Hashtpar to Astara 73km
I'm in a flash, for me, hotel in Astara, still on the Caspian Sea coast, but on the border just south of Azerbaijan. I'm not entering Azerbaijan, it was just too complicated visa wise, crossing from Iran and then into Armenia, which Azerbaijan is not on good terms with. So tomorrow I'm heading west, towards Tabriz, and then north into Armenia. Should take about a week of cycling, and I've got ten days left on my visa. Although last night, the hotel receptionist told me my visa had expired. ......bother.... But no. He was just reading the last date I was permitted to enter Iran.......I hope.
So I'm taking a day off, and attending to some basics. For the first time since Uzbekistan my clothes have been though a real wash, not just my almost nightly, rinse of them in the shower. I also went and had a shave. I've been enjoying experiencing the haircut and shaving expertise throughout Asia. I reckon the Nepali and Indian barbers are the best, but today's Irani was up there with them. Haircut, cutthroat shave with long blade, eyebrows, ears, nostril hairs trimmed, hair, ears, face and neck wash. Only thing missing was the scalp massage I got in Nepal and India, and all for less than $3. And to cover the other two "S" basics..... the showers in Iran have been pretty damn good. Best since Aussie, hot water, good flows, the only problem is trying to figure out which tap is hot and which cold. Still a huge step up from buckets and ladles in SE Asia. And the toilets? My hosts keep apologising that they only have Persian toilets and not western ones. Well I'm pretty used to squatting now, and using water rather than paper, and once again, a huge step up from the slots between planks that I've been using. Yep. Basic.
Food is so much better here in Iran than what I've had to experience previously. There's still a lot of rice, but also bread, in many different forms. Alot is like Nan bread, some like burritos or wraps, with little dots all over it, so you can rip it apart. I never paid much attention to the term "breaking bread together", but now understand. The meal, in this part of the world does not begin, until the host breaks the bread, then everyone eats. Funny thing is, many of them peal the soft part of the bread out, and just eat the crusts. They scoop up everything on the plate on the "broken" bread to eat, and seldom use their spoon or fork, (notice no knife).
I keep being fooled by advertising. Some of the food shops have amazing looking photos, of pizza, chips, burgers, sandwiches. Don't believe them. "Sorry mister, Fries finished. Sorry no burger. Pizza finished. Chicken kebab, with Nan? " I thought I was on a winner last night. A yes to pizza. Second worst pizza I've ever eaten, after a similar disaster in Laos. At least the sauce wasn't chilli.
Iranians don't sugar their tea. Instead they put a lump between their teeth and filter the tea through the lump. I'm sure dentists love this practice, but mostly teeth look pretty healthy. Perhaps that's because I've just come out of ex Soviet states, where gold teeth are so common. Many Iranians drink really hot tea out of their saucer, not something old Auntie Mary would appreciate you doing from her best tea set.
There's certainly alot of really nice fruit and vegetables available, and better looking than in some of Asia's markets and bazaars. Thankfully I think the watermelon season is almost done, so not so many big unmanageable gifts to handle.
The weather has turned. Two days of heavy rain, (that's why I'm in a hotel). Unfortunately, I don't get to see one of the oddities of Iran working. Big fenced off areas, with tarpaulins on the fences, separate the male and female swimming areas, but I'm told, even behind the tarps, women can only swim fully clothed, with headscarf. ....just in case a male sees. Also along the beach, are small buildings, like miniature bandstands. Today, holiday makers were erecting their funny dome tents in them for their picnics. The crowds of summer have disappeared, but still the HUGE clothes bazaar is operating. Thousands of stalls, enough to keep the girls happy for days..... while it rains. While they're at it, the men can retire to the "hookah" shops, and read the papers, and chat. The bazaar was filled with very bored stall operators today. I was the only tourist.
But the Iranis are still wonderful. I just can't get used to grown men, yelling at me..."I love you", nor can I get used to the bristly kisses on both cheeks, not once, but twice. Juliet, I promise to have another shave the day before you arrive.