Iran #2 – Tabriz

So since I’m well behind in updating my blog… I will post only my adventures in Tabriz for the moment. The wild stories of our adventure from Tabriz to Tehran will be recounted in the coming days.

I had planned to stay in Tabriz for some time, as I considered it to be a rest stop after a long stretch in Turkey. My brother had posted a package from Canada to me, and I had length list of things to do before I continued.

My friend canceled some of the classes he was teaching and helped me get some tasks done. I’m really grateful for this, as I can’t understand a written word in Farsi. The first thing we did was to go to post office to pick up this package. My friend was a bit nervous, as he has become quite closely acquainted with the customs officer there. When he had hosted Henry & Jamie (the other theblazingsaddles) , the customs officer had wanted 150 dollars (more or less a bribe). Fortunately, the officers coworkers were there, so they were able to get out of the bribe. When we arrived, he wasn’t there at all. I ended up only having to pay a $1.50. My brother had included some books in the package and I hadn’t given much thought to this. When the package was opened by the customs officers, they made us register the books against the Iranians name. I hadn’t previously considered the implications of sending literature to Iran. Receiving a copy of Rushdies “Midnights Children” in the post could get you imprisoned or killed.

We then wandered over to the foreign police station where I tried to get my visa extended. As it wouldn’t expire for another two weeks, they wouldn’t let me do it. They asked that I wait within 5 days of expiry. There are only a handful of cities where you can visit the foreign police office to extend the visa, and this meant I need to be within a 5 days cycling distance from one of them. This made me anxious, as an expired visa in this country could cause a great deal of trouble. When we went to the police office, the officer warned him that he shouldn’t be helping foreigners as he might be suspected as a spy. Considering the Iranians are some of the most friendly and helpful people on the planet, this is ridiculous. In many cases, having a local help you is the only way to get things done. I’ve been here a month, and I still can’t tell which is the mens or womens toilet in Farsi, much less fill out a bank form. For that matter, I’m not sure what I’ll be eating for lunch.

Iranian menu

While I was in Tabriz, I was able to find a good bike shop very close to the hotel. I’d been carrying spare parts around with me anticipating a lack of good cycle gear in this country. Quite the opposite. There are a few cycle shops here that carry everything from Shimano to Merinda. Still some things are difficult to find here. I noticed they didn’t carry Swalbe tires, but they had just about everything else I needed.

Iranian cycle shop

I had changed my middle chainring out as well. I’d worn the teeth right down, having spend too much time at optimal cruising speed. It had 20,000km on it, so I suppose it should be a little worn by now 😉

My middle chainring, 18,000km later

There were also outdoor shops that were stocked with various gear you’d expect to find in Europe. Mammut and Vaude, among others. This was also a surprise. Several days into my stay in Tabriz, we decided to pay a visit to Kardovan. It’s about ~100km south of Tabriz, and is somewhat similar to Cappadoccia in Turkey.


As we arrived in Kardovan we happened upon a landrover in the parking lot. It looked as if it had been places. The owner of this magnificent machine was an Italian man by the name of Andrea. He’d left Milano a month earlier, and driven to Iran to spend a month exploring. He’s a professional photographer, and has traveled through many parts of Africa. (He’s been to Morocco 8 times). You can find his site here.

Geographic expedition, Italia

Andrea speaks only Italian and a little bit of French, but we can understand each other with little problem. After some discussion, I find out that he had met the same french couple in Turkey that I had met in Iran a week earlier. Even more, he’d met Sabine earlier as well. This makes the world feel very small. We invited Andrea to join us for a wander in the village, and lunch. We spent the day wandering around the village and taking photos.

Kardovan donkey



Impressing the children

Kardovan spices


In the evening, we persuaded Andrea to come up to northern Iran with us on a camping excursion by car. At the hotel back in Tabriz, we were surprised to see three young british lads show up in a taxi. They aim to set the world record for the longest taxi ride, from London to Sydney. They plan to cover Iran in the south, passing through Balochistan province into Pakistan. This car has no air conditioning. Balochistan is one of the hottest places on the planet. You can find them here. Godspeed, fellas.

The brits.

The British visit us.

The following morning we were off at 6am. It was a 4 day weekend in Iran, the holiday marking the death of Khomeni. We drove to a small Azeri village north of Tabriz, and spent some time with the locals. A friend had been there earlier taking photos, and had printed some of them out to give to the locals. The rest of the day was spent assailing the locals with four cameras and a light reflector.

Photography assault.

The photos of the villagers worked out very well, which I guess would be expected from a group of professional photographers.

A villager


Iranian man.

Road trip

Photos of the children.

The children

At this point, I’d begun to get to know Andrea a little better. He speaks only Italian and a little bit of French, and we have no problem understanding each other. I find out that he’d left

Andrea surprises us all when he offers us some wine, smuggled into the country in his landrover. He then pulls out cookies from Italy, and various other snacks. I find out that he’d left Milano six weeks earlier with 400kg of pasta, sauce, wine, and snacks packed away back there. Hell, the guy even brought his own sugar.

Andreas sugar

The wine impresses the Iranians, I’m pretty sure it made their day. After we’d eaten kebab, he goes back to the land rover and pulls out pork hotdogs. (Also not allowed in this country). I had thought the Iranians would have none of it, being Muslim. Heck no, they were eager to have a bite. Poor guys, if a pork hotdog is all they get for pork… they may not think they’re missing out on much. If only he’d brought some bacon…..

For desert, he pulls some Italian cookies out of the back. He proceeds to show me the giant machete he brought with him. When he entered the country, the knife was wedged behind the back door. As the police opened the door to search the vehicle, the machete had fallen out (in it’s sheath), and Andrea had casually put it back in place without having the police notice. Andrea, you’re my hero.

Italian food in Iran

Un autre Pere Italien

After our picnic, we were driving north to Jolfa when we spotted another cyclist coming down the road. It was Sabine, my future partner in crime. I believe she was somewhat surprised to see people on the side of the road calling out her name. She was also very surprised to see Andrea there, as she’d last seen him 300km away in Turkey.


That evening we reached the border, and continued until we could find a place to pitch our tent. I’d seen parts of this landscape before, but it was just as beautiful the second time. Photo credits go to Hanif.

Near the Azerbaijan border.

Melancholic road.

We camped in a valley near a river in a field. The water from this river was managed carefully to irrigate the rice paddies and fields. That’s my stitch 😉

Mountain rice paddies.

Mountain rice paddies.

I really enjoyed rolling around with Andrea in his landrover. This mountain valley was at 2000m elevation, and it’s something I never would have seen on my bike.

Rolling in style with Andrea

Glorious mountain roads

On the last day of our roadtrip, we drove up to a mosque in the mountains with the intention to climb to the top. However, we’d run out of time so we spent our time with the rest of the families picniking. I spotted a man with a goat having his photo taken.

A man with his goat ;)

I didn’t know what made this goat special. Maybe it was a prize winning goat. Moments after I’d taken a picture, he pulls out a large knife, lays the goat down on the ground and promptly beheads it. We’re all standing there watching him, and he turns to me and says

“No, Merci. I’m good thanks”.

While I know he was just making taroof, I still find it funny.

After our picnic, we drove back to Tabriz. I caught a ride with Andrea, and we stopped for diesel along the way. I was blown away to see that diesel cost 3500 toman/litre, or about 29 cents CND. Our little 300km excursion cost Andrea only 20 dollars or so.

The rest of my time in Tabriz I spent getting organized for my next ride from Tabriz to Tehran. This included burning 70 DVDs full of digital film which I intend to send back to Canada.

I met another Iranian in Tabriz who runs an outdoor clothing company. He explained to me that they would like my assistance to order some fabric samples from the U.S. Since the sanctions have cut off most international trade, including financial services, it is impossible for Iranians to get a credit card. In the guise of cutting off funding for terrorism, it hurts ordinary people more than the government. I’m convinced (only anecdotally), that the supreme regime here has had no problem moving money around the world.

The name of this clothing shop is GAYA, and the owner is Javed. He employs several people who sow the down jackets and sleeping bags manually. This is a photo of his shop.

This man will make me a new sleeping bag

I ordered something like 80 dollars worth of fabric from Seattle, and tried to have it posted to Iran. That would not work, so I was forced to post it to Istanbul where a friend would bring it into the country. This seems to be yet another problem Iranians face with foreign companies. Western ignorance portrays them as terrorists and western companies will occasionally not do business based on this fabrication. I’m not sure what terrorists would do with goretex outdoor fabric, keep warm in the mountains of Tora Bora?

In return for this transaction, Javed was kind enough to offer me a down sleeping bag. I’d given him my old Mountain Equipment Coop sleeping bag, so he could copy the pattern. Ironic that MEC’s copy is now being copied in Iran. Javed sells sleeping bags to mountaineers, people who are climbing the big stuff. Given the opportunity to get a good sleeping bag, I opted for the -40C goretex sleeping bag. This is my line of thinking: “I’ll use it when I get to the Himalaya, and more when I get back to Canada”.

I’m probably the only cyclist who plans to cycle across the deserts of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan with a 2kg -40C sleeping bag packed away in his panniers. So yes, now I’m sponsored. For the first time in a year. Thank you very much Gaya.