Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Between Sanjud & Choplu

I woke with the birds & was on the road by 7am, it was going to be a long day. It was overcast. The road went through rolling terrain, mostly following a river. The flat valley floor was completely given over to sprouting crops with irrigation channels criss-crossing the fields. The hills above were rocky & dry, pastureland for the many flocks of sheep.

In one of the small towns a police car pulled up ahead of me & asked to inspect my passport. There was nothing too odd in this, I'd passed through several checkpoints in Iran & got the sense that the police/government were 'curious' about who went where. They noted a few details then let me on my way. A short while later I passed a stationery police car who then kept 100m behind me. I slowed right down & they kept the same distance. I was being tailed! When I stopped at a parking area they did too & came over to talk to me. I heard them say 'New Zealand' which they must have learned from the other police who checked my passport. I had a vision of being tailed all day & needing to give them the slip when it came time to find a camping spot. In the end I confronted them as to why they were following me & they stopped. I don't know whether they were trying to keep tabs on me or making sure that nothing happened to me.

This whole thing put a damper on my mood. This however was soon put right when I arrived in the town of Shahin Dez & was shouted lunch. The town was an interesting mix of people. It was on the border of the Azeri & Kurdish parts of Iran. There lots of men wearing baggy brown or black trousers, cummerbunds & headscarves. The women wore their headscarves differently from the Azeris, the scarf covered the hair but was rolled up over the ears & tied in a knot at the back. Their robes were generally more colourful than the standard all covering black tent (chador means tent). Some of the older men wore head scarves with tassels on.

The guy who bought me lunch made a point of telling me that he was a Kurd & Sunni. One of the staff in the restaurant then said that he was a Turk (meaning Azeri) & a Shia. They were friends. It would be nice if the Turks in Turkey could sort out their differences with their Kurdish population.

After lunch the road rose & the land became more barren. My map had rough contour lines but I didn't know precisely where I was on it. As a result I kept being surprised by yet more climbing to be done after reaching the top of a rise. The road topped out by a village at 2300m. I camped a couple of km outside the village at 2100m, the highest I'd ever pitched a tent. Though I ought to have chances to do so at much higher altitudes in the trip.

I cycled 111 km in 8 hours & 0 minutes

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