Tonekabon to Lalaroot 82km
To Anzali 113km
To Hashtpar 86km
The Caspian coast is not doing much for me. All I've been seeing is stalled developments, mixed with some pretty horrible established "resorts", joined together by "Outlet" shops, Nike, Adidas, Levi, and the like, and run down amusement parks, with dual carriage ways filled with racing motorists. The beaches aren't much to write home about, with dirty sand, litter, and not a single bikini. Those who are swimming, are fully dressed, with headscarf, and those on the beach are well covered..... no skin, hair or body shapes can be shown.
But I am meeting some amazing people. I stopped for a breakfast of eggs and bread the other day. When I went to pay, I found that two other tables had already paid for my meal. I was cycling around a roundabout, and got summoned by a policeman. "What was I looking for?" Bread. "Wait here". He returned five minutes later with two loafs of fresh warm bread and a couple of bananas.
I stopped for a chicken and rice meal, and was asked to join Dad and his two sons. "Where was I going?" I'm looking for a hotel. "Okay, follow us. It's about 4km." After 8km they stop. "So you want a hotel?" Yep. "Follow us. It's 2km" 4km later we stop in front of a house. It's the Hotel Mahomet, their home. A wonderful hot shower, followed by chai, lots of chatter, eldest son has very good English, but he left to go to extra Physics lessons, so I was taught some Persian, and we resorted to a type of pictionary to communicate. I've got to admit, my language skills are about as good as my memory of more than the first line in a song. Rubbish. But we had fun. Brother-in-law and family turn up. Interestingly, he had fought in the Iraq Iran war, and had been a Prisoner of War for two years. Eldest son arrives home, it's now after 10pm, and homemade pizza is served...Yummy. Then it's time for singing and some dancing. ..oh my goodness how am I going to cycle tomorrow.
I'm looking for an icecream shop on a reasonably busy road. I'm also distracted by a couple of young ladies who are flaunting the dress code, not by much, but enough that this lonely old guy notices. Anyway, I miss a sign, but eventually find an icecream. It's only while I'm eating it, and checking my map, that I realise I've missed a turnoff. I head back to the turn I missed, and about 200m beyond, a guy rattles up beside me. "I'm an Iranian cycle tourist. Come and stay with me at my house." Okay. Turns out he also has a cycle shop, which we have to go and close up. Then we go "5km" (8km), along a back road, buying fruit and vegetables, and eggs and bread enroute. The house, a batch near the beach, has no power, no water, and no gas. My host shows me around, explains how things work, three times, I must look really thick, then leaves me. He's off to a friends funeral, then back to the bike shop. A glorious, quiet afternoon, with some "alone time", something really hard to find in Iran.The farm next door is growing kiwifruit......... My host returns well after I'm asleep.
I've completed 100km, and have been directed towards where I might find a hotel. I glimpse it in the distance, and am waved down. "Where am I going?" Looking for a hotel. "Why not come and rest at our villa? We are just here for a couple of hours before driving back to Tehran." Okay. Chai. Chat. My host is a retired airforce pilot, and now "retired" shipping businessman. He and his wife are here to water the plants at their beach house. We have an amazing discussion about all things Persian. It's uplifting to speak to someone so passionate about Persia, a country so many believe is in the doldrums. He believes that Persia will rise again, through the strength of its people, who have risen several times in the past. It's getting late, and I need to go to a hotel."No stay with us. We have decided to go to Tehran tomorrow. We will have a picnic on the beach." Okay.
People here are so keen to talk to this crazy old foreigner, to express their feelings, and I'm really enjoying hearing their ideas. And they are so varied. "America tells lies"
"Iran is terrible. Iranians are all unhappy and angry."
"I want to emigrate to........."
"Persians are resilient, and will shrug off yet another oppressor".
And there is a certain defiance amongst especially the young. I watched a young woman, perhaps late teens or early twenties, dancing in the waves, in shorts, and with her hair blowing in the wind. I was shocked at her bravery, or was it stupidity. One old gentleman was not impressed, and raced off in his car to inform the authorities. Others were dancing, men and women together, unheard of, on the beach.
These are truly amazing people, living under a regime it seems few agree with. They are generous beyond words, amazing hosts, and so very very interesting to talk to, but with dreams not dissimilar to many of ours in the west. I really hope they see their dreams fullfilled.