Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Near Qezel Qeshaq

The morning didn't start so well. I awoke to the sound of rain & it continued until the afternoon. I grabbed some oranges & warm freshly baked flat bread then headed on. The latter had been cooked on a bed of stones & when I bought it the shopkeeper removed a few pieces of gravel from it. It was great snack bread & kept me going all day. I had hoped to find a supermarket so I could go browsing & gauge what was available but there were none about.

I stopped a while in a truck stop, drank tea & watched a military parade on TV that was sufficiently important for the President of Iran to present at. The waiter kept bringing tea as I emptied my glass & when I left he wouldn't accept payment.

The valley that had been so constricted at Maku slowly widened. On the valley floor were ploughed fields & trees. Everything beside the road was sodden & muddy, the thought that I may need to find a camping spot in a place such as this filled me with dread. The sides of the valley were bare volcanic rock. I suppose from a time when Mt Ararat was active

I stopped in a town & asked a local for a place to eat something. He showed me a cheap kebab place & after invited me for tea at his shop, actually it was his father's, he was a student at Tabriz University. Later he invited me to stay & offered me a lift to Tabriz . I declined both offers as it was only just lunchtime & I wanted to go quite a bit further that day.

I continued on towards the Aras river which formed the border with Azerbaijan & Armenia. While taking a rest along the way an elderly man stopped & came to talk to me. I explained my route for the day. He was from the next town & offered to guide me there. 15km later at the entrance to the town he was waiting for me. He offered to take me to a tea shop & explain how to find the road that I sought. Tea seemed like a great idea so I followed along. In the town my arrival shortly drew a curious but friendly crowd, who were all impressed when I showed them the odometre with 2700km on it. Over tea the man expressed regret that in the last 20 years there had been so few tourists in Iran & that people had such a poor opinion of it, based on lack of knowledge. Unfortunately it wasn't the time or place for a proper chat on the subject. Shortly after he helped me with some shopping & I was on my way.

The Aras river valley was wide where I followed it. As I went along watch towers on the Azerbaijan side could be seen. I didn't see much security on the Iranian side. Mistakenly thinking that this was a sign of relaxation I asked someone at a small military base whether camping was permitted. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was against the law. I had no alternative to camp found a decent spot just down the road. I kicked myself for destroying my defense of plausible deniability, in case the same person caught me camping.

Just before setting up camp I passed through a small town on the highway. I needed to buy some pasta & stock up on water to cook with so I asked the first available adult. He pointed down one of the streets then asked a guy on a scooter to show me the way. Soon there was a procession of tooting scooters guiding me to the shop. Again a friendly crowd gathered & watched me drink an ice cold coke & do my shopping. The shopkeeper refused to take any money. A motorcade escorted me out of town.

A couple of kilometres later there was a planted forest & a picnic area. A little way past the entrance to the picnic area I sneaked across a ditch & found myself a nice spot out of sight of the road. Soon I was eating a hearty dinner under the stars.

I cycled 102km in 5 hours & 28 minutes

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