Tehran and Cycling the Silk Road

Thanks every one for the well wishes!
I’m alive and well in Tehran…. repeatedly heading out to navigate a city of 14million on roads made for highway driving! Luckily there are so many artistic murals and tile exhibits to distract from choked road conditions!

As cycle tourers before me, I must navigate our onward visas. This is a bizarrely complicated process – yesterday I met two cycle tourers (from Germany and Mexico) who have been here 3 weeks figuring it all out, and when I saw them – one of their visa’s had the wrong dates – so they had to reapply!

Information on websites and blogs can be contradictory or have changed or not be available. On our first day here, I headed to the Chinese Embassy, there I was informed I needed letters from our home Embassy’s….

The following day (these Embassy’s are in North Tehran – a couple hours on a bicycle so take a while to reach) we visited the Australian Embassy and got a letter – basically a sentence long stating that Nic is Australian. Then to the Canadian Embassy – it would take a day and cost $50 Canadian! That’s 620,000 Rials, a lot.

Finally with letters and forms filled I make another trip through the traffic to the Chinese Embassy – and cannot submit the application because it is not double sided! Hmmm … At least there are interesting things to see along the way!

So, another day to ride up there, hand in the double sided application. Wait 2 – 4 days. Take our passports and application to the Uzbekistan Embassy for a tourist visa. Wait. Then take our passports to the Turkmenistan Embassy and apply for a transit visa. Wait at least 5 days.Then we can ride on in the open unknown roads of adventure …

Based on these challenges we have decided to head to Kyrgyzstan and not Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan requires no visa! Plus and much more importantly it is the home of one of the amazing Education Designers with Ride To Learn.

Already Rahat has made new connections and her passion and excitement have lifted our spirits. There are some amazing things lined up to learn about – and oh, the landscape through the mountains (yes, more mountains) will so be worth it!

Wait a moment … those of you who know our route will be wondering, aren’t we totally off schedule? Yep, you’d be right. Very behind. After a few discussions over our camp-stove and coffee pot, Nic and I decided – why rush?

Central Asia is no place to rush through. We have contacts lined up in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and we want to spend time with them too. This will be an incredible ride, and we want to take you with us, SO, we will make the time and for Mongolia and China too – to arrive in Australia late September and from there head over to Vermont for a wedding (ours). Then follow with all the America continents.

It’s incredible, challenging, but incredible to be able to adapt and change and just decide to do something different! That’s the power in freedom, choice. It’s daunting – the expanse of choice – and going through possibilities, but exciting to know that there really are no limits unless we impose them on ourselves. Well, I guess finances are a major limit.

It is mind-boggling that we have been on this expedition 4 months, have an education team building thought-leading resources, innovative education platforms and not a single dollar in corporate sponsorship or grants. Because of the limits of no budget we have to be creative in how to accomplish our goals, and we are still working through these, but the creativity and passion that has resulted from all involved is inspiring.

Not everyone in the world has the same freedom, which makes our education goals so important – creating a space for youth to learn about each other and the world through our adventure! I’m not sure if it was because I did not pay attention in school – but I certainly don’t remember learning anything about Iran. I did not know much about the country before arriving. Is the Caspian Sea really a sea? Can pickled garlic taste good? What does the sound of prayer sound like? What do all the written symbols mean?

Nic sharing a live lesson in reading and writing Farsi.

It’s a great opportunity for youth of other countries to learn about a people and place in a new, fresh fun and engaging way. It’s also a great opportunity for youth who would struggle to get any visa anywhere to travel vicariously with us. It’s hardest on those who not only have to go through visa process but with the knowledge there is little chance of approval.

Besides the visa challenges, Nic and I are having heaps of other challenges that are becoming good opportunities to build a better education program. We have discovered that the internet is so slow, because there is only one source and this source is ‘squeezed’ meaning for us that high speed – even in wifi – is not possible. This is a good thing to learn – for an education platform to be global it must be simple. Not a lot of clicks, not a lot of downloading, not a lot of fancy stuff. Nic, like many individuals in Iran has a proxy set up so that it appears he is accessing the world wide web from another country. I have not been able to figure out how to do this on the iPad, so have no access to my virtual second homes – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, etc., before Nic had his set up – he could not access Adobe either. Many websites are blocked and there appears to be no rhyme to it. These options would likely not be available on school computers here – so a good thing to know, as ill never again assume that social media sites are accessible for all youth.

What else? Well, of course with all the sanctions – there is no access to our credit cards, and unlike the situation in Mauritania, there is no rescue of a Western Union alternative, due to the sanction on swift codes. We brought cash from Turkey to exchange, but underestimated what we would need (especially with all the visa costs and longer stay in Tehran). Luckily we have a couple new fantastic friends who are figuring out solutions for us. Hopefully, something works out -otherwise our only option would be to appeal to the kind people at the Australian Embassy and receive cash at the proper exchange (twice that as the rate on the streets!) Until then, the hotel we are staying at has breakfast included, so Nic and I just fill up for the day and squirrel away a couple yogurts 😉

If there is anything you would like to learn or see pictures of in Tehran – let us know! We have at least another week! Next week we are looking forward to spending a special day with one of our new friends, Painz and her mom, with a tour of the city! What a treat. Pictures to come.

Hoping to also hit the town with Ali as we check out the happening vegetarian scene and local films. Ali is a budding film director! Very much looking forward to learning more, as I am sure you are too.

Ask us questions, we love sharing the adventure with you! And if you have not looked at the ‘What is out there?‘ competition and voted for the BEST video – what are you waiting for? I just noticed that if your really very keen, you can vote for an entry once per day!

Another thought – we are on the old Silk Route. I wonder if because the main commodity was an exchange of ideas between people of different countries – if that is why people have been so curious and receptive to us. The legacy of the Silk Route lives on in the people today. I’m not sure if I discussed our adventure from Tabriz to Tehran to the Caspian and back. But it was really difficult to get through a town without offers from someone to come home with them! Another cyclist joined us for us day and on another day a local tourer joined us for a bit! We were never without opportunity to share our story.

Until soon, xK
Here’s one of my favorites from the road –