We sit here in a cavernous waiting room, waiting for a ferry to take us from Iran to the United Arab Emirates. We have six months’ of cycling behind us, as evidenced by our sun-lined faces, our scuffed panniers and our super-strong thighs.
What has the last six months taught us?
That we love cycling, both as a means to an end and as an end in itself.
Our bikes allow us to experience the world at a manageable pace, throwing us into contact with people we would not otherwise have met. They also keep us fit, and the joy of hurtling downhill after a long slog up will never grow old. Most importantly, our bikes mean we don’t have to deal with the stressful, boring business of arranging public transport from A to B, the curse of the backpacker.
That we hate cycling sometimes, and that’s OK.
Three months of cycling through winter conditions was pretty tough. We only realised how grim it had been when a friend back home mentioned she hadn’t been out on her bike for a while because the weather has been so bad. Of course, if we were at home we may not bother heading outside to face icy roads, bitter winds and snow storms – yet we were dealing with this every day.
As we pedalled to the ferry terminal in Bandar Abbas, southern Iran, Tim turned round and grinned.
‘Finally, it feels like a holiday again‘.
We are both looking forward to sending our winter boots, spare sleeping bags and warm clothes home, returning to our relatively lightweight bikes.
That we are a good team.
We met up with a friend in Iran who commented that we have started communicating with each other in our own language, made up of grunts and in-jokes. Of course, we fall out occasionally, but six months in, we still spend more time laughing than not. At the risk of jinxing it, we make a pretty decent partnership (now pass me that sick bucket).
That ‘tourist sites’ are all too often a disappointment.
The best memories of our trip so far have involved places you won’t find in the Lonely Planet. We spend the majority of our time pedalling in the quiet spaces between honeypot tourist destinations, hopping between small villages and taking the quiet roads wherever possible. With a couple of exceptions (Venice and Esfahan spring to mind), on the odd occasions when we do make a diversion or cough up the entry fee for a ‘must-see’ attraction, we are left feeling a bit, well, hollow.
Being led around a packed cathedral, told which waterfall to look at or which mountain to visit, just doesn’t do it for us. Far preferable is the view which takes you by surprise as you round a corner, the river you chance upon at the end of a day when looking for a quiet camp spot, or the deserted church stranded and forgotten amid the fields. This isn’t to say that all mass tourism is bad – those honeypot sites are usually popular for a reason. Instead, it is simply a reminder that the most rewarding travel experiences may be found away from the guidebooks, so keeping an open mind and considering the road less travelled may reap multiple benefits.
That we make the rules.
We debated for a long time before changing our route, heading south for the Emirates, Oman and India, instead of ploughing on through Central Asia and China. We didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of taking a flight to India, thus interrupting our unbroken passage across the earth’s surface. Similarly, we have reluctantly taken a couple of buses: one to enter Iran and one to leave (due to a combination of winter-fatigue, visa issues and the need to reach Dubai in order to meet family there).
Was this cheating?
I bet you don’t.