July 13, 2008 GMT
No.13.Iran. Teheran and the Caspian Sea.

Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?
Don't cha? Don't cha?

The semi naked Pussycat Dolls teased and taunted me from the widescreen Satellite TV...I stood and readjusted my smoking jacket, tapped out my pipe and looked out onto the streets. It seemed a long time since I'd kissed my (by now ex) girlfriend Celia, goodbye in Southern Turkey. Cue wistful look through window.

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(TIP. Open up the full cartoon page and read the text - it makes more sense!)

Outside, the women of Teheran went about their business covered from head to foot. Where did the men of Teheran meet the opposite sex? I never did find out. I did, however, spend the next few days bathing in the hospitality of my friends - who led me tirelessly through the bazaars, mosques and museums of Teheran.

"Think of Teheran as the LA of the Middle East, rather than an exotic crossroads steeped in Persian splendour..." states the Lonely Planet. It was true. This city is vast. But there is nothing quite like a personal local guide to help you reach the parts other guide(books) cannot reach....

But neither the sights of the city nor the Pussy Cat Dolls could hold me back and I loaded my bike up and set off North across the spectacular Alborz mountains to the Caspian Sea - a destination long dreamed about.

Oh, how I longed to bathe in its crystal clear waters after a long hot day in the saddle. It was not to be.....

Click on MORE below for further tales of the unexpected and a few PHOTOS.

After several hours of headlight to headlight contact with Hillman Hunters through the mountains, I rode onto the shingle beach at Mahmud Abad. The Caspian Sea! So often I'd wondered if that one day I would reach these shores....

But leaden skies and a chill wind kept my swimming costume firmly in the bottom of my pannier. I set up a few self-timed photos positioning myself on a convenient....freezer. As I adopted a suitably macho 'I've made it' expression, a man came to me and, moving me aside, opened the freezer, took out a plastic bag of clear liquid, muttered something and walked off along the beach.



Another guy had seen this and came over. He was an English-speaking student and explained that the man kept his illegal home-produced alcohol in the freezer.. Interesting.(TIP. If you're going to store alcohol in a freezer - find somewhere to plug it in.)

I was invited back to join his friends at the 'student house' nearby. A gateway was opened and I rode the bike into the inner courtyard much to the surprise of the other students. Tea was served and food was prepared to the sounds of Pink Floyd and DJ Alligator. A lively bunch of intelligent lads who talked passionately about the frustrations of life in Iran...So much Oil and yet so much poverty...Revolution in the air?

I wished them well and rode on along the coast and found a hotel in Chalus a town which had come highly recommended but in the cool damp weather I was reminded of a tired British resort out of season. Grey skies was not what I'd come this far for.
I made a mental note to head south to the heat of the desert and Esfahan the next day....

Only one problem - Ramadan had started and I was looking at 30 days of 'not eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset'. Just what I needed.....

Posted by Simon Roberts at 09:53 AM GMT

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