Persian Islands

A saying goes No human is an island. There was a young man starting a long overland bicycle trip from Europe towards East. On the wide road he met a cyclist. They talked and cycled together. They became friends. Later they said farawell and went their own ways. He met another cyclist. And another. The one who knew someone from before. The network of friends was growing. A small community formed. Was he from Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Slovenia? It doesn’t matter, as all of them were heading to Hormuz island in Persian Gulf to meet each other.

In Teheran Italian motorbiker told me about the spontaneously formed group of 9 cyclists who were traveling togeher through Iran. Everybody started on their own from the place they call home. But even in the dream nobody could imagine getting a company like this.

We reached Hormuz island with Amir in the night before Christmas Eve. We followed the white salty river, pushing our bikes offroad, to the remote beach with several trees. ‘Welcome to paradise,’ our cycling friends welcomed us while we were hugging and shaking hands. The waves of the ocean were breaking in the darkness.

Next day in the afternoon we pedalled together to the only settlement on the island 7 km away. No cars are allowed on Hormuz, but we passed by many tuk-tuks with loud music and motorbikes. Our mission was to get some food for upcoming Christmas dinner. It was funny how disorganised we were. We had no idea how many people to expect as more were still on the way!

At the same time we were preparing small gifts for each other. We put papers with our names in the hat that morning and drew …

What happens if 26 travelers meet for Christmas on the island in Persian Gulf? It starts to snow.

In the evening there was an extraordinary image of travelers and few local friends gathering in the big circle under the trees and preparing their special festive food on countless small camping stoves with blinking headlamps on!

One of the recipes to remember: open a can of tuna, put a tissue paper over to soak the oil, burn the paper and oil for 20 min (meanwhile you can make a tea or coffee over the burning can), remove the burnt paper and enjoy smoked fish. But maybe think first about tuna as an endangered and overhunted species.

We made a fire that was going to burn more or less for another three weeks. Countless gatherings followed, when we were making food on the fire, talking and listening to stories and music while smoking, laughing, watching stars or just falling asleep under canopies trembling in the wind. ‘These were the happiest days of our lives, and we didn’t know it,’ Orhan Pamuk would say. Plankton was glimmering on the seasurface in the night.

Axel, with long bright hair and in his fifties the oldest among us, was chosen for the Santa Claus. Without shirt but with a big smile on, he was taking little presents out of the yellow pannier bag. Everybody put an effort to make a surprise out of very limited resources. We were opening all kind of improvised papers, finding bicycle parts and camping gear, food suplies, toys and even a dry shark wrapped in the nice underwear.

There was laughter and there were moments of being moved to tears. What a strange family, sitting in the sand next to the sea, faces sunburnt and unshaved, hair going crazy, wearing swimming costumes or shorts, far away from home but at the same time so close! We built a feeling of homeliness as we were building our camping village.

There were tents, chairs and hammocks in the shade of trees. Plastic bags with fruits and vegetables were hanging from the branches to save food from cats, ants, clouds of flies and our dog Oscar, adopted from the road in Armenia.

Washed clothes were drying on the ropes, solar pannels were piled over the rocks. There was a place with bottles refuelled at nearby water-purification station and a corner where garbage was collected to be burnt. And all along there were bicycles, bicycles.

It was interesting to observe numerous options and creative solutions, every cyclist was traveling in a different way. At the end bicycle is just two wheels to transport your luggage, a legendary German cyclist Heinz Stücke said after traveling by bike for 50 years.

Realising how uniquely we approach our travels it started to amuse me that everybody was a superhero with specific superpower. One is playing with fire, another speaks with animals, a couple is flying on tandem bicycle, he can tell stories, he cuts the figures out of wood, he is skating and he is baking bread. Isn’t that wonderful?

During the days we were exploring colorful and geologically diverse island, by bikes or on foot. Small crabs were running into their holes in mangrove forest, we crawled through the dark cave with salty walls and danced with the light on in the magic rainbow cave.

Crystals were growing from the red soil and alien sculptures from the coastline of brown rocks. There were snowwhite mountains and there were black too. Everchanging tide was a breathing of a giant living-being, unveiling secret world of snails, cracks and stone shapes. And we were swimming!

There was also a darker side of our freedom, if talking about balance. Everybody went through the short stomach disease, probably caused by numerous flies enjoying our excrements often not covered by sand. Our wounds easily got infected too, at least our Austrian doctor had some work to do.

Sometimes in the night we were surprised by loud music, tuk-tuk was coming with new bunch of local tourists. In general I admired Iranian camping culture, some people were spending weeks or even months in their tents and remote caves, making fires and singing. Here alternative Iranians of all kinds were gathering, artists, outdoor lovers and hippies alike. I was juggling on the beach while a bearded man was playing hungdrum and another fellow a flute. We met under Himalayan-like wall, where they lived.

I kept returning to Hormuz village day after day to meet local friends. For a moment I found a true soulmate among them, M., with a sense of humour so close to mine and affection to film art, photography and dance. We laughed so much, few days in a row!

With another friend, Iman, we were listening to music, playing boardgames or just chilling in our favourite Location cafe, drinking spicy chai karak. He explained a lot of smuggling is happening over the sea there as Dubai is nearby. Police control felt weaker on the island, visitors acted more freely, Iranian women often showed their beautiful hair and – to much bigger surprise – even swam in bikinis! But local population is still quite conservative, covered women were preparing tasty tomoshi sitting on the carpets rolled over the streets.

I got invited to an underground music event by a local musician. She reserved a ticket for me. In the evening I reached a private house, beutifully dressed people were entering the yard and I felt like salty Robinson when my friend without hijab looking like a queen hugged me. But the host sadly asked me to leave as he got threatened by the police visit and didn’t dare to have a foreigner in the house. Later I learned there was a quarrel between two guys and one called the police just to annoy the organiser. Huh.

Empty road in the middle of the night full of stars and with strangely shining landscape and salt crystals besides was often leading me back home, to my tent and familiar sound of the waves.

Yet another holiday was fastly approaching! Iranians don’t celebrate New Year, they gather for Newroz on 21st of March. New Year’s celebration was thus just a special occasion in our camp. This time we made a menu and divided tasks.

I spent a lovely hour waiting in line with locals for a flat bread. Everybody was paying with card, except me. Cards were put in order on wooden desk to know whose turn is it. I had to fold many pieces of bread to fit them in my bag. In the evening we enjoyed baking aubergines on an open fire with Amir.

In the end our carpet was piled with delicacies of all kinds! Iman brought arak (local brandy made of dates) to toast. As gasoline was extremely cheap and sold by the road in plastic bottles everywhere, our cycling piromans created giant fireworks on the beach! Finally we jumped naked in the night sea, into happy New Year!

Soon it was time to pedal again, to hug and wish eachother good luck and safe journey. To promise we are going to meet again one day. We left with Amir towards islands of Qeshm and Hengam before heading to Pakistan.

In Qeshm, the biggest of the Persian islands, we camped in front of the diving center. Next day I did a dive from the boat and encountered a big creature slowly floating through the blue light – a sea turtle! I was amazed, I could easily imagine it carrying the whole world on its back. Colorful showls of fish were moving among rock cliffs and rays were hidden in the muddy ground.

We planned to dive together with Amir again next day, but I woke up with fever and painful leg. My wound got infected. While he was diving, I visited a doctor in basic local hospital. I got antibiotics and drank chai with kind pharmacist. On the way back I tried to extend my visa, but guards didn’t allow me to enter the police-office building in shorts. Anyway, next day officer informed me I need to go to Bandar Abbas for extension, as they didn’t have computer system on the island.

In the evening of the same day, completely unexpected, I had to say goodbye to Amir after more then a month spent together. He got a call from his relatives. His father was hospitalised in intensive care in the West Bank, Palestine, because of a lung infection. In the following hours Amir decided to leave bicycle in the diving center and fly to Palestine. There was a serious risk his father was dying.

We kept in touch and just recently met again after 3 months in the North of Pakistan. I was so happy to see him in front of the door in the mountain village, soaked wet after riding on the jeep’s rooftop in the rain! He was back in the saddle, on the way to China. Unfortunately his father passed away after he was transported to Germany with an emergency flight.

After Amir left I continued cycling on my own towards Hengam, a small island known for its remoteness and peacefullness. On the way I was catching a group of cyclists – do I know them? I realised they were Iranians, guitar protruding out of their luggage.

In the early night I reached small port and got on the boat, the only way to reach Hengam. Armin, a Swiss cyclist, sent me coordinates of a camping spot 12 km from the only village. I joined him and Salome, Georgian girl, who followed him here to start cycling together. He organised bike with the bags and camping gear for her in Bandar Abbas. What a challenge was waiting for them! We didn’t know we were going to cycle for weeks together and meet again and again.

I spent a magic week on the remote beach with occasional seeings of gazelles coming to graze. I made friends with Iranians and did some snorkeling. Our neighbour was a gray-haired woman camping there for a month, they called her mum, and she cooked delicious meals. Eggs with dates for breakfast and spaghetti with fresh gambers for lunch in the middle of nature …

I was reading in the hammock and exploring the island by bicycle. Armin and Salome had left towards Chabahar. In the village I found a nice cafe to meet locals. I was invited for breakfast by lovely family. A girl with the pink ears is a local kickboxing medalist, can you believe?

Before reaching back to the continent I made a 200-km detour over Qeshm island. Headwind was not comfortable at first, but it helped me to go the other way smoothly. I cycled through endless rock canyons and visited big floating mangrove forest. Chaahkooh canyon with its crossroad of giant cracks and ancient wells was deffinitely a highlight!

With morning ferry I crossed to Bandar Abbas and finally started to cycle towards Pakistan. After the city I entered into meditative emptiness.

Deserts with dry bushes were stretching under the stone hills of different shades and formations. At some point even locals call them Mars mountains. I camped in an abandoned palmtrees plantage.

Riverbanks were dry-cracked. Camels were grazing beside rare trees and sometimes crossing the road. Balochistan! Wind was blowing the sand around, there was a small tornado in the distance. White waves of sand were running over the asphalt road turning the world into a mystical fog.

My mind got empty. I could smell a dead camel before seing the body beside the road. Camel after camel, so many traffic accidents! Rare pick-ups of gasoline smugglers were running crazily fast. An abstract thought slowly formed in my head summing up my experience: ‘at the end of the world waiting for the end of time.’

A young man, Mudi, invited me to overnight at his home in Siirik. I needed a rest day. We were juggling on the soft carpets of his family’s guest room. I ate dinner with his brothers, lovely but shy sisters and mother wearing traditional dresses.

He and his friends took me on the boat to beautiful mangrove forest. In the evening we chilled in his friend’s shop packed with shiny wedding decoration. Standing on the dusty street in the night suddenly a strong feeling overcame me, fuck, I’m really far away from home and it’s so strange and rough here in this alien world.

Back to the desert I was meeting men on motorbikes with scarfs bended over their heads. They looked dangerous but were the friendliest people! Sometimes they were just shepherds running after their camels on motorbikes.

Before the coastal village of Darak I caught Armin and Salome, resting under the tree. She had just fallen of the bike and her knees were bleeding. Where the spectacular sand dunes meet the sea we made a fire from palmtree’s wood and camped. It was great to have a company again.

Sand dunes were white and cold in the night as if they turned into a snow landscape. I wandered around barefoot and wondered. We had a swim in the morning but soon it got very hot and we were on the move again.

In Chabahar I stayed at Jusuf’s home. He was wearing white shalwar kameez and speaking perfect English. He helped us to arrange last things before leaving over the border, even creating a substitute of the lost patent screw for Armin’s bike.

If I accidentally glimpsed a woman in his home, she dissapeared in a moment. Children were bringing food and cay in the guest room and trying out their English skills. Once his old aunt came to sit with me, she just wanted to see that strange traveler with the bicycle.

After few days I moved to Zeinab’s home with a nicely decorated yard and hostel-like accomodation, where my friends were staying. We celebrated wedding anniversary with a bunch of local motorbikers. 

I spent hours in the port among picturesque wooden boats observing balance of the tide. I helped to push the boat out of the water too.

We followed the scenic coastal road to lovely Beris and camped on the cliff above the sleepy port. I tried out my new tent I received from Armin, my old one was falling apart after years of usage. We stayed another night on the cliff, picnicing, juggling and drinking cay.

While riding through unknown bazaar in the afternoon a car stopped beside and a man invited us to his home. In the small village everybody belonged to the same family as for centuries they were marrying only among cousins. For the first time we put on traditional Baloch costumes.

We joined the wedding preparations and were separated by gender in two different yards. With Armin we sat down among men with scarfs knotted around their knees and got served tasty camel milk and fruits. From behind the wall we could hear music and women joyfully screaming.

We were eating along huge carpet when a light rain poured over us, first time in months. In the room hired musicians were playing traditional music and guests could whisper their wish for the next song in their ears.

Last patch of desert laid between us and Rimdan border terminal, recently open for foreigners travelling without motorised vehicles. Armin and Salome missed the last turn and I was waiting for them on the road without phone signal. Finally I bought all our food suplies for the next 10 days according to plan. My bike had never been so heavy before. And I cycled towards the border to find them. They luckily reached while I was waiting for them beside the empty road in the light evening sandstorm.

We camped for the last time in Iranian desert 20 km from the border, taking care of all suspicious photos and contacts on our mobiles. We were ready for the next chapter of our adventure, Pakistan!