who knows what else on the good ship CMG Coral.

After a lot of miles, punctures, sandwiches, biscuits, cups of tea, sore saddles and stargazing we sat down in our peeling paint room just south of Mumbai and shed a few tears as the ocean hushed at the shore. For all that effort, for all our family, for all our friends, for all the madness of it all.

Now we are cycling through some more isolated areas from Mumbai to Goa and taking short ferry trips where the road peters out and haven’t had much net access but we hope to add further updates when we have a bit more time. Suffice to say India has been a great landing. Veg food heaven for Jen and cups of sweet sweet milk Chai for Jet.

The people have been fab and really India hasnt been as full on as we expected.  Thanks India for being our destination. Thanks friends and family and all the other doods and doodesses for travelling with us.

But we still have a teeny bit more left to ride…

j n j x x

Hard Hat Sailors cross the Persian / Arabian Sea

Small leaky boat India (captain pitches out water as we cross inlet)

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Off on a Boat to India

We really wanted to cycle all the way to India and were seriously thinking about cycling through Pakistan from Iran. Concerns about instability in the region ( now even in the South) and of course the recent flooding made us wary. As one backpacker put it “the last thing they need is tourists.”

But what finally put pay to our cycling was the visa. During the summer Pakistan visas for all foreign nationals applying ouside of their home countries were cancelled, certainly for territories west of the border. Other people attempted sending their passport home by fedex to get the visa stamped in their own country. Indeed we met a German couple who tried to do this in Iran until they were told that it was illegal to post passports out of Iran. (And to be honest you don’t want to be caught without your passport in Iran).

So what to do? We didn’t want to cram  into one of those flying sardine tins. Not because we’re we’re holier than thou eco invaders but because it just didn’t feel right. We’ve come this far clinging to the circumference of the earth and we’ren’t yet ready to give up on gravity.

So Jet posted a note on a Dubai internet forum and asked for advice, any boats going to India? Well the  consensus seemed to be you could get a Dhow, one of the traditional wooden trading boats that flit across the Persian gulf, the same kind of sloop that Michael Palin took in his “Around the World in 80 days”. However Jen and I hung out on the docks for a bit having a gander, with the all crews  gazing down at these foreign strangers on bikes and didn’t feel so comfortable. Then the subsequent entries on the internet forum mentioned that a couple of overloaded dhows had overturned in Dubai harbour earlier in the year. This coupled with Dhow rustic living (ie wooden ring over the side of the boat for toilet) and the fact that Jen would be travelling with fifteen other men  neither of us knew for seven days in open sea and we decided no. I think this option would be realistic for a group of men travelling with a personally recommended crew (perhaps with a BBC Michael Palin vouchsafe) but it wasn’t for us.

So what to do? Jet had been in contact with an agent for an International Freighter shipping company who offer limited spaces on their cargo boats. These ships are the giant mammas that carry consumer boff round the world and look like oversized, well, um sardine tins.( But oversized sardine tines that travel over the surface of the waters). It seemed a bit touch and go and the shipping agents weren’t the most communicative of souls. But after tracking down a doctor willing to prove we were medically fit to travel on a boat without a doctor(cycling 8000 km wasn’t sufficient evidence) getting Yellow Fever Vaccinations, signing about 12 pieces of paper and sending them to Canada we were granted passage on one of these beasts. Oh yes and paying lots of money. You’d think this would be an economy way to travel but it ain’t cheap. Who cares we thought we’re gonna darn well get to India on a boat. The kind of container ship that scares  tiny wooden dhows senseless but at least we’ll have our own loo, and won’t be clinging to each other like wet flannels if the winds pick up.

We managed to get a 3 month India visa. The boat trip takes 6 days from tomorrow and gets us to Bombay. From there we cycle south to Goa and down to the Kerala backwaters and then, well then we figure out how to get back home…

j n j

x x

Nutroast Christmas dinner, Thanks Rachel!

Jet with one of his fleet of Dubai supercars...

GnT at a bar next to a beach that costs £100 a day to lie on. Worlds most expensive hotel in background. We ate the free peanuts and tiptoed away.

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Planet Dubai

Er we’ve now left Iran and arrived in a new dimension of time and space. Well that’s what it feels like. If Star Trek’s “Enterprise” had landed in Dubai Spock’s eyebrows would have gone into apoplexy. Having spent nearly 2 months sleeping on the floors of farm houses, camping in the desert and pulling the doorknobs off crumbly hotels we now find ourselves in  the lofty heights of skyscrapers with talking lifts. You can a find a diamond studded gold rolex here but most of the taxi drivers don’t seem to know the way round the next corner, most of them having arrived about five minutes ago looking for top dollar. Where as the restaurants in Iran had two items on the menu -kebabs and rice, on our first night in the Emirates  we went to a restaurant that had 132 different dishes, half of them vegetarian. Jen, who’s  been doggedly veggie despite no carrots in sight for 3 months, almost ate the menu she was so excited.

To be honest it’s been a bit overwhelming and we have been so lucky to find a sterling host in Rachel,  a friend of a friend, who has been putting us up in her appartment in nearby Sharjah.

Without Rachel’s welcoming hospitality and homecooked dinners we’d have been entirely alienated by the garguantuan cityscape and wayward taxidrivers. Full marks to Rachel! (And also to Marianne and Alistair who have let us use their Dubai pad in the city over new year. Look at us we’re like jetsetters, well on bikes, but anyway…) We also got to buy a beer for the legendary “Team South” , Freddie and Guy, who have been cycling about two weeks ahead of us for the past two months, and giving us top tips for the road by email. They saved us a lot of wrong turns and made it all seem doable.

So how did we get here? Well right now it feels we were teleported but if we cast our minds back it was another week of riding south from Shiraz in Iran to the Southern port of Bandar Abbas. We were determined to cover the remaining 690 km in 6 days to make the ferry departure to the United Arab Emirates and really pushed the old legs to do 115 km a day. The landscape and people became more “Arabic” in flavour, with more desert oasis, date palms and women with colourful cloaks and headdresses. We camped in a pomegranate orchard and stayed in a cafe cellar and a poor village and a couple of Basil Fawlty hotels before arriving, covered in a thin layer of sand and truck guff, in the port of Bandar Abbas. This, it seemed was where every truck that had ever passed us in Iran had been heading, all funneling down the same coastal road, four abreast to hoot us off into democracy.

It was a shame that whilst waiting in a traffic queue in the city, a kid on a motobike barged past Jen, who, being absolutely exhausted, couldn’t maintain the balance of her fully loaded bike and toppled over in the road, her first accident on the bike. Also a shame that this happened after 6 weeks of almost unwavering Iranian kindness- the kid just ploughed on, not even looking behind him as Jet screamed in his ear. The guy in the mechanic shop beside us was cool though and offered Jen a cup of Cay.

The next day after the usual bureaucratic shenangans we made it onto the ferry (which left four and half hours after its scheduled departure time) and  finally bobbed into the Persian gulf with some very big bags under our eyes and a lot of good memories of Iran. It was a frustrating place at times but also fascinating and a bit of a lost gem on the tourist highway as it’s that bit harder to get to.  Whatever is going on elsewhere in the establishment the common people of the country show an openess of spirit unmatched anywhere in Western Europe.

So here we are in Dubai then having cycled about 7500 km and wondering what to do with our tiny tired souls. Well we’ll be here for Xmas and thanks to Rachel it’ll be a homely one we’re sure (we’ve already had our first slices of nut roast and fruitcake ). We’re due to pick up our India visa tomorrow and please please let it be for 3 months and not for 1 month as we were told at one point. We hope to arrange a boat trip to do the final leg to India but that’s all a bit up in the air or rather lost at sea at the moment-so watch this space! The final frontier.

xx j n j

xx b n b

Dust devil

 

wheres the camel?...for those in bristol:'bling bling me babber'

 

pomegranate camping

 

get back on your horse / bike

 

tallest building in world and lil ' Jen

Jet hugs Dubai

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Paramedics, Stone Masons and Zither Players

We are now in Shiraz, about three quarters of the way down Iran, after 7 days of cycling through the ancient heartlands of Persia (more sand, scrub and plastic bags…but cliff plateaus rising up like lairs of dragons). Not much in the way of official accomodation but Iranians being Iranians the whole country feels like your front living room. On day two we arrived at dusk in a village with zip but the freezing desert cold. Yes, said the Iranian Red Crescent in their little roadside outpost, you can stay in our Ambulance station. And a very comfortable abode it was too.  They put blankets over our legs like we were cycle invalids and made us hot sweet cups of tea. It felt like St Johns Ambulance had been forever waiting for us in the nowhere lands.

Stonemasons have been consistent Samaritans. We’re not sure why but throughout Turkey and Iran they have been the most kind and gentlemanly. Perhaps it comes from crafting the stillness of stone all day. They have shared their lunch, tea and civility with us at renovations across the desert.

One night we stayed with a Jeweller in a small town. He played the Zither, an instrument a bit like the xylophone but wih strings. His son played the Ney, a bamboo flute with a wide tonal range.

We stopped over with a farmer who specialised in picking up random road travellers and had a guestbook covering the past fifteen years, plastered with badly lit passport photographs of errant souls. “We are all one under the same sky,” he said. It was a moving testament to Iranian kindness. The farmer taught Jen how to prune his seedless grapes (prune at 5 nodes up, unlike the seeded variety) We met Irans “second strongest Man” near some ruins and camped on a high plateau where it was so cold Jet’s bum felt like it might fall off (despite his fleece sleeping bag, thermal leggins and two pairs of underpants) The desert at this time of year is a strange ‘ole place-cold in the shade, hot in the sunlight and peach plum freezing at night.

But always, when we’ve needed it most, there has been hot sweet cups of tea and a warm bed. Indeed sometimes it has felt like the Iranians have been over hospitable and it has been a relief to turn down offers of a bed and book into a cheap hotel  just to have our own space and lie around listening to the BBC World Service. Simple pleasures in jam packed lives.

In a few days we leave Shiraz to begin the final leg of our Iran journey to the port of Bandar Abbas, which we should complete before our visa extension runs out in a couple of weeks. From there we take the ferry to Dubai in United Arab Emirates and cobble together a voyage to India.

 For now though its slippers on and bike shoes off.

The Persians in Shiraz have incredible green blue eyes…

j n j  x x

Paramedics save Cyclists!

New Hejab (modest) bike wear.

"The Remains of the Lunch". - Soon to be a Merchant Ivory Film.

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Bike Central

We arrived in Esfahan feeling like bleached white bread. Cloud free skies and  endless desert turn your brain to flour and the bike feels like a dough machine kneeding your head into Sunblest. We needed a rest and hoped that Esfahan would be a bike free zone.  But there in the courtyard of the hostel were fourteen touring bikes. To begin with we were a bit frustrated. We had imagined ourselves the sole bike explorers traveling boldy across the sandy plains, lone spirits in a race against the trucks . The reality of course is that Iran is a crossroads between the Middle East and East Asia and right here, right now, every cyclist on the overland route had converged on Amir Kabir hostel and chained their frames like coralled horses into a ten foot dusty yard.

The morning after arriving and our brains were more wholesome, more Harvest Grain than Sunblest.  We discovered it was entirely refreshing and quite moving to meet so many cyclists; crazy skinny people with sunglasses tans and burnt noses. There was the Irish guy who had cycled from Cherbourg to Istanbul on a titanium racing bike with pencil tyres in 3 weeks ( it took us 3 months). In Istanbul he’d met a French girl who’d forged her bike out of a frame from a skip and parts stuck together in a bike co-operative. They’d hitched up and travelled at a more sedate pace. The  Irish guy showed us a rope he’d attach around the back of his bike to the front of his girlfriends steering column to pull her up hills! Jen has been asking Jet to do the same for her. Jet obviously feels it should be the other way round. We thought we’d had bad luck with punctures but the Irish guy had traversed an evil thorn patch in Turkey and managed to gather seventeen puntures in one go and then had to pull out 73 thorns from his tyres (when you have that many thorns you count them all)

There was a Lithuanian guy who was proud of how low his daily mileage was (most bike tourists-mainly men- tend to boast how big their daily mileage is- like their shoe size.). But this guy gathered a maximum of 40 km a day (our average is 70-80) and his record low was 5km -the equivalent  of going round the block to get the paper. He seemed to be carrying a boiler sized tank of water on his bike. He was a hero of the “slow travel” movement.

There were two English guys from London who were contemplating cycling the “Stans” (the high central plains of Asia en route to China) during the Winter snows. They hadn’t any warm clothing and were eyeing up bodysuits they couldn’t afford. They were the skinniest cyclists we’ve seen in ages but looked like they could survive any season grazing on hazlenuts.

There was the Kiwi couple who had just completed the Asia route in the opposite direction and were en route to Turkey and Europe. Jo had had her bike stolen in China one month into the trip but had soon fashioned another and then continued onwards unhindered for the next six months. Mike  sewed up his front tyre with dental floss after it split in his first week. It was still going strong after six months.

Then there was a French couple cycling to New Zealand for the rugby world cup. They’d met a guy who was carrying a surfboard on the back of his bike between surfing spots.

All these Tour de Worlders  sat around discussing bike nerd things- tyre gauges, bottom brackets and front hub repairs whilst the other backpackers made their excuses or looked on blankly. Each bike seemed to be a reflection of their cyclists- like dogs and their owners- cobbled together mountain bikes and frazzled beards, top of the range racers and short back and sides but a consistent theme amongst the riders was a sense of independence and joie de vivre. Everyone was alive to the challenges they faced and this made them more twinkle eyed than the average tourist (well we would say that…)

In Esfahan we  rested our legs, took a side trip to the desert, ate lots of cake, stared at planet sized Mosques, ate continents of rice, read novels, got our visa extension  and finally  said goodbye to Bike Central to head ourselves into the great unknown with six water bottles and a big bag of doughy bread.

j n j x x

Small boy. Big Sky.

Stained Glass Specs. Mansion House Kashan.

Fin Gardens. Kashan

Imam Square Esfahan does fountain thing.

All filled up on Aubergine mush.

Daydreaming. Imam Mosque. Esfahan.

Cold at Dawn on top of Carvansarri Roof in Desert

Jet flies. Sandy Desert.

More daydreaming, in the desert.

Bike Graveyard. Yazd Bazaar.

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The Iceman cometh and the Iceman goeth away.

The Iceman Cometh

After Zanjan we were determined to get away from the main road truck drone and decided to head towards the hillier/ more remote parts of Western Iran. However the weather had a different agenda. For the first two days were soaked in freezing rain. This necessitated drying off every two hours in front of gas heaters at random truck stops. Meanwhile our chosen road towards Hamadan and the interior turned out to be a mean dangerous one with no hard shoulder and rocket powered trucks going past like flying bricks. So after a U turn we made one more attempt at heading to the mountain plateau only to be intimidated by a  fresh fall of snow on the nearby foothills. Enough was enough and we returned to the main road drone, which, while not the most exciting bike r0ute in the world, at least offered a safe hard shoulder and a direct channel to the cities of the south.

Meanwhile at our lowest ebb, damp, tired and staring at impenetrable peaks our guardian angel arrived in the shape of an articulated lorry. By now we were used to Iranians pulling  over almost hourly to give us pomegranates and advice. But this driver without any other introductions gave Jet a silver ring with an amber stone and then went back to his cab to find Jen a stone necklace with which she  garlanded her handlebars.

The next day while riding through a post apocolyptic desert landscape in fine drizzle where the only landmark was a power station plastered with  images of the Ayatlollahs the same truck driver pulled up and gave us a complete cooked lunch with two lots of drinks and snacks . It was clear he had bought it especially and was looking out for us on the desert road to once again bestow his kindness.

Those of you following this blog since its inception may remember Mr Moped a virtual two wheeler whose job it was to speed ahead of us in France and close all the likely eating and watering holes when we most needed them. We now like to think  that Mr Moped has had a conversion experience and has been reborn as this very man whose job it is to follow us round  like a support vehicle.

Heading south the sun popped its head back out  and after a couple more homestays (ranging from a sweet bunch of mechanics who shared a room with a mouse and a gas stove to a middle class family with two adorable young girls, talented artists) we arrived in Kashan, a sleepy fuzzily warm  hearted oasis city, a place where  not much happens very prettily. We are staying in a gorgeous hotel renovated from a merchant mansion and taking a day off doing anything involving wheels or sightseeing. Tea and cake are stamped on the agenda.

Tomorrow we head up a few hills towards the city of Isfahan where we hope we can renew our visa, if not we have to stick the bikes on the bus…. Isfahan is mid way down Iran and a good stop off before we venture into the hotter desert landscapes of the south. 

Iran continues to confuse and engage us like a mirage. Or a hot game of chess.

j n j x x

The Iceman Goeth Away

Jet Cycling towards Soltanayeh mosque

Jen and door knocker Kashan. Round door knockers for men and long ones for ladies so the owner knew who should answer the door.

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Hit on the Head and Offered Breakfast

First sighting of Camels

Passing a small village Jet was a bit shocked to have a teenager on the rear pillion of a motorbike hit him on the back of the head with a stick. It was a very frail stick that immediately snapped but it was still a surprise given we haven’t actually been hit in 6 months of bike touring. Further down the road in a Cay shop a friendly young man offered us to stay the night with his family but following him back down the road we found the house was in the same place as the village where the motorbike kid had been. After some persuading we went back to the house and met a very friendly and hospitable extended family who were profusely apologetic about the behaviour of the kid.

We suppose this could happen in any small community where bored teenagers like to show off. Elsewhere we have recieved nothing but kindness and hospitality eg in just one day different cars slowed down to offer us sweets, a sandwich and welcome us to Iran “its fantastic you’re here” + having lunch bought for us at a cafe and in a bike shop the assistant taking out the inner tube from his own bike when we needed a new one.

Currently we are in Zanjan. Jet has a stomach bug which we hope will clear up soon before we begin the long haul to Esfehan. Jen is well and has mastered the cycling in headscarf attire.

j n j x x

Sand Art Village between Tabriz and Zanjan

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