Month: July 2017

My mime artist life


Turkmenistan is one of the most difficult countries to enter … yes, more difficult that North Korea. Even the 5 days transit visa is not guaranteed. I was really happy to have the greenish sticker in my passport. Don’t expect many interesting photos because there it is prohibited photograph almost everything: monuments, administrative sites, bridges, … visa

Punctual at 8:00 I was at the iranian border where I met Marc and Peter, two german guys going in the same direction … the first ones! On the road I just met the lovely ukrainian couple Iryna and Andrej (in Armenia) but they were going in the opposite direction …

Cycling in the nobody land for me it represents the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one … excitement, expectations, emotion and even a bit of nervousness … it is like to receive a book with empty pages that you have to fill day by day … and you hope to do a good job.

On the Turkmen side two soldiers welcomed us: asian strokes and brilliant smiles … how old are they? 16??? “So Mr., are we in Turkmenistan??”, smiles: “yes, yes” … “F..k off the jihab!” (sorry) … “yes! yes!” and they made a gesture like saying “throw away that stuff“.


I heard much about the Turkmenistan border. I was ready to NOT receive the red carpet and to show them EVERYTHING: medicines, photos (ALL), iPhone, Computer, Kindle and all my stuff in my 6 bags … ??! Is it already over?! They were really lovely and very polite. A police man even helped me to fill up some papers. At 11:30 we were on the road and we took a shortcut.

Shortcut means shorter but not necessarily better. Here I had the most spectacular angel flight:


Because of the strong shaking I lost my petrol bottle that finished in front of the front wheel… 3 1/2 somersaults with 3 1/2 twists  … Marc was behind me: “How was it??” ….”Mmmm well, not so bad“. Fortunately nothing to me or to Bicio happened.

The first 100 km were absolutely in the desert. In 100 km we met maybe 3 cars going in the opposite direction.


As a mirage appears this mini-market/café


Exactly what we needed … very tasty.

Before reaching Mary we split. We had different plans and, for several reasons,  I was also happy to continue alone.

How was it? … mmmm well … Take an exercise bicycle, put it in a sauna installed in a wind tunnel (with hot upwind of course) and pedal for about 520 km … voilà, you are cycling in the Karakum desert … but wow! I couldn’t believe I was really there!


The early bird catches the worm


… I think without me I would be bored … (swiss children know well what it is)


…  geeez! … slanted cap … I ‘m pretty tired … (landscape in the background exactly same as 120 km before)

… My visionary friend Alain (Tranchio) had predicted this …

No, I didn’t go home … I just prepared my home. There I am, camping  in the desert …  A warm soup with bread, a cappuccino with biscuits and billions of stars. A M A Z I N G. I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep that night. Not because I was scared or similar, but because I was contemplating the milky way, Hercules, the Swan, Arthur, the 7 Sisters… oh wow the Scorpion is so clear!


4:20 Good morning!

To escape the wind and the heat the best time for cycling are very early in the morning and late in the evening. At 10:00 there are already 41 °C (increasing up to 48 °C) and the force of the wind doesn’t allow you to exceed 7-9 km/h … and here comes the mind: it’s all a matter of the head … just keep going!

Left: can you see the car in the sand dust? Me neither … Right: happy tourist.

Then…BOOOOOM: Carpaccio!! I would like a carpaccio!! Or a cold Cola with lemon and some ice!….STOP! Don’t think! Keep going …. (Josephine was excellent!)


Is it not the most beautiful café you have ever seen? For me it was …


Somsa: filled with meat, onions and fat … delicious! Fat is a basic ingredient here in the desert … very good because it fills your belly and give you a lot of energy


Stop to allow the camels crossing the road: done!

Finally, after 4 days I reached Turkmenabat, where a cloud of smog welcomed me… it was even difficult to breathe. But most difficult was to find a hotel. At 21.15 I was still around looking for a guest house pointed on my GPS …“No, no, no room here!”… It happened also in Iran: in there are indicated hostels and guest houses that  actually doesn’t exist or are completely wrong placed. Well! I’m on the road. I should find a place where to pitch the tent and no shower for today. But, again, the children saved me … they are the most efficient means of communication existing: some men and women came to me.


Still a lot of work to do, but greetings have the priority

The locals are strictly forbidden to come in contact with tourists (and vice versa) but I menage to be invited in their homes (again!). With the complicity of the neighborhood I spent the night at Sofia’s home: “Putin (thump up), Amerika (thump down)”… she was so lovely and she had very nice sense of humor!


The 5 days were a fight against heat, wind and time. I did it. I cannot tell you much about the country but I was still fascinated by it: beautiful women in colorful dresses, golden smiles, friendly, polite and gentle people. I saw people with blond (even red!) hair and green eyes, others with sharply Asian faces. Really interesting. Passing by Merv I could see the walls of what was the largest oasis-city along the silk road (I had really no time to see the archeological site there!) … Donnerwetter! I think that Turkmenistan can be a very interesting place to visit.

The 5th day I was back in a border check. This time was more tough. The border police was a woman. Serious face: photos, medicines and 4 bags checked. Everything fine. She even smiled to me!

On the Uzbek side: there was NO ONE. Am I in the right place? A young border policeman arrived. Serious and not very motivated … he cannot speak english and me unfortunately nieto parusky. He wanted to check my medicines. He asked me about VALVERDE … Valverde is a natural product used in case of constipation, you take it in the evening and the morning after you can see the light again … ok, now explain it to him … and there I am, in the checking post miming what VALVERDE is … he understood! He smiled … it has been almost 3 months that my life is like a mime artist life. MY mime artist life. The atmosphere relaxes. Now he want to see the pictures in my phone. He started to smile … oh, oh, he started to laugh! But what do I have in the phone??? I ask him to show me … aaah yeah! Those …

Me and the lovely Rosy (Irland: thump up) in the Imam Reza complex (Mashhad)… hard time.

The policeman congratulates me for the photos and wishes me a good trip in Uzbekistan … he even helps me to load the bike … maybe is my alpine charme … The silkroad trip can continue!

Un abbraccio





… I surrender!


Let’s talk a little about Iranians. They are exquisite people and they will do everything to help you. Like that family near Fuman: 7 in a car, roof stuffed with things and a chair; they wanted to give me a lift … are you kidding me?! ahahah! (why I didn’t took a picture!?!).



I don’t know how many time I was stopped on the road. While I was speaking with the men, with the tail of the eye I saw women and grandmothers groping in their bags: apricots, cherries, peaches, candy, bread, …. “No! No! Thank you! I have everything I need!” …They looked in my eyes: “Bokhor“. “No really! I don’t have space for all these things!” and I show them my overloaded bike and the full bags … No way: “Bokhor … Bokhor Ch’ai”. Every time it was a huge investment of time and energy … after one week, exhausted, I raised the white flag: … I surrender! So, I started to say always “yes” and I accepted all what was offered to me. One day ended with 6 breads and a bag full of fruits.



Every day I had an invitation at their homes. I love to stay with the locals and be connected with them, eat their food, listen their chatting, BUT sometimes you just need some privacy … yes, because in some iranian families you don’t have a moment of respite. Like that day, sitting on the throne trying to send a fax: toc toc … “Estebani? Estebani?”…


Can you see the two motorbikes?

I met the two sides of Iran: a very open one, dreaming about a revolution and an extremely conservative one … both of them were absolutely lovely and extremely generous with me! One night I was in a small and conservative village in a very basic house made of mud and bricks, the night after I  was sitting on an ultra design sofa in a villa with marble floors and bronze statues … sometimes I had to shake myself to be sure I was not dreaming.


Sunset in the Karaj desert

I have so many stories and memories that deserve to be written here!…”thank you Stef, so why just landscapes in your pictures?”…. Right. Because Iran has a sort of PARANOIA. I was stopped twice by bourgeois police. One police man followed me, he knew exactly how many pictures I took and he wanted to see all the other 1345 photos in my camera. Just keep calm and show them what they want to see:


The incriminated picture: “why this?!“. He wanted to bring me in the police station, but I refused since schools are not in the black list … PARANOIA!

Even when I arrived in Mashhad I was stopped in the middle of the road: they called another patrol and three other bourgeois cops. My pass was jumping from hand to hand and all the guys were at the phone giving my data to somebody. I could see terror in the eyes of the locals passers-by. Finally somebody speaks to me: “What are you doing?” … Are you kidding me? I looked at me and at Bicio: we were dirty,  I was tired and still I had to find a hotel (20:30)… Stef, stay calm … “I’m a tourist”. And they jump back at their phones … Such a theatre! It was so obvious that I was not a spy, but it took 1 hour to theme. So I avoided to be noticed, to take pictures in the cities and to the people.


The Swiss cyclist was not always nice and kind … sometimes I was soooo angry! Specially when my safety was put in danger. Cars were driving very close and pushing me out of the road just to ask me where I’m from.



In an extremely busy roundabout in Mashhad a guy almost caused an accident (of course with me in the middle) … he wanted to give me a banana! Near Darban a men cut me off the way and pushed me out of the road to give me his phone from the passenger window; a young woman: “Heeeeello!!! How are you? Where are you from?”… I was so angry … and then all the people who were stopping me just to take a selfie with me. Don’t get me wrong, but when you are exhausted, it is very hot and you are in miserable conditions, the last thing you want is taking selfies with strangers (photos that then will be published in Imo, Telegram, Instagram, Whatsapp, …).


After one month in Iran I was exhausted BUT … happy and extremely grateful. I always say that my trip is not about bicycle, but about people … wow, Iran was just incredible. Culture, people, hospitality, food, traditions, contradictions, politic … so interesting.


Yes … she is lovely and she is washing the pink leopard.

Every time I was leaving their homes I could feel a compression on my chest. When also men are moved because your departure, it means that something happened. Well imprinted is the image of all of them in front of the door of their homes, looking at me while I’m leaving. The last thing I heard was the water spilled on the ground behind my back (as wish that a guest come back)… and water gushed out from my eyes. Yes, in Iran people did my trip. Thank you.



Medhi a fantastic guy with a beautiful family … he is THE generous guy who offered me a selfie-stick. Thanks you my friend!

I was impressed by the women and the young generations: it is not easy there. Many are desperately trying to quit the country … but you know what? They try to be happy, they try to enjoy the little freedom they have. I saw parks full of families organizing picnics, I saw cars overloaded with smiling people, I saw bazar full of life, I heard laughter, … They know how to live, or at least they try. We can learn a lot from theme.


Let’s do a picnic on a parking place

Iran is not so good for cycling or at least not on the main roads. A couple of time I took the bus to avoid the crazy traffic (entering in Tehran was really an experience!) or because the lack of time…the country is huge and in summer it is difficult because the heat.


Approaching Tehran … 5 to 7 lines per direction!  ahahha and I was nervous in Yerevan! Cycling in Tehran: done!

I menage to bike about 1200 km in beautiful secondary roads and … I menage to get THE visa…The transit visa for Turkmenistan. Many has been refused and many had to change their plans (costs of time and money) … I had it: 5 days to cross the Karakum desert, about 520 km, from Saraks to Farap … I was ready for the oven!

Un abbraccio


p.s. it was hard to select the pictures…enjöy the gallery.





Save the pink leopard


One month and more than 1100 km cycled only in Iran… I should split this chapter in 2-3 parts and try to be short … oh là là!

I had a very positive first impact: a warmly welcome at the border, good roads (Armenia were a disaster!), amazing landscapes, tailwind and not so much traffic … pura vida!


The other side: Azerbaijan

The Aras River Valley (Kantal National Park) is very impressive: every 3-7 km a different scenario and different colors. I was pleased and I couldn’t stop smiling.


Here I reached my firsts 1000 km

Entering in a new country means to reset your brain and start again from the beginning (I love it!): learn about the new culture, some basic words, find a SIM card, change money and push the play button. I was so confused at the beginning! Officially there is the Iranian Rial, but people speaks in Tumen (1 Tumen = 10 Rials). At first I thought they wanted to frighten me: “ehiiii, they asked me 5’000 but they took my 50’000 note!!”.


But I learned pretty quickly that hotels and guest-houses are very expensive. In Jolfa a very simple guest-house asked me 45 $ per night … “are you kidding me?!”. So I mounted again on my bike to find something else. It took 2-3 minutes; a car stopped: “Was suchen Sie?” (what are you looking for?). An old man, who lived many years in Germany, didn’t hesitate to invite me at his home. And so everything started … like an avalanche … almost e v e r y  s i n g l e  d a y.

Nordoz-8An exquisite couple! They pampered me: food, shower, food, laundry, food, ch’ai, watermelon, ch’ai … “Uh! The clothes that lie on the balcony should be dry … mmmmh, wait a moment … where are my underwear??” … They had made it. My panties had found their Freedom. I can imagine them as they flight high in the warm skies of Jolfa … Suddenly my panties had become a state affair. Behnaz, my host, started desperately looking into the wardrobes. What she is doing? Suits full of brand new clothes (??), and there was finally THE suitcase she was looking for: overfull of panties. I could choose between ultra mega sexy lace strings (seriously?!? I’m cycling!…) and the only normal cotton panties with … a giant pink leopard.

P1370451The leopard had to face his miserable destiny … save the pink leopard. But, I think you are more interested on my everyday cycling- and on my free-time-style:

Left: Happy colorful cyclist with a 3 kg watermelon (that she has not to share!). Right: Happy tourist with blue manteau.

Along my way I met so many lovely people (I will speak about this in the next post). Incredibly in Marand my fate crossed with that of Asghar and his family: all cyclists!! And sorted out that all of theme belong to THE big cyclist-family of Marand! I was extremely tired but, come on! When I will experience this again?!? So we cycled all together near the mountains and we had a great picnic at night:

Left: Asghar family (top) and the big cyclist-family of Marand (bottom). Right: happy cyclists on the way to Tabriz, where we reached Asghar wife’s family.

Iranians are Master in organizing picnics. They can stop everywhere to enjoy their meal, even on the edge of the highway! Most importantly, in Iran you have to bokhor, bokhor, bokhor, … (eat) ... Women cook for hours and hours, even the whole day …. delicious. The best food I’ve ever had during this trip.

They made me try so many things. Some I’m not even able to describe: a multitude of ingredients (like a sort of jam made of 16 ingredients).

The first 10 days I was in Iran, it was still Ramadan time. For me, that I’m a tourist, was not a problem. I just had to avoid eating and drinking in crowded areas like villages and cities. When the Ramadan was finished, villages and towns were an explosion of life: burning charcoal, smell of grilled meat, markets, shops and everywhere barrels full of ch’ai for travelers who wanted to fill their thermos.


Bazar of Tabriz (the biggest covered Bazar in the world) … closed because I was there on Friday (= our Sunday)… lucky me …

Everything was just great, BUT I was pretty disappointed about the roads: highway, trucks, highway, trucks … not a paradise for cyclists.


On the way to Ardabil


After kilometers at 45 °C, this is what you want to see … about 0.10 CHF per kg


Nice archeological museum in Ardabil

Generally I ask to the locals about the conditions of the roads because, of course, they know better. When I was asking about a secondary road the song was always the same: “neeeeeeee, no good, wery wery bad! no asphalt!”… But after Ardabil Josephine was pretty insisting: “Stef, the road to Astara, that then continue along the Caspian Sea, will be horrible”. To the devil, I’ll try the secondary road!

Again, following my instict was a good choice … the best one! I was in a wonderful, fairly deserted, asphaltet road. Pura vida!



After few days, when I met some cyclists, sorted out that the Caspian Sea road is a nightmare … muuhahaahhaha!


So, I did my way to Masouleh (with a small help in the most steep part … come on! there were 46 °C!) … I was so happy. I was doing exactly what I wanted, in a place that was even better than in my dreams.


Finally the road became very steep. Like on a rollercoaster when you reach the apex, the heart starts to beat fast, the adrenaline rises by the excitement of what you will see on the other side and …


… arms to the sky! … wooooooooooooooohhhhh!!!!



Happy cyclist with yellow trousers

From the desert I had passed to a humid and hot jungle. Surreal! After the thick fog and the applause of the Iranian tourists who consumed their picnics on the road, I reached Masouleh. Good job Bicio!


In Masouleh I got the E-mail I was waiting for: my invitation letter for Uzbekistan was ready, I could start the VISA application. Next destination: Tehran … as fast as possible!

Un abbraccio


Stargate is not fiction


Huston we had a problem … finally solved! More than one month has passed (I even don’t know how long!) and I had experienced sooooo much! But let’s start from the beginning: the end of the Armenia’s chapter … because I think it deserves it.

If you are in Goris you have to visit Tatev. This time I left Bicio in the guest-house because I wanted to experience the longest cable car of the world … a 6 km long “flight” in a majestic scenario.

Tatev-2Big eyes and open mouth … such incredible beauty!

Tatev-9Nothing to complain: monks had a good taste in choosing the location for their monasteries.


Tatev Monastery

But it was time to move forward to the south, direction Kapan. This is not a radiography of an intestine …

… this is a part of one of the killing-legs-road that you can find in the south Armenia. I even don’t remember how long it was (20-25 km?) … but on the road, according to your calculations (steepness, time duration) you should have reached Nepal.

So yes, sometimes you are just tired (very tired!), you are dirty, you smell, your hair are like the PLAYMOBIL style and you have to find a place where to pitch the tend … but you know what? It just takes two seconds: you stop and you look around you:

Kapan-4…. and you know exactly why you are there and what you are doing … and I’m just pleased about my choice.


Marilù this is for you

Iran was calling and I was happy to change country, culture and people. Don’t get me wrong, but I should admit that sometimes in the south Armenia I was feeling uncomfortable … just feelings … so I was moving fast towards south.


Kapan pass: the descent


Approaching Meghri

In few km the topography changes dramatically:


Meghri village

and there it is: IRANAgarak-4

I was excited and sort of nervous: they will like my “iranian style”? Have I enough money? Will it work out with all the visas I need? and…? and…? Shut up, and go!

I spent the last night in Agarak, looking at the fabulous sunset, the amazing mountains and discussing about politics with Vahe … yes, because here there are some problems. Bad ones. But everything looked so quite. Silence. Wind. Colors. Desert. There I c an see the border. It is such a pity that in such amazing places like this one some bad things are happening …


Vahe, his lovely daughter and his beautiful LADA (the last one that I saw)

Armenia was/is just incredible! I was so amazed about the different landscapes, beauties and things you can visit … A M A Z I N G. Armenia has a big touristic potential BUT be aware that they are still not “ready” for the tourism. So, if you are pretentious tourists and rather cheeky, then maybe it is better if you stay home … but you will really miss something. Goodbye Armenia and “Apres”!

Scarf on the head, long trousers and long shirt I was cycling in the land of nobody … I jumped out from my bike and I put my first step in the Iranian territory: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!! I enter in another UNIVERSE… I crossed the Stargate! Stargate is not fiction, it is real. In few seconds I was rounded by a group of iranian women: one was kissing me, the other one was holding my hand and another one wanted a selfie with me … what??!! Incredible.

Everything went pretty smoothly. Completely different culture, completely different people, completely different topography … even the road conditions were great!


Sorry sister … you can cut my fingers …

What for a good start … A new chapter can start.


Un abbraccio


p.s. Gallery instructions (stil not updated): clicking forward you are moving back on time …so it is cronologically ordered (like Instagram).