Monday, 22 December 2008
A long time ago (when I was a teenager) a slang term for "girlfriend" was "Goose". Well, in less than 3 weeks now I've chased across India from Kolkata to Mangalore for 2400 km to catch up with Leana and her sister Amanda. These 2 have been cycling down the West coast from Mumbai since Leana's recovery from injury, Amanda joining in for a 2-month cycling "holiday". I may have been getting lonely or something, so I decided to try and catch up with Leana before Christmas. The chase was complicated by a mysterious illness which delayed my departure from Kolkata and hampered my progress for the next week or so (painkillers and anti-nausea medicine kept me going). At one stage I also had to replace the front wheel hub on my bike (fortunately I've been carrying a spare), a tricky enough task made somewhat more challenging by spectators all keen to become involved. Broken spokes and continuous punctures due to expired spare tubes added a measure of variation to the long days spent on the bike. One advantage of travelling by bicycle is that my route took me through areas where foreign tourists are seldom seen, and I've been endlessly photographed and "interviewed", and I've given numerous autographs to people who would otherwise not have known my name. I've spent nights in many dew-covered fields, cheap rooms, and even on verandah's of vacant village buildings. One of the most interesting things along the route was the numerous Hindu temples and statues of the Gods, and I was also surprised to see an extra-ordinary Catholic church amongs these (photo). In many of the areas through which I cycled the rice harvest was coming to an end, and it was interesting to see the range of technology used to transport the grain from the field to the threshing floor (see photo of labourers carrying rice attached to bamboo poles). The last day of the chase was down a winding mountain road of which the surface had completely disintegrated due to recent rains and the churning of many truck tyres. I must have looked a sorry sight covered in dust and sweat when I arrived at my destination, but the nice room and welcoming drink soon made the previous 3 weeks seem like a vague dream. Now, after a rest and having scrubbed everything from the soles of my shoes to the top of my cycling helmet, I feel like a new person (of course, I was also very pleased to see Leana again after nearly 2 and a half months apart). I'm looking forward to a more relaxing time, at least for the next few weeks. My bike, Old Saartjie, is the one now in desparate need of some serious attention. Daily distances cycled since Kolkata have been:- Karagpur 142 km; Baleshwar 117 km; Panikoli 108 km; Khorda 158 km; Balugaon 48 km; Gopalpur 77 km; Narassanapeta 137 km; Visakhapatnam 147 km; Annavaram 139 km; Siddanthan 116 km; Bapularadu 122 km; Guntur 130 km; Kavali 135 km; Naidupet 129 km; Chittoor 139 km; Kolar 118 km; Kunigal 116 km; Channatayapatna 102 km; Sakleshpur 93 km; and Mangalore 119 km. Total since start of this journey in Cape Town is 32 997 km. Merry Xmas everyone!
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Three weeks of cycling through Bangladesh has been an interesting experience. This is the most densely populated country on earth, with about 160 million people packed into a relatively small space. I was literally never alone - wherever I looked I could see people, and when I stopped a large crowd would immediately gather around to stare. Very little English is spoken, and road signs as well as writing on buildings etc. is mostly in Bangla (different alphabet). However, I found the people to be extremely friendly and welcoming, often buying me tea at the roadside stalls and thanking me for visiting their country. There are very few tourists, and in these 3 weeks I only spotted a handful of foreigners. In the cities and towns the main form of transport is the cycle riksha, often clogging the narrow streets and bringing traffic to a stand-still. In the capital Dhaka, a city of 15 million, there are apparently more than 600 000 of these riksha's. Flat-bed "cargo riksha's" as well as bicycles are also prevalent. Bangladesh is a beautiful green country with water everywhere (reportedly more water flows through this country than through the whole of Europe). Many of the rivers are navigable, and boats of all shapes and sizes are used to ferry passengers and a variety of cargo. On a few occasions I had to take a ferry ride across wide rivers where there are no bridges. In other places I crossed bridges a few k's long. I also visited the 2nd largest city (Chittagong), where the ship-breaking yards on the beaches North of the city can be seen from the road (I was not permitted to take photo's or even enter the yards). I also went further South-East (almost as far as the road goes) to swim at the beach of the "holiday city" Cox's Bazar. In Comilla I was interviewed by the editor of the local newpaper, Bakin Rabbi. He and his wife (Shahan) invited me to stay for the night, and they fed me so well that I must have made a big dent in their food budget. The most dangerous thing I found in Bangladesh is the continuous stream of busses on the main roads. The bus drivers obviously have visions of Grand Prix racing as they charge flat-out through villages along the crowded narrow roads (I did see quite a number of accidents). I suppose the next most dangerous thing was at Cox's Bazar, where I woke during the night to find a cat burglar on the ledge outside my 3rd floor window fishing for valuables through the burglar bars with a bamboo pole (he managed to escape with 2 banana's). I've now returned to India, and am back in Kolkata with a brand-new visa. All I need now is money, as my stash has just about run out. Daily distances cycled since my last report are:- Bangoan 81 km; Jessore 48 km; Faridpur 98 km; Manikganj 68 km; Dhaka 68 km; Comilla 95 km; Chittagong 163 km; Cox's Bazar 172 km; Chittagong 152 km; Feni 98 km; Comilla 60 km; Dhaka 97 km; Faridpur 128 km; Jessore 98 km; Kolkata 127 km. Total distance since the start of this jouney is 30 605 km.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Since leaving Delhi it seems that I've been playing a bit of a survival game on the roads, particularly the first part of the route. About half the distance of this leg was through the state of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. Through this area I was traveling on a narrow, crowded, bumpy road with 2-way traffic. If I said that I was run off the road a hundred times a day I wouldn't be exagerating by much (mostly on-coming overtaking trucks). Varanasi was my 1st rest stop, where I arrived in the chaos of traffic jams and narrow winding alleys. This city on the Ganga river is the most holy place for hindu's, and people come here not only to bathe but also to cremate their dead at the waterside ghats. I was fortunate to experience a pre-dawn row-boat ride up the river along the ghats (photo), from where you can see cremations in progress, hundreds of people bathing, people worshiping and ringing bells at the temples, and even "laughter yoga". After Varanasi I cycled mostly on a new highway, with a diversion to visit Boddhgaya - the origin of Buddhism. I visited the temple built at the place where the Prince sat under the Bodhi tree and became enlightened, thus becoming the Buddha (photo inside temple). While I was on the road India celebrated the festival of Divali, a big annual occasion involving lots of fireworks. In some of the towns one side of the highway had been closed off to make way for the festivities, and some people took the opportunity to dry their rice in the road or even use it as a threshing floor (photo). It is also common to decorate animals such as cows and goats at this time (photo of painted horns). In India anything goes, and the dual highway often became just two parallel roads with traffic in both directions (especially in the vicinity of towns). Now I'm in Kolkata, resting my backside and recovering from a sprained thumb and bruised knee due to a fall on the way in to this city (I was trying to avoid being crushed by a truck which was speeding up the off-ramp on the highway). Kolkata is a large (15 mil), interesting and chaotic (Indian) city, and I've walked and taken the metro around a bit to see the sights (photo: Victoria Memorial). Daily distances cycled since Delhi have been:- Garmukteshwar 101 km; Rampur 104 km; Miranpur 108 km; Sitapur 130 km; Lucknow 98 km; Sultanpur 146 km; Varanasi 158 km; Sasaram 125 km; Boddhgaya 143 km; Bagodar 134 km; Asansol 139 km; Burdwan 111 km; and Kolkata 115 km. Total distance since Cape Town is 29 052 km.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Well, I haven't cycled much since my last report from Rishikesh. We left there as soon as Leana had sufficiently recovered from her illness to be able to cycle again. Unfortunately, 2 days later Leana was knocked down by a motorbike and took a heavy fall. As a result of the accident she couldn't use her left arm, and she seemed a bit concussed - a black eye soon developed. This sort of accident is bound to happen, as the roads are crowded and the driving is hectic. We were not far from Delhi, so the following day Leana took a taxi while I cycled to the city. For a few days we stored our bikes in Delhi and travelled by bus and train to Jaipur (Pink City / Water Palace), and to Agra (Taj Mahal). Eventually, after a week Leana sought medical attention and discovered that she'd broken her collarbone and dislocated her shoulder in the fall. Now I'm on my own again because 3 days ago Leana left for Mumbai by train. From there she flew to Cape Town for a visit, and to celebrate her mothers' 80th birthday (the break will also give her a chance to recover from her injuries). I, myself, only have a month left on my Indian visa. Fortunately I've managed to obtain a visa for Bangladesh, so I'll move in that direction from Delhi tomorrow. There is still a lot of India which I'd like to see, so I'll probably return (anyway, Bangladesh is a dead-end as the land borders with Burma are closed). Distances cycled since Rishikesh were:- Haridwar loop 36 km; Muzzafarnagar 113 km; Ghaziabad 85 km; and New Delhi 35 km. Total distance cycled so far on this trip is 27 440 km.
Saturday, 27 September 2008
The Holy Ganga (Ganges) River emerges from the foothills of the Himalaya at a place called Rishikesh (also known for a visit by “The Beetles” in their hey-day). Due to its location Rishikesh is a Hindu holy city, with crowds of pilgrims crossing the suspension bridges to the temples each day. It is also the self-proclaimed world centre for yoga and such-like things. We’ve been here in Rishikesh for about a week now, because Leana became rather ill the day after we arrived. We suspected Dengue Fever, but there was no medical doctor close by so Leana consulted a herbalist/yoga sort of practitioner who said she’d been poisoned by mal-digestion (and he prescribed lots of unpalatable herbs from his shop). During the consultation I found a lot of what “the doctor” said interesting and sometimes it even sounded plausible, but he lost me when he said that “cycling wasn’t exercise, but something else which just drained the body and wore it down”. Anyway, there is no treatment for Dengue Fever, so hopefully Leana recovers within the next week (which is about the same period which the prescribed herbs would take to show effect). There are some wonderful temples and shrines here, as there are in the other places which we’ve visited so far in India. We haven’t traveled very far since leaving Chandigarh due to more bike trouble, and we also had to shelter from the late Monsoon rain in Dehradun for a few days (where we visited the giant World Peace Buddhist Stupa and statue). This region of Northern India is green and forested, with some hilly areas. However, India is quite a crowded place, and there is almost constant villages and chaotic traffic through which we’ve cycled. The last 20 km to the hilltop town of Nahan was up a narrow, steep, winding road with a poor surface, and we only arrived there about 2 hours after dark. Not only do these towns have holy cows wandering the streets, there are also troops of monkeys causing havoc (pulling washing off the line – and stealing food wherever a window or door is left open). One of my t-shirts (with a hole bitten in it) had to be retrieved from a tree, and I was almost robbed of a bunch of bananas while returning to our room with the purchase. Daily distances cycled since Chandigarh were:- Nahan 103 km; Dehradun 98 km; Rishikesh 49 km; and Midway (loop) 35 k. Total distance since Cape Town – 27171 km.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
We left Lahore with memories of the wonderfully chaotic Anarkali Market area where we stayed. We’d also visited giant- and beautifully-crafted mosques, as well as the Fort dating from Mogul times. I also left with the dreaded “Lahore Throat” due to the air pollution – the resultant snotty cold still persists. Only a short hop (or peddle) and we were into the Punjab province of India, which is relatively affluent compared to Pakistan (and the rest of India, I’m told). First stop was Amritsar where we stayed in the Golden Temple complex – this temple is the most holy place of the Sikh faith, with thousands of pilgrims constantly present. After a number of months in “dry” countries I was on another mission, and took a cycle-riksha in search of a cool beer. Upon my return to the dormitory the bearded turban-clad Sikh caretakers weren’t impressed (they are tee-totalling vegetarians). The following morning we shared the free simple vegetarian meal with hundreds of local pilgrims, sitting cross-legged on the floor (I’m still trying to untangle myself, as sitting cross-legged is not a natural thing for me). After damaging the rear-wheel-rim on my bike up in the Karakoram, I’ve been in search of a suitable replacement rim. Eventually my luck ran out, and after a number of flat tyres it was time to bury the offending part. Just past the town of Kurali I was stranded, but a local businessman named GPS Munday saw the predicament and came to my rescue. First he took me (and the rim) to Kurali on his schooter, but to no avail. He then organized a truck (with driver) to take both Leana and myself (and bikes) the 20 km to Chandigarh where we were dropped at a hotel and taken to a suitable bike shop (GPS had followed us all the way on his schooter, just to ensure that we got sorted). Surprisingly, here in Chandigarh I also found a replacement for my expired cycle computer, as well as “leak-sealant” for the tubes. Chandigarh is a modern planned city, unique to India (reminding one of Islamabad in Pakistan). We’ve visited the main attractions here such as the man-made Sukhna Lake, and the Rock Garden (created from stones and rubbish by Mr Nek Chand, since the 1950’s – quite impressive). I’m not sure where we’ll go from here, but we’ll probably leave tomorrow. Daily distances cycled since Lahore were:- Amritsar 67 km; Jalandhar 78 km; Rupnagar 115 km; Chandigarh 25 km.
Sunday, 7 September 2008
The mountainous area of Northern Pakistan is sometimes referred to as “The Roof of the World”. This is where the Himalaya-, Karakoram-, and Hindukush mountain ranges meet. Many of the highest mountains in the world are here, and we could cycle close by such peaks as Rakapohshi and Nanga Parbat. There are also many spectacular glaciers in the area, some of which come down practically to the road. The rushing rivers in the gorges (such as the Hunza-, Gilgit-, and Indus Rivers) are fed from these glaciers. Although we didn’t get visa’s for China, we wanted to visit this Northern region and decided to go as far as the Chinese border anyway. Instead of cycling the same road there and back, we took a bus up to the terminal at Alihabad in the Hunza valley. From Hunza we cycled on to the border (although we did get a lift on the last section up the pass – allowing us to leave our heavy luggage at the border town of Sost in the valley below). The Karakoram Highway (KKH) passes through the mountains, and is the land link between Pakistan and China. The term “highway” is a bit of a misnomer as the road is very narrow and prone to landslides. In many places the road surface has been destroyed, and once we even had to wait (dodging falling rocks) while the debris from a landslide was being cleared. However, the KKH is an engineering masterpiece, often hugging sheer cliffs high above the rivers, and cutting through spectacular narrow gorges. The border is up on the Khunjerab Pass, 4733 metres high. From the top of the pass we then cycled all the way back to Islamabad. Mostly, we stayed in small local hotels or camped (one camp site was just below the snout of the Passu Glacier). Understandably this is a very isolated region, so imagine my surprise when I came across a local youngster wearing a Western Province Rugby cap! (we obviously weren't the first South African visitors). As we moved South on our way back to Islamabad, we cycled through a conservative tribal area called Indus Kohistan. Here we had vivid memories of Ethiopia, as the local children also fancy throwing stones at tourists on bicycles. Other foreigners cycling the area seem to fear the stones more than the hills and road conditions, but we’d had a good dose of it in Africa and were now somewhat immune. The sharp rocks and potholes in the road took its toll on my heavy bike, causing a number of punctures and a damaged wheel rim. On our return to the camp site in Islamabad we were surprised to find some people still there from when we’d left more than 2 weeks before (waiting for visa’s!). At least our Indian visa’s were ready, although we were scolded for not picking them up at the stipulated time. We spent a few more days in Islamabad before moving on (the camp site is a convenient place for sorting out ourselves and the bikes). I did a makeshift repair job on the wheel rim, and the only spare tubes we could find were of such poor quality that one was leaking when I tested it in the shop. It was a case of “de-je-vous” for me when we left Islamabad for Lahore (at least I knew the way, and where we could overnight). On the second day we were struck by an incredible dust storm which turned the sky into night at 14h00 (I had enough sand in my ears to produce a crop of potatoes). Fortunately we found shelter under the dilapidated roof of a disused tea-house before the rain and hail came down (together with a bunch of locals and a few stray dogs). Wondering where we could stay the night if the storm persisted I spotted a “hotel” sign, but I was informed by a local that we were at that moment sheltering in what used to be the hotel. Now I’m in Lahore again, but staying in a different area than 6 weeks ago when I passed through the city (and Leana has not been here before, so it’s new for her anyway). The Indian border is less than 50 km from here, so we’ll head that way in a day or two. Daily distances cycled since first leaving Islamabed were:- Rawalpindi 17 km; Karimabad 7 km; Passu 51 km; Sost 41 km; Khunjerab Pass (down) 87 km; Karimabad 94 km; Gilgit 106 km; Thalechi 67 km; Chilas 71 km; Dassu 117 km; Pattan 53 km; Batagram 96 km; Abottabad 98 km; Islamabad 124 km; Jhelum 123 km; Gujranwala 100 km; and Lahore 82 km. (Total since start of journey in Cape Town - 26 601 km).
Thursday, 21 August 2008
After leaving Lahore I had a fairly uneventful trip to Islamabad, where I met up with Leana again. She'd just returned from a very enjoyable trekking adventure to the K2 base camp. After 2 days in a hotel we moved across the road to the more affordable camp site for foreign tourists. The regular monsoon downpours, the humidity, and the ferocious mosquitos were the only real niggles, but we soon managed to cope with those things (or at least to tolerate them). The camp site is a good place to meet other travellers such as other cyclists, motorcyclists, back-packers, and overlanders. Like us, almost everyone at the camp site was waiting for some sort of travel documentation. We wasted a lot of time (and some money) on our unsuccessful attempt to get a visa for China (we'll probably give it another go from somewhere else later - after the Beijing Olimpics). Instead, we've decided to travel to India after leaving Pakistan. While waiting, we took a train trip to the city of Peshawar, an area of strong Taliban influence not far from the Afghan border. We spent a few interesting days in this seemingly chaotic place (see "street picture") before returning to Islamabad. Islamabad is a very "organised", relatively modern city which has been specifically built as the capital of Pakistan. There's not that much to see, but one of the places we did visit was the Shah Faisal Mosque (there's some joke about missiles in the minarettes). Islamabad's sister city, Rawalpindi, is only 15 km away and is a more typical Pakistani city. Right now we are in the Hunza Valley, situated in the Karakoram mountains of Northern Pakistan. We've been up to the Chinese border, and have cycled amongst some of the highest mountains in the world (picture - Shishpar, 7611 m). Now we are working our way back to Islamabad to pick up our Indian visas. (See the next report for this part of our trip - hopefully as soon as we're back in Islamabad. Right now I'm not prepared to battle through another report on this slow internet - not to mention the power failures. Apologies to those who're waiting for me to reply, but I haven't even bothered trying to open my e-mail). The daily distances I cycled from Lahore to Islamabad were:- Gujrat 123 km; Jhelum 57 km; Rawalpindi 126 km; and Islamabad 16 km.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Since I've been in this country I've been asked by a number of curious Pakistani's why I'd decided to visit these warm regions at the height of summer. Of course, they first ask the other usual questions (Name? Country? Number of children? Religion? Married? - more or less in that sequence). Dropping down from the dry moderate highlands around Quetta to the plains of the Indus river and its tributaries, conditions became rather uncomfortable (upper 40's with humidity near saturation). From time to time my police escorts found it necessary to cool of in streams or canals along the way (photo). The escorts started soon after Quetta, and at times it was difficult for me to keep my bike out of their van, especially during the heat of the day when they weren't keen to follow me around at cycling pace. Fortunately I managed to stay on the road for most of the distance between overnight points each day. I was compelled to proceed to the next large town or city where there was a hotel, and on a number of occasions I was prevented from leaving the hotel in the evening by an armed guard posted there for "my own safety". The morning when I left for Lahore I didn't notice my escorts anywhere so I made a break for it, and have been enjoying a wonderful few days of freedom. I've stayed in the cheapest hotels (3 to 7 U$), where it doesn't matter if the rats are playing "hop-scotch" in the room or that there may be an impressive collection of mouldy mango pips in the bedside cupboard. What really matters is that there must be a large and powerful ceiling fan in the room. Unfortunately the frequent electricity cuts are a problem, and I've spent more than one night sleeping on the roof of hotels amongst the locals (even they don't dare return to their "sauna" before the fan starts spinning again!). The power failures also make it very frustrating to do anything on the internet - this is my 5th attempt in the past 2 days to publish this post - so please forgive me if I haven't replied to your e-mails. The streets of the villages in the areas I've cycled through have been chaotic, with obstacles coming from all directions (trucks, busses, taxis, tractors, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, bicycles, ox-carts, camel-carts, buffalo-carts, horse-carts, donkey-carts, hawker-trolleys, careless pedestrians, and an assortment of wandering animals). The local driving is rather suspect, and even the police escort van bumped me into a donkey cart one day. A few days ago I had a more serious fall, and have decided to spend a few recovery days in Lahore, where I am now. This time I selected a room which not only has a fan, but also a TV (so I can watch the current SA vs Eng cricket test). I also have a "wonderful" view from the room over the city (photo). Pakistan is a cricket-crazy country, and the moment I mention that I'm from South Africa I become an instant celebrity. For a while I was also a bit of a celebrity after appearing on the TV news about a week ago, but that fame seems to be wearing off now. From Lahore I plan to cycle on towards Islamabad, where I will probably meet up with Leana when she returns from her mountain trekking next week. Distances cycled since Quetta were:- Sibi 92 km; Sukkur 139 km; Rahim Yar Khan 101 km; Bahawalpur 103 km; Multan 55 km; Khanewal 59 km; Sahiwal 140 km; Pattoki 82 km; Lahore 99 km.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
Not long after leaving Tehran the countryside turned into semi-desert (much like the drier areas of the Karoo in SA). It became rather hot, and even the breeze felt like a hair-dryer in my face. Soon Leana began to suffer from the heat, and by the 3rd morning she was too ill to continue cycling, so she took a bus to Pakistan. She's obviously recovered now, because at the moment she is on a trekking adventure in the Northern mountains. It was also necessary for us to get a move-on towards the border due to the never-ending visa story (our Iranian visas were close to expiry). As I pushed on towards the South-East it became even hotter and more arid. In the Kerman region the production of pistacio nuts is big business, and the orchards are irrigated by pumping up ground water which flows in channels. In the heat these water channels were very welcome, and I made regular stops there to stock up on cool drinking water, and to soak my clothes. By the time I'd reached the oasis city of Bam (recently ravished by earthquake), I was well inside the proper desert. At one stage a truck driver informed me that the temperature was 55 degrees celcius, and the road ahead would be even hotter (my subsequent experience confired that he'd spoken the truth). At the time it was my opinion that only "Mad Dogs" and "Just-as-mad-Cyclists" wander around that area in the middle of summer. Drinking water quickly became hot enough to make tea, but "hot water" is better than "no water", so I made sure that I stayed properly hydrated. I was also able to do some "scientific experiments", and noticed that a 2 litre plastic bottle of solid ice turned to hot water in less than 30 minutes. The heat, however, was not my main problem. Apparently tourists are regularly abducted in the area (both Iranian and Pakistani sides of the border). So, for my "own safety" the Iranian police & army prevented me from cycling further than a certain point on my own. In the last 200 km to the border I had 10 police or army "escorts", mostly on the back of vehicles but sometimes I was allowed to follow them by bike. More than once my escorts dropped me off along the desert road without me having a clue regarding distances to the next place on my map. On one such occasion I was left without any drinking water, as my water bottles had fallen off the back of the truck (a result of the usual reckless driving). At one stage when I had been left to cycle on without an escort, I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a car-load of armed men in traditional dress (fortunately I survived unscathed, and with my meagre possessions still intact). Right now I'm in the city of Quetta, Pakistan. I was again forced to take a bus here from the border, which may not have been such a safe option as the bus ahead of us was robbed during the night (but that's a whole story on its own). Daily distances cycled since Tehran were:- Qom 124 km; Kashan 113 km; Ardestan 139 km; Aqda 165 km; Mehriz 197 km; Rafsanjan 161 km; Mahan 155 km; Desert Camp 95 km; Nosrat Abad 193 km; Taftan 25 km; and Quetta 23 km.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Well, the intention wasn't to cycle through Iran at all. We wanted to take the ferry across the Caspian from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan, and carry on East from there. We spent a lot of time and effort in Baku to try and organise these things. But, the irregularity of the ferry, as well as visa headaches regarding the "-Stan" countries, made us suddenly change our route. For the first few days' cycling in Iran along the Caspian coast, we were quite surprised to find the area green (rice paddies), with many rivers and forested misty coastal mountains. The people here are also very friendly and helpful, and camping is permitted just about anywhere (we've camped on public beaches, Mosque gardens, and in village people's yards). A problem for us is the strict dress code - I have to wear long pants at all times, and Leana has to wear a head scarf, long pants with a long-sleeved top over it, and long sleeves. (This is not the ideal cycling outfit for hot weather). From the coast we had to cross a substantial mountain pass between Chaluse and Karaj, on our way inland to Tehran. We spent more than a day cycling the 80 k's up the pass to an altitude of 2700 m, and then we cruised down in the drier climate past the spectacular Karaj Dam. There were many tunnels on that road, as well as half-tunnels to protect the road agains rock falls and avalanches in winter. Even although it is mid-summer and very hot, there was still some ice up on the high mountains, and even a glacier near the top of the pass. Tehran is a large, hot (in summer), smoggy city. We've been here for more than a week now, and we've criss-crossed the city by Metro, Bus, and on foot. The traffic is crazy, and the most dangerous thing about the traffic is the thousands of small motorbikes (you're not even safe on the pavement). There is a lot of segregation between women and men, such as separate coaches on the metro for women only, and separate areas on buses. This is clearly a "man's country", with evidence of discrimination against women (i.e. the dress code, and restricted sporting activities, amongst other things). We've been trying to organise things like money and visa's (never-ending), which takes time and requires a lot of patience. Iran's financial system is rather isolated, and our credit cards (which we've used in every other country to obtain cash) are invalid here. Fortunately we had a few dollars with us which we could change, but that didn't last long. Money can also not be sent here from SA. We were lucky to have met a very kind tour operator who forwarded us some cash. This enabled us to settle the bill for our (cheap) hotel room, and to pay for our Pakistan visa's (which is where we'll be heading tomorrow). Between Tehran and the Pakistan border we'll be cycling through some very tough desert and mountainous stretches, and we will have our work cut out for us to get there in the 14 remaining days which we're allowed in Iran. Daily distances cycled since Baku were:- Shirvan 112 km; Celilabad 106 km; Astara 106 km; Jokandan (Iran) 82 km; Hashtpar 90 km; Rushar 125 km; Chaluse 109 km; Sayabishay 70 km; Karaj 92 km; and Tehran 55 km.