Sunday, 31 August 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: A Stormy Night in Pamir;Today: 76 km; Total: 295 km

May 10, 2014
As we were packing up in the morning, we were sweating from the heat. We biked for 20 km when we got to Kulyab. It was very much like an Afghan town you might see in the movies. Such a dirt and chaos, no presence of driving rules, cars parked wherever, lots of honking, a lot of vendors in every corner, etc.

We needed to change $100, so we went to a "bank". The policeman at the entrance asked us what we wanted and when we told him, he called someone out on the street and asked us to give him the money so he could exchange! By then, some people had gathered around us, so we didn't want the people to see or know that we were changing money; $100 is a lot of money here. We told the guy we would be back later and went to a corner to take out $100 from our bag. We didn't want them to see where we hide our money. We went behind the bank to do so. And when we had our $100 in our pocket, the guy showed up from the back door of the bank and asked us to do the exchange. I  knew the exchange rate so I asked about the guy's rate. His rate was the same, so we did the exchange and took off. On our way, we bought 6 boiled eggs from a vendor and had them outside the town.

We resumed our paddling in a very steep road. It was scorchingly hot. After an hour of cycling. We couldn't take the heat anymore. It was 12:30 in a village when we took a three-hour break. Three hours because it was impossible to bike in that heat. The villagers would pass by and just say hi. Apparently, it was a no brainer why we had stopped by a grave to seek refuge in the shade. After a couple of hours, a guy showed up and tried so hard to communicate with us. I was in no mood to show that I knew Tajik language, so I played dumb, but he had a big bottle of beer and had just started to chat. After three hours, some clouds blocked the sun, so we took off. We kept riding in a long steep road meandering up a mountain. At times, it was so difficult to be on the bike that I walked my bike--little did I know that I was over stretching my right calf. I realized it later at night when the pain started.

At about 5 pm, we saw a boy riding a bicycle with no front tire. I filmed him and asked him where we could find a shop. He showed us the only shop (magazine, as they called it) in the area. We walked our bike into a house and the "shop keeper" showed up with all her goods: a plastic bag full of biscuits, chips, etc., and three bottles of scented water, none of which we were interested in. I asked her if she had bread, vegetables, eggs, rice, spaghetti, milk, etc. we walked out with a kilo of rice, three onions, and a kilo of carrot.

According to the shop keeper, there was a spring on top of the mountain where we could spend the night. It was very difficult to reach the spring.  Finally at 7 pm we reached the spring when we did not have energy to even go 50 meters further.

We pitched up our tent, washed ourselves with two litters of water, and made dinner: rice, boiled carrot, onion, and the special source of energy by Kaveh. The sky was clear when we went to sleep, but ...

In the middle of night at about 2:30, I woke up to the worst thunderstorm only second to what I had seen in Italy. It was coming down like you wouldn't believe. We were rather close to a creak, so I was afraid the flood would get us.  I could hear the water in the creak getting louder and louder. I got up, put on my feather jacket and rain gear, got my money and passport--ready to scape. I took a look outside the tent. A lot of water was running around and under the tent. After two hours of non-stop storm, it quieted down and I could relax.

He Ran to Bring us Tea and Fresh Bread

Second Round of Tea with Fresh Bread

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: An Easy Ride; Today:119 km; Total: 204 km

May 9, 2014
I woke up at six to a somewhat foggy morning. I went to the edge of the hill and enjoyed the
picturesque scenery. Then I went back to sleep!
We left the camping spot at 9:30. At about noon, an old linesman waved us to stop and invited us for some tea. He was 65; to impress us, he did 10 push-ups on his three fingers! With tea, he offered us what he had--bread. There were some other guys too. They all were very funny.

The scenery got more and more beautiful. It rained a little bit. At about 5, we kept an eye open for a possible camping spot. After an hour of looking, frustratedly, we rode our bikes into a village and looked for a place. We finally found one. It was very hot then, and we both were sweating terribly. It was too bad that there was no water near our spot. We needed a wash very badly. When we were cooking, a guy showed up and said that he was the owner of the place. It didn't take us long to make friends with him and ask for some water to wash ourselves. After taking a shower with two litters of water, we had our super dinner (rice, potato, carrot, onion, tuna, and some kind of fortified fat that Kaveh had prepared for my trip).

The Police Officers Who Let us Camp behind their Starion
The View from our Camping Spot
This Little Guy Wants to Play
The View in the Morning

Friday, 29 August 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Camping in the Clouds; today 85 km

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Camping in the Clouds; today 85 km

May 8, 2014

And finally, let the pedaling begin. We woke up at 5 in the morning and left the hostel at 6. Our bicycles were terribly loaded. In the city, there still was huge presence of the police. Every five meters, there was a cop standing guard. The Turkmenistan president has been visiting Dushanbe.

Very soon we started going up the mountains. We wanted to take it easy for the first day, but still with the load we both were carrying, even taking it easy was difficult. We passed through two tunnels and a beautiful lake where we stopped at a police station to see if we could get some water. It was 4 o'clock so we decided to camp behind the police station overlooking the lake.

After washing ourselves in the bathroom of the station, we made dinner with wild mushroom we bought from some locals and let our withered bodies rest.

The Start

Some Cheerful Kids
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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:

Another one:

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.