Iran is going to be a country in which I cannot make any real plans. Well, I could make them, but I can’t expect to be able to stick to them. The reason: I will have too many unexpected interactions with locals. I got away from Mr Hossein’s house mid-morning after a bit of a slow pack up. I did some serious daydreaming as I rode further away from Astara, moving at a good speed. There was lots of traffic but most kept away from me so I didn’t have to worry too much. While stopped for a break on a shaded grassy area I saw two lightly-loaded cycle tourists passing. I shouted out ‘Hey’ and they slowed for a moment before riding on. After about 50m they turned around and rode back. I walked down to the road to meet them. They were Iranian guys on a 10-day from their home in Tabriz to Marshhad on the eastern side of the country. Farzad could speak okay English while David knew less English or was shyer to use it. We chatted for a few minutes before taking a couple of photos. They moved on while I returned to my picnic spot. I caught up to them a couple of hours later. They must have stopped for a meal. From this point on we rode together. It was nice to have company and something to focus on other than the busy road.

I was expecting to farewell them at my turnoff from Asalem. We stopped a few kilometres before the turnoff for a quick break and as we were enjoying a cold drink, they invited me (they had to call a friend who knew even more English to translate their invite for me) to join them for food about 1km past the turnoff where their friend is waiting for them. I got the impression their friend lived there and I was being invited to a house. The 1km turned out to be about 6km and the house turned out to be a picnic spot. As the number of kilometres past the turnoff ticked by I had to work hard to maintain my composure and reassure myself that it’s nice to be sharing this experience with locals even if I don’t want to be riding so far in the wrong direction. It turned out totally worth it in the end. The picnic spot was a place called Gisoum Beach. The road to the beach ran through forest and the trees alongside the road bend towards each other to create a natural tunnel letting filtered light through. The entrance entry was lined with stalls selling towels and hats and shawls and all the way along were families picnicking among the trees. I followed my new friends until we found the place where their friend had set up a picnic. There I met a lovely family of five (one guy together with a lady in her forties, two in their thirties and a 12-year old girl).

Soon after we settled down a pot of food came out. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to come out the pot, but it sure wasn’t spaghetti bolognese. We all ate together and I enjoyed listening to the chatter. Often it would turn towards me with a variety of questions. They all worked as a team to come up with the English needed to ask me what they wanted and pass on my answer among the group. We chilled out until around 5pm. I knew I was risking a difficult night by not being prepared with somewhere to stay, but at the same time I happy to be sharing my time with such lovely people. As the picnic came to an end I was given the leftover spaghetti for dinner as well as a packet of biscuits. As the family drove out in their car, the three of us rode out together. I asked Farzad if it was possible to camp in the forest here but he said no. It looked absolutely perfect, but I knew it would be a hassle as there was too many people around to enter the forest unseen. Back at the main road we farewelled each other. I turned back northwards and soon began fretting about what I was going to do. I had a couple of hours of sunlight left to find a place to sleep.

I left the main road on a small road that appeared to lead into a densely forested area. Unfortunately, the area was heavily populated with fenced in properties so offered no suitable place in which I could hide my camp. I then explored in the other direction past the main road. This area had larger properties lining a clear-running creek and I instantly felt like I could find a place here. I followed the road as it turned into a dirt track and started assessing potential locations. I have found a flat patch of grass next to the creek, almost hidden from the track by a row of trees. As I set up my tent and got settled, some locals walking along the track noticed me but none ventured to see who I was or what I was doing. At first I was trying my best to hide completely, but I soon decided not to act so shady. Sometimes it’s more appropriate to be open about your presence in someone else’s land and this felt like one of those times. I still feel slightly bad that I no one around knows what I’m doing here, meaning they are probably slightly anxious about having a stranger camped in the area.

I didn’t bother cooking dinner. Instead, I just added a can of corn/peas/capsicum to half of the spaghetti and ate it cold. I collected water from the creek to have a wash with, then washed my riding clothes in the creek itself.

Family picnic

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 94.35km
Average cycling speed 18.9kph
Total distance ridden 23,726km