24th August 2014          34’C        0km by bike

The past month of riding has been hard on both the bike and my body.
I’ve had a few breakdowns, fortunately minor, but they are indicative of the challenges of riding the Pamir Highway, and the roads of the Stans in general.

I’ve dealt with a leaky fork seal, that I was able to temporarily rectify using a couple of business cards to clear the dirt from the seal. The rear pannier frame snapped, and was welded back together in sloppy fashion for $3.
My rear tyre, despite having sufficient tread remaining to make it all the way to Ireland, needs to be replaced, as the sharp rocks of the Tajikistan mountains have sliced into the carcass of the tyre, damaging it’s integrity. It looks pretty bad, and I need to get a new tyre in Turkey as soon as possible, to avoid it disintegrating without warning at high speed.

My body has also taken a beating over the past month, the limited variety of food through the Stans & Iran (almost a solely meat diet) and lack of fresh fruit and vegetables has meant that I’ve lost a bit of weight. Plenty of off-road riding exercise certainly helped also. My jeans no longer fit, and even with a belt they swim on me. When I find some scales, I’ll weigh myself and find out just how much I’ve left behind.

The distances I’ve been covering as I rushed through Turkmenistan on a 4 day visa, and then through Iran with only 10 days, has meant that I’ve been doing 400-500km per day for the last two weeks. Way more than I’d like to be doing, but visas and permits have forced this. I’ll slow down again soon.

With this in mind, I needed a proper non-riding rest day, and there could not be a better place to take a break, than Isfahan.

The magnificent bazaar, the amazingly beautiful mosques and main square filled with friendly, happy people, make a very welcome break from the highway.
And the specialty here, nougat. Sticky, sweet and delicious, its an absolute treat.

Walking through the back lanes of the old mud brick town, I saw many doors to homes, with two door knockers. Each door knocker making a different sound, so that the occupants of the home would know if a woman, or a man was at the door, and therefore ensure that the appropriate gender would go to open the door. Essential to know in a veiled society.

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I’ve met so many warm and friendly Iranians here. The most common greeting I hear is always delivered with a big smile, “Welcome to Iran!”
The people are so keen to ensure that foreigners are made welcome and treated with respect. Often, after being welcomed, they would ask, “Where are you from?”. Followed shortly by a question, “Is Iran good? Are we bad?”

So often I heard this question, pleading, like a child who has been told on too many occasions that they are bad, and now isn’t sure if they are truly good or bad… Am I really bad? Everyone tells us we are bad?

Of course it is not true, and the people of Iran are genuinely good. It is sad to see the Iranian faces, confused, “why do people say we are bad?”

There is a huge disconnect between government and the people here. And through some of the guarded conversations I’ve had with people, it is clear that many people feel discontent with the government of Iran.
I met two old friends, one of whom described himself as a retired solider of the last Shah. He had flown aircraft in the Iranian air force, stationed in America for three years before the revolution. Where he learnt English. He introduced his friend, as a solider of Khomeini, and a strong advocate for Khomeinis policies.

They hold completely different political views, diametrically opposed to one another, but good friends. This to me seemed very indicative of the entire political situation in Iran.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing, enjoying the sights of Isfahan and recovering from the hard roads of the past month.

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