Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Cycling through Clouds of Central Asia: An Official Start, but not to the Mountains

فMay 7, 2014

Iranians are always late for their appointments--even when outside Iran. We were supposed to officially start our trip at 10 am from the Iranian embassy in Dushanbe, but the ambassador was late. We were taken in and had a couple of interviews with different news agencies. The atmosphere was very friendly. We made a lot jokes about traveling, food, and what not. The ambassador was a very friendly guy. In the interviews there was no talk of politics--nothing. 

We were seen off in a traditional way with some water being poured on the ground behind us when we set off. 

By the time we were done, it was 1 pm and very hot. We decided to hit the road at 5 am tomorrow instead of sweating ourselves to diarrhea. 

We then went to a restaurant and had so,e sort of soup, called Porch, same pronunciation as the Italian car.  

Below is a URL of the news of our departure: 
http://www5.irna.ir/html/1393/13930217/81155154.htm

Another one:

http://www.entekhab.ir/fa/mobile/160192




















Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Cycling through Clouds of Central Asia: Ready to Hit the Road




May 6, 2014
Fausto and I decided to have a cause for our trip--to spread the message of peace from Iranian and Italian people from in the world from the roof of the world. So we wanted to make our trip official to have our voice heard. In the morning we went to the Iranian embassy to see if it is possible to start our trip from there the next day; Italy does not have an embassy in Dushanbe. The Iranian embassy welcomed the idea. So tomorrow at 10 am, Fausto and I will start our mission. 



A monument in Rudaki St


These girls helped us find the Iranian embassy



First flat! I haven't even started!


Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Departure


May 5, 2014 

I hate airports, but to use the word "hate" for Imam Khomeini Airport is an understatement in every sense. First, there is not enough parking space at the airport, so if someone is dropping you off or picking you up, they should park their car in a parking close to the airport and take a shuttle bus to the terminals. This can ruin your trip right from the start. 

What is more, the inadequacy of the staves for check in, passport control, and making payments. By the way, all Iranians have to pay about $23 if they are flying overseas. So... If it is high season, you are in to waste 3 hours for getting through passport control. Don't forget to save some more time if you have to pay for your excess baggage. 

I was lucky to enjoy the "full" experience at IKA! By the time I checked in, paid the tax for flying overseas, paid for my excess luggage, and went through the passport control, The gate was almost closed. The only good thing was that I used the letter I got from the cycling Federation to get 10 kg off of my excess baggage.

The airport in Dushanbe was such a small airport! The whole passport control, baggage reclaim, arrival hall, and what have you, was as small as a basketball court. 

I did not have a Tajik visa, so by the time I did the paper work and got the stamp on my passport, my pick up from the hostel had already gone. As soon as I stepped outside the airport, a crowd of taxi drivers surrounded me and wanted to take me. A 10-year-old boy kept holding my luggage as if he were protecting them! I told the drivers that I had a ride, and should wait for my ride to arrive. Then the taxi drivers got disappointed and let me alone. But one driver did not believe me and still insisted on giving me a ride. The boy still was holding on my baggage.  The persistent driver had a private car not a taxi. So told him, "I will only take an official taxi". 
" My car is a real taxi"
"Is it? Where is your 'Taxi' sign?"
The driver, then, grabbed a "Taxi" sign from another taxi and put it on top of his car and said, "you want an official taxi? Here it is". I had no choice. He had a station wagon. Other taxies would not fit my bicycle. So I agreed to go with him. The boy then asked me for money for holding on to my luggage. I asked the driver to give him some money as I did not have any Somoni, Tajik money. 

The taxi driver had to call at least 7 times to find the building in which there was the hostel. The building? It was so spooky from outside and in the hall way, but inside the hostel, which was an apartment, was fully renovated. Fausto, my riding mate, had been outside looking for me. 

Immediately after checking in the hostel, Fausto and I went to get GBAO permit. We applied at 2 pm, and we got the permit at 4! Very efficient. After that, we went to a restaurant and had Kabab. 


The hallway 

The building of the hostel

Monday, 5 May 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: My Stay in Tehran

May 5, 2014
In an afternoon during my stay in Iran, I got a call from a friend and asked to attend an "event" in the municipality. I was asked to talk about the merits of traveling by bicycle to some people. I first hesitated and then accepted to take part. I thought it would be nice to meet some people and talk about cycling for some time; that's it, that's all. But when I went there with my sister and my niece, I was ushered to the front row of a huge gathering in a hall. I was seated next to some regional mayors. I was then given a very flattery introduction and given an award in which there was two gift cards worth of $130. Well.... What can I say... Thanks. 

The event gave me some idea. I thought of giving my trip more publicity. So... Through some connection, I was given a letter from the cycling federation of Iran recognizing my next rip (whatever that means). 
I also gave an interview in the Hamshahri newspaper. It is going to publish my interview in a few days. I also had a meeting with the general manager of the national Olympic committee, but not only did he not show up for his appointment, but on the phone he said that I should have thought about doing anything for this trip two moths earlier. What an excuse when I was not asking for anything from them but recognition. 




Cycling through the Clouds in Central Asia


May 5, 2014: The Thought
After riding my bike from Barcelona to Tehran in the summer of 2012, I thought of starting my next trip from Iran eastward. I kind of like connecting the start points and end points of my trips. Besides,  I was always fascinated by Central Asia and the historic Silk Road. So the entertaining of the idea began in Sept 2013, and I have been planning for this trip since. 

On my previous trip in Turkey, I was fortunate to run into Fausto, an Italian cyclist who was riding his bike to Thailand through Iran. We traveled together for ten days in Turkey. So I contacted him and asked if he is also interested in doing Central Asia. Sure enough, he was crazy about  the idea. We first decided to start the trip from Iran, into Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, and Mongolia, but due to many challenges, including visa complications, our plans got changed a few times until we finally decided to start from Dushanbe in Tajikistan, into China, through Tibet, into Laos, and finish in Thailand. 

Visas
To get a Chinese visa, I called the Chinese Consulate in Toronto and told them about my plan. The response was disappointing; they said I should contact the local government of the provence I was going to cross the border into China and ask for a letter of invitation and a permit to have a vehicle with me (my bicycle!). Besides, I was told that the only way to travel to Tibet was to go with an agency. A solo cyclist in Tibet would be arrested, fined, and deported. 

Then, I lied to them. I booked a flight to Beijing, I found and booked a cheep hostel, and I wrote an itinerary for a 20-day plan in China. When I got a 30-day visa, I canceled the flight and the hostel. 

To get a Tajik Visa was tricky! First of all, there are only a handful of Tajik embassies around the world, so I had to call Tajik embassy in Washington a few times to realize that as a Canadian, I didn't need a visa, but I need a letter of invitation from a travel agency in Tajikistan. The challenge was finding a reliable travel agent. I accidentally found one when I emailed Tajik Hotels Website to ask a question about booking accommodation. I sent $60 via Western Union to a name. I had no Website or anything--only a name. I took the risk and they sure sent me an invitation letter with which I could get a visa as well as a GBAO permit to cycle in areas bordering Afghanistan. 

For Laos and Thailand, we will  figure out what we should do when we get there. We will also need to extend our Chinese visa since we are going to cover a very huge area. 30 days are not enough. 

Preparation
6 months ago, I didn't know what happened that I injured my left shoulder. So much so that I stopped rock climbing. I could not even wear my jacket without suffering from a lot of pain. So... Physically, I am by no means ready. I am going to take it easy the first days of the trip until I get used to riding. 

Equipment
Bicycle (Surly LHT 2011)
Panniers (Ortlieb: back, front, and handle bar bags)
Solar panel (Guide Zero)
Cameras (Gopro Hero 3, Fuji)
Gopro monopod (jaw) 
iPad and IPhone 
Earphones
Earplugs 
Head light
Garmin GPS
Batteries and charger
Cloths: down jacket, fleas, long pants, short pants, cycling shorts, cycling jersey, rain gear, underwear, hat, gloves, buff, cap, T-shirts
Sunglasses
Sunblock
Cook wear(Perimus Multifuel stove, pots and pans, kettle, spices, 
Bicycle repair tools
Three spare tubes, a spare tire, and patches
Lock and cable
Burglar alarm (Deafcon 1)
Water bottles
Foldable water bottles
Water filter with pills
Water purifier 
First aid kit
Bike lights
Extra break pads
Spokes
 




My Equipment

Packed 

Goodbye Party