March 11, 2001 GMT

Seeing spaghetti in a restaurant gets my hopes up. A break from the twice-daily low quality kebab. Receive wheat-based sludge in a sandwich. This proves to be my best meal. Can’t find breakfast. The preferred option here is sheep’s head: brain, eyes and cheek. Sometimes with feet on the side. For some reason this never caught on with Kelloggs.

Getting used to the hundreds of people that surround the bike every stop. Always the same pattern: lots of gentle intrusion, then, after five minutes or so, the local English speaker pushes to the front and politely asks if there is anything he can do to help and “where are you from” and “how much the bike cost?” before relaying the information to the assembly. An invite to his shop/home for tea usually follows.

They are a hospitable lot in Iran. Maybe it is the Islamic tradition of pilgrimage? Lose a tire pressure gauge to a small hand in one of the crushes around the machine. Very annoying, as filling air is the only maintenance I know how to do.
The caves in Ali Sadr are wonderful. A peddle boat take you to see the stalactites and ‘mites on a half hour tour underground. It is all harshly and rather inexpertly lit. Which increases the drama. Quotes from the Koran are pasted all around. Which increases the perplexity.

Otherwise the country’s attractions are mainly mosques. Aside from the holy stuff the built environment is appalling. Thrown up in the 1970s boom, everything has been left to deteriorate.

Looking for tips

A lorry driver near Shiraz seeing me using the garage pump and pressure gauge, approaches. The usual questions I assume. He looks at the bike and its luggage, walks back to his cab and then returns with a tyre pressure gauge which he hands to me shyly. No words are exchanged, just a thank-you expression. Karma.

My riding on the other hand is getting hard work. Their cars do 120kph without tread or road sense. My nerves are frayed. Even worse now it is Ramadan. They are madly keen to get home, hysterical on empty stomachs. There have been a couple of close shaves—although not the beard, which is growing nicely. Several days growth fits in with the rest of Iranian manhood. But not too long, cos this is the style of the hated clergy. George Michael it is then. Everywhere people criticize the regime and spend their time looking over their shoulder for the secret police. Even witness a raid in my hotel, cops banging down the door across the hallway at 4.00am. dragging out two unfortunates.

Meet some Dutch cyclists who have adopted a puppy they found by the roadside. It is tiny, and lives in her front handlebar carrier. They call it Khomeni. Like all those under their own power they emanate happiness and contentment. Their small family moves slowly south east.

Posted by at 11:15 PM GMT

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