Hi, I’m back in that bumpy, unforgiving place of discovery they call the road. This time I've only got myself and the wildlife for company. I’m in exotic ancient Persia, or Iran on modern maps. I traversed the mountainous land of Armenia in a thigh burning, vodka toting, but rewarding 6 days.
The luxury of experience has offered me nuggets of wisedom when travelling by 2 wheeled steeds. Eat a huge amount, drink vast quantities, and use the flow.
The muscle memory and cardiac fitness has not been lost with the time off from touring. However, the first 30 minutes on the bike was a shock to the system. There have been the usual ups and downs mentally.
I’ve had some experiences I would describe as unusual or possibly even once in a lifetime. I crashed a party in Vanadzor in Armenia whilst trying to find a place to pitch my tent. I was proffered vast quantities of grilled chicken. My hand was grabbed by a very drunk Armenian Baboushka who wouldn't leave me alone until I stood up and waved my arms in the air and shaketh my booty in a quasi-Armenian style.
When I awoke in the morning my friends had aloofed and the gate was locked. I was left to grumble self-pitying, nonsensical mutterings under my breath to the vicious guard dog which the night before had attempted to remove a chunk from my leg in a playful gesture of friendship. Luckily the construction of the gate was standard Soviet and as I whispered sweet nothings to calm the dog, I slipped my possessions surreptitiously round the large gap at side of the gates and was off.
Whilst listening to the Chemical Brothers - Dig Your Own Hole cycling next to Lake Sevan, I guffawed and expelled hot air through pursed lips at the sight of 15 of the same species. Estonian cycle tourists to be exact. On further inspection, I could confirm they were definitely homo-sapiens aboard the wheels of steel.
A peaceful first encounter lead to a shared campsite aside Lake Sevan. My new Baltic friends were on a 2 week holiday, indulging in some of the Armenian Brandy and Estonian vodka after and during cycling. We shared a hearty cauldron of pasta and retired to our tents just seconds before the skies opened with a concerto of thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour. My tent pole had broken on the first night back on the road. Gaffer tape was applied in the nick of time and I was able to avoid getting soaked.
I was lucky enough to be invited into the home of a lovely family in a village near Yeghegnadzor, a small town about 300km from the Iran border. The daughter, Lily, was an English teacher. I am guilty of nattering like a man possessed, so grateful to be able to speak English after being alone and with Estonians (they spoke English actually).
The day before yesterday I stopped early after a day of climbing mountains. A muscular man, like a hairy Grant from Eastenders called me over in a gruff voice (sans East-end accent) for a cool bottle of water from a pipe in the ground. He was one of the sons of a family who were tending to their garden plot.
I shared lunch with them and was offered to sleep in the little hut on the allotment. I agreed and decided to help digging potatoes. The chap Gary loosened the dirt and I grabbed the potatoes and threw them into the bucket whilst chatting away. It was interesting to hear that the potatoes sizes were smaller this year because the summer was particularly hot and there was less water. It made me wish I'd helped my Gran more digging her potatoes.
In the nearby town of Kadjaran there is a big molybdenum mine which takes water from the surrounding area. I understood that the police restrict the use of water for the gardens to a two hour period in the morning.
Lily, the English teacher I stayed with told me the weather had been more extreme this year and the transition from autumn to winter was more abrupt and extreme than before. Her family had a wonderful vegetable garden and farm plot and were particularly aware of the trends in the weather.
I was anxious about entering Iran mostly due to all the negative news in the media. However so far what I’d heard from people who’d visited before has held strong and all Iranians I’ve met have been very helpful and kind. I slept in a mosque last night with the bonus of a hot shower and breakfast. It is Ramazan at the moment which is a month in which muslims fast during the daylight hours.
Travelling alone means I can go at my own speed and can eat when and what I want which means I am much more effectively matching the calories I personally require for cycling so I haven’t been dealing with the awful mental mood problems which come from cycling without eating enough. I’ve also been caring to take more water than usual, and when I get the chance I drink plenty.
I’m missing my girlfriend very badly and my mind is also on other projects that I want to do. Therefore I’m taking each day at a time and I won’t rule out anything.
Before we were totally set on a “huge, reach every corner of the globe” attitude, but it was counter-intuitive and being fixed into an idea like that is reflected in the world as I see entire countries fixed in an idea. Flexibility and adaption is very important. It’s easy to plough on regardless but one has to be sensitive to one’s self.