**Woken by Kurdish Intelligence**
To the Iraqi-Iranian border is around 100km away from Sulaymaniyah. Since I started at noon, it was clear that I wouldn’t arrive until next day. In addition the border crossing is in the mountains and I wasn’t able to cycle fast anymore. At around 5pm I found a nice little mosque to stay in. After dinner I watched a TV show and went to bed.
But at around midnight (night 21st /22nd February 2017) crazy things began. It was impossible to see my bicycle standing at the mosque when driving on the road. Nevertheless while I was sleeping peacefully someone banged on the door and three soldier-like men entered the mosque with Kalashnikovs and torch lights in their hands. They didn’t speak any English, but I was asked to quickly pack my things and go with them. Meanwhile my bicycle already was thrown on the back of a truck and damaged. I didn’t want to go. What did I do wrong? I just wanted to sleep! But what can be done against orders of Kurdish intelligence Asayîş (Asayish) that is responsible for counter-terrorism and –espionage operations? The men helped themselves with some cigarettes of mine that I bought for friendly people and they “helped” packing with throwing everything in one corner. Then they also took my passport – of course. I became pissed and took my time packing.
Then on the open truck we drove through the icy night to some town. There I had to get off and was sent to a boss. I didn’t get any explanation why all this nonsense was taking place. Even worse, when the boss was finished with whatever stupid thing he needed to do with my passport, I was ordered to go on the truck again. I sat on the ground and said I first would like to know what this dog and pony show is about. Instead of answering I was pulled up and pushed to the truck.
We were then driving to Penjwen, the border town. It was around 2am and my things were brought to the police station, there people did whatever things again. At least the boss there made a more friendly impression than the idiots before. It was really cold, maybe the coldest night of my journey, and I should stay at a hotel. Well Penjwen is not really a tourist hotspot – especially in winter and at night. That’s why I had to sleep at the police station which honestly wasn’t that bad.
In the morning I had to wait one hour after having gotten up to get my passport back and to be free to finally go.
Maybe my expression of the events above sounds arrogant but frankly after what I had to experience in the Kurdish part of Turkey I was really pissed by whatever police and their treatment.
Leaving Iraq was not as nice as entering from Turkey. After having received my exit stamp some young Iranian soldiers told me it’s impossible to enter Iran here by bicycle. For sure. Of course it was possible and I wasted a lot of time talking instead of showing my luggage to the officers so they let me go eventually. Next was a guy who needed to check my phone and its files. He didn’t complain about anything and then I was free to go to passport control. That part was easy and finally I had arrived in Iran where I could feel like home because of speaking Farsi. At night I was sleeping at the huge mosque of the small village of Nai Abad and was invited for breakfast the following morning.
Next place was Sanandaj where I spent some days with Arvin and Donya. They make bicycle tours to raise awareness of child labour in Iran. While staying with both I learned many new things about life (Arvin works 40 hours a week for about 250$ a month), culture (e.g. concerning riding bicycle) and conflicts (e.g. when marrying) in Iranian society. I enjoyed my time with them while cooking, going to the mountains or going around town.
Then I was off to Kermanshah where I arrived after 8 hours of cycling on Tuesday, 28th February 2017. There I became part of Ako’s family for one week and slept at the place of his uncle Farzan. We visited Bisotun which is famous for its inscriptions and reliefs, and the old town of Kermanschah as well as many cafés. Saying good-bye wasn’t easy and Farzan drove me on Monday, 6th March, some kilometres towards Hamedan, my last stop before Tehran.
But either I was too spoiled by the great food in Kermanshah that I ate every day or the journey was taking its toll. However I didn’t even manage to cycle 30km. When I wanted to ask for permission to sleep in the mosque I was invited by a kind man to stay at his home, because “Mehman habib-e khoda hastand“ (Guests are a gift from God).
I didn’t follow the boring main road to Hamedan so I decided to try a small road over the mountains. But snow was still high and many people told me the road was still closed. I was a bit sad that I needed to return to the main road, because maybe that small one was only as “difficult” as the road after Erzurum. Since I needed to extend my visa I decided not to stay in Hamedan but go to the police straight in the morning hours. That way I didn’t need to lie when saying I just arrived and didn’t chose a hotel yet. The officers were very friendly and to my astonishment didn’t even wear uniform. After one hour with a little small talk my visa was extended for another month. Until my hosts would come back from work I sat down in a park with some delicious bread. I chatted a bit with the bakers who were all from different parts of Iran and they make more than 2000 hot, great smelling and tasting breads per day.
On Thursday (9th March) my host was driving near Ali Sadr cave a tourist hotspot. On the way we passed three villages that all had some old palace like buildings made of clay. They reminded me of a similar group of castles in Germany and I rather wanted to stroll through these villages then go to the cave. That way I could see the people preparing for Iranian New Year.
On Friday we got up early in the morning to go for a hike like many other inhabitants of Hamedan.
Monday, 11th March 2017, I cycle to Tehran. I had changed some gear-wheels but this Monday was the last of my cycling tour from Berlin. After 60 kilometres my back rim broke and also damaged my tire. I had kind of strong headwinds, couldn’t go fast because I was only able to cycle with low gear and now the rim. I reached the conclusion that I was time to finish and to hitchhike to Tehran or take the bus. I had dreamed of arriving in Tehran cycling around Azadi tower. But now I would arrive three days earlier that I could use to find a rental car to spend the New Year holidays in Baluchestan with friends.
That being said I hitchhiked to Saveh and took the bus from there to Tehran. The journey didn’t end like I thought it would, but at least I wasn’t upset. And looking back, I don’t regret this decision at all 😉