Sleep – eat – ride

italiano

Tajikistan Part II: There I was: on the Pamir.  In the morning I was awakened by a golden light …

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Region Lake Churukul

… in the afternoon the sun was bright and all the mountains colors switched on like a Christmas tree: red, green, purple, yellow …

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On the way to Sargidast Pass

… while in the evening everything was burning like a fire: yellow, orange, pink, red … pure beauty.

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Shokdara Valley

No idea about the time, the day … is it Monday or Saturday?? … who cares! I never felt so free.   F R E E D O M.   My life became exactly as that slogan I saw on the T-Shirt of a cyclist in Dushanbe: SLEEP – EAT – RIDE (and repeat). Nothing than more simple, but … my life has never been so  i n t e n s e.

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Shokdara Valley

The “SLEEP” part was really not a problem … super comfy sleeping-bag and exhausted cells are a good combination for long and deep sleeps.

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If you travel “solo”, it doesn’t mean that you ARE solo … visits early morning in Shoshbuvad, Shokdara Valley

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Best toilet in the Pamir … Dirum, Shokdara Valley

The “EAT” part is another story … Just once I had a delicious Plov (rice and vegetables) with chicken cooked with love by Dasha, a beautiful and very generous woman in the Shokdara valley:

 

After that I have not seen many times meat (once!) … Their diet is mostly based on bread and ch’ai (or at least this is what I saw when I was hosted by the locals). And since the bread is often stale or hard, it is intent in the tea to soften it … yes, I was feeling like this:

duck-11.jpgI didn’t want to be a duck! I WANTED a duck!

duck-31.jpgYou feel that your body is desperately begging you F O O D : fruits, cheese, milk (ooooh miiiiiiiiilk! I missed it sooooo much!), meat, vegetables … but the only thing that you are giving to it is: bread, horrible biscuits, pasta, sometimes potatoes or tomatoes and water … after more than one month it starts to be difficult … physically and psychologically. Only in Ali Chor I got finally something different: rice with milk!!, butter!!, yack cream!!, apples!! and THEM …Manté (dumplings with meat, traditional Kyrgyz food)! It was like Christmas:

 

The Magazines (shops) up there are empty als sound chambers … biscuits, candy of any kind, shape and color were easy to find, but real food … almost nothing. This is simply because families are autonomous and produce all what they need. They have cows, goats, hens and sometimes gardens … no need for shops …

 

The village of Ali Chor ….more people on the street here at 4000 m.a.s.l. than in Faido! 🙂

It is in the “RIDE” part that everything happens. You wake up and you just know that you have to ride … no idea about the conditions of the road, no idea where I will stop, no idea if I will find food or water, no idea about the weather, no idea if I will meet somebody … you mount on your bicycle and you go. E v e r y    s i n g l e   km, e v e r y    s i n g l e day was a discovery, a surprise, an adventure.

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Shokdara Valley

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Ak-Balyk (White Fish Spring, sacred place)

Everything depend on you. The road is too bad and/or steep? You push. Big boulders and deep rivers? Take off your shoes, jump in the water and push. Magnificent descent? Brakes free and enjoy the fun!

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Shokdara Valley

It is when you RIDE that you get connected with the people. This man (the owner of the guest house) made my days in Ali Chor (yes!! He served me the dumplings.)… Sometimes it is like you can feel the soul of the people and the soul of this man was so peaceful and so … serene! Pamir-41He is Kyrgyz, like 70% of the population in the Murghab province … and again: different physiognomies, language and attitude of the people. Life there is very difficult: long winters at -45 °C, no electricity, no running water, no wood, the soil is too dry to be cultivated … I asked him “why do you stay here?”. With an exquisite simplicity he looked around, with a quiet voice he gave me what for him was the most obvious reason: “Because it is beautiful“.Pamir-47And the children??? Oooooooooh I loved them!! Like this little mouse: he came straight toward me with a high head and he shake my hand like a true gentleman “Salam!”.

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Very proud to show me his toy.

Honestly, I don’t know how many times up there I was riding, laughing and crying at the same time. Thank you! Thank you life!

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Approaching Maysara Pass

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Maysara Pass

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On the way to Okbadal Pass

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Okbadal Pass 4655 m.a.s.l. … yes, it is because the lack of oxigen …

Many will think “Oooh! Lucky you!” … Luck has nothing to do with this … You choose your condition, you choose wich kind of life you want to live. You have just to move yourself and maybe take THE decision that at the beginning seems so difficult … almost impossible. It is not. It is just the first step, then everything flows like a river.

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Chandindara River, Shokdara Valley

Still I cannot define the Pamir experience … it was intense not only because of the people, the   a m a z i n g    landscapes, the nature, the fatigue, … but I think also because I was there alone.

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Descent after Sargidast Pass

You spend the days in silence (ok, not when I was singing). Only the wind and the sliding of the chain of the bicycle are the predominant noises. During the pauses the flow of the river and the birds were my music. In the evening the noise of the gas stove, the bubbling water, and dishes were my companions. I was not on the Pamir … I had the impression I was part of it.

So simple … so beautiful …

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Approaching Murghab

… and it is not finished yet… I just entered in Kyrgyzstan …

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Pereval Kyzyl-Art Pass (Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan border)

Un abbraccio Stef and Silence

… The Monsters

italiano

Tajikistan Part I: Long time has passed. Sorry I was a bit busy in experiencing something that I cannot really describe … Let’s start from the beginning. (As usual: impossible to tell you all the stories …)

pamirAs soon as you step in the Tajik border you get sick … I think it is a sort of Tutankhamun’s curse: do you enter the country? Well: diarrhea and vomiting for 3-4-5-6 days … in the first night I lost 2 kg, my family name and part of my soul. The children of my host family came every 30 minutes to ask me how I was feeling … It was really a pity, they just wanted to play at the river with me.

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He was MY super hero Spider Man

But in the lovely family, somebody was feeling even worse than me. The grandmother was dying. The morning after strange laments woke me up: she passed away. The village came to share its condolences. Gifts such as jams or pickles were brought. Male children wear a white hut and a red belt. Women sing songs (more laments) rather repetitive (I think they are sort of prayers). They needed their privacy, so it was time to leave for me.

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With the last forces (very dramatic) I reached the green and hot Dushanbe where I met a dozen of cyclists. Mostly of them also touched by the Tajikus Malus Horribilis curse. Perfect strangers, but we knew all about the gastrointestinal activities of everyone: “ehy, how do you feel today?” … “uff, today I went 22 times“, “Geeeez! I was like this yesterday, today I’m completely blocked“, etc., etc. I was happy to meet other cyclist and hoping, maybe, to find somebody to cycle the Pamir with.

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I never cycled before in my life and suddenly I was on the way to the Pamir … alone 🙂

But my enthusiasm was quickly shaken. It seemed they were preparing for The Mission on Mars and I became worry: am I doing something wrong? … they only talked about how the streets were ugly, dusty, rocky, steep, tiring, exhausting, terrible, which road to take, which road to avoid … I couldn’t keep my mouth closed, so I asked to the cyclists back from the Pamir: “Yes ok, but is it not nice up there?” …  they seemed almost all surprised by my question: “ah! emmh … yes, yes it is nice …”.  For me it was clear: I will cycle the Pamir   a l o n e.

on-the-way-1So after 4 days I left the capital. Pura vida!!! On my way I found lovely people, but I should admit that Tajik people are more closed than Uzbek people. Sometimes it was difficult to get connected with them and sometimes I was not really feeling welcomed. But of course there are also beautiful and lovely exceptions (thank you to all of you!), with some of them we had really a lot of fun:

 

Sometimes you just want do something for them. So, once I went in a magazine and I bought all the necessary to do this:

 

An apple cake. They loved it. I also teach theme to do yogurt. They have so many things: apples, honey (they don’t consume it!), apricots, milk, butter, onions, potatoes, eggs, etc., but they don’t have much fantasy in the kitchen … let’s say that it is not in their culture. They mostly drink Shirchai (tea with milk, butter and salt) or just Chai with bread (almost always stale).

 

There was only one thing that sometimes made me feel uncomfortable. The children. Yes, because Tajik children are NOT like the lovely adorable Uzbek children. When I saw them in the distance my reaction was always the same: “Oh noooo … T h e   M o n s t e r s“.

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… yes, it is a bottle full of blood from the last cyclist they stopped … These children were nice and funny … just a bit super excited 🙂

If there are no adults in the neighborhood they can be really terrible. They touch everything, they want to open all the bags, they just want everything: “Me! Me!”, “Give me! Give me!”. Less funny is when they are throwing you rocks or apples, showing the third finger or telling you things that for sure are not “welcome to Tajikistan!“… and really sad is when they insist asking you denghy (money).

 

They are pretty organized: if a child see you, you can be sure that all the others will be at the end of the village waiting for YOU. They were holding their hands forming human chains to block the road. After a couple of times I learned the lesson: “Stef, do as you were doing in Tehran: hands away from the brakes, close your eyes and GOOO!” … it worked out (don’t worry, nobody injured).

 

Fortunately this phenomena is patchily extended so you can meet really lovely and polite children … inshallah. The worse region is where ALL the cyclist are passing: between Kalia Khumb and Rushan … exactly: where WE tourists are passing …

 

Yes, sometimes the contact with the people was missing but Nature was compensating everything. The landscapes were just   i n c r e d i b l e   and often I was moved by the beauty in front of me.

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Every day was different. Majestic. Of course it was not always easy. Of course the roads conditions were not always good. Of course some days were really exhausting … BUT, is it not normal when you are cycling in the mountains?

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The beautiful Obikhun River

Approaching the border with Afghanistan the appearance of people changes … I saw women and men who could quietly pose for fashion magazines: b e a u t i f u l. Clear green or blue eyes, bright smiles, perfect olive skin.
I asked if I could photograph them but they didn’t want. A girl pointing a finger at the temple made me understand that I was crazy to make her a similar request. Really a pity, but in their religion photos are not well seen.

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Panj River separating Afghanistan from Tajikistan.

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Afghani village

Not only the faces were changing but also the language. In the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Province they have their proper language. I was officially in the P A M I R, or as the locals say: P O O M I R.

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Wow! … so surreal … so beautiful … from Dushanbe to Khorog I assisted at a slowly metamorphosis of the landscape, people, language and … and I will tell you more in the next post, which I hope to publish in the next days.

Un abbraccio

Stef and the Monsters

 

p.s. As you maybe noticed I cannot update my blog very often, but pictures on Instagram are pretty up to date … so if you want to know where I am just check the Instagram link.

 

“Heeeellooooo!” time

italiano

No matter what I will write or which pictures I will show you … this post will not give justice to what I experienced in Uzbekistan.

Crossed the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border I jumped in a Taxi directed to Bokhara… Popo, my derrière was asking me pity and, as I figured out in Bokhara (yes: mirror and contortionism), it was right: in one area there was no skin anymore; the sweat and rubbing with the pants made it all rather painful … no, no! No pictures!

The landscape was quite monotonous and the periphery unattractive. We took a road in poor conditions (as almost all the roads in Uzbekistan), we turned the corner and … oooooh wow!

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First impression of Bokhara: Xo’Ja Kalon Masjidi

I wondered if even the caravans, after spending weeks in the desert, felt the marvel and the joy I was feeling at that moment … it was just pure beauty.

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Poi-Kalian

One of the first things you need to get acquainted with is money and in Uzbekistan is almost funny because you feel really really rich as never before. People carry money into plastic bags. It takes concentration and ability to count tens and dozens of banknotes at the time of the payment.

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Million Sum baby

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The Lada is back!

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Side od madrasse Mir-i-Arab

Despite some doubts about the construction techniques it must be admitted that some buildings are very resistent and still there after 100-200 years:

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House wall

I enjoyed discover every single corner of Bokhara and I entered in every single court, where I could find beuty and some refresh … it was really very hot!

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One of my favorite café

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I stayed there 5 days and I really felt in love … a very charming small city, full of history and beauty.

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Chor Minor

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Marilù’s house in Bokhara … walking around

When me and Popo were fit again we mounted on the bicycle heading Samarqand. A pretty nice road, cotton fields, head-wind (horrible) and …

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… heat! Sultry humid heat …

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Fifty …

During the hottest hours I had to stop … it was simply impossible to continue. Even in the Karakum desert I was not suffering so much. So I was enjoying (quite ironic) some food and drinks (actually very poor choices) in restaurants like this:

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… of course I was not surprised when the firsts “belly troubles” started …

After few hours I was eating (literally because of the dust) the road again … mmmmh I hear something … Wait, I have to stop and remove the earphones … a little voice: “Hellooooo!! Heeeeellooooo!!”. But, where does it come from?? I looked around … “Heeeeellooooo!!” … There he is! At the other side of the road! A little boy in singlet and shorts, straight on the tip of his feet and his arms straight-straight to the sky to be better noticed … he was maybe one meter and few centimetres high in total: “Heeeeeellooooo little mouse!”. Satisfied and happy he returned to his mother … and so started my “Heeeellooooooo” time.

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I was melting down every time

Women and men greeted me from the fields, the kids ran to reach me on the roadside … they didn’t want anything (even no candy!) they just wanted to say “heelloooo” and get photographed.

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I was invited to enjoy delicious (the best I ever had) melons:

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watermelons:

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Hand to the heart:  is how you express gratitude in all central asia

apples, pears, grapes:

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and Ch’ai:

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It is amazing how PEOPLE did my days on the road. My passage was always a celebration … everywhere!

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But it is not always a joy, or at least for me … sometimes it is hard for the soul … my heart wants just to explode, like when I meet this family collecting empty bottles from the road with their barrow and donkey:

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As soon as I started to ride again I cried. But not for their condition. For mine. I left everything and everyone because “something was missing”, without really knowing what I’m looking for. They have nothing and they seem so serene and happy. I cried because they were/are simply WONDERFUL … and I have the honor to get connected with them. “Byeee byeeee” the two children blowed me kisses with their little dirty hands.

After 3 days I reached Samarqand. I don’t know why, but I always have been fascinated by the blue city and finally, almost as for enchantment, I was there … so surreal. Once again I enjoyed 5 days of pure relax between history, beauty, architectural engineering, parks and markets. Pura vida!

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I was trying to imagine how was it in the past (100-200-300 years ago) and especially how was it before that the Mongols destroyed almost everything.

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Little check …

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… you never know …

With the passion for the sky and the universe, I know that when you rise your eyesight of 90 degrees, you can be surprised by what you can see:Samarqand-8

Often I was walking around with my nose pointing to the sky … wow!

Uzbek people have many qualities … maybe they still have some problems with the English language (like me actually):

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They can even improve in predicting the future, since this task is left to the budgerigars:

But in hospitality they are Master … women and children are just D I V I N E:

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My personal lovely little guides

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I was so fascinated by their lifes, their houses and their technologies, like this antenna for the TV! (right):

The mud-floors (outside and inside of the houses) are kept constantly humid (to avoid the dust rising up), by spreading water. Women spent almost all the day cleaning the house (like my sister).

I stopped in places indicated as villages on my map, but actually they were just few houses in the middle of nowhere …

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… and it is exactly in those remote places that you meet spacial people like her:

a 15 years old girl with the maturity of a self-confident woman. She brought me to the hills, she showed me seeds, fruits and flowers that can be eaten in the desert. It is incredible how people can adapt to the environment.

I slept under the stars with them, warmed by their blankets. They shared their water and food with me … and believe me when I said that in certain places these things are very precious:

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No, it is not going better. I was thinking that with the time I will become less sensitive and maybe the “goodbye-part” will become a routine … I was wrong … as in Iran, I can see all of theme in front of their homes, with a gentle smile, one hand on the heart and the other one rised up  “bye bye!“. The only thing I could say to them (also because I was deeply moved) was “rachmat” (thank you) with my both hands on the heart.

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I was pointing to south-east, direction Tajikistan … yes, because I will have a small deviation from the main silk road … I want to be in the mountains … good ones: P A M I R.

Slowly I was reaching the next country with a mixture of feeling: sadness for the end of the Uzbekistan chapter and excitement for the change of the landscape around me. The first hills, and then mountains, appeared.

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Goodbye Uzbekistan. I’m so grateful for every single day I’m living on the road … this trip is amazing.

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Now in Dushanbe, preparing the last things before THE CLIMB.

Un abbraccio

Stef and Popo

My mime artist life

italiano

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“.

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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:

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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.

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As a mirage appears this mini-market/café

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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!

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The early bird catches the worm

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

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…  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!

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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!)

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

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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

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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 Maps.me 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.

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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!

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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

Stef

 

 

 

… I surrender!

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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!?!).

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Masouleh

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.

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Masouleh

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?”…

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Tilabad

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, …).

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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.

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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.

 

Mehdi

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.

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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.

Tehran

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

Stef

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

 

 

 

 

Save the pink leopard

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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!

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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.

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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!!”.

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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.

Tabriz-2

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.

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On the way to Ardabil

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

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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!

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Masouleh-10

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

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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.

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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 …

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

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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!

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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

Stef

Stargate is not fiction

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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.

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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-car

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.

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Kapan pass: the descent

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Approaching Meghri

In few km the topography changes dramatically:

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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 …

Agarak-3

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!

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Sorry sister … you can cut my fingers …

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

 

Un abbraccio

Stef

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

Sim-sala-bim!

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(Long post) I had a nice and funny time in the green and vivant Yerevan. I’ve met adorable people who I always remember with a smile.

Echmiadzin

Echmiadzin cathedral, considered the Vatican of Armenia

I was in a museum in Echmiadzin, the first cathedral built in Armenia and considered the oldest cathedral in the world. I was taking forbidden pictures (I was not the only one!), when suddenly a museum manager came to me: “Shveyts’aria?” (Switzerland?) … oh shhhh…! They even know where I come from! Should I confirm or deny it? … “yeeeees ?” …“ARI!” (come!). Uuuuhi it didn’t sound good … I was worry. At the entrance there was she: Susan!?!? A middle-aged woman I met on the crowded minibus 1 hour before. Susan mobilized the museum in order I would had an introduction to the history of the cathedral. She even stopped a father (maybe THE Father, from the thick medallion he carried on his chest) to bless me! And she insisted to give me a book (can you imagine how practical it is with the bike) … She was so amazing! Thank you Susan!

Despite the nice memories me and Bicio were happy to jump on the road again. We took the highway, direction Khor Virap.

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Kohr Virap cemetery

Biking on a highway is not so exciting, but in Armenia you don’t have many choices. Basta! I took the risk and I moved in a secondary road … It was the right decision. I found myself among colorful mountains. I reached Dashtakar, where I could place my tent in a public swimming pool … (yes, I was feeling observed)

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Sunset in Dashtakar

I left the small village early in the morning, direction Areni. It was a very long, very hot and very tiring day, BUT  my eyes were soaked of beauty and I had the feeling to bike in an endless painting.

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Finally I was in Areni. I stayed there 2 nights and with Bicio we did an excursion in Noravank. Noravank is a beautiful place, but crowded of people very busy in taking selfies or shouting hysterically to the children … it was a mess and I missed the magic.

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On the way to Novarank

Noravank-4But you do not born magician, you become it … and for this you have to work hard with your mind and with your body. On the other side of the valley I saw a road … Let’s go! (Josephine)

Noravank-11

Gravel road to the incognito … yes, I was pushing the bike most of the time.

I’m not ashamed to say that tears flowed from my eyes like the Trevi’s Fountain … Sim-sala-bim! THE magic had happened:

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Left: Noravank Monastery

I was in that magnificent place completely alone, invaded by colors and perfumes. Pura vida!

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Happy weeping cyclist … no, it is not Photoshop, this is my new skin color.

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Happy cyclist on the road

And how was it on the other side? … Sim-sala-bim! A completely different world:

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Areni village

The way to Goris was pretty demanding … Dirty, sweaty and smelly I stopped after 60 km in a very small village: Saralanj. People were pretty “closed” (or maybe was my aromatic smell!) but … Sim-sala-bim! I met Sirush, the daughter of Jurik.Saralanj-3

I damn myself for not knowing a bit of Russian! Jurik is a really nice and funny person with a lovely family. He was talking soooo much! What is talking about?? What can happen in this tiny village?? There is nothing!! He showed me his hives, his greenhouse and animals and he made me enter into his house.

Saralanj-1

I look at him while he takes care of his bees and his plants until late at night … Why when at home I pronounced “Armenia” all turned up their nose? Why? … I left Jurik, Sirush, Luzik and Arsen with tears flowing along my face.

The way from Saralanj to Goris: up and down and a lot of wind. Please! Pity! (Morena & Priscilla).

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Vorotan

Highway

Busy highway

Finally I was in Goris, and my thermometer stops to show 41 °C. The old Goris is a very interesting cave village … I don’t know why, but I am very attracted by these kind of villages and I have to enter everywhere! I spent hours there.

Goris-3Goris-4

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Happy tourist with orange jacket

In the evening my soul become calm, like a swollen river that reaches its sea. My thoughts go to my loved ones, who are at home worried with a thousand of anxieties … if only they could experience just a moment of what I’m living!…

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… switch off your TV and all the disinformative news. Put on your comfortable shoes and go to see with your eyes how beautiful are the world and the people … You can also be a magician … Sim-sala-bim!

Un abbraccio

Stef

 

I got the Tattoo

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I am not a great lover of cities. I was already resigned: “stef, you will have to stay here for 2 weeks because of the Iranian visa …” (yes, it is Josephine) “… in the cities people are very different from the countryside; be ready to spend this time in solitude”.

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I was ready. So, in my second day in Yerevan I focused on finding some parts for the bicycle. I was looking for this (exactly: 450 km without a spare inner tube):

Special

… and I found a warm welcome, a coffe, small presents, many advidses about the routes and …Special-1

… a delicious lunch! These guys are just great!! … at Specialized are working really special people. Thank you my friends!

Special-2But it is not over. They even made me a little tour and together we visited the museum of the Armenian genocide.

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Tsitsernakaberd, Armenian genocide memorial complex

Yes, because Armenia has its story as well … a sad story. Like all those that we still heard today … You get out of the museum with a boulder of lead on your chest and with the awareness that it will happen again … because we have not yet learned anything from the past.

I wanted to put my feet in another place where history took place. In spring 1962, the statue of Stalin was removed: one soldier killed and many injured. Wow! I try to imagine that day!… The statue was replaced by the Mother Armenia, designed by Ara Harutyunyan.

But between history and culture you need also a bit of leisure and pleasure. I needed to polish Morena and Priscilla … and when the beautician looks at your legs in this way there is a reason …

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My legs looked like a pretty well done hairy Picasso: hematomas of all kinds of colors and shapes … and now, finally, I can exhibit THE Tattoo. It is well known by all the bike travelers: no matter how many times you wash it, he will be always there.

tattoo

In these 4 weeks I noticed that the bicycle transmits a very dramatic message. People think that if you are on a bicycle: you are hungry, you are thirsty, you have no money, you are out of luck, you need tremendous help and you have to eat, eat and eat because you need a lot of energy.

The delightful family where I stay in Yerevan is taking care of me … I’m really feeling like part of the family and Gohar, Nelson and Areg give me all what I need: love and food.

Colazione

Mmmm in my breakfast there is somenthing strange …

But I cannot stay in a city too long. Full of energy I left for 2 day excursion. Direction Geghard and Garni. Pure freedom! Pura vida!

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Geghard

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Geghard monastery inside

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Garni temple

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Symphony of stones: pure music for the eyes

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Garni-4I planned to stay there just 1 night, but I had 4 good reasons to stay one day more. 1) this (ok):

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3 Gs Camping place … Sandra knows what do you need …

2) …this one made me melting down:

3Gs-23) …this one was really a good point:

3Gs-4BUT 4) most of all the beautiful people I met there. After one month finally I found other travelers … and what for travelers! Super interesting people, incredible stories and lots of laughter!

Yerevan-7No, in Yerevan I never was feeling alone. No, in Yerevan I never was bored. These 4 weeks “around” have been very intense. I have the impression that I already experienced so much. As precious crystals I keep all these memories in my mind and in my heart … and I hope to share many of them.

Wednesday I will receive the Iranian visa and on Thursday I will leave for the south Armenia. The show must go on!

Un abbraccio

Stef

 

Gampr … armenian gampr

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GyumriWow, me and Bicio are traveling in time. The rural campaign took us 100 years back in time. And now, after about 60 km southward, we reached Gyumri and we dived in the 70′-80’s. Even the dress style of people recalls those times and everywhere: LADA, LADA and LADA … I love this car.

Gyumri-3

All these buildings are empty.

Gyumri and his people left me some sadness. The second Armenian city has been almost completely destroyed by the earthquake in 1988… the signs are still visible on the facades of the houses but also on the faces of the people … The town and its inhabitants seem to be abandoned to themselves.

Gyumri-4The weather was not on my side so I stopped in Gyumri for 3 nights. Ophelia, the guest house keeper took care of me and she even read me the cards … Ophelia, the mapreader … wow!

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In Gyumri many roads are in these conditions … yes, the dog is looking at me.

In Armenia the road conditions are really bad … I quickly realized that the tour across the country villages I wanted to do, could become a torture … the best route? The highway. Positive in biking on the highway is that you never miss the exit. It was an “exotic” experience for me and clearly I was hoping …

Highway-1… to not end up like this poor dog …

Highway-2

But, no danger: Armenian drivers are very respectful. After almost 90 km I began to feel a bit tired. But where to put the tent? Here it is all flat and there is HIM! How do I do if HE sees or feels me? HE … he is Gampr, the Armenian Gampr … and I assure you that when you see one of them running towards you, you start pedaling fast … very fast. These dogs can kill a bear and they can use my legs as a toothpick.

One day I met one very close. I could feel his warm humid breath on my right leg … everytime I think about it I burst out: the people on the roadside were all stuck like stockfishes with their opened mouths looking at the scene, maybe waiting to see who would emerge victorious … Gesùgiuseppemariamaddalena it was sooo close!

So I decided to stop in the next village and ask for permission to place my tent in the garden of somebody. I reached Sharam … and when you see this:

Sharam-1… you found this:

Sharam-2

Arthur, Alex, Ani, Susanna, Bareck and Karim thank you so much for your lovely hospitality and shots of vodka 🙂

The tent remained in the backpack (again) and Bareck (on the back … I’m a poet) and his lovely family hosted me for one night. I spent a beautiful evening with these wonderful people.

Finally, I was on the way to Yerevan (1.2 Mio. inhabitants)  … and there it is, with the mount Ararat on the right.

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I admit that getting into the city made me increase the adrenaline: biking in the intense traffic, on a road of a total of 6 lanes, has made me climb a bit up the ego.

In Yerevan, me and Bicio we found us in the years 2000 … and I was almost feeling at home … almost.

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Now I’m still in the capital waiting for the Iranian visa. Am I bored? Not at all! I will tell you more in the next post.

Un abbraccio, a presto

Stef