Catharina Robbertze

Catharina Robbertze

We’re halfway through Iran and all the hassle of getting into the country: authorizations, visas, getting the right clothing together and mentally preparing for 18 days with nothing but water and cold drinks to quench our cyclists’ thirst is proving to be worth it.

So far, the highlight for me on this trip has been the people we’ve met along the way. The hospitality of the Iranians has taken this experience to a whole new level though.

12 Days in and we’ve stopped counting how many times we’ve been welcomed to the country.

12 Days in and we’ve stopped trying to remember how many times we’ve been offered tea, bread, nuts, sweets and cold drinks from complete strangers next to the road.

12 Days in and the interesting conversations with locals about the Persian culture, religion and politics don’t look like they’re about to end before we leave the country.

Not only are the locals curious to know what our lives are like back home but they want to tell us everything about themselves. Random strangers will walk up to you on the street and start a conversation and trying to get leave without being rude can prove challenging as they will not let you go until they are happy they’ve created a positive impression of Iran in your mind.

We’ve also been introduced to strange parts of the culture. Like the concept of taroof, where a shopkeeper, taxi driver or anyone else will tell you you don’t have to pay for something as you are their guest. Instead of accepting this you have to insist on paying… instead if they actually do want to give it to you for free… Then you’re supposed to accept the offer graciously. Knowing the difference between these two cases can be quite difficult though.

We’ve learnt so much about the country and the people and been made to feel so welcome that the issues that concerned us before we arrived have been erased from our minds completely. The discomfort of cycling with long sleeves and trousers on a hot day, the fact that we can’t enjoy a cold beer after a long day in the saddle and the fact that they don’t serve coffee at most hotels’ breakfasts don’t seem like such big issues any more.

Iran, a place shrouded in mystery and threats for most, has opened its arms wide and welcomed us with a great, big smile.