December 29, 2009 GMT
Iran - Lut desert

Leaving Shiraz I took the road SE to Kerman, which was a good full day's ride through some nice landscapes, mostly mountains and some barren plains. It was good to ride for a few hours - too much city life and too much socialising was getting to me. Riding through a barren landscape for the better part of the day cleared my head and made me feel that I'm traveling again. I was on the road, and the road is good.

I got to buzzing but relatively uninteresting Kerman by the end of the day, found a quasi-decent "inn", dumped my stuff, changed into regular clothing and went out to explore.

Kerman by night: (notice interesting pedestrian overpass circling the square)


It was already dark, but I did manage to stumble upon a lovely museum of contemporary art, with an intriguing collection of "resistance" compositions by young artists who were basically passing anti-war messages, albeit peppered with anti-Israel propaganda. The exhibition was funded by the government, so the selection of works was not surprising. Some of the pieces of art were quite interesting, but it was not allowed to take pictures. So no dice for you, dear reader.

I then spent a couple of hours walking around town - plenty of traffic (human & mechanised), noise, dust... all the loveliness of a modern city. I had something like a hot-dog from a bakery in which people were queuing (always a good sign), checked my email (in between power cuts) and went to bed.

My next stop was the desert - a CS friend had tipped me as to the existence of "something very beautiful" near the village of Mashdad, SE of Kerman. The ride there was excellent in its own right, bringing me close to snowy mountains:


Mercifully there was a nice tunnel that saved me climbing above 3000m - then led me to an "adventurous area" (whatever that is)


and finally delivering me to the Lut desert. My first proper sandy desert. 300m of elevation all in all, dilapidated caravansarais scattered all over the landscape...


...palm trees everywhere, me taking off two layers of clothes... ooohhh it's SO nice to not be cold for a change.


So the Kavir-e Lut was my first sandy desert. I had to try, hadn't I? I stepped down and checked the hardness of the ground on foot. It didn't look too soft... so I descended from the road with the Vstrom, frolicked on the sand for about 10''... and 80 meters later I was stuck and already agonising about how to get out of there.


Luckily with a bit of unloading and a bit of pushing it took less than 15' to get the bike back on nice, safe, hard tarmac.


And that was pretty much the end of my sand expedition... until I realised (after meeting more beautiful ancient caravanserais in the proverbial middle of nowhere)


...that there is a really hard trail skirting the Kaluts, like a dried mud lake of sorts:


I rode that for a few minutes until I lost visual of the tarmac and began to feel that not even the GPS is making this safe enough...


So I turned back, leaving all this for another time, another life maybe...


A true adventurer on all counts, I wussed out and got back on the tarmac.

Reaching the Kaluts was an experience... gigantic sand formations for tens of kilometres, beautiful, majestic, errie in their inexplicable steady orientation. As if a flock of whales has frozen in time, migrating across the globe, being caught under the desert, in endless waves that go on and on... truly beautiful.


By late afternoon the road...


...took me to a "desert camping" I had spotted earlier, a big project to build a really nice campsite with structures like mini bungalows.


There were 3-4 workers there, building stuff, and noone else. I asked them whether it was OK for me to stay, the guy who could speak a bit of English said "no problem", I asked for the price, he said "no money" (wooohoo!) and I was sorted.

I had noticed some worrying splashes of oil around the engine and I decided to have a look (I needed to at least unscrew something on the bike to get my monthly Alex-the-mighty-mechanic dose). Luckily I had what I needed with me, try catching THAT nut without the proper tool...


The "interior" of the bike (under the saddle) where all the tools, spares etc reside:


I chose a hut, made my bed, did some washing, cooked dinner, read a little bit, pondered the loneliness, quiet, loveliness of the desert, and around 8 went to sleep...


...which was to be interrupted pretty soon by three busloads of juvenile Iranians who apparently raided the desert camping just to find a place to be able to scream their heads off without being arrested... you think I'm exaggerating, aren't you? If only... it was the teenage-girls-rip-off-and-throw-their-underwear-at-rock-star kind of screaming. It was the ohmygod-I-cannot-believe-I-am-watching-Elvis-on-stage kind of screaming. It came and went in waves, from multiple sources. I spent the night twisting around in my sleeping bag and making pleasant thoughts like "my kingdom for a loaded machine gun..." Around 5 or 6 in the morning they got tired (or lost their voices - wouldn't be surprised), so I managed to catch a couple of hours of sleep.

Around 8 they started pissing off, being noisy in the process, so I got up and ran about 500m out of the camp to see the early morning light on the Kaluts.


Lovely, innit?


Yep, proper sandy-type sand. Walking on this stuff is surprisingly difficult, so next time you find yourself stranded in the middle of the desert think about it twice before "just walking over them sand dunes"...


This is where I (nearly) slept. Pretty charming place, really. And warm. Oh, bliss!


I was giving the the noisy teenagers deadly looks as they were parading in front of my kitchen (the VStrom with the tea brewing on the petrol stove) and some of them might even have been remotely embarrassed. A man-and-woman team approached me, all smiles, the girl spoke in the most royal British accent and asked me how I was. Luckily I swallowed my default reaction which would be to "verbally abuse" them and it quickly turned out that they were not part of the group of juveniles - they also had had a rough night, so I guess we were on the same boat.

We ended up sharing our breakfast (with me the clear benefactor as they were way more organised food-wise) and had a mini-feast in their hut.


It turned out that they were a group of people who work for an NGO that takes care of children whose families were devastated by the terrible earthquake that flattened Bam a few years back. Some of the children would come out to see the Kaluts and play in the sand, would I like to join them?

I politely declined (the default "no" that negative people like me use when they just need more time to think about it), we greeted each other and went our separate ways. After a few kilometers I realised I really DID want to join them, so I turned back and drove the 30km to the Kaluts to join them.

It was a wonderful feeling seeing the children frolic around in the sand.


They were genuinely having a great time.


We then drove back to the campsite for lunch


This is my command centre. You can't get lost with all this stuff (famous last words?):


Lunch presented a few practical difficulties for me - try eating your sandwich without making a mess while having 2 kids jumping on you and another 10 talking, singing, striving for attention. Beautiful, smart, witty creatures. They wanted to know everything about me and the trip, they sang a song and wanted me to reciprocate with a Greek song (to my utter embarrassment I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't come up with anything), they told me every word they knew of English and taught me some Farsi too...

When it was getting time to leave I asked if we could take a group picture, which created a little commotion between the elders. A few minutes later, after I had dressed up and was ready to go, I was told that it was not a good idea because if the picture fell in the wrong hands, the government would give trouble to the NGO for allowing sheltered children's pictures to be taken. And so it is in Iran. The underlying threat that one might do something, anything, that one day may be used against them. The constant fear of standing out in any way, which results in self-censorship and an omnipresent stiffness in human relations. A sad state of affairs...

After asking for permission which was happily granted, I took this photo of this little guy who took a fancy to my tank bag. He was part of a visiting family, nothing to do with the NGO, so there it is - the secret sauce - the critical piece of information that the theocracy needs to control - what I could not show you using the lovely kids taken care of by the NGO as example - an Iranian CHILD!


After doing two rounds of the roundabout and blasting off towards the horizon standing up on the pegs (hey, if it's a request from the kids it doesn't count as showing off!) (suuure) I took the mountainous road to Bam.

On the map the road looked like a nice, smooth stretch of tarmac. But the map is just a piece of paper. It cannot portray the dramatic twists and bends, the gorgeous scenery surrounding you as the cylinders do their job and carry you and everything you did & will need for 6 months up and down mountain passes, crossing unmaintained, unsurfaced connections between pieces of road that are still under construction...


Finding yourself riding on the pegs to safely get over a watery puddle, while following the main road to anywhere, is a relatively unnerving experience. One can't help thinking "can this really be it?", "did I miss something", "am I lost?" etc etc. This is where a GPS and good maps make a big difference. I've exclusively used maps from the project and am very happy with them for having the most obscure roads of these countries mapped. A big "thank you!" to all contributors who created and continue to improve these maps - I upload GPS tracks as often as I can to do my bit and further improve these freely available maps.

I followed the beautiful road over the mountains heading in the general direction of Bam.


Corrosion has worked wonders here:


And just like that, the mountains were over and I was on the horrible main "highway"to Bam.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at December 29, 2009 02:53 PM GMT

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