Some people are coming and others going. Caucasus is the crossroad of people from different regions. Nice to know that I'm not the only one in this small world.
Visa is one of the hinkiest things. I don't know how many people have confronted this trouble. In my case though, I can really be grateful for being Japanese. Anyway, I can now for sure continue my trip up to Iran. In Azerbaijan though, it turned out it's simply impossible to get a visa for Pakistan outside the native country. The only possibility remaining is the transit visa which may or may not be obtained at the border to Pakistan, which is in addition only valid for one week, which is absolutely insufficient to cycle through this country. With this in mind, I arrived in Iran. And I found out that Iran was such a nice place where the people were so helpful that it helped me to decide to stay there during the winter to go to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the beginning of spring. I have to see if this method really works but I'm positive about it now.
Early in the morning I left Soso's place. Actually, I had looked at the way to Tbilisi, my next destination, and Google maps didn't want to allow me to go directly to Tbilisi. Why? It's because it's a highway, which of course I openly ignored, hoping nothing would happen. Nothing happened. There were some police cars passing by. I don't know exactly why they wanted to create a "highway". Anyway, it was a nice street where you can sometimes speak to cows and dogs or people selling persimmons or whatever, pretty far away from our understanding of a highway in Germany.
And I arrived at Joe's place. He comes from Newcastle and teaches English in Tbilisi. He was also a kind of guy who just wanted to try out a life in Georgia. So, again this kind of people here. It's really nice to know them as I'm not so outstanding anymore.
Following day, I went to the Azerbaijani embassy. In front of the building though, I could see a sheet of paper where was written "without an invitation letter we don't issue a visa". ok. I don't have an invitation letter but I still try it... By the way, there was a Chinese guy in front of me tried to bribe the officer, which obviously didn't work at all.
Anyway, they told me I should come back on Monday for the answer since it was a Friday.
And you know what? First of all, I have to tell you that it's kind of impossible to get the visa for Pakistan as far as I know. If you do a research in the Internet you will see quickly that pretty much nobody has obtained a visa in a foreign country. So this means, in my case I would be obliged to go back to Japan first to get a visa, which would completely destroy the drama since I'm going BACK HOME by bicycle after getting my degree. I mean, it would be also funny to be in Japan just to get the visa, without saying anything to my family or friends in order to sustain the story.
Anyway, I was extremely depress when I heard this problem. Well, I was aware of this problem even before starting the journey but I could not do anything because the visa is valid just for three month and if I had obtained it in France it wouldn't be valid by the time I arrive in Pakistan.
However, my luck seems to be always with me: after leaving the embassy I bumped into a guy who wanted to ask me whether I could successfully get the visa for Azerbaijan, and it turned out that he was from Pakistan living in Baku, Azerbaijan, which would of course be on the way! And what's more, he invited me to his place and told me he can come with me to the embassy of Pakistan in Baku! Wow I was amazed. His name is Muhammad and we exchanged the phone numbers. Ain't I a bit too lucky? Anyway, we spent a few hours in a café nearby.
And I could become a tourist again. Surprisingly the Japanese guy, Saku, had arrived in Tbilisi. He could successfully hitchhike from Kutaisi apparently, which means, he didn't experience the agonizing 1000m... Anyway, we met each other again in Tbilisi and we walked around there. Tbilisi is again partially one of the pseudo-wealthy cities, especially the main street.
At this moment we did not realize anything but actually the graveyard behind Saku is a historical place where you can also find the grave stone of the mother of Stalin for example. Joe told it to me later. It's on the hill in the south of Tbilisi.
And at the same time it was pretty much the only thing the city had to offer. There was also a national museum which had an occupation exposition at that time. But the view over the city was nice even if Tbilisi is actually very small.
If you get a map in Tbilisi from the tourist information, you can see that there are two aerial tramway lines on the map, which in reality do not exist. Why? In fact there was two major accidents in Tbilisi. The first one occurred in 1990 on the children's day. Just days before, they replaced the old gondolas from the USSR by bigger Finnish ones, though the cables were the same. And of course on Children's day there were a lot of children and both of the existing gondolas crashed. The second one, which was actually not an aerial tram but rather a train (?) which crashed years later and a lot of Japanese died or so. And in the end, there's just one bus line to the top of the hill now and it's an incredibly long way. What a nice place. It's probably the curse of the mother of Stalin. Don't kill Japanese though...
The following day, we went to the other hill using a cable car... Wait. Using a cable car? Even though I wrote this phrase pretty simply, we were not completely without worry. You see how concerned Saku looks.
Joe was having private lessons at home so, he could not come with us but in the evening I cooked for all of us, since I wanted to eat something hot. Actually the first photo with Saku with Vodka in the hand is the photo of my dish. And here below, you can see the photo of the spice I used. Well, if you look at the photo, you will see that I cheated a little since I said, I wanted to cook something hot, but in reality, even though I didn't really notice until I looked at the package more precisely, I cooked something chilly, pretty much the contrary.
I have to say, it was a very long week end where I was just waiting for my visa and I've got pretty much nothing to do in the capital of Georgia. I mean, I can make fun of people who cannot spell "Georgia" and spend time with it, but I didn't find it that funny and Saku was not interested in museums and so stuff either. We went to the famous occupation museum, the only one museum which interested me in Georgia so far and it was a very nice propaganda exposition so I was very happy with that but soon we got bored so, we spent almost the whole day in a café on Sunday.
So, the day came. This cat looks also ready for the next action. On the same day, Luis arrived in Tbilisi, so we walked around a little bit and we went to the embassy together. If, by the way, Azerbaijan refuses my application, I'm a bit deadlocked, as there would be only Armenia as Turkey changed its policy recently and they don't accept foreigners to come back within 3 months if there's no multiple entry visa. And Armenia is too mountainous...
Anyway, leaving the two guys in a café, I arrived at the Azerbaijani embassy, 5 minutes too late for the appointment. The Japanese punctuality spoiled in Germany and France. Well, Georgia is working, according to Joe, in GMT=Georgian Maybe Time, so it's probably not regarded as seriously as in Japan.
With mixed feeling I came face to face with the officer, who then told me I should come back in 30 minutes, taking my passport...
There's still speculations about these 30 minutes. Probably they wanted to see in my passport whether I was in Armenia in the meantime. I was strongly aware of the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan so I intentionally did not go to Armenia at all.
So 30 minutes later, the same configuration again, but this time, the officer opened the door, handed over my passport, and shut the door, without saying a word at all. First I thought my application was rejected, then I noticed that it was well in my passport. Salam.
Later on the same day, I heard that Joe's application for the Iranian visa was rejected, though he had a reference number from the foreign ministry and an invitation letter from an Iranian, who was going to marry in Iran, which was the reason that Joe was going to Iran. My dear Japanese citizens, I will be forever in your debt...
In the evening, we prepared a dinner where we invited other couch surfers, celebrating the success with my visa? The confrontation shown on the photo are caused by Joe's cards which actually show the number on the back side, though not clearly so we were trying to read it :)
As I could get the visa, I didn't have any reason to stay in Tbilisi anymore. So I departed in the afternoon following day to go up to the border to Azerbaijan, since my visa was just for 15 days with an undefined beginning day. Finally there was not wind anymore, pretty much for the first time since the beginning of Turkey. Anyway I stayed at a police station which made everything available. The Georgian police were so far really nice, though the police stations are the most sumptuous buildings in this country.
And so, I arrived in Azerbaijan. It's again a former USSR nation and apparently it is supposed to be a brother country of Turkey. So I was expecting a country between Turkey and Georgia.
And the very first day what happens? Actually pretty much nothing. To be honest, there were really not so many things so I would like to skip to the fourth day where I arrived in Baku but a little incidents that happened on the way: On the very first day, there was a police control on the road. In this region of the world it happens quite often so I was just passing by. In this moment the police stopped me. ok ok, again some interested people who just wanted to speak to me where I'm from or where I'm going or so. No, this time it was different. They actually stopped me because I didn't have a helmet. WHAT!? And how much money did they want to have? 1000 Manat (= € 1000 = $ 1270). WHAT!?!?
And this was all no warning or threatening or so, they really meant it. After a very long negotiation, which lasted around one hour, they set it down to 200 Manat. Wait, it's of course better to have a helmet but Azerbaijan has a lot of cars without number plate or without light in the night. Is it so important to take 1000 Manat from a foreigner?
In the end, I made it really clear that I didn't have such an amount of money and they let me go. It's a weird happy ending but can this kind of stuff directly happen on the first day?
Of course there were also good things. Here's for example one restaurant run by a family. I could more or less communicate with them in Russian and I told them I didn't have Manat then they made me some small dishes.
Nevertheless on the third day, I wanted to buy a SIM-card to use the Internet, because there's no Internet in this country otherwise. Then, after having struggled for about half an hour, the seller told me it would work in the evening. Three days later, it still didn't work. Why?
Another problem is there's no other big city than Baku. Well, anyway I cycled for five days.
I have to say when I arrived in Baku I was completely fed up of Azerbaijan. The problem was probably that it's a country of corruption so the behavior of the police for example is unbearable.
The only one time I could couch surf was at Wasim's place. After five days of cycling and camping in sweat and sand, my hair became really hard. Every time it's fantastic to feel the sand clotted in my hairs be released gradually. Wasim lived with his wife, Kefa (though I don't know how her name is spelled) who was almost all the time ill during my stay.
Just after my arrival there was a lot of meat. On the way there I had had only bread and some fruits offered by the local people so I was so happy to eat something reasonable again. And obviously (even though I didn't take a photo) there were more than three portions on the table and I was expecting them to eat with me. No, everything was prepared just for me. Well, I could eat that much at that moment but an average person that I used to be cannot eat that much. At the moment, it really doesn't matter how much food is on the table. I can eat everything and still some space is available in my stomach, even if I eat a whole black hole.
I don't know anymore whether I've written or not but I don't want scroll to the top of the page so I may say it now once more: the real reason that I came to Baku was to obtain the visa for Pakistan and after having written this sentence I remembered that I've already mentioned it somewhere in this blog. One day I'll change this no-plan structure of this whole senseless text that I never know why there are still people reading. Anyway, in order to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the visit in Baku, we went to the Pakistani embassy in the morning.
So, I don't want to make a dramatic scene with hysterical background music and threatening narration so let's go directly to the result: no it didn't work.
Even though I had a powerful Japanese passport and the guy working in the embassy was a friend of Wasim, he told me that they really cannot process the request because this kind of function does not exist in the embassy of Pakistan in Baku. So as I may have already mentioned, I would need to go back to Japan to get the visa. sucks
Anyway we were in Baku, so it was a very nice opportunity to visit the city.
It's just sensational, how different this city is compared with all other cities in Azerbaijan I saw on the way. The roads in the city center are so modern and clean at once that it makes you think you are in an entirely different country. This is maybe a characteristic of a corrupted country :) I like this kind of stuff because this was pretty much the first time to see something like this.
Big clean supermarkets are also in the city center and Mac Donald's as you can see here as well. All the surrounding brand shops were also full of rubbish stuff. Probably there's also an unspoken dress code that I did not really want to get involved in.
However, once out of the city center, appropriately enough, there's again the same traffic chaos. We went to the city center by bus but after coming back home I had to lie down for a while because I felt so groggy. I love my bicycle...
Later on the day we made shashlik, which I think is Russian but depending on the person you get a different answers. It's anyway not a highly sophisticated thing so I don't really see the reason to fall out with each other... I think I ate so much at Wasim's place than never in total.
We tried to get the visa for Pakistan trying out several possibilities in the following days only to find out that even with my extremely powerful Japanese passport and Wasim's help the situation cannot be really changed... The thing is just it doesn't matter who is inviting you or which passport you have, you must do it in your home country otherwise it's simply rejected. Lastly, we asked them if it's possible to get a transit visa at the border to Pakistan: this is according to them possible if I have the visa for India, and it will be valid at least for one week. It's not enough to cycle through Pakistan but at least I can go to India by road. I don't know whether it's a good news or not. Anyway I can see a little bit of Pakistan, though I will not be able to visit Wasim there.
I stayed at Wasim's place several days because of this visa issue and rain. Apparently it rains quite often in the Caspian region. I made a photo when we made a pizza, not in a conventional Italian way but rather a mixture of Asian and European style. As we made a vide there maybe I'll put it somewhere in this page (actually it's already on the server but as it is more than half a GB I didn't put it directly, but if you are interested, this was the correct address but I'm not sure anymore :)
I had a very nice time in Baku but in the end it was not as successful as I wished. Anyway, staying three or four days at the same place is somewhat painful. It was very comfortable at Wasim's place though :).
In Azerbaijan by the way there are a lot of nihad markets. Those who know me very well know why I was so intrigued by this stuff :)
I think I didn't mention but the oil price in Azerbaijan is extraordinary. 1 liter 50 (Azerbaijani) cents which is roughly equivalent to 37 dollar cents. In the quasi neighboring country Turkey it was more than 3 dollars I think. What an unfairness...
On the way, I was again stopped by police that wanted to fine me again. Well, in Azerbaijan it's apparently very important to try to negotiate. I don't know if they think it's really possible to take more than 1000 dollars from a cyclist...
According to what I saw in Azerbaijan, it is depending on you what kind of klaxon you would like to have. Hence, you can hear sometimes some kind of oriental music. The most popular version seems to be the siren of the police. It's almost a wonder that it is allowed as well.
I have to say, I eventually could not really like the political system in Azerbaijan. However, in the last two nights I spent in Azerbaijan where I was originally planning to use my tent as there was no couch surfer on the way, I was fortunately hosted in a restaurant each time. They prepared also a full course menu for me and in the morning I could also have a breakfast. I spent probably less than 3 € after leaving Baku before entering Iran. Even if the political system is a little bit hinky the people might be different. It was anyway a very nice end.
Because the political system sucked me so much in Azerbaijan I didn't take any photo anymore.
So, I arrived in Astara, the border city between Azerbaijan and Iran. This city was so well constructed that it made me think it's really a corrupted country. Now I have only this association :)
Maybe you are wondering what happened to my visa because iranianvisa.com threatened me with a tip off but it did not really happen. I personally had forgotten about that until a friend of mine reminded me of that later.
However, it is not so easy to get into Iran by bicycle. The funny thing about this is that, the policemen don't want to bother us and therefore they ask for forgiveness all the time.
I found Azerbaijan a very poor country. You will be surprised if you enter Iran from Azerbaijan: you see that almost no car is coming from Europe, America or Japan. And clearly the buldings at the streets would be repaired if they were in Europe. This is the country whose economy is sanctioned eternally...
And so I arrived in Astara. To be more precise it was Chooba, 25 km away from Astara. And this is my first host Azim and of course his family. Actually just after leaving Astara, he was waiting for me in his car. This is pretty much the best thing that might happen when you enter a new country and don't even have the currency at all. Well, at that moment I hadn't realized that it's not that easy to change money in Iran so I was not worried about this issue :) but anyway it was very nice of him to wait for me there. I told me that he's got more than 100 couch surfers so far but is he every time waiting for the guest to come?
By the way, Azim is the father of the family and the kids also spoke English (though the mother unfortunately didn't). The Australian guys told me that Iranians are the only people who speak English outside of Europe. So far I can support their opinion. And again by the way, whenever I tell this story, everyone asks me whether Iranians speak English better than Japanese or not. Well, they might speak Engrish better but I daresay you cannot expect from a Japanese more than "hello" "good bye" and "this is a pen".
As you can see on the photo, Iranians eat directly on the floor. It was the hardest thing I've ever experienced in eating. I will be very fast in eating at the end of the stay in Iran, I suppose.
It's actually very important to have a break whenever there's a factor which might completely exhaust you. In this case, as I entered a new country I decided to stay at Azim's place a bit longer. Azim told me he was on vacations so he brought me to a cellphone shop first to buy a new phone. At this point it became clear to me that it's not that easy to change money in Iran in contrast to Georgia for example. So, as you can always see from my ideal couch surfer behavior, Azim bought me a SIM card. In exchange, I gave him my Azeri SIM-card since he told me he was going there. Hopefully he saw it also as a kind of exchange...
The nature at the Caspian is also very nice. I think the people don't care about the politics or stuff like that. However, wherever I go, the people are always looking at me. Apparently it's very rare to see a foreigner in this part of the world. The cows were also watching me all the time. I won't rip off your grass, don't worry.
The kids came back home at noon. And we prepared Kebab for lunch. In Germany Kebab is not what you are seeing on the photo but in Iran they call this Kebab. And they say that it's coming from Iran. In Turkey they say it's from Turkey and some people say it comes from Armenia. Iranians say again that Armenia was once Iran so it's Iranian. By the way, in Georgia and Azerbaijan, they call it Shashlik. It's the Russian name. Anyway, I find it's not really a sophisticated stuff. I don't know how constructive to discuss this issue, though the people are pretty serious on this issue.
One big problem you get in Iran: the Internet. Due to the restriction from the Iranian side, and also the foreign side sometimes, you cannot visit whatever site. To me, it's a minor problem as I'm used to a life without facebook and youtube. But the real problem was that, the government restricts the speed of the Internet and the maximum is allegedly 128 KB/s. WHAAAAT!? I'm used to a life with 10 MB/s and an extreme drop down by factor 100. I often work directly on the server as I used to do in France but now it's even hard to upload this blog. Hey, Iranian government, I'm a computer scientist. You are mishandling human rights of the 21st century...
As the next big city, Rasht, was a bit far away, I was planning to put my tent somewhere in between but Azim had a friend in Talesh, which is actually a small city near Chooba. So I took the offer and the friend Shahrokh accepted it also without complaining at all.
It is probably a part of the Iranian hospitality: After leaving Chooba, still far away from Talesh Shahrokh called and told me that he was waiting for me. I didn't know exactly why he called me. Half an hour later, once again his call. Why???
It became clear when I saw that Shahrokh was waiting for me at the beginning of Talesh. Due to wind I could not cycle very fast = it took about one hour and a half before I arrived in Talesh. Was he waiting for me the whole time? Yes, probably...
And as usual, I'm a moving tourist attraction. The kids who saw my bicycle came running after me and they all wanted to talk to me, unfortunately in vain as none of them spoke English and it's kind of impossible for me to speak Persian. Shahrokh translated more or less (more or less because all of them were speaking at the same time.) They wanted something written in Japanese.
Sam: "What do you want me to write?
Boy A: "I don't know. Something."
Then I wrote "I don't know. Something" in Japanese.
As at Azim's place, the kids were really used to foreigners and they even talked to me in English, which is probably one of the most difficult things for children. The reason why people in Japan cannot speak Japanese is that they do not overcome this situation and grow up as they were in their childhood. They must finally know that it doesn't matter if they speak to Americans or Russians or Martians if they have the intention to speak, they will be able to speak after all. It's very nice to know that private English classes are making a lot of dough and the people don't change at all, while I haven't spent a cent for English and am able to speak it as the kids I saw here. :)
Following day, I went away pretty early in the morning. Interestingly, you can see everywhere the speed limit of 95 km/h or 85 km/h. Is it so important to put or remove 5 km/h ? Maybe... but I don't know why.
Recently I wrote that the oil price is about 50 cents/liter in Azerbaijan, but in Iran, it's 30 cents/liter. Wait! Don't we buy a 500ml bottle of water for 1 € in Germany? If I really don't have money, I can probably buy oil, but maybe not water in Iran. And one interesting thing is that as I mentioned the oil price is about 2€50 in Turkey. What happens is that the Iranians, who by the way don't need a visa in Turkey, fill the tank with oil and go to Turkey, have a lot of fun and at the end of the journey they sell the remaining oil. So, they can have fun without having money.
I don't know whether I've already mentioned it but there are so many car makers I've never seen in my life in Iran. Can you recognize the marks? Even though Peugeot is struggling in Europe, it's a luxury in Iran. This Iranian car maker seems to be the most wide spread one here. Together with the fact that the oil in Iran is cheaper than water in Germany, the whole country has only the smell of gas.
Maybe I should not write it before getting out of this country but the western culture is incredibly popular in this country. I don't know exactly what exactly they wanted but they named this fast food restaurant "Moz" and took the first character "M" and it accidentally (?) looks like something quite familiar to us... Anyway, it's very hard to know in the western countries what the Iranians think of in reality. The fact is, according to what I've heard so far, the most Iranians are dreaming of being a part of the western culture. I will gather a lot more information on this issue and write a long paragraph. For the moment I say that I find this gap so interesting, or these gaps, as there are obviously two gaps in this story. The question is probably: Who's suffering?
"Don't worry. I will find a host for you" was the last word Shahrokh gave me and without having a place to sleep in Rasht I started to cycle. Well, this kind of stuff apparently always works in Iran and Shahrokh found a host for me, Hooman. Surprisingly, he applied for a place at the university of Waseda so he might be studying there next year. How can he risk such an option...
Well, just before arriving at Hooman's place, actually I called him on the phone, without knowing his appearance at all. I gave him the name of the place where I was and he told me he would be there in 20 minutes. While I was waiting, there was one boy who asked me if I needed help. His name was Sobhan who is by the way also in the photo. He helped me buying some stuff and later he came back wherever I was to help me. He spoke very good English, then I asked him how often he has had the occasion for speaking with foreigners. He told me, it was the very first time. What an honor to be the first foreigner for him to speak. And 20 minutes later, there was one guy saying to me "Heey! My friend, how are you!?" Hm, what an open guy but anyway it's nice to meet the host :) As I didn't even see the profile of the host, I was not expecting anything but he wanted to speak Spanish with me as he has been learning it for a while. lol ok it was not that important to me so we talked in Spanish but he was speaking and speaking.... Then we went to his apartment. He offered me a cup of tea and told me I could sleep in the living room. At this point, I got a call: "Hey, where are you? I arrived!" ... what?
As you've probably guessed, the guy who invited me had no idea who I was or whatsoever. He just invited me to his place. This was probably one of the uncanniest things that have happened in my life so far...
Anyway, I could go to Hooman's place, without problem then...
Following day, I got up very late in the morning, almost at noon. This is something actually not so many people know, but Tehran is located at the altitude of about 1400m above the sea level. The fact is Iran has a vast plateau even a vast part of it is a desert. So, since the Caspian is almost at the sea level, I must climb a hill before going to Tehran, and this happens namely here, between Rasht and Qazvin. By the way, if you are not from France or Germany, don't try to pronounce "Qazvin". It sounds just horrible. But if you do speak German or French, the pronunciation is simply "Razvin" as it would be pronounced in these two languages.
And finally, after having passed the black sea region, which is supposed to be a rainy place, and the Caspian area, which is also supposed to be a rainy region, it rained, though just half an hour or so, but it rained, for the second time in my whole trip. I cycled quickly into the mountains, though there was at first pretty much no change in height.
The rain had stopped just after Rasht, though it did not look so nice all the time and the problem was also it was getting less and less populated. Since the distance to Qazvin was more than 170km from Rasht, I was determined to put a tent somewhere, but I didn't want to do it in the middle of a forest, especially when it's raining...
At 4 pm it started to be dark. At this point there was a kind of service area which looked like a village as well, where the guy of one of the restaurants summoned me. Well, as I was about considering to buy something for dinner I went over. His name was Mohammad (I think...) though he didn't speak English at all. There was one couple in the restaurant (isn't there any other expression for "restaurant" in English? Maybe it's better to say diner because it was a very small space there). This couple translated what Mohammad wanted to say to me and I found that he wanted to offer a dinner and a place to sleep, namely in the restaurant. Again, the Iranian hospitality. NICE! And at this point it started raining as well, so anyway I would have had to find a place to sleep. NICE!
After the dinner, he tried to speak to me all the time, unfortunately without much success as I didn't speak Farsi at all. I also wanted to learn Farsi but due to the Arabic characters and the fact, there was no promising material in the Internet, I eventually did not start to learn Farsi. However, if ever there should be someone who gets the idea to go to Iran after reading this blog, I strongly recommend to learn a little bit of Farsi as there are so many locals who want to talk to you but in spite of a very high number of English speakers, it's still not always the case.
We also played "running eleven" (?), though he was expecting me to be very good at it because it's a playstation game and I'm from Japan...
Following day, early in the morning, Mohammad was not there anymore. The guys in the restaurant didn't speak English either but I left the restaurant and there was not much communication with them.
And the long way started again... I took this photo in the middle of the way to Qazvin, a city called Majide or something like that. I'm sure that the name was NOT Majide but since the Internet is so slow in this country I don't check it and later I'll forget about it so if you are curious, check it yourself. It will never be improved. Anyway, this is the windiest city in Iran (?) and there were a lot of wind turbines. More important is that, after this city, there's no single city for around 70km until Qazvin. This is a completely different dimension in Iran, something you should really know...
Anyway, I cycled alone for I don't know how many hours but one important thing is that there are two ways, one highway and one normal way. Since I wanted to arrive faster, I simply took the highway, which is of course forbidden for bicycles but I asked the police beforehand and they told me it's okay. Some policemen stopped me on the way but they only wanted to tell me that it might become dangerous so I should be careful. What a great difference to Azerbaijan!?
And finally I arrived in Qazvin. "Finally" describes exactly how I felt at that moment. What happens when I'm in the south of Iran where after Bam, which is one of the small cities in the south east of Iran, there's about 200km without any human being? Anyway, I was hosted by Danial whose father came there where I was when I arrived. Danial was a student in electric engineering and studying German at the same time. I think it's not a bad idea to study it in Germany. Anyway, he told me he has never spoken German with a native so I only spoke German with him (though I'm not a native in reality...) But anyway he spoke German sufficiently well that I didn't need to speak English to complement. Good job. The other guy on the photo, though I cannot remember his name anymore, will go to university of Graz, because he wanted to go to Germany later. I told him that Austria is not a part of Germany and he seemed to be surprised. I don't know which is larger, Austria or Bavaria, and I'm even less sure which is more German.
Anyway, the father of Danial spoke a bit English so waiting for Danial to come back from the university we talked a bit. His mother did not speak English at all but she seemed to be accustomed to this kind of situation due to other couch surfers who have visited this family so far. And now I noticed that I forgot to take a photo of the parents, maybe next time! (As usual, it's unknown how far exactly "the next time" is.)
As the weather forecast was not friendly enough, I decided to stay at Danial's place one day more. As he had a course in the morning, we went to the university together. I was also interested how it works in this country.
First surprise, though it's somewhat logical and consequent: the swimming pools are separated for men and women. At the university there are therefore two swimming pools and otherwise public pools have certain days for women and other days for men or something like that. The sport center in Göttingen has "sauna" and "women's sauna" but maybe one day it appears ridiculous to us :)
Second surprise, though it's again consequent but I couldn't take a photo: buses are separated for men and women. To be more precise, the front half of the bus is for men and the rear half is for women. It doesn't matter how strongly occupied one part is, it's separated and it cannot be perpetrated, though a communication between the territories is possible, as far as the physical conditions allow it.
The rest was pretty much like European universities. Just there are less computers in general and those which are used in some special class rooms were apparently very old. And students working in the library didn't have a computer either, which was kind of weird to me because in Göttingen a big part of students are working with a computer. And those who look the most serious are playing war craft.
In the evening, we went to the city center and I took a picture of the city hall which is on the photo here, or a building in front of the city hall to be more precise :)
Obviously, there are not so many foreigners in the city of Qazvin. Every time when I said something in German other pedestrians reacted in a different way. Maybe we are too much used to it in Europe where every second person is a foreigner, though I cannot really complain as I'm also a foreigner when I'm in Europe :)
The Ukraine was smetana, and Georgia was pepper, sometimes you can see a weird affection for something particular. In Iran, it doesn't matter you are, you can always find something called "labu", which is probably a turnip but I'm not so sure. Anyway, I don't feel anything special about this but in the bazaar of Qazvin, I could find a stand like this every 50m.
Have you ever heard of Ashura? I personally, no. At least until I was in Qazvin no. In short, there is a legend that Imam Husayn, who is the grand son of Muhammad, was killed with honour in Iraq. And the festival of Ashura is the day of his death and supposed to be a mourning day. It was two days later than the day where I was in Qazvin or maybe one day I don't know exactly, but anyway as you can see on the photo, there was a march of many people who are hitting themselves with a bundle of metal chains, especially children. This is supposed to mean that they want to punish themselves to express the regrets in not being there at the incident. This kind of commemoration is apparently common in the Islamic culture. I have the feeling that they are always mourning in Iran.
Following day, I was planning to stay in Qazvin one day more, but the weather forecast said it would rain anyway for about one week and the weather of this day looked the least bad. One good thing was also, I got an invitation from a host in Karaj, a city located between Qazvin and Tehran. So I decided to go to Karaj first.
I think my bicycle with a lot of stuff and my guitar is somewhat conspicuous. There were so many people who talked to me from the car. Interestingly, they don't stop me or stop their car or whatever. They simply talk to me from the car. And of course there would be a queue behind the car as I cannot drive faster than 20km/h. They don't care. This is the Iranian mentality :)
And this is by the way my host in Karaj, Ahmad, before going to his place, I was in the city center of Karaj, which is supposed to be a very dangerous place. Anyway, I was struggling with my phone, trying to locate myself, where one police officer spoke to me in English. NICE! It's kind of a wonder. How many people are there in this country who speak English? Anyway, I explained my situation to him then he took my phone and called Ahmad, explaining my position. Ahmad told me he would be there in 40 minutes. Hm, 40 minutes, it's a long time. So the police officer told me I should wait in the police station, bringing me even a sandwich. NICE! I also got a cup of tea and a very warm place.
Two hours later, he appeared, in his Korean sedan. Well, and now? First plan: Put the bicycle somewhere nearby and drive home. So Ahmad called a friend of his. However, we are young, we cannot wait, so we put my 28-inch bicycle into his small sedan, with a lot of effort. And there was no place for me, neither for Ahmad. Anyway, we went home with a lot of acrobatics and when we arrived there, my legs were completely dear. I'm proud of that though :)
He then asked me if I was tired. As usual, I said no, without really asking myself if I was tired or not. The thing was, because of Ashura, which is by the way also a festival where a lot of stuff is distributed for free, he wanted to go to the city center again to get free tea. Hm, free tea... Sounds fantastic! So we drove again around 30 minutes to get free tea.
As the guy, at whose place we originally wanted to put my bicycle, appeared, we decided to go somewhere. Where? To another free tea spot. Then we went to a internet café to smoke. I don't smoke by the way, don't worry. We stayed there until 3am and then we went to his friend's apartment as we wanted to get a free breakfast next morning and Ahmad's place was too far. In this sense, I was not really hosted by Ahmad but we don't really care about that. We are in Iran.
The free breakfast was given in a mosque, but it was forbidden to take a photo. It was just like you get a plate of an Iranian standard breakfast for free. Ahmad told me that it's traditionally always the same meal. After the breakfast we went back to Ahmad's place and we slept into the afternoon.
In the afternoon, after the lunch, which we had at his parents' place, we went over to his grandfather's place. Again because of Ashura, the family of Ahmad wanted to make 200 kg of haleem to distribute all around the city.
And it looks like this. I simply wrote "the family of Ahmad" but under the grand father of Ahmad, there were in total about 60 people and I don't know how weird it looked that there was one Japanese guy in the middle. Anyway, there were four pots like this and everyone mixed the haleem a little bit.
Unfortunately there was only Ahmad who spoke English and all the others tried to speak to me, in Azeri, Persian and a little bit of broken English. As always, I was a moving tourist attraction. Everyone came to me and wanted to take a photo with me. Hey, I'll charge you with the Japanese mentality.
After midnight, as Haleem was almost ready, we left it there and had a small dinner, as you can see on the photo. In a certain moment, everybody knew how to say "would you like tea?" in English and it became pretty much the only communication we could have so every three or four minutes, I was offered a tea, and I couldn't refuse it because usually the person is standing there with a cup of tea already in the hand...
In the meantime, we also went to the city center, to get free tea! What a luxurious moment... The guy in the photo is by the way Imam Hussayn, the grandson of Muhammad and his baby in the hands. I was just wondering that all the people are just passing by and are happy with the tea they've just got without really regarding the tragedy of Imam Hussayn... Well, maybe the younger generation is a little bit more liberal in this country, as is pretty much everywhere the case around the world.
Getting back to the grandfather's place, we slept for a while. It was almost 3 am I think. We slept anyway until 6 am to start to distribute Haleem.
Looking out from a small window, I could see that there was a crowd of people waiting for our Haleem. It's OUR Haleem!!! is the Japanese mentality and the Iranians are much more generous. One after another we filled the pots they brought.
By the way, did you know that by replacing the word "tea" in "would you like tea" by "haleem", you can offer haleem in English? I think I don't need to describe what happened in the next moment...
I don't know how many pots we filled, but it was a very long work. After that, we had also haleem, though I abstained this time. What a nice moment.
Later on the same day, we first went back home and played soccer at home. It's not really a part of the tradition but it's always good to sleep three hours the previous day, to work the whole morning and to play soccer after that. Refreshing.
Ahmad told me, they have to see a traditional theater at Ashura. Every year, it's the same theater and nothing changes at all, but they see it. Apparently they don't ask themselves whether they want to see it or not, they see it and arrivederci.
And traditionally, the narration is read from the script. It's strange to me to see that the narrator is moving around holding his script.
The highlight came and the fact that the spaces for men and women are separated (you can see on the photos), surprised me less than the scene where many of the guys watching were weeping, and listening to the narration more carefully, I found out that the narrator was weeping as well. I was like "WHAAAAT!?". I mean, it's impossible for me to know how sad the scene was but it was absolutely a shock to see the guys weeping. What's more, they are watching it every year and apparently they cry probably in the same moment every year. Hmm... I think the people's mind is really pure in this culture and the muslims here are obviously so faithful to their belief, something I had never seen in Japan or Europe.
The streets were full of people. We had a car but it was impossible to move by car. We walked to a mosque near Ahmad's place and got a free lunch. Everything is for free at Ashura, though it's pretty much always the case for me when I'm in Iran with my bicycle...
I left Ahmad's place around 2 pm and headed for Tehran, the capital of Iran.
As you know, November is not the best period of time to cycle, since the day time is very short. What's more, it appears even shorter in Iran as the standard time in Iran makes the morning longer but the evening arrives really early. After 5pm it's almost impossible to cycle. In this situation, I was cycling on the highway again, and of course, there were tons of people who wanted to offer me something to eat because of Ashura. There was even a moment, in which I got something to eat, I ate it, and exactly when I finished it there was another person who wanted to offer me exactly the same meal.
At 5pm, I was on the periphery of Tehran. It was raining again, and it was pretty dark, though there were so many cars on the highway so I didn't need to worry about the light. The only thing is Iranians drive in a crazy way for the western standard, though it's not that dangerous compared with Turkey or Georgia. In this situation, there was one couple waiting for me on the side of the highway, who had a tool for transportation of bikes. They told me it's almost impossible to cycle inside Tehran, which later turned out to be more than true, so we put my bicycle on the car and drove inside Tehran.
And finally I arrived in Tehran at the hosts' place, Armita, Shadi and Omid. It was their first time to use couch surfing. In fact, there's the problem in couch surfing that the people who don't have a reference cannot host anybody and cannot find a place to stay because of the sense of security. Now for me it's not so difficult to find a host as I have many references, which resulted in 25 invitations solely from Tehran (craziness...). Anyway, every time I try to find someone who has never used couch surfing to give them credit. So I chose them this time for Tehran. Of course it's risky but I'm flexible so if someday I feel danger, I can simply go away and hope that this method works. It's also very nice to see that Armita, the small daughter of Shadi and Omid, was too shy to speak to me first, in contrast to the case of Azim's or Shahrock's family. And I'm really sorry that I couldn't find any better photo than this one where all of them were on the photo at the same time.
Attention: the following part requires basic knowledge in geography. Please check my beloved wikipedia article before starting to read it lotfan. I noticed that the wikipedia article doesn't help a lot after having put the previous sentence but I could get a picture from wikimedia so you can maybe compare it with this picture.
Who can still recall what my initial plan was? As I haven't changed the part "about me" and I would never do, you can see that I wanted to go to Pakistan and then India after Iran. However, as you may or may not have seen, it's now impossible to get a visa for Pakistan, anyway not a tourist visa. The only possibility which seems to be realistic is to get a transit visa at the border to Pakistan, where it's still not clear if it's really feasible. Hence, I was at this point to a certain extent deadlocked.
In any case, I had to go to the embassy of India the following day. Shadi told me I can stay at their place as long as I want, so I was not really worried about the place to stay. It would take maybe three or four days but it would be fine, I thought.
The fact is, they said it would take two weeks... In addition, I need an invitation letter (?) from the embassy of Japan. Am I so funny to wait such a long period of time?
In the evening, we made a pizza, because I had said I would cook and had no idea what I could do. Pizza is always good because you can put whatever you want, starting from tomato and pineapple up to drug and a nuclear weapon.
I think Omid was a bit confused when we went out to buy some stuff for the pizza because I couldn't say anything about the quantity. Precision is something which disappeared when I started to study physics. If you put π=3.14, you are incredibly precise and even if you put π=3 you are precise enough, because I put π=1 and the speed of light is also 1. Now, don't ask me how much flour we need, I say 1...
The house in which my host family lived had four floors. And each floor is occupied by a family related to Shadi. The first one her grandmother, second her sister and the third her nephew. Armita, Shadi and Omid lived in the forth floor but the flux of people is so high that in total one of the floors is always condensed. When we made the pizza, there were therefore maybe almost 10 people? Sorry for the improvised pizza. Hopefully it tasted okay. The guy on the photo is one of the two nephews of Shadi.
The following day, I went to the embassy of Japan to get the invitation letter for the visa for India. It took so much time that I eventually could not go to the embassy of India on the same day. The only success I had was maybe this photo.
At home, I saw a ultra ripe persimmon so I made a small cake. Now none of us can remember what we did on this day so we pass to the next day, where I went to the embassy of India again: it was closed. Bravo.
On the way back home, as there was no success, I reconsidered my trip. Actually, I don't want to use a plane from India to Thailand. I really want to cycle back up to China at least. And in fact, it's not difficult to extend the visa for Iran. And the people are really nice in this country. In the end I came to the idea to stay here in Iran during the winter and go to the stan countries in the beginning of spring. In this case, I probably don't need to use a plane, at least up to Bishkek. The only problem is, my fellow cyclists Sonja and Oliver had a horrible experience in Uzbekistan, as described here. What to do?
I think I am a horrible masochist who would like to see the country Sonja and Oliver saw and decided to go there.
The same day in the evening, I met a couch surfer, Vahid who contacted me before I came to Tehran. He was also a new comer in couch surfing so I actively contacted him. He invited me to a restaurant together with his friends and his wife.
The restaurant where we were was a traditional Iranian restaurant. Since they had a menu in English, I could order without much difficulty. I also wanted you to get used to the Iranian cuisine, I took photos of the menu for you.
Still with the help of the translation in English I was not sure what to take so I asked Vahid to choose something Iranian for me. I don't know exactly which one he took but I guess it was "Roast chicken with bone" or "Roast chicken with bones".
Since we had some fruits (probably "small fruit" or "big fruit", maybe both) and they remained there, we put them all into my bag and left the restaurant. Again, the Iranian hospitality and the Japanese politeness.
I said Shadi that I would come back until 10pm and it was already 9.30pm but still we went to another place to drink tea. Again an exemplary couch surfer behavior.
It's very interesting to see that EVERY Iranian says "very delicious" and it sounds so weird to me. When I was in the restaurant, I put it in words for the first time and I noticed that there's actually no reason that it does not work since the German equivalent "sehr lecker" is doubtless correct, though the French equivalent "très délicieux" sounds again weird to me. Now I'm really not sure whether the expression "very delicious" is correct or not... Maybe something is horribly wrong in my head. Can anyone say whether it's correct or not?
The north of Tehran is the richest area in Tehran. You can see Porsche everywhere though I have the feeling that it's hard to drive Porsche in Tehran. Most of the embassies are also in the north and sumptuous buildings look sometimes a bit strange as they are mostly not built according to the Iranian tradition.
The following day, I went to the Japanese embassy again and then I don't know anymore what I was doing in the rest of the day... We think we were at Shadi's mother's place and chilled (yes, of course we were so cool that we can say that were chilling)
In the evening, we went to a park in the middle of Tehran. It was a large park and had areas with different themes. I put here one example. Can you see the words on the plate in the photo? Yes, of course, it's the "Japanese garden", as it clearly is :) I don't know why I didn't have the feeling of being at home.
In the Islamic culture, the day of rest is Friday, so we had a small excursion to Dizin which is in the north of Karaj. This is one of the most famous tourist spots of Iran but I was not planning to go there due to the high altitude and the snow. However, my nice host family where I was staying without being ashamed for an incredibly long time suggested to go there. NICE! I think I will have tremendous problems with my ideology when I go back to Europe.
Unashamedly, after leaving the Euro-zone two months ago, I'm still living according to the Euro-timezone. And clearly it's causing a lot of problems to my host family. It becomes especially shameful when I look at my profile on couch surfing where I wrote "I get up at 6am". When I look at the fact that I got up just before the departure, I can clearly say that something is wrong with my japaneseness. Sorry my fellow citizens I'm razing your reputation to the ground.
Anyway, it was a very nice weather. A very nice weather for a snowball fight. And the reality is, the incredibly hospitable Iranians become monsters when they start a snowball fight. I was the poor Japanese guy in the focus of a concentrated assault in spite of my crying and tears and and and...
Well, ok back to the reality. Anyway the niece of Shadi, Noshad, fought us off pretty well, though she was subjected to the most attacks in total. Later she underwent a mental bombardment because of one photo where she was standing self-confidently but apparently she did not want to hand on the photo since clearly some numbers are missing :)
It's not so important but there was a poisonous spider in the snow so I took a photo of it :) It was the first time in my life to see a spider with poison.
And after the fight, we went to a restaurant nearby. I don't know how high it was but I think when I checked it it was around 9000 feet. If ever I could come so much with my bicycle...
I was not planning to put the photo of the restaurant but I found the mother of Shadi so cool that I had to put one here.
And again one month was over. The third month of my trip. I still know that in the beginning of this month I was wondering when it would ever be cold in my trip and in the end I even saw snow. A hard weather itself is not really a problem but the thing is, there's less and less sun and you can get easily depressed when it's cold. I think it's directly related to the human mind and I should not simply ignore this fact. And of course, I'm not in a country where politically my country of origin is directly welcomed. There might be some problems with the police in the near future.
At the same time, I was surprised to see that even if the political systems may be completely different, the people are the same. This statement should be much more elaborated than a simple single phrase. My grandmother apparently did not want me to come to Iran in the first place, but with an appropriate behavior and a bit of sense of security you can see that it does not make any difference whether it's Tokyo or Tehran. After all, there are always people living there. There's no reason that it's impossible for me to live there.
Anyway, in the sense I mentioned above, it will even be harder in December, but since I don't need to go further a lot, I think I will have a relaxed time for the first time since the beginning of this trip. I'm still going back home to Tokyo, but no one can force me to go there directly so, I will have my time. I'm enjoying it at the same time so I cannot wish anything more :)