One of the most horrifying things I’ve ever done in my life was riding a bicycle in the city streets of Iran. Cities are just like bee hives always buzzing – not only with people but also with an incredible amount of vehicles. Most cars are old and crippling, locally made. Only very few of them are global known brands. Imported cars are extremely expensive in Iran as the government taxes them heavily, making them only affordable to select few. The stench of exhaust gas gets into the nose and tickles the throat. I can feel how my lungs slowly fill up with oxygen mingled with exhaust gas. I’ve noticed how I reach for my scarf unconsciously so I to cover my nose and mouth. I doubt this helps but I do it anyway.
While in the streets of Iran I couldn’t help but wonder how people manage to get the driving licence in this country. Surely there should be some criteria. But when I was looking at what was happening on the road it seemed to me that those who managed to pass the test suddenly forgot about all the rules. That, and no one knows brakes exist. No one ever brakes in this country. People just manage to go with the flow of other hurrying cars.
There’s a real battle happening on the street of Iran. No one ever stops just to let someone in from a minor road. If you are not brave enough to just shoot to the main road you might stay and wait for the rest of your life. It was quite interesting to observe the whole scene which quite often would remind me of cartoons. Where characters manage to shrink their vehicles in order to squeeze themselves through tiny gaps between the cars. It might sound quite funny and entertaining but the problem is that most of the drivers don’t waste their time and they speed even in these kind of situations. Pedestrians in this country are on a different level too. It was quite intimidating to see how people stretch their hand and just jump to the main road. As if a stretched hand could stop the speeding car. But somehow that works. Well, no one actually stops, drivers just drive around the pedestrians. At that moment you can see how whole traffic just swerves to one side. I have a feeling that Iranians are very good at the synchronised competitions.
The real kings of the streets in Iran are not the cars but the scooters and motorbikes. They can go everywhere. It is a norm for scooters to go against the traffic on busy main roads. No one would question why they do that or if it is dangerous. Everyone does it. Scooters and motorbikes deftly going in all that mad traffic. You can never know who is coming from which direction so as a part of the traffic you have to look at all directions yourself. One of the impressive features of two wheelers is that you can transport almost anything on it. Whether it be enormous boxes, fixed with only couple of inadequate strings, or huge rolls of fabrics, or maybe a big box and a dozen of bags in the arms of the driver. Scooters also are considered as a great family vehicle. It’s not a problem at all for a driver to take his wife and at least two kids on it. Even though if kids are quite big, everyone manages to squeeze in snuggly.
You shouldn’t be too happy just because you managed to stay alive while crossing the street. The pavement can be as dangerous as the road. Or even more so as scooters and motorbikes lay hold of pavements too. I still cannot understand how they manage to ride in the hurrying crowds of people. The strangest thing that locals are so used to sharing the pedestrian zones with the drivers it seems they no longer notice the scooter coming directly at them.
Before we left on our trip we did read a lot of cyclists’ blogs and majority of them say that Iran is on their top list of all the countries they’ve been so far. They praise the peoples kindness and generosity, they praise the beauty and heritage of the country. But apart from all that they also say it’s not easy to cycle in this country. Sometimes it can be very dangerous. But until you experience it by yourself it’s hard to understand what they mean.
While in Iran I did say many times I wouldn’t recommend other people cycling in this country. And that I wouldn’t want to come back here with a bike myself. There are only a few main roads throughout the country and they are always very busy with loads of big speeding cars. The quality of the roads isn’t the best either. And the worst of all most of then don’t even have the hard shoulder.
However towards the end of our stay I wasn’t as assertive. The countryside is stunning. High jagged mountains, where we were slowly climbing to the tops and then going downhill with the wind in our faces. Silent empty deserts with only an odd car lazily passing by. In places like these it’s easy to forget all the noise and buzz of the big cities. And when you forget you are left with only one question in your head: how can you not want to come back here again and again?