Yerevan – Tehran, Cycling from Armenia to Iran on the silk road during the Iranian oil price rise protests

Screenshot_20191122-093255_Komoot

At the start of a long journey, we feel like reborn. The more uncertainty will be on the trip, the more we are getting free and young. We get young like a kid that doesn’t know yet how adult life will be, free like the ones that leave their old life, and items, behind and open up to a new life.

Every time there is a queue, people hurry up to just be waiting, squeezed, one next to another. There is often no logic in those actions, but mostly a wild unconscious reaction. We all want to be the first, not realizing that being the first may mean to wait longer for all the others and to stay standing up for a long while.



 

ARMENIA
in a nutshell

ROADS OF ARMENIA
The cars do take distance from you when passing.
There is (mostly) only one road that goes to Iran. It has one lane per direction, and it is not always in good condition. Well, at least you don’t get lost. 
There will be considerable mountains to climb and a lot of smokey trucks.
Dogs are not dangerous.

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BEST OF ARMENIA
Water
fountains and sources.
Nearly all houses have drinking water.
The Architecture of Yerevan
Safety, no crime seen
Many people speak some English in Yerevan, everyone speaks Russian

EFFECTS(2)

WORST OF ARMENIA
A lot of trash on the side of the road, recycling 
Conservative mentality & Sexual repression
Roads conditions and infrastructure
Relationships with neighbor countries
Cars horn to greet you

BOTTOM LINE
Armenians are lovely and honest.
The country is going fast forward, in the right direction.
If the conflicts with Turkey and Azerbaijan will end, there will be a better economy and hopefully, Armenia will get closer to the EU.
The main needs of Armenia are to modernize the infrastructure, improve public transportation/cycling, and take care of the environment 
If you want to cycle through Armenia, you really need to love mountains and be fit


 

IRAN 
(north-west part)
in a nutshell

ROADS IN IRAN
70% of the main roads have space outside the lane to cycle.
The cars do take distance from you when passing you.
Highways (the largest roads) are well maintained and always with side lanes, but it may be monotone to cycle all the way there.
My suggestion is to use the highways only when the other streets are hilly or in bad condition.
You can use
Komoot to see the altitude of each road. 

BEST OF IRAN
Hospitality
: it could be intimidating and unpractical though, cause every few kilometers someone will welcome you and invite you for great Persian tea.
Honesty, just a couple of people made shy attempts to cheat on me.
Safety, I never felt in danger. Unless I was holding a camera or crossing the street.
Positive self-critic from the people, both about politics and about themself. In Tehran people is open and use their brain.
Food sharing culture: people give importance to sharing meals.

Graffitis, beautifully decorated walls (when it is not propaganda).
Carpets: sitting, eating, sleeping on gorgeous carpets.
At home, people take off the shoes and there are even slippers only for the WC

Hitchhiking and taxis are almost the same thing, you can stop any car to get a ride
Iran produces almost everything by his own factories
Good infrastructure
Seven lines of metro in Tehran
Prices, you can eat at restaurants for a couple of euros.

WORST OF IRAN
The dictatorial bloody regime.
Propaganda and brainwash (even on modern graffitis).
Religious sexual repression
Wealth distribution needs to be improved, you can spot poverty among children
& Child labor
Discriminatory behavior towards minorities (curds, non-muslims)
Insane traffic.
No food hygiene authority
Architectural barriers, draining canals and pols
Pollution and plastic even in remote places
Animal welfare; unfortunately, many dead dogs on the side of the street and many birds in small cages
Architecture, no ancient architecture see so far, many cities are random blocks of cement made for cars.
The inefficiency of institution and services
Queues and discreet distance between people waiting in an office are inexistent
No cozy places to stop along the way
Tehran is suicidal for cyclists, and also for pedestrians. There are almost no enjoyable streets to walk through.

The gastronomy consists mostly in meat
The Quality of Iranian produced goods 
Cars use the horn to greet you

BOTTOM LINE
Iran is a country full of beautiful, warm, and honest people.
Here you can travel alone, and it´s like you are traveling with your friends and family.
The route I took was not really enjoyable to cycle due to traffic and landscape. The minor roads were too hilly or damaged. 
I dare to state that the Iranians have been, without a doubt, the most hospitable folk I have ever met.
At the same time, the country’s regime makes it one of the most troubled and oppressive places where I have ever been.
Iran’s regime blames America and Israel for all Iranian problems, but this seems to be a tactic to divert the attention of Iranians from local issues like corruption and totalitarianism.
I would love to come back next year and see fewer cars and more freedom.

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This trip was done in October, the best weather for such a trip: September-October

DAILY DIARY

 

YEREVAN – AYNTAP 

20km cycled

The mutation of my bicycle, Getting out of Yerevan on an inexistent path, I fell because of dogs, China aid VS US aid, the transformation of alphabets, cars and social attention, buildings 

Once I arrived at the hostel in Yerevan (Vagary hostel), where I left my bike for a (long) while, I discovered that they had followed my words to the maximum. I remember I told them: “feel free to use my bike”. The bike has been transformed into a city bike and all accessories disappeared. There was left just the basket and the side bags, unmounted. So I bought a new bicycle, with more gears, and donated the old one to a charity.
I give a small package of chocolate to my Chinese hostel-roommate, he provides me with sunglasses. I try to refuse, but he insists, so I accept.

My back hurts severely, my hernias are alive. I am back in Yerevan, I have left the bike to a hostel for a while, the bike is transformed and there are no accessories anymore. I need to repurchase everything. From the moment that the bike is already without gadgets, I buy another one, a cheap mountain bike with 24 speeds: better than three!–as I had before–.

I got food poisoned, and I had to delay my trip. After three days of partial fasting, I depart on Sunday. I have to be slow to get to Iran, cause of my visa, it’s better to be there in about one week, so I don’t have to extend it.

As I start the journey, I get on the wrong way, on top of a mountain where the road suddenly ends. My map was wrong.

There are many dogs around. I am relaxed initially cause they seem to be quiet or even scared of me.

Suddenly, I am in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by six barking dogs. I think about going back. Still, sometimes it’s even worse to do so cause they would become even more aggressive. I realize that I have forgotten my metal stick–which is the old handlebar that I use for protection–, luckily I do have pepper spray, so I take a piece of wood on the ground as the new protection stick. Finally, the dogs are not interested in me.
After some crazy trafficked roads, I am on the street´s edge, and a dog is coming fast from a kind of fenced facility, there are also a couple of men. The dog seems to be aggressive, and other dogs back him. I get stressed, and I take my wooden stick on my right hand, trying to intimidate him. Because there is gravel on the side of the road, the front wheel slides away, and I am with my butt on the ground. All the left side of the bike is damaged, worst of all, the lens of the new camera gets damaged.
The men looked at all the scene and didn’t care to come close checking if I am fine, they don’t even keep the dogs away from me, which continue to annoy me.
It seems that the back wheel has a problem, so I stop when it is just 17.00 to check it up and to camp. I also stop because, finally, I find a spot that doesn’t have too much garbage, and the landscape is not ugly. So far, there were just cars, ugly concrete abandoned buildings, cement, dogs, waste, and trash fires.

In the tent, before falling asleep, the noise of many dogs barking around me disturbs my rest. It is night, the dogs stopped their conversations, I start to hear shootings, almost all night long.
It seems that the sunglasses were beneficial in the sunshine of these latitudes.

There is a competition: China aid versus US aid. They both provide support for Armenia with vehicles and infrastructure. It’s ironic that those two countries which have always been antagonist, are helping the same country. Maybe they both push for a strategic political alliance.

The alphabet transformation from Europe to the Middle East started already in Georgia. The Georgian and Armenian alphabets substitute Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The two latter are similar to each other in design. The same person created both alphabets, but they don’t share anything in common in semantic.

The perfectly geometrical characters of the Latin alphabet are now replaced by more rounded and linear graphic letters. The more south-east, the more the alphabet will be longitudinal, with long lines and curves as letters in the Persian and Arabic variants.

When it happens that I talk to a girl in the street, I see groups of people stopping, staring at us, and commenting. In contrast, when there is a car commits serious violations, nobody dares—neither wishes—to look at the driver or give any comment.

It´s time to sleep. I think that big building blocks in Yerevan are much more harmonious and well designed than in other sovietic blocks in ex USSR countries.

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Day 2, 

AYNTAP – SURENAVAN

20km cycled, in total 40km

Flat tire & sleeping in the farm while witnessing the killing of pigs, castles among barracks

It’s sunny, as always. I meet the landowner of where I camped, he is first showing that he is the boss, but then he is kind to me.

In countries where the economy doesn’t go so good, some people like even more to show off. There are many unfinished ‘houses’ and other 

buildings that look more like barracks. Many Armenians are living in challenging situations. Still, there are always a few villas, luxury hotels, and restaurants around. In my opinion, there is no poor country, but just poorly administered countries that don’t distribute the wealth.

I stop at one of the numerous car repair workshops to inflate the tires. I meet ‘Gregorio’, an Armenian who lives in France, we take advance of speaking French.

I get a flat tire. The inner tube of the new bike that I bought had already a patch, that’s why, probably, the higher pressure made it go flat after just a few kilometers. Lucky, there is a place where I can stop in the shadow and do the reparation. The bike is packed, so it takes a long time to remove the bags from it. I manage to do everything, even if my back is still not in the best shape.

The sun is about to hide behind the imponent mountain Ararat, on my right side. Looking at the map, it seems that that area is now in Turkish territory cause the border is just a few hundred meters away.

I don’t find an appropriate place where to camp, I have in front of me, on the right side, an oil refinery and soon there will be a village on the left, this equals to no chances of camping.
I see a building, and I go to ask if I can camp there. There is a man, his kid, and the wife; they are kind and offer me to sleep inside. I accept the offer because it’s late and I understand that there may be dogs outside, even though I always prefer to sleep in my tent.


At first sight, I could not understand that the building was a farm, but I realize it when I hear the scream of cows and pigs.
While talking to me kindly, the man goes inside the farm, and then I ask him something, he comes out of it with a knife in one hand and a piglet in another. I realize the origin of the many pig’s skins on the ground. I feel quite uncomfortable but I know that it’s not a situation I can stop, therefore, I think about how I could give an opinion about animal’s welfare in such circumstances when we don’t even have a common language.
There were two more kids there. I told them that I love pigs. At that moment, I thought to be a more strict vegetarian (even in Iran?!). I wrote a postcard for the family, mentioning that I appreciate their kindness, adding that being kind to animals, makes you also feel good.
In the morning, I am awakened from the screams of the pigs, and I start to picture in my mind someone killing the piglets. All this makes me hurry up and get ready to go, leaving that place of death.

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Day 3,

SURENVAN – ZANGAKATUN

30km cycled, in total 70km

Mountains and sun, a lot! Worrying visits in the night

Too much sun and too many mountains. In these conditions, I am about to switch into survival mode, the water finishes, and my energy as well.

It’s impressive how resilient we are; I feel that the human body and spirit, is made to go through anything.

I am on the top of the mountain, and I have finished all my four liters of water. After almost one hour of sweating to climb up, losing body fluids, I finally manage to stop a car to get some water. The man was so kind that he offered me two bottles of water and even fruit.

I cross many Iranian trucks. They are in such deplorable conditions, struggling to make it through the mountains.

I got waken up but a noise of something, or someone, roaming around the tent. I first think it’s a thief. Then I am afraid it’s a dog that does not even bark—the most dangerous ones!—I can’t sleep, I wrap up in the middle of the tent to avoid any bites. The time is passing, and I don’t know what to do, I can’t even look outside cause the only place I can use to peep out it´s the main entrance of the tent. I need to pee, so I do take a look outside, the moon emits a lot of light, so I can see shadows, far away, of something moving with four legs. I get back in the tent as fast as I can, I get the pepper spray and the wooden stick in my hands to be ready.

After a while, I manage to look outside thought a ventilation gap in the tent, and I finally realize what I have in front of me.

They are lovely horses, roaming around the field without even a Sheppard.

 

 

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Day 4,

ZANGAKATUN – ARENI

24 km cycled, in total 94km

Stomachache: again diarrhea, downhill (finally!), wine & fellow bikepackers

Eating just fruits and some local sweets made with grape syrop is not helping much. Probably the lack of hygiene in the preparation of those sweets, or eating the vegetables with the peel, it’s the root problem.

I see on the map that there are wine yards nearby. I order a glass of wine in a venue where I stop to eat, and it’s exceptionally tasteful: fruity, sweet, and full-bodied.

While cycling on a road with many street sellers, I see a bike packer coming in my direction. To be more precise, I don’t see him, cause a bandana entirely covers his face. Once he takes off his bandana, I see he is Asian. He is Chinese, and he speaks only mandarin; still, we manage to talk together and make friendship. While we talk, there is another fellow bike tourer coming in our direction, he is a french teacher in pension, he stops just for short, and then he leaves.

It’s about 16.00, not yet the routine time to stop cycling, but we decide to stop and camp together, we even get a free wine tasting from a street seller.

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Day 5,

 

ARENI – VAYK

41 km cycled, total km 135

The oldest winery on earth, kind Armenians, flat tire (again!), camping in the trash


Leaving Kun is like leaving a good friend, knowing that you will never meet again.

 

I see on the map that a fellow cyclist marked “the oldest winery on earth”. I am interested in winery and agriculture, so I go to explore the museum. It does slow down my schedule because I went there in the morning when I haven´t even cycled 10 km; however, I think that it’s an exciting place to visit. It was worth it. I didn’t even know that Armenia had this Guinness record.

That place was also utilized for dark rituals, sacrificing the person that made the wine.

Several people offered me food and drinks, and they even helped me with the reparation of the bicycle. It seems that the closer I get to Iran, the friendlier the people are.

I pump my wheels a bit more to go faster with fewer efforts.

After a few hours, the front tire is flat; luckily, it happened in a place where I had shade, and locals even helped me. I have Iranian inner tubes; it seems that they are of low quality and get damaged simply by pumping them too much.

In shops here, it’s impossible to find an inner tube, let alone one of better quality.

Because of the flat tire—and also diarrhea—it’s almost dark, and I don’t find an appropriate spot to camp. I camp at a place, along the river, where people had picnics. I didn´t see anyone there, but I can assume it from the amount of trash left around: plastic everywhere. You can’t make one step without walking on it.

It seems that the government is ‘trying’ to improve the situation by placing some signs about the issue. Still, there is nowhere to see bins and zero control of law enforcement about people throwing away nearly anything in the environment.

Before sleeping, I think about the question that people sometimes ask me: “Why you do it, and why alone?”.

There are times that I even forget myself the answer, or I don’t find the right vocabulary to communicate it in Russian.

The reason I have tonight, it’s the marvelousness of going to sleep, not knowing which great things may happen to you tomorrow. Which lovely people you may meet or what kind of astonishing sceneries will you admire.

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Day 6,

VAYK – GORAYK

32 km cycled, total km 167

Climbing mountains through the Indiana Jones silk road and the horror toilet

Today I am officially cycling through the silk road. It’s incredible to see how much up and down you have to do. I can’t imagine people doing it, hundreds of years ago, with animals.

At the current time, there are zero tunnels, so you have to climb all the mountains. The road is in poor condition, there are incredibly sharp turns without asphalt nor guardrails, right below them, there are about 2.300 meters of free fall.

In a shop, a kind man offers me tea, fruits and to go to eat inside of his home. I ask him: “toilet?”, this was a big mistake.

Once in the ‘toilet’, I am about to vomit. It was a small cabin with a little hole in the ground, the brown matter was everywhere, even where you would put your feet, the smell was nauseating. Unfortunately, hygiene still needs close attention in Armenia. Food handling is also an issue: food deliverers give bread—and other edibles—by hands, without putting it into bags. They even touch money and then food again.

Food sellers and supermarkets put the food on any surface, leaving it under the sun for days—or maybe weeks and months—in plastic containers.

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Day 7,

GORAYK – NORAVAN

30 km cycled, total km 197

Freezing, hospitable people, strange Armenian gastronomy, never again an Iranian inner tube! 

 

I slept on the mountains at about 1.200 meters, and my two lightweight sleeping bags were not warm enough. The temperature in the night was probably a few degrees above zero.

While my body was freezing, I was dreaming of a warm fireplace; it was a bit like the tale of ‘The little match girl´, but with a happy ending.

I need to get woolen socks.

Suddenly people are more and more hospitable. Today I got offered breakfast and a snack.

I had food at a family restaurant. The menu was not so broad, just two dishes to choose from and both with meat. The guy who owns the place was talking to me all the time. He was in a ‘lager’ in Germany and seemed to have had some questionable past—or present?—, At least from his look, his watch, and his tattoos on the hands.

Anyway, he was friendly to me. He offered me an excellent service—where he also auto-included a tip of 200 drams—.

The restaurants in Armenia are incredibly peculiar; they often have many separate rooms where people would eat, and not one big space. Another particular thing is that, at the end of a meal, there is seldom a dessert and, strangely enough, in some restaurants, they don’t have wine, but vodka.

The shop owner that sold be the current bicycle in Yerevan was Iranian. He told me to buy also an extra inner tube for safety, suggesting me to buy an Iranian one (branded “Iran Yasa”). I did it, and this was my biggest mistake ever so far on this trip.

Back in Europe, I never even thought there could be such a low-quality inner tube. Sincerely, I have always bought the cheapest ones which worked perfectly fine. There are two Iranian inner tubes in the tires, and I had purchased a spare one. All of them go flat if I inflated above two bars, while the ideal pressure—to drive smoothly without friction—is 4 bars. Today I had to repair, for the third time on this trip, an inner tube. They get holes just by themself. The gum that composes them is not uniform, and you can see that in many points, they are much thinner, with some ‘v’ shapes, which are ‘standard’ factory defects.

It will be a challenge to find a spare inner tube now, let alone a good quality one.

So far, I have asked in many shops; nobody has them. Therefore I have to drive with half-inflated tires and stop to repair them from time to time. As result, pedaling is getting harder and harder, for sure on the mountains.

Above all, today, I had to stop to repair the back fender, which also took time and energy. I guess that from now on, whenever it read: ‘made in Iran’ on something, I will not buy it, except for carpets or food!

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Day 8,

NORAVAN – VOROTAN (GORIS) 

30 km cycled, total km 227

Lost sunglasses, visiting Goris, bike repair

While on the road to Goris, I notice that I don’t have the sunglasses in the basket.

The present from my Chinese hostel friend is lost!

They were handy with the shining sun that, even in late October, is still hard to manage.

Goris is a nice little town on top of a mountain; the people here a not too friendly but neither annoying.

There are big holes for water to drain at the two sides of the road; therefore, if I get on the edge of the street, I risk to kill myself.

This situation is nothing unusual in Armenia. The road can be hazardous here.

My main hope, while on the way to Goris, was to find good quality inner tubes.

Once I arrived, after some searching around, I do find a shop that sells them: a toy shop. They have just one Chinese ‘brand,’ and these tubes are even a little smaller than my wheel.

However, I buy three of them, making the shop owner happy and giving myself a chance to inflate the wheels to four bars without having the tube exploding.

I stop in a hidden corner of the road, I set up my tent, and I do the tube change, hoping for the best.

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Day 9,

VOROTAN (GORIS) – KAPAN

35 km cycled, total km 262

Finally not freezing in the night, humbleness of not using the internet, Iranian inner tubes: the ultimate flat tire, smog, fasting, cars without number plates and sharp turns without guardrails.


Yesterday I made a new, more accurate cycling and camping plan. I decided that I will ride through the flattest roads after Tabriz in Iran, once the mountains are passed.

For camping, I will try to pitch the tent on low altitudes cause on the mountains, it is too cold to sleep, and I don’t have the right gear with me for that.

I have also discovered that the 20$ pop-up tent that I bought in Yerevan is waterproof. Although this makes it wet inside if I don’t keep some air passing, cause it has only one layer.

During my cycling, I prefer not to use the internet. In case of emergency, I may use it, but otherwise, I don’t want to. This way, I feel free, living in the present, with the locals.

Another particular, yet underestimated phenomena, is that we all think that others can’t stay without us contacting them almost daily. We believe that our loved ones—siblings, partners, parents, friends—may not ‘survive’ without having news from us or without our guidance.

Being off-line for a while will teach us that all will be good with them and that we are just part of society, we are not the protagonists.

I had have bought three ‘Chinese’ tubes in a toy shop, and this was the only alternative to the horrible Iranian tubes.

I substitute the front one in the morning, and then I inflate both tires to the right pressure to see if all is good. I have to climb a mountain, so I prefer to test them now, uphill —it’s safer—. The new Chinese inner tube keeps the pressure correctly, the last Iranian tube, on the back wheel, goes flat after a few hours. I have to stop and change it, for the fifth time! Two of my clamps to remove the tube broke, now I have only the last one, if it also breaks, I may have troubles.

I have eaten some low-quality Russian cookies and chocolate in the morning. Until the end of the trip (35 km), there are no shops where to buy anything, not even street sellers, so I don’t eat anything else. Fasting makes me feel good; this way, I drink a lot of water, and I enjoy the water as it would be a meal. Same for the air, which is supposedly clean at these altitudes (about 2.000mt). Unfortunately, black clouds are continually coming from exhaust pipes of trucks, I struggle to breathe.

There are many beautiful things in Armenia, sadly enough, traffic and roads are not on the list of the best that this country has to offer.

You can sometimes see even drunken people driving cars. They make insane overtakes, coming in my direction from the other side of the road. Several times I had to go out of the lane to avoid collisions.

I saw today at least ten cars without even number plates.

Due to the poor maintenance, cars and trucks stop on the side of the road regularly.

There are even trucks that, creatively, use toilet components as spare parts.

On top of the peak of the mountain, there are sharp turns without guardrails. In some cases, there is not even asphalt on the road. It becomes easy to do a fly of thousand of meters down the mountain; also cause half of the street has holes in the asphalt.

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Day 10,

KAPAN – GEGHI

15 km cycled, total km 277

Abandoned dogs & animal welfare, my temporary family, Christianity = Fascism?

Many abandoned dogs are just left one street. People hit dogs and other animals without any care.

I search for a restaurant but instead, I find a family.

The map showed me that there was a place where to eat nearby, it was well hidden but I managed to find it.

I am welcomed like a friend or a family member.

I make good friendship with all the staff, which is a family, I even play chess with the small daughter of the owner, and I lose badly, she is extremely talented and smart.

Once I leave, we hug and they don´t want me to pay for the food, I find it eccessive kidness, but finally I give up and I accept the family treatment.

Armenia was the first officially Christian country in the world. Christianity, as fascism and other dictatorships, was at the beginning used to obtain power, torturing and killing people. Now Christianity is seen as a holy practice that does good deeds. But, what’s the difference between archaic Christianity and fascism? Could we not also say that fascism, now, can be holy and good cause is not doing anymore the cruelty it did in the past?

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Day 11,

GEGHI – LEHVAZ

30 km cycled, total km 307

Getting lighter, the Meghri pass with a new friend, kids driving cars, non-breathable air: the closer to Iran the more smell and darkness of exhaust gas, experiencing an antipasto of Iranian hospitality 


 

 

I have donated the most of my heavier items to people I met, so I can cycle light to go up the last mountain.

Before the last mountain (the Meghri Pass of 2.500mt), I meet Nestor, a fellow bike traveler, we entertain each other with a lot of talking, therefore the climbing to the top of the mountain goes faster than expected and we are on the peak without even realizing it. We reach together the border with Iran.

Unfortunately, both me Nestor acknowledges that in Armenia, there are many kids of about 10yo driving cars. Let´s hope that the situation will change soon.

The thick black smoke coming from the exhaust pipes of trucks and cars is omnipresent, but getting closer to the border with Iran, it gets worse. Because of the smoke, I continually stop to put a cloth on my nose, or I keep the breathe altogether.

 

 

After the mountain, I and Nestor freeze going downhill, so we think to ask some houses to sleep indoor. We knock at the door of a group of Kurdish Iranians that bring us inside the house before we could ask anything. They feed us, we are treated like princes (of Persia!), and we are not even in Iran yet!

 

 

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Day 12, IRAN! 

LEHVAZ – SHAHROOD (IRAN)

40 km cycled, total km 347

Smokey night, the most disorganized border crossing (to Iran), the floor as a table and as a bed, goodbye to Nestor

 

It was one of the funniest nights yesterday. Still, I could almost not sleep cause everybody was smoking inside. Te fireplace was incredibly smokey too, and above all, we went to sleep at midnight, while I am used going to sleep at sunset, around seven o’clock.

Once on Iranian territory—finally!—the situation is really chaotic: the same check point and luggage inspection is used for both directions, the guards don’t tell you anything about what you have to do, the only thing they told me, was:”have you ever been to Israel?”, “no” —I replied—“why not”—the guard asked—“because I didn’t have time—I said. The only ones who he helped me to figure out how to pass through the luggage scanner were other travelers, telling me what I was supposed to do. The toilets of the facility are disgusting,and once you are outside, there is still one last check point: a cabin with a bed and a man without uniform which asks your documents, but he doesn’t stop everyone, he just stops people randomly. He asked me where I was from, I told him: “Belgium”, while he had my Belgian passport in his hands, he could not understand which country Belgium was, he finally called me Bulgarian. At the same time, you are surrounded by rude, nosy, and abandoned kids which start to touch all your stuff. It seems to be in the favelas. I thought the Ajatollah would send kids to school and give them a future, as his less religious collègue Lukashenko in Belarus does.

In Iran, people don’t use tables for eating, but the floor. It may seem weird and unpractical, but it’s a great way of having an almost unlimited space for guests. You can always fit; there is no need to add chairs or have a bigger table. The table does not occupy space, you can use the full room´s area, which is such a cool thing. Same is true for sleeping, even though there are beds in Iran, the thick Persian carpets are a comfortable surface to sleep on, above all, nobody wears shoes inside; therefore they are clean.

Nestor prefers to get hospitality from people at home, while I prefer to sleep in the tent, so we said goodbye before the sunset, we will probably catch up on the way.

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Day 13, 

SHAHROOD – GARGAR

35 km cycled, total km 382

Food poisoning, again and again!, the good of cycling and camping, terrorism in Iran (=cars), the Ayatollah always with you, visit at the tent

I am not sure if I got poisoned by the food I eat yesterday or today. Still, one thing is sure: in Armenia, there are severe issues with food hygiene, and I guess that in Iran will be no different. Food, one of the many things that I wanted to enjoy, is probably something I should forget.

Two other factors that bring me down are that people here eat a lot of meat and they have food late in the evening.

Since a while I avoid meat, and I normally do intermittent fasting by not eating after midday to improve my digestion.

Many people don´t realize it, but there are many many positive sides of camping and cycling:

Everywhere there is a potential toilet.

You don’t have to do home cleaning.

All land is (potentially) your house.

You don’t have to pay any rent.

Many people think about terrorism when they thing about Iran.

The only terror that can be felt is from the traffic, because otherwise, people are lovely. I think that if road safety will improve, removing car culture, the country would be a great model for the world.

Since I am in Iran, I have seen the picture of the Ayatollah at least every five minutes. I guess that it would be easy to recognize him if I see him in the street, but I am not sure if he would hang out with me.

 

EFFECTS

I don’t find an adequate camping place, and it’s almost dark, I camp in a cultivated field in front of a house. I hear dogs, and I attempt to go to the nearby building to introduce myself, but nobody is at home.

 

 

After I set up the tent, a Sheppard comes with sheep’s, I go towards him, and two big dogs come to me, luckily they only smell me. I tell him that I would like to put the tent in front of his house, he says it’s okay.

Half an hour later he comes with a friend which speaks some English. They tell me that, at night, they free the dog and it would be dangerous for me to sleep there. They help me to move the tend and they even make a long trip to bring me water.

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Day 14, 

GARGAR – MARAND

55 km cycled, total km 437

Police Sleeping in the car, shitty streets, burning plastic in ‘recycling centers’, kidnapped

I cross a police car which is stopping vehicles for control—so called control, cause they don´t do much work—, one policeman was sleeping soundly in the car. This circumstance reminded me of Latvia, where I have witnessed the same thing.

The sun is high in the sky, and I start to smell some brown matter, I look under my shoes, I don’t see anything.

I see a consistent amount of smelly poo in front of me—am I on one of the main highways of Iran—.

There is no way to avoid the soft droppings. They cover almost all the width of the lane, for kilometers.

The smell is much more intense than the standard animals poo´s smell, it seems to smell almost like human or dog poo.

Most of the trucks here don’t have any protection on the backside. Therefore, there is always the risk that they lose part, or all, of their loading. When I see them, especially the ones carrying rocks, I keep myself far from them.

As I arrive on the outskirts of Marand, the second town I crossed, I am surrounded by brick-fenced rectangular areas. I don’t understand their usage. Seeing through the gate, I discover that they contain trash, somewhat selected.

 

From one of those areas, there is a dark, smelly smoke rising up. Instead of recycling the plastic, they burn it or they burn electrical cables for copper.

It’s getting dark, and I took a longer route to check if I could go through a minor road to avoid cars.

A young boy, working in a Cafe at the other side of the road, crosses the many (dangerous) lanes running. I look at him and I wonder why the hell would he cross so fast. After short, I discovered that he did it to approach me. He tells me to stay in the city and to book a hotel instead of camping. I am not sure why, but he is insisting about it. I thank him for the kindness and reply that I have to go.

One kilometer later, a car stops in front of me blocking my way, a man comes out of the vehicle.

He doesn´t speak English but I understand that he is a cyclist too cause his car is carrying a bicycle. He takes the bicycle and asks the wife to drive away with the car, so he can cycle with me. He invites me to sleep at his place and after, he would ride with the bicycle with me to Tabriz. And this is precisely what happens.

Now I have a new friend called Hedar. 

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Day 15,

MARAND – TABRIZ

76 km cycled, total km 513

Stomachache, terrorists and burkas

 

I don’t even know if it makes sense to count or write that I got, yet, food poisoned. I usually fast in these situations, but I just fasted a few days ago, and I wonder how many times should I fast.

The resolution for tomorrow is either fasting or eating in some spotless place.

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Today, it happened several times that I have crossed my path with Iranian terrorists, car terrorists!

Those reckless drivers were going the wrong way on the motor road. Even a gigantic truck did it.

As a sign of a protest, and also to promote female emancipation, I am wearing a scarf in Burka style, so that people looking from the back think that I am a woman and they would not kill me.

I am curious to see the effects in the long run.

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Day 16, TABRIZ

0 km cycled, total km 513

Relax in Tabriz, men and women in Iran, bike-packers giving up

 

For the first time after two weeks of cycling from Yerevan, I have rested all day.

By resting, I mean not cycling, cause I did walk around the city of Tabriz—the former capital of Iran—all day long.

I have just learned that in Iran, already as kids, you have female and male separation. In the first year of school, boys are separated from the girls.

 

Men hang out with men and women with women. There is almost no interaction between the two sexes. In many cases, women are kept away if there is a man present. Therefore, I have spent most of the time with my host without the wife.

So far, I have met five bike-touring fellows. Unfortunately, two of them gave up the trip and returned home for health reasons. It is not sure, but it may be something related to food poisoning.

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Day 17, TABRIZ – EL-GOLI PARK

10 km cycled, total km 523

Men hands in hands and kissing me, beautiful decorations on walls, the country of the picnics: El Goli Park

I have seen several times adult men walking hands in hands. I have even been stopped, several times, by older men who kissed my hands and even attempted to kiss me quite ‘romantically’. I am interested in knowing how it comes, but I could not ask about it.


It’s astonishing to see how many walls have beautiful decorations. There are mostly graffiti picturing nature. But also some smart metaphors about education and culture.

I can’t cycle 10 kilometers without noticing groups, mostly families, sitting on the ground in parks—or wherever—having picnics.

In El-goli Park, on the edge of Tabriz, I have found the paradise for ‘picnickers’ and outdoors addicted. I finally decided to camp here cause it’s carefully well kept, and there are magnificent areas for camping, sports, recreation, and more, mostly for free.

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Day 18, 

EL-GOLI PARK – BENEH KOHOL

60 km cycled, total km 583

Cold & rain, the genocide of dogs

After sleeping at the beautiful El-Goli Park, I start my journey early in the morning. I notice that there is some little rain, carelessly I go anyways.

A kind man stops me, inviting for food & drinks. I refuse cause I need to go to toilet. I wanted to use just an empty field, Iranian WC’s are not for me, they have strong smells.

Later on, I almost feel guilty to not have accepted; the man was about to beg me.

Just in 60 kilometers, I have spotted three dead dogs—one of them may have been even a fox— . I see dozens of them abandoned on the edge of the road feeling lost.

 

 

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Day 19,

BENEH KOHOL- BAYAT, east Azerbaijan

50 km cycled, total km 633

Tent igloo: gas chamber, the invisible Persian architecture, Iranian food: rice and meat, bottled pee, Iranian red crescent, impossible to not be contaminated: water with soap 

For the first day, at an altitude of about 2.000mts, the tent freezes (litterally). All the condensation of my breath on the tent forms a layer of ice, which makes me feel less cold cause there is less humidity.

I made the mistake of eating before going to sleep. I hoped to feel less cold and that some (Iranian)digestion pills would help me.

I ended up releasing so much gas from my belly, that if I would had my head longer than two minutes inside of the sleeping bag, I would have died. If there would have been a C0 detector in the tent, it would go on all the time.

Allegedly, the Persian empire existed since more than 10.000 years, yet, I didn’t see any building from ancient times.

It’s already a week that I am in Iran and I have seen, for 90% of the time, people eating only rice and meat. Sometimes the menu of a restaurant/snack does not include anything else. Eventually, you can also get lentils. With my digestive issues, due also to food hygiene, I really don’t know what to eat, it seems impossible to keep any vegetarian diet.

Because of Islam, it’s not customary in Iran to pee on the side of the road. I wonder how people do if they need to pee while they are driving.

Looking at the edge of the street I get the answer. I see many plastic bottles that contain yellowish liquids.

I have stopped several times at red crescents centers to ask for water; nobody has ever opened me. Today I was sure that someone was inside the building cause I heard some noise, yet nobody came to the door.

I miss the public drinking water fountains of Armenia and Georgia. In Iran, there are not many of them.

Today I finished all the water, I finally find a medical building, they are kind, and they let refill my bottles.

Tap water is not drinkable here, so they give me water from a bottle, I notice the bottle is a soap bottle, while they pour the water in my container, it makes foam.

It’s surprising and worrying that something like this happens in a medical center.

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Day 20, BAYAT, east Azerbaijan – GHARA BOUTA

75 km cycled, total km 708

Customer service: the strongest survive & difficulty of basic communication, a shop sells open bottles of water, poverty but no homelessness, wrong street signs

I get always served after customers who came later than me in restaurants.

Already twice happened that when I order something—or better, I think to have ordered something—, and I don’t get any food at all until I go again to ask.

For some reason, people don’t understand basic sings in Iran.

I think that I am quite communicative and I managed to communicate in many countries, but here I struggle.

At a fast food, I point to the dish that I would like to order, and the staff still doesn’t understand. In a shop, I show a napkin to the clerk to ask him to sell me a packet of Napkins, and he wants to sell me a notebook instead.

I don´t always find driking fountains, thereforeI need sometimes to buy water. From the moment it seems that even in medical centers they give contaminated water, I buy it from the shop. Once I open it, after I left the shop, I discover that the bottle was already open. It has been used several times. I don’t even go to the shop to complain: they would not understand, or maybe that’s the way it works in Iran.

After cycling a bit, I see people in a truck collecting muddy and polluted river water, and I hope it’s not the same water that I have in the bottle.


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So far, I have seen many poor people, unfortunately. There were even kids in terrible conditions. Fortunately, I didn’t see any homeless people (yet). I crossed just three main cities, but it seems that there are no homeless.

I am 90 km away from the next city, “Zanjan”. I know it for sure cause I checked on several maps. However, I cross a street sign showing that the city is 120 km from me.

After twenty kilometers, another street sign states that “Zanjan” is still 120 km away. The concept of distance is maybe relative in Iran, not sure if there is any Iranian Einstein behind these signs.

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Day 21, 

GHARA BOUTA – BAQLOUJEH SARDAR

60 km cycled, total km 768

Food poisoning: Fasting, trucks crash next to the tent: traffic security (stones), the first cheaters, looping water, the motorized death match of animals, chance to get to Tehran 

I am not able to sleep, My belly is hurting, and I feel like vomiting, which I don’t want to do. This time the issue was for sure an egg with tomato sauce that I eat in a snack. I get diarrhea, and I wake up often.

While I am awake at night cause of my intestinal cramps, I hear a metal noise of a car crash just a few hundred meters from my tent. I see smoke, and I am anxious that someone died cause from the sound it seemed to be trucks.

I run to the place, and I discover that indeed two trucks crashed, mandarins cover the street, and one man is bleeding on his head.

I do my best to help; luckily it´s not life-threatening, and after about 20 minutes from the accident, an ambulance comes, finally.

I go back to sleep, and it’s 5.00 am.

In the morning, I start cycling at around 9.30, the street of the ‘highway’ is full of large stones on the emergency lane, and even on the slow track. Those are either lost-cargo from trucks or were put there by purpose when cars had panne, with the aim of ‘signalize’ the emergency; those stones are dangerous.

I stop to get some water at a ‘melons’ kiosk; there are father and son working there. They seem friendly, and they even share with me their dislike for the Ayatollah. I see that they have a fountain with a closed circulation pump—which means that the water is always the same—that they use to clean things, I think about my stomach and how dirty that water can be.

They first try, unsuccessfully, to exchange money with me, so that I would give them some euros. Then they want to charge me about 7 euros for a melon and two bottles of water. This would equal in Europe to be paying 100 euros for a sandwich in a restaurant.

I threaten them saying that I am going to call police. Still, once I see that I don’t know even the number of police, and my phone doesn’t work cause I don’t have a local Simcard, I give them 1/8 of what they asked me, which I think is reasonable.

Many trucks with animals, mostly sheep, pass in front of me on the way. I see those animals crowded on two-level trucks; they are fastened somehow to keep the head down, some of them are already dead on the vehicle.

Every time I see I truck, I say to myself to have a more vegetarian-vegan diet, but it is hard here.

An empty truck, not used to transport animals, stops in front of me, and the driver asks me if I want to get on with the bike, so he would bring me to the Theran, cause that is his destination.

The proposal tempts me, but I refuse. Once he leaves, I think that I may accept such an offer just for emergencies.

In fact, I have my eyes burning. I am not sure if it’s because of the sun or of the sunglasses. Anyway, if they may be painful next days. I may need to really search for such a kind truck driver to get me to Tehran.

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Day 22, 

BAQLOUJEH SARDAR – ZANJAN

40 km cycled, total km 808

Sunburn, no possible to visit a university, police visit, freezing 

Too much sun and too many days of continuous cycling give me a severe sunburn. Now I am so tired and distressed that I can’t continue cycling. I plan to stop early because I also have an intense headache.

There is a large university campus in front of me, I always like to visit universities around the world, so I go to the gate. The guard stops me and tells me that I can’t enter.

I stop in a nearby park at just 13.00. The place is well kept, except for one of its sides, which is full of trash. My sleep starts already around 14.00, and I plan to sleep until the day after. Once I get asleep, I hear someone coming to the tent. It’s a policeman. Behind him, there is another man in a uniform of a different color. The agent looks into the tent. He tells me that it’s dangerous to camp there, I don’t understand which are the dangers, I try to convince him that it’s all good and I am going to leave in the early morning, without disturbing anyone. They are friendly, and they go after short. Still, I don’t understand if I am allowed to sleep in that area but I am too tired and too sick to bother to move. Also cause it is dark, move everything in the dark is complicated—I have already lost some accessories to move the tent in the dark—.

Some sweet dreams are in my mind when I get awaken by the hear of shouting, I look outside, and I see a man without uniform. He is on a motorcycle talking to me from far distant. He seems authoritarian, and I guess he tells me that I have to go away, but again, I am too tired to do anything, so I fall asleep one more time. Just half an hour is passed when the same man comes to the tent with a thick stick and a bright lamp in his hands. He tells me that it’s dangerous to stay there and I should move to a place close to the entrance of the park, where he can see—and guard—me, he is friendly and brings me tea. Regardless of his warmth, I freeze in the night, especially my toes are cold.

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Day 23,

ZANJAN,
25 km cycled, total km 808

 

Breakfast with the guard, Crossing the city mostly by foot , side roads without any life, ‘induced student’s protest’: blocked by police called terrorist, the police prevents me from going near the square where the protest gathered, blaming America for rainy days, female clothing shops forbidden to men, at the post office they don’t know what a postcard is

 

The kind guard of yesterday offered me—or better ‘forced me’—to have breakfast with him. He was kind, and he literally gave me all the food he had. He gave me tomatoes, explaining to me that he had no teeth and could not eat it. It was a bit sad; I wanted to ask him if it’s expensive to have dental care in Iran, but finally, I didn’t.

It’s already hundreds of kilometers that I am cycling on the highway cause the other roads are either too small, too damaged, or too steep. Today I decided to take a minor way; on the map, it seems that they are not steep anymore. There was not much more to see on the alternative street. It’s a bit sad to cycle so long and not find any enjoyable architecture, villages, or places where to stop. The thing I see the most is garbage.

I arrive in Zanjan, and I am excited to visit a town finally!

The main street is too trafficked, I take a smaller road, and there is absolutely nothing there, so I go again on a primary avenue.

I cross a large crowd of teenagers and kids. They are all female, marching, holding many signs.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that they are doing a folk event for school.

I am wrong, and as soon as I see the first sing that they hold, I understand: it´s a march against the USA and Israel. It’s sad to see so many kids (obviously)pushed to do such a manifestation. They have even pictures of the US flag in flames, but one of the kids—without even being aware of it—was wearing a t-shirt with a big American flag on it. I also manage to take some pictures and interview a local that explained his point.

However, I felt assaulted cause a considerable crowd of the teenagers blocked me, and for a while, I could´t move. They were just curious, and it was like being a superstar. However, I didn’t feel comfortable having so many bodies pushing me and touching everything and everywhere.

One kid asked me where I was from; I said: “from the USA”—yes, it’s dangerous to say that in such a situation, but I felt safe and I was too curious to see how they would react—. They were not aggressive by knowing that I was (supposedly) American, and indeed I told them after short that I was not American.

The Iranian government blames the USA for everything.

If the economy goes bad in Iran, who´s fault? The USA!

If the products made in Iran are of low quality, who´s fault? The USA!

If there are too many car accidents in Iran, who´s fault? The USA!

If there is pollution in Iran, who´s fault? The USA!

If people in Iran need to pay the government thousands of euros to get out of the county, who´s fault? The USA!

If there is a rainy day in Iran, who’s fault?

I think that this aggressive blaming approach will not bring anything good to Iran. The students should first learn all the side of the story, having full access to the internet—which is censored in Iran—. And then they could make their conclusions, without being pushed by the government.

Iran is a strong country; many products are made in Iran, starting from sweets ending with trucks. The government should better seek negotiation and, maybe, do the step of stopping any military actions that may trigger international worrying, such us Uranium enrichment.

The police get suspicious about the fact that I take pictures. I notice that I am the only one that does so, I didn’t see anyone else taking any pictures.

I get my passport checked, and a kid says to me: ‘terrorist!’.

It is all not that aggressive, but I did get a bit annoyed, especially cause the police didn’t allow me to pass through the square and wanted me to go away.

I go around searching for some shops; I need warm socks, and I look for woolen socks, there were many sheeps on the way so I thought that I would find good warm socks. I want to send postcards and buy an Iranian Simcard (for emergencies).

There are some female clothing shops, but the entrance is forbidden to men. The only socks I find are made of synthetic materials. I don´t buy socks.

I am not allowed to buy a Simcard in a standard phone shop, because I am a foreigner; consequently, I have to visit a post office.

At the post office, they tell me that another post office can make the Simcard for me, not them.

I go to the other post office. After waiting almost one hour, being asked a lot of information such as the first name of my father, fingerprints, and having all other customers (physically) pushing me to their requests to the clerk while I was being serviced; they tell me that I have to wait six hours for my Simcard.

I ask to send a postcard; they don’t know what it is—n.b. I am in a post office—. I try to explain what a postcard is; they don’t understand, they say that I need to use phone apps to send messages to other countries, it seems they don’t even have letters sending services.

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Day 24, 

ZANJAN – ABHAR

60 km cycled, total km 868

Frosted tent and bicycle, night’s sounds: trains making noise as tractors and tractors making noise as trains, religious singing at 5.00 am, gas chamber restaurant, sad dogs, happy about close arrival in Tehran, villages that remind me of Belarus and North Korea, no USA but yes Coca-Cola, the smaller the town the more covered the faces of the women, Locals not understanding 

Camping at 1.800 meters of altitude is not the most comfortable way to sleep if you don´t have an extra-thick sleeping bag.

I don´t even realize that it is so high up because all this area of Iran is high. Hence, I have climbed just a bit higher than normally, but the difference is noticeable.


There was ice and frost on the tent; and on the bicycle too. The water in the bottle partially was frozen. I guess that the temperature was at least -3°C. For the first time, due to the cold, I had to stop writing my diary in the tent; even thoguh I was wearing ALL the clothes I had, I have never done it before.

I packed my tent while it was still frozen, and after ten hours, it was still with ice pieces when I opened it again.

The hardest part was the morning. The night was bearable thanks to the many layers of clothing and also the negative temperatures—with less humidity—.

In the night, except for the omnipresent sound of barking dogs, I also hear something like a tractor.

I am surprised that it makes such a big noise, but then I realize that it’s a train, a diesel locomotive—or Deisel, as they write (faulty) in Iran—. Later, I hear something that I think it’s a train, but it’s a tractor.

Those two noises, in conjunction with the barking of the dogs, accompany me all night long. At 5.00 I hear someone singing, it’s the Islamic chanting, which—strangely enough—happens at 5.00 am.

I remember my host waking up at that time to pray.

 

I still didn’t manage to ask anyone why this is so.

Today I have just decided almost not to stop when I cross a restaurant around 13.00, the perfect time to stop. As I enter the large restaurant, I smell a strong smell of methane. There is, for sure, a leak somewhere, but the people inside are eating and chilling.
I am unsure whether I should stay or go. I ignore the possibility of telling anyone about the smell because I am quite sure that the staff knows it, but nobody bothers to repair the leak.

Finally, I decide to stay, risking to explode for a dish of white, Iranian rice.

I am on my way again; I shorten my break to avoid any explosion. My family would not understand that it was not terrorism, but something else, maybe more dangerous.

There are more and more abandoned dogs on the street; again, many dead bodies too. Those are the saddest dogs I have seen on my path. The poor creatures are often only puppies and are almost in skeleton. I have heard that dogs, in Islamic cultures, are seen as dirty animals, but still, they should not abandon them.

Once a few kilometers are passed, I do get a joy feeling looking at the map, Theran is just a couple of hundreds of kilometers away.

In about three days of cycling, I will arrive and, finally, rest. I do love to cycle, but it had been almost one month of non-stop cycling, and I need for sure a long rest. My eyes need to be away from the sun, cause they hurt—I have got already a sunburn—; also, my knees start to hurt.

Moreover, I would like to talk to some fellow travelers, to my loved ones, and to connect to the internet.

I have decided not to use the internet on my way, so I don’t get distracted, and I enjoy the present moment with locals.

There is a village that I have to cross before putting my tent, the broad streets and the empty monuments remind me of dictatorships like Belarus or North Korea.

It’s ironic that here in Iran, everybody is against America, the government blocks American websites. Still, they do support the biggest (American) multinational of the world: Coca-Cola. No snack does not have it, and sometimes it’s the only drink they have!

As I cycle along the village-town, I notice women turning their heads away from me and closing their hijab like a burka. It’s not a nice feeling for me, but I guess that in Theran they will be a bit more open-minded.

It’s almost sunset, even though the clock marks only 16.30, I need to find an appropriate sunny place to pitch my tent so that it can dry because this morning I packed it frozen.

I ask two men if I can place the tent nearby. I show them the tent, I do the sign with my hands, and I even use Google translator to make them understand. They both reply the same, pointing with the finger to another direction: “hotel”.

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Day 25, 

ABHAR – TAKESTAN

72 km cycled, total km 940

Night creatures, Sexual repression, one model of motorcycle for one country, the navigator hates me, useless police, cars mechanics as coffee shops, a lot of sheeps but no woolen socks, Iranian mustache, rich and poor kids, a car stops to ask my Instagram, double Ayatollah & triple Ayatollah...

The night is full of sounds, some scarier than others.

I hear a mix of animal sounds. I recognize dogs for sure, but there is another sound that I can’t identify, it seems a howl, a wolf’s call.

On the way, it happened already four or five times that really kind men, approached me in a kind of intimate way, kissing my hand and head.

I almost feel that they are interested in me in a sexual way. I am sure that it’s due to the sex repression in Iran. Many people don’t enjoy any sexual life and divert their orientation to men, etc.

Looking around, I notice that most of the cars I see are the same model, branded Saipa or Peugeot. 90% of them are white, understandably. As for motorcycles, I see only one model of them.

There is an excellent flat road going to Tehran. Still, the navigator indicates me another way through the mountains; luckily, I didn’t take it.


Every thirty kilometers, there is a police checkpoint, but I still don’t understand what they check.

Most of the cars commit serious traffic ‘crimes’. Vehicles driving in four on a motorcycle without helmets, going the wrong way, having kids at the steer, trucks carrying cargo not fastened that get lost on the road, exhaust pipes that give smoke as black as coal; they all pass without problems through the police control point.

Iran is different than any other country, not just for the traffic, but also for the distribution of shops.

In an average town, in Europe at least, while you walk to the city center, you find bars, cafés, restaurants, and boutiques. Here, you find car mechanics, car mechanics, and car mechanics.

There are thousands of sheeps that I crossed in the fields. Ironically, I can’t find one single pair of woolen socks, they are all synthetic, and made in China. But there are not even labels to know origin and material.

Observing the people here, I can say that I like the Iranian mustache. I mean on men, not on women, cause some ladies do have it, hiding it under the hijab. It reminds me of Freddy Mercury and George Micheal. It seems that it’s quite trendy in Iran. The cool thing of it it’s that each person personalizes it a bit.

At a traffic light, there is a kid dressed up with dirty clothes selling Monouse razors.

I go to a snack; there three kids are eating a pizza having fun.

Here it’s all about luck. I wonder why in Iran, the Ayatollah is so strict about Islam but doesn’t provide support for such situations. It’s tragic.

I am cycling my last kilometers before camping. A car stops in front of me.

As always in these cases, I don’t know if I should approach them or not, I am quite sure they stopped for me, thinking maybe that I am a girl, cause my scarf covers a good part of my face. They are four men, after telling me ‘hello’, they ask for my Instagram.

If you are in Iran, better you are not allergic to Ajatollahs, the couple of Khomeini and Khamenei—makes that I regularly misspell—are everywhere. You can see the two bearded men in every corner of the country, and I would not be surprised to see their ‘Santa’ faces on the walls of my tent. I wonder what will happen when there will be a third and a fourth Ajatollah; will they be also omnipresent? Then Iran needs to clear a lot of spaces on walls to accommodate their big beards.

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Day 26, TAKESTAN – ABYEK

72 km cycled, total km 1012

No night disturbances finally, drinking water not always available: missing Armenia & Georgia, Rials, tomans and more, feeling like a woman (not just for hijab), never a cozy place to stop, driving like crazy but no rage, Iranian way of riding = maths, street full of soil from trucks, the hospitality killer trap: exhaust gasses of methane fireplaces indoors, sex with the wife of my Islamic host

Last night was one of the best nights ever, it was not cold, and I was on a soft dry grass where nobody could see me.

I have finished all the water since yesterday.

It took hours to find a place to refill my bottles. In Iran, there are no water fountains like in Armenia or Georgia—around every corner—. That would have been practical, now I have to buy water and, the most popular brand is ¨Danone¨ water for some mysterious reasons.

Wearing the scarf as sun protection is not the only thing that makes me get some feeling of how would it be to be a woman. Kind Iranians stop me all the time, they are interested in knowing who I am, offering me something, or taking a selfie with me. Now I understand what a woman feels when she has so many attempts of approaches from men. It’s a good learning experience.

Unfortunately, since I am in Iran, it’s tough to find a comfortable & cozy area where to stop, a side road, for example. There is no place where to rest under a tree and all spaces are full of trash, which is omnipresent since I left Finland.

Iranians do drive without any respect for any rules, having the Guinness record deaths on the road. Still, if compared with other countries, like South Europe, I don’t see here the rage, I don’t see aggressive behaviors that are so common in Europe. Here people don’t insult each other if someone cuts your way in a roundabout, that’s just normal. Iranians are probably applying the efficiency mathematics principles to traffic: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So they go from “A” to “B” on a straight line, regardless of eventual obstacles in between (humans, animals, traffic lights or one-way streets).

Beyond the disastrous way of driving, one extra element challenges survival on the road: the trucks losing their cargo.

Many kilometers of road is covered with soil lost from a cargo. An entire driving lane is almost unusable, which means that I don’t have any ‘safe’—a big word in Iran, for sure if we are talking about traffic—space where to ride.

The riding day is almost finished. I am about to cross one last village when I am stopped by the owner of a car garage, a mechanic. I first stop only for tea, but then I decide to stay, and I end up sleeping over.


Saeid, the owner, it’s kind, I enjoy his company. He also reminds me of Salvatore, an old friend from Italy.

There is a gas heater in the shop; it has no exhaust pipe, which means that all C0 stays indoor—unsafe condition that can quickly kill someone—. C0 is light, so it goes up in the air and stays on the higher part of the room. By chance, I have to sleep on a mezzanine. I ask Saeid to turn off the heater in the night, cause I am supposed to sleep alone in here. When he is about to leave, I check, and the heating is still on, he tells me that he would turn it to the minimum, he is afraid that I would feel cold.

I am lying on the mezzanine since ten minutes, and I feel already my head oxygen-less. Lucky, I insist, he turns it off and says goodbye. Saeid closes the electric roll gate without telling me how to open it. I can only hope—praying Allah—that in the night, there will be no need for me to get out, otherwise, I may be trapped inside.

I am at my host’s place; all his family are particularly kind to me. Suddenly, my host goes away. I am alone with his wife.

Surprisengly, she is still in the same room where I am. By Islamic customs this normally doesn’t happen.

She takes away the hijab and looks at me in the eyes, I gaze somewhere else, wondering about the situation. We get close to each other, and some interaction starts, I didn’t even like her so much, but she initiated everything.

After half an hour, the husband comes back, and he notices that we were in the middle of something, he is upset, but with no aggressive reaction, he tells me that I have to go away. I feel really bad, but I open my eye and I discover that it was just a dream, luckily.

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Day 27,
ABYEK – KARAJ

60 km cycled, total km 1072

Iranian government kidnapping his own people, long draining canals along the streets made to kill you; scared, aggressive and dead dogs, child labor, architecture: its the face(ade) that counts, everything fake, even the toothpaste 

Locals told me that as an Iranian, you have to pay the government to go out of the country. In some cases, you have to pay also to visit other cities.

If you want to leave the county for good, you have to pay about 10.000$—yes! USD, not, valueless, Iranian Rials—. If you travel for tourism, you may have to pay less than that. It seems like that if you go back to Iran, and then you want to leave again, you have to pay additionally. 
I wonder what the Ayatollah does with all this money; there is seemingly no welfare nor much other government support in Iran.

Sidewalks are a nightmare for me; often, it is impossible to get on them. It is not just the massive step of the sidewalk itself that creates a barrier that you can’t climb. In addition to it, there is a considerable canal between the road and the sidewalk; this is the water draining system.
The result is that you are stuck in the middle of the road. You can’t even do it a “u” turn because there is another barrier that blocks the lane of the way to the opposite direction.

So far, most street dogs were scared of me on the bicycle; they were running away as I would kill them. 
Anyhow, since today, dogs started to bark at me aggressively, and, for the first time since Armenia, I had to stop to scare them away. 
The saddest thing is that today, in just ten kilometers cycled, I have found three killed dogs. 
There were dozens of dead dog´s bodies, and even foxes, along my way. 
Someone said that we could judge a society by how they treat their animals. I think it is true.
I would add that societies are also evaluated by how they treat their kids. 



In Iran, it is not uncommon to find kids working, and even being harassed by their bosses with shouting and physically. 
Today I have seen a kid searching for plastic (to recycle probably) in the trash. 
On the other side, people love to flaunt wealth here. 
There are monumental façades of houses and venues, but the rest of the buildings, from the back, it’s like barracks.

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I have bought a branded toothpaste, so I thought I could use a product of quality, cause I knew the brand was good. Well, it’s not the case, the toothpaste is terrible, it’s not at all like the same brand in Europe, and it becomes red instead of white.

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Day 28, 

KARAJ – TEHRAN, ARRIVAL!! 

48 km cycled, total km 1120

Reasons behind the Iranian car culture, peer-to-peer taxi system, Naples vs. Iran, the only efficient police in Iran: the Islamic police, customer service worse than the worst, the souther the wilder queues, no theaters no music

The car culture in Iran is due to not just the disastrous administration. One main issue is also that everybody lives with the family—or even extended family—.

It’s hard to have personal space, so the cars become like a second house, a place where youngsters can be together, maybe also for a date. The sexual repression also contributes to having people hiding in cars instead of using apartments.

Not everything is wrong about the car system of Iran. One good thing is that people ‘hitchhike’, or do something similar. They simply stand in the middle of the road—risking their lives indeed—and wait for a car, or taxi, to stop.

Then they negotiate the price and the ride. It could be that you get even a free ride.

This system is an excellent way of doing car sharing: less traffic, less pollution, and a better transportation system.

What is the difference between driving in Europe, and driving in Iran?
Well, the difference is enormous, indeed.
What’s the difference between driving in Naples (Italy) and Iran?
This time, the difference is not so significant. The main difference is that in Naples, you have one city driving like psychopaths.
In Iran, you have one country driving like psychopaths.

There is a lot of police in Iran, many departments and several special forces.
Their specialty is Islamic control. You may commit traffic crimes, environmental crimes, any sort of offense; if the quran does not sanction it, then the police will not do anything.
From the moment that in the quran is not written that you can’t drive cars on the sidewalks or having kids driving trucks, the police is okay with it.
But, if by chance, your hijab is not worn as the quran prescribes, then you can get tortured, imprisoned, and also killed. The same is true if a man and a woman (not married together) touch each other.

The customer service and queues are not the best part of Iran.
Many times, I was standing at the counter of a shop with more than three clerks; nobody would care to talk to me; they would chat with each other and look at the smartphones.
I wanted to repair my shoes, and a power bank, both shoe shops, and technical repair shops refused to do it, cause they were lazy.

The second obstacle between you and the shops are the other customers. They don’t care at all about who is first. People push you away to get what they want from the clerk, even though you may have been waiting since a while and were being served.

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In Iran, a theater with a live performance is not always not well-considered by islam. Probably because you see people moving live, and you may get horny. That´s why women can´t dance or show their hair. Moreover, is more difficult to censure and control a theater performance than a recorded movie.
The same is true for music; in the first years after the revolution, music was banned.
Street musicians risk getting harsh punishments. Music, in general, is not welcomed by islam and western music is for sure seen as evil.

EFFECTS(1)

 

TEHRAN DURING THE OIL PRICE RAISE PROTESTS 
The government of Iran killed an uncertain number of protesters, the number of them could be above 300.

It all started with a sudden announcement of the Iranian government about the increase in the fuel price of more than double. 
There is to say that fuel in Iran is the cheapest in the world and you could buy about six liters for one euro.
Personally, I think that the price of the fuel was indeed too low and there was need to increase it to both protect the environment and the people, cause there is too much traffic in the country. However, the way the government did the move was not well planned and they didn´t even improve public transportation.

Thousand of Iranians are in the streets to protest, mostly pacifically.

From the supreme leader came the order for the police to be brutal.

The Internet has been completely turned off to the whole country since almost one week. Taking pictures or video of protests can be really dangerous cause the regime does not want any freedom of speech about his operations.
Witnesses have seen policemen without uniforms breaking cars and damaging buildings. This was done in order to state that the protests were aggressive. The police have claimed later that the protesters were violent and USA-sponsored, which is ridiculous.
In Iran there is a permanent block on the internet, upload is limited so people can hardly spread videos. Many websites like Facebook, youtube, blogs are blocked too.

Nearly every night I think with sorrow about all the beautiful people I met, hoping that none of them was harmed.


Replica noses, copied products, but original Coca-Cola and Danone water, the chador should have reflectors, the important Ministry of petroleum

There is a big trend of making nose plastic surgery in Iran. Women are mostly doing it, due to the Persian nose being sometimes a significant component of your face.


With the masochistic economy of this land, only the minority of the medium-upper class can afford this luxury; others can’t.
If you are in the middle-class, and can’t afford it, you can still put a plaster on your nose and pretend you did it; this is what some people do when they can’t pay for it.Except for the nose, you may find other fake things in Iran. Let’s say that it’s easier to say what is not original than what is fake here. There are no (serious) laws about copyright, so nearly any product you buy is a copy.




Toothpaste, cosmetics, tires, electronics, clothing, all fake.
Still, Coca-cola is original. That’s ironic, in a country that officially ‘hates’ America.
Often, you don’t find any other drinks than Coca-Cola (the original!) and water branded Danone (the original).
I wonder why it is so vital for Iranians to have the worst quality soft drink of the world in original, and pay to the most prominent US multinational. Same for the water, why do they need to pay to France for water?
If you know the answer, write to me.

From the border with Armenia to Tehran, most of the ladies were wearing the chador. It is a full-length black veil that covers from the head to the feet, except some parts of the face.
After weeks of seeing chadors, I have got a bit depressed. I was also worried about those women, not just for the islamic repression, but because they would easily die if they cross the streets. Having an entirely black veil in the middle of the night, close to a road in Iran, equals to die in a car accident.
The Ayatollah could make some new models of chadors with reflectors and lights so that women are visible to cars and safe.
In Tehran, there are women not wearing the chador but wearing a hijab quite loosely, like a scarf.

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In Iran, and especially in Tehran, there are many things to improve, such as: removing poverty, addressing child labor, reducing pollution, traffic, make sewages, repairing gas pipings leaks, create artisans unions, regulate concurrence and competitors shops, tax the high-class, etc… 
Yet, the government concentrates all his energies and resources in repressing people, forcing Islamic beliefs. They even have a ministery of islam, petroleum, and mining. 
In this repressive situation, for the first time in my life. I had (almost) nostalgia for Naples, which is also a disastrously administered city, but without any Ayatollah.

 

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM IRAN
Police simple people (where there is no protest), the army too, Car sharing. Peacefulness, Honesty, Respect, Food sharing, producing goods locally 

I liked the fact that the policemen I met, regardless of how brutal they can be during protests, never acted aggressively or with excessive authority on me. I have also met kind army people.

Most of the people I met were deeply honest (more honest than in Europe!), respectful, and peaceful.

I often gave my wallet in the hands of Iranians and never feared anything.

The custom to share food is for sure something that many western countries could take as an example. In Europe, we lost a lot of our old good sharing habits.

Iran manages to survive international sanctions by producing everything locally.

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This independence is really interesting and could be a learning moment.

Trade, done fairly, is for sure a healthy thing for an economy, but many countries import a lot of useless stuff that could be easily produced locally (eg, Coca-cola, water, etc.).

Unfortunately, coca-cola is also in Iran. Still, at least they have a wide variety of local drinks, including refreshing pomegranate and fresh citrus juices.

Of course, there are 1001 things to improve in Iran. I have been quite critical and straight to the point in this post. However, from our side, we should look at what WE can learn from Persia, and not otherwise.

 

…ah, and the carpets! we could learn the ´carpet-culture´ and to sit on the carpet instead of using chairs!





 



One of the reasons for this trip was to meet all the beautiful human beings I met on the way, which I didn´t know I would meet:

ARMENIA
Kun (fellow Chinese cyclist) 609204973@qq.com
Nestor (fellow Argentinian cyclist)

AFTER THE IRANIAN BORDER
Iran overland is more beautiful (fellow guide)

TABRIZ
Heydar Sadeghi (host in Tabriz) 00989148773947
Hossein (friend of Heydar) +989359757145
Niels Oude Wolbers (cyclist)
Rezad 0098 9143130235

ZANJAN
Ali Chalifar 0098 0148995191
Rassur Abbasi (bus driver that  offered me a ride – no English) 0098 7052715 

Saeid (the car mechanic that looked like Salvatore!)

TEHRAN
Ali Rezar Hushmab 0098 9121140555
Mohammedi Tehran (not met – a friend of Heydar) 00989127610760
Patrick (fellow Irish bikepacker) Genghis Yop Poj (Facebook)
Milad Salahi


PRECIOUS STONES
Blue Lapis
Garnet (Instagram)

Legal aid in Europe – How to make a complaint and claim your rights in EU.

Are you living or traveling in the European Union?
There are a number of rights that you have which you may not be aware of, I make here a short list of some of these rights and I tell you which are the steps you should make in case of legal issues.

 

It’s your right to film Police

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In the most European countries you have the right to film Police in public, also in the USA it’s allowed.

There are several organization to get informations about your rights for filming Police:

CopBlock.org

Opensocietyfoundations.org

While filming is mostly allowed, once you publish a video, you may want to blur the faces of the policemen.
You should also be aware that if Police is in operation better you keep some distance and discretion while filming, otherwise they may annoy you.

 

How to claim your rights as a human—or a citizen, traveler of tourist—and make a complaint, “press charges”, “make a report”, to institutions and what to do to escalate it to higher hierarchy levels

Whom to contact

– Higher ranks of the same institution you are complaining about (head offices, etc…)

– Ombudsman of the institution

– General Attorney (if is about Police)

– Regional ombudsman

– National ombudsman

– Traveler rights associations (if it is about travelers)

– Human rights associations (if it is about human rights)

European ombudsman or Online dispute resolution (for online goods/services)

European commission – SolveIT

European Parliament

European President
(for extremely serious matters)

In parallel of this, you could contact a local lawyer (via hg.org for example) or the local court if applicable.

FireWorks Atomium - Brussels

INFORMATIONS

e-justice.europa.eu provides useful and updated information about your rights in the EU.

VisaHQ.com offers services and data about visas

 

FOR HOMELESS

Feantsa, European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless

 

FOR URGENT IMPORTANT MATTERS, PHONE NUMBERS

– Call your Consulate

– Emergency Support Aid International Human Rights line +353 1 21 00 489

Amnesty International +44-20-74135500

 

HELP FROM ONLINE COMMUNITIES

Don’t forget that you can always ask for help through any of these online communities:

And, why not, Facebook.

Do you have any information that I missed in this list? Please comment!

Getting assaulted in the streets of Santo Domingo

Five persons sitting on a square table playing domino,

Going on a bicycle as much as I can, unfortunately, I can’t cycle on water, therefore in some special circumstances, I still have to use other transportation means.

Front part of the right wing of a passenger airplane with clouds and blue sky

The view from an airplane shows you a perfect world, the small cars all going their pattern, all the perfectly aligned lights.  It seems to be a world that does not contain anything harmful, it shows as everything good is going on, you would never think people would be killing each, being in wars, doing abuse and commit a crime, in such a beautiful, round world.
Maybe this is also the vision of “god”, everything appears perfect to him, that’s why he does not intervene.
Maybe his sight degraded with time, as did mine.

 

THE LESS EDUCATION THE MORE DEGRADATION;

It’s independence day, a big celebration in the Dominican capital because it’s more than one century since the separation from Haiti.
Carnival shows and army parade are organized: helicopters, airplanes, fireworks; All that money spent—a euphemism, to not say wasted—for fun, could be used in social, education and health care. Here they really need these last three things.

I walk, as always, in a historical area, it’s inside the ‘Zona colonial’, which is one of the few safe areas here, that’s why I discretely take out my device to record an old woman sleeping in the street. Unfortunately many, old and young, sleep in the streets in this country.
I walk few hundred meters, suddenly, I am pushed and pulled from a group of about five or six teenagers, they are trying to steal my phone. I defend myself holding the hand of one boy.
I am quite unprepared, I didn’t expect it to happen right there, but I do manage to put one hand in my pocket to protect the smartphone and keep them away with my legs.
I try to talk to them, attempting to calm down the situation, telling that I could give them some money but I really need the phone and I can’t afford to lose it.
They don’t really listen and attempt to punch me, I shout to attract the attention of nearby people, it’s a central area and there are cars passing by, but nobody helps.

A man walking with a gun in the Santo Domingo
After short, I see a man with a gun pointing straight to my face as he would fire, I put my hands up, trying to calm him down. I notice the boys starting to run away; I see a policeman in uniform taking his gun and pointing at those kids; I tell him not to fire.
I find out that the first man with the gun was a policeman too, the touristic police station “Cestur” was just in front of me.
My shirt is broken, my arm bleeds but nothing was stolen. I thank the police and I go to do the report.
I meet ‘el Coronel’, I tell him what I think: “I appreciate your work; all this happened not because there is not enough police: we need here less punishment and more education for the kids”.
He tells me to come back the day after, I don’t know why.

To avoid any risk, from now on I put the phone in my underwear. This created the situation where I thought I lost my phone and was searching for it for hours, while it so was deep in my pants that I had forgotten about it.

A red coca cola truck in street traffic

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE CARIBBEAN’S COUNTRIES AND THE USA

How different is the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico?

Long traveling still didn’t make me master politics about all the countries: before arriving in San Juan, I actually didn’t even know it was part of US, I discovered it when I had to make my travel documents.

Among the Puerto Ricans, there is a strong feeling of being independent of USA, for sure the more politically involved ones have it, but at the same time, after 100 years of Politically  belonging to the US, there are many North American habits that are so strong now in PR that I would be really curious to know if Puerto-Ricans could get rid of it. Things such as driving with big cars, consumeristic mentality, and money based society.

A poster on a light pole: a soldier shoe with the USA flag stepping on the PR flag

Consequently, I wonder how Puerto Rico would have been without the US, or, how would the Dominican Republic have been now belonging to the US?
Anyhow the US still comes here to suck resources, with Coca Cola, McDonald’s and various other multinational.

 

I GET ROBBED IN THE WEALTHIEST COUNTRIES

As you have read above, I was assaulted in the Dominican Republic but ultimately, nobody stole anything from me.

Do you want to know where I did get my stuff stolen?
I got stolen in the richest places of the world: Copenhagen and Helsinki.
In two different situations, my bag was stolen, in Copenhagen, it was taken away from between my feet!
But this is another story…

A police car in the sidewalk of San Juan in PR

So, what about you? Where have you got robbed?
Share your story!

Cycling naked into the world’s most radioactive area: Chernobyl

Wooden bridge with slit in the middle

Cycling through the Radioactive area of Chernobyl and ghost towns

I start cycling from Minsk and I go south to Ukraine, I pass nearby Chernobyl: Naroulia–one of the most radio-contaminated city of the world–, the Radioecological reserve Polesky and the nuclear ghost town of Poliske (Ukraine), which is between two military checkpoints.
Many dangers on the way, but the radioactivity pollution is not the biggest.
The Belarusian army, police, wild animals, falling apart bridges, injuries and even lack of drinkable water was what made the cycling challenging.

LUKASHENKO

It’s like an authoritarian father, not allowing his children to do anything he does not like them to do.
I feel it from his army and police, so close minded and standardized.

THE HIERARCHIC WRONG FAIRYTALE OF CINDERELLA

Belarus make me think of fairytales.
Children’s stories that can make kids adults heroes, or just robots, depending on the content of the narration.
Let’s take Cinderella as example, an apparent nice story.
But there is a manipulative teaching: kids learning that a prince or a king is more important than a common person.
Cinderella wants to get out of her poverty through marrying a prince. This is not just sexisst but higly hierarchic and non meritocratic.

If there would be no prince there would be no poor ladies like Cinderella.

GETTING INTO TROUBLES WITH BELARUSIAN ARMY

To take a shortcut, I go through the forest, crossing a falling apart bridge I see a strange field in front of me: it’s not forest, neither cultivated, on the map is shown just as a gray area. I go into it to cross it.
I see big holes on the ground and I have a strange feeling.

All the patterns marked on the map don’t match the real path and I am stuck in this place. I decide to camp there for the night, feeling a bit worried.

During the night I hear trucks passing, I look more carefully out of the tend and I spot a destroyed war tank far from me.
I start thinking I may be somewhere where I should not be!

In the morning I am awaken by a big military truck passing, a soldier with three stars on is jackets comes out of it, telling me, ‘almost friendly’, that I am in a military exercitation camp, where they are shooting with fantery and heavy weapons. He tells me to leave asap.
I thank him and I leave, I think that he was quite kind to have just told me to leave without even asking who I am.

After two kilometers there is a checkpoint, with soldiers and the man I spoke previously was there waiting for me, he politely tells me that I have to be interrogated.

I am ready for interrogation and I am quite happy to be alive, not aware that the interrogation will lasts seven hours and I am asked about EVERYTHING.
They check all my stuff, included my private pictures on my phone, emails, facebook and all you can find on my google account.
The find some naked pictures of me, where I promote Cyclonudista, and tell me that pornography is illegal in Belarus, I tell them that that’s just my body as I was born.

At the end I am told that a truck will come to pick me up and bring me “on the right way…”.


After another half hour a truck comes, I am helped to get inside of it with my bicycle, there are soldiers with weapons in it.
I am not able to see outside, it’s dark and I am about to vomit for the shaking and the dust.
I can now understand a little what animals in cages feel when they are transported from one place to another, I understand why many of them die on the way. I almost wished to die myself on that truck.
I am worried and paranoid, I think  that they would harm or even kill me. They seem too kind to be true.
The truck stops, the same people who inspected me open the door from outside and I am free, for real.
Never felt better in my life.

DOGS AND WILD ANIMALS ON THE WAY

In the tent I clearly hear wolves, I am ready with pepper spray and a metal stick–a detached handlebar–to fight, but luckily they don’t come too near.
Dogs are barking to the wolves all night long. What to know what I think about dogs?
Dogs are the most evident example of human insatisfaction.

I see a farm in front of me, I see people kicking and pulling cows as they are pieces of

EVEN IMPORTANT THINGS ARE EASY TO FORGET

When we change from different situations we can forget really fast, and deeply. We may easily forget all the struggle we were in before, if we are suddenly in a more comfortable situation.
The ones of us with memory for the sad past, the ones that remember also the bad times of others around, the persons that have this sensibility, those are our heroes, those are the ones to whom we have to be grateful.


YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND

When you have a home, you can’t understand homelessness.
When you have a full belly, you can’t understand the hungry one.
When you are healthy, you can understand pain.

I also don’t understand how I am able to cycle: just one week before starting, I do a wrong movement and my back gets blocked, people need to pull me up and lift me for about three days in order to let me move.
My right eye has some loss of sharpness; while cycling I fall down, I hurt my hand and I am not able to use it for all the rest of the trip… But this didn’t stop me.


USSR AND COMMUNISM – UKRAINE OPEN TO EU

Kiev is much different than Minsk or Riga, which both give me USSR, anti western, pro-Putin feeling.

I was more keen to like the Soviet Union before my trips to the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine.
After the seeing huge economic and social differences even in Belarus, which is the only country in the world that continues on the USSR regime, I am not sure I like this kind of communism. I would not even call it communism, but dictatorship.

I have noticed that freedom of speech is unknown in Belarus, the country is ruled by police with little-no personal liberty.


I would say that among ex-USSR countries, Ukraine is the most open and EU-oriented country, even if there is a long way to go.
While Latvia was the most unfriendly country for western people.

TRAVEL COMPANION

I mostly travel alone because I am often disappointed by travel companions. Some of them pretend to be lovers, but are much better than expected as traveling companionship, much worse than expected as lover.

WAR IN UKRAINE

What’s the difference between a detainee and a soldier?
The only difference is that the soldier can let out his hunger and frustration freely on other people.


EUROPEANS SHOULD LEARN FROM UKRAINIANS

In Ukraine people is not smiling all the times, sometimes they give you the impression of unhappiness. Except this, I have experienced great manners, honesty and really friendly attitude.
Things work well here, public services are smooth and internet is really fast and cheap.

The subway in Kiev works extremely efficiently, it’s clean and everyone is perfectly well educated to stand up from their seats for an older person. The same in the tram, trolley bus and minibus.

Walking at night, even in really dark areas, is totally safe. Nobody bothers you even if is clear that you are a foreigner. 

Police and army people are friendly. They are working hard and will not bother you, in south europe (especially in Italy) this is not the case.

I never felt unsafe or threatened here ,  to be sincere I felt much better that in many European capitals.

Baltic’s States, I meet a blood drinker around Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

ESTONIA

One of the difficult things for me, to do on the road, is to take picture and enjoy what you are photographing at the same time. Is not easy to catch the beauty of what you are watching, often by photographing all the time, you even lose connection with the reality and the enjoyment of the moment. That’s why sometimes I just leave the camera on my bicycle and I record everything without even pointing at it! (not always with the best results….)

Blood drinking girl in Pärn‍u

On my way south, from Finland to the bottom of Estonia, I was searching for a place to sleep, suddenly I met someone…

We met in the middle of the night without knowing each other, in a dark street in the countryside.
I was lost and she offered me her place to sleep (without even seeing my face).
I liked her style, her way of behaving and her apparent foolery, she was really extravagant.
While we cycled to her place, she was telling me that she was a monster and enjoyed killing people. Drinking their blood.
I was slightly scared, but tired enough from the trip to follow her without resistance.

We arrived,
her room had many dark-style decorations on the walls.

It was the house of her grandparents, with her alcohol addicted grandfather, always drunk, screaming all the time, and her extremely sweet grandmother, gentle and kind, suffering all the time.

Even being afraid that someone is a dangerous person, if you like that person and you think it’s someone worth to get to know, you should go for it.  Everybody is a potentially dangerous person, and remember that even if someone is ‘bad’, he may change as well. Better to be now, with someone that looks like a dangerous person, or maybe not perfect, than to get to know someone thinking he is totally safe  (which does not exist actually) , that will eventually change in the future in someone dangerous while the first person may get better.
Not even death always related with ugliness: the dying of leafs on a maple tree are delightful to see for example.


LATVIA

RIGA

The most people has a quite archaic and conservative opinion about sex and man-woman relationship. If you like to be in company of women you are seen as a dirty, stupid, unwelcome.
The first impression is that western Europeans can be just good to get scammed and ripped off.

There is a huge Russian influence here, even if people told me: “Lithuanians are more Russian-style than us…”.
Anyhow, I don’t see here a big wish for change from the past.

If a man is not prone to expose himself for his ideas, or his ideals have no value at all or he, as person, has no value at all.

Luca x2, the paradoxical coincidence

Passing by a hostel in the center of Riga, asking some information’s, I notice a person that I have seen somewhere before.

I ask:

“Hallo, did I see you anywhere before?”

“yes, maybe” – he says with a strong french accent,

“ah, that’s funny, where were you the past weeks?” – I reply,

“in Tallinn,”

“me too! we should have met there then, did you hitchhiked to here?”

“no, I came with the bicycle”

“me too! what a coincidence!”

“what is your route?”

“I am coming from Scandinavia”

“me too! that’s more than a coincidence… ! where are you going?” – I say, almost not believing it!

“south, direction middle-east,”

“me too!” – I even start to worry about too many coincidences! – “since when did you start?”

“many months”

“me too, seen that we have so much things in common, we should introduce each other! What’s your name?”

“Luca” – he says

“me too!!” I reply

This is funny, weird and does not even look like to be possible, but it is. And you have seen it on video!

 

I love Gulliver’s travels because whenever he was traveling,  in the each new place he arrived, the people could not understand or properly interpret experiences he had in the previous places. This happen in real life as well, who hasn’t traveled into a country, is not really able to understand certain things about that culture.


 

LITHUANIA

What if we would say to an anthropologist: “are you sure the culture you talk about is not just a scientific stereotype?” – I don’t think it is, but would be interesting to hear the answer.

Vilnius

If you just go in the street and shout: “Giedre” you will get at least the half of the girls turning their head. This is the most common name for girls.

Food

Lithuanians really love to add sauces to any kind of food, especially ketchup!
Pizza with ketchup, mayonnaise or tartar sauce is quite common.
Coffee and tea are not filtered, which means that you are mostly eating, not drinking it.

Vegetarians and vegans in Vilnius

When I asked to a waiter in a restaurant for a vegan meal, she gave me this explanation:

“Vegetarian here means that you are allowed to eat fish, Vegan means that you don’t eat fish or meat, but you do eat milk and eggs.”

I was surprised, but actually I have to admit that in Lithuania people is still much more forward than in more southern countries about fair and healthy food, for sure Latvians and Belorussians are not better…

Police

A group of three persons was behaving a bit annoying around the main train station during night time, once I called police they came really fast, they were helpful and did a good job, I even got a translator.

With Police the truth is sometimes the least credible.

The danger of who generalize is to end up fighting against his companions.

Cycling

There are public bicycles and some bicycle paths, still the system is not perfect and in many streets it’s really hard to cycle because the path may be marked as “cycling lane”, but , it has in some areas paving stones that makes it almost impossible to cycle.  The crossings points need to be improved too.

Street Theater, Street Performances

Lithuanians have a sense of creativity, art and modernism, I was quite surprised to notice that.
There are many enjoyable street performances in Lithuania, regardless the cold climate (of course mostly in the summer), if you happen to pass in Vilnius in August you may enjoy some carfree days with Art, Sports and performances open to all.

Theater VS Real Life

Theater and reality overlap in my life, it merges until the point I don’t play theater anymore but I play my life, making the world as scene. This makes my technical acting skills decrease, but my social and life skills improve.

Technology

Regardless some other fields where there is room for improvement,  in Lithuania, you have great internet infrastructure: the best European fibreoptic internet penetration (usage) and both home and mobile internet really fast and affordable.

Technology VS Nature

How to know when tech is going against nature?
Well, one easy attitude would be to use technology to better understand and follow nature’s rules.

Riga, European capital of the scam culture 2014

Street of the scam, kalku iela

Racketeering, extortion, scam, rip-off, coaxing, fraud, and aggressions by organized crime happen on daily base in the city center of Riga (Latvia), the old town. While locals are indifferent, not knowing it or even pro-crime.

 

20141024_010033

 

Riga, the ‘capital of the Baltic’; capital of Latvia; european capital of culture 2014; or capital of scam?

Have you ever been in Riga? If you did, you are probably reading this too late.

Kalku iela, Riga. The bars runned by criminal organizations scamming foreigners customers.
Kalku iela, Riga, just behind the Freedom Monument. The most bars on the left side are runned by criminal organization with the only purpose of scamming foreigners.

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RIGA AS TOURISTIC DESTINATION

Since late 2000 Riga became more and more popular as touristic destination, mostly because of cheap flights and it’s membership of the European Union.

Many tourists in group decided to visit this baltic city and to spend their weekends there. A good part of those groups were made of boys wanted to have their weekend of fun, adventures and good times.

Until 2012 there were ‘stag parties’ (bachelor celebration) taking place in Riga, where the visitors were quite loud and drunk in the streets. This may have contributed to have a local public opinion quite anti-visitors.

Tourists, visitors, travelers and expat report that in Riga they didn’t feel really welcome and that locals were not much friendly there. I have to say that I also had this feeling, even though I met few great local persons in Riga.

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CRIMINALITY AND SCAM IN BARS IN RIGA

Since many years in Riga there are different kind of crimes happening against non-locals with the passivity or complicity of the local authority (police and politicians).

Kaļķu 22, The bar in Riga where to most scam happens
Kaļķu 22, Old town, Riga. “Krušovice Sporta bārs” headquarter of the criminal activities. This bar changes his name on regular basis to avoid to be recognized by tourists.

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The most absurd thing is that those events happen always in the same places (bars) which are in the very city center, in the most touristic area, behind the freedom monument, with police and people all around it, walking few meters away.

Because of a general dislike that many locals have for tourists, nobody is really interested in trying to change what is happening in Riga.

But what is really happening?

I will tell you here my story of few days spent in the European Capital of…. Culture? 2014,

Walking to go to sleep during nighttime in the Kalku Iela I ask an information to a person passing, we talk friendly. She speaks perfectly Italian and behaves really friendly, I was surprised and we start a new conversation, I get invited by her to go to a bar, I say I don’t want to drink, but I would just just walk her there. Even if my intention was not to go and drink, the woman pushes me to get inside and orders two drinks while I am about to say goodbye, as I see she ordered, I sit to talk to her briefly saying that I have to cycle and I don’t want to drink alcohol.

After a small chat (around five minutes) the waiter brings the bill and the woman says I am suppose to pay, the bill was much higher than normal (maybe ten times), I ask to see the menu, the prices were matching the bill (which means that the scam in the bar is pre-organized).  At the same moment the woman orders other extremely expensive drinks (cognac, champagne, etc.) asking me to pay.
I notice the woman does not even drink once from her glass, but she pushes me to drink all drinks, I find this suspicious, I ask her at least to try it, but when I take the drink and offer it to her, she jumps back, as it was something disgusting, pushing the glass to my lips instead.
By this I understand there are most probably drugs in the drink (remembering stories of travelers being drugged in Riga) and I refuse to drink closing my mouth, she pushes so hard that the drink gets on our clothes, the glass falls and gets broken on the floor. She says that I will have to pay everything, also for the glass, when I refuse she starts to aggress me first verbally then physically.

She becomes violent and throws the broken glass to me, which injures me, at that point I am surrounded by all the men that were in the bar (four persons, including waiter and a big bouncer which suddenly appeared) that immobilize and aggresses me, while the woman takes my jacket which was on the couch (with my phone and money in it),  goes inside of the bar and throws it on the floor.  Meanwhile the bouncer and ‘friends’ (waiter, owner?…) push me out, but I get free, get the jacket from the inside and run out, calling police. In the jacket there is no phone neither money anymore.

The police arrives after fifteen long minutes, one of the policeman was sleeping in the car, they are not surprised at all of hearing my story, they were mostly pissed off to have to work at that late time. We go back to the bar and everybody is still there, as nothing happened. Continuing to scam other tourists. The policemen friendly (but this is no joke, they were friendly to her) ask the woman to follow them in the car, she is smiling and not worried at all.

As we go to the police station I don’t get any report, the police asks me how long I will stay in Riga and where I live, treating me quite rudely, I show them on the map and on the calendar, and even the criminal woman is hearing and seeing all this, because she is just sitting next to me, smiling all the time.

I tell them that all this scam was completely organized and that I am not drunk at all, I am sober and I understood everything, they are not interested in listening to me, they call an ambulance and send me to the hospital.
In the hospital I see a man bleeding vigorously, blood on the floor and nobody taking care of him. He was trying to stop the blood with some toilet paper, but it was such long time that he was bleeding that the blood was drying out on his clothes and face. Almost complete indifference of the hospital staff towards this severely injured drunken old homeless, they left him almost die, while prioritizing my small injures with my disagree.

The day after, I go to the police station to ask for a copy of the report, they say that it will be shipped at my place, I am said I am not in right of getting any report in other ways.

I never received the report shipped.

Contacting the Police afterwards I get to know that there was no complaint made by the Police officers previously.

 

A second time, another attempt of scam happens, but really differently:

I meet a girl in a in a safe bar (one of the few safe bars in old town), she is really friendly and we just have a small talk, but we exchange facebook and the telephone number.

We keep contact by sms’s for about one week, almost daily we write to each other, she is really friendly and kind in the messages.

We arrange a meeting in a (safe)restaurant, we have a short walk and she asks me if she can stay at my place for the night, cause she lives far and didn’t want to take the bus to go home. I told her that she could stay.

As we arrived I made some food for her, which she was eating really fast.

She sat on the sofa putting her legs on my legs, she started to say she had a big family, not much money and that her sister was having cancer and needed a risky head-operation, behaving as an extremely pitiful person.

After that, almost crying,  she asks me if she could borrow me some money. (I understood there was a trap)

As I refused, she started to send sms’s and making calls to someone, which she said was her boyfriend and that he was coming to rescue her from me, then she also said she would call police and say I attempted to rape her if I would not give her the money.

I was quite nervous, I really didn’t know what to do cause she knew where I lived (I was about to stay for a while in that place) and I was staying there alone, as an easy target.

My brain was burning with any kind of thoughts, I didn’t know who was coming, what those persons would do and I was new in that area, without any friends. I was thinking of all possible strategies in order to get her and myself out of the place.

Instinctively I take her bag and throw it outside, luckily it was open and all her stuff went on the street, she needed some time to collect it all, in the meantime I took all my stuff of value (this is the positive side of being a minimalist), locked the door twice and left as fast as possible.

I spent the night out, with some dutch boys that were keeping me company and offered me their place where to stay.

After that I had to leave the place and move on.

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The day after another attempt of scam, yet different:

I met a group of girls in a safe bar, one of them tries to get my trust saying she is a student and in her group of girls there are a couple of friends working in the police (to make me feel safe, but she didn’t know that I don’t trust police at all). They look completely as normal girls, anybody would trust such a group and would be really hard for anyone to recognize anything suspicious in it.

We spend almost all the evening together, we dance and chat a lot. I notice she asks me some personal informations, such as where I live exactly (which street) and if I have friends or know people there.

While we dance I notice she starts to change her behaviour cause I don’t give her the informations she wants, I notice she is not really liking my company but she spends time with me and is committed in passing more time with me, I feel that is like a ‘job’ for her.

I ask her what she does and where she lives, and I notice that she speaks exactly the same way, with the same arguments, of the other two criminal girls I met previously.

She starts to tell me that she lives outside Riga and that she had rough time at home, she was looking for a place where to live in Riga city, asking me if I could host her.

I notice the scam immediately, I tell her to hold on, that I needed to go to the toilet.

I left the bar, I left Riga, I left Latvia, maybe forever.

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Bottom line

I have read and heard personally a lot of those stories from people traveling in Riga, some people woke up on the beach half naked with no shoes, glasses, documents, money or bags! completely screwed up.

It looks like that many local people are not giving importance of what is happening or are even happy of those scams cause they don’t really like tourists or visitors (local say often: “if tourists comes here for cheap sex and beers, this is what they deserve”).

I don’t like to drink alcohol, I don’t like prostitutes neither strip clubs and I have never done a stag party in my life. But I don’t condemn who does like those things, there is nothing to be ashamed of feeling guilty for. If in a country they don’t want prostitution, strip clubs or stag parties, there are legal ways to stop it.

I have traveled in many places in the world, I have been in Africa (Ghana, Cameroon Ivory Coast) , Asia (Cambodia, Thailand…), Middle east and many dangerous european cities, I have been in the most crazy and unpredictable situations. But never something like this happened, never I felt so much in danger as in Riga that I was just not able to trust people anymore (for sure girls). The thing is that the most people I made friendship with, people that are now my best friends, I met them in the street. Asking me to not approach people in the street is like asking an italian to not talk with hands.

Certainly I have never experienced locals to be so proud of their criminals justifying those acts as “punishment to the bad tourists”.

Actually it’s quite the opposite, the target of those scams are often quiet, polite and respectful persons, which would not try to do to much with the girls,  because most of the girls are in relationship with the mafia people from the bars and nobody of them wants that foreigners touch them.

The paradox is that this was happening since almost ten years and still happens now, in the same places, in the same bars and with the same passivity (or alliance) of the institutions. Now that you are reading this in Riga, in those bars, people is getting robbed and aggressed.

I would suggest to tourists to not go to Riga at all, Vilnius, Tallinn and many other cities offers you much more, people is much more welcoming and you are no target of such scams.

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WHAT TO DO IF YOU VISIT RIGA:

Caution to bars and women

pay attention in the area of the “Freedom Monument” by night:

– LIVU laukums(square) ;

– KALKU iela(street), especially between 20-26;

– Kaļķu 22 – Krušovice Sporta bārs – this bar changes his name every few months

There are places where often WOMEN APPROACH you quite easily in the street (or inside the bar) and propose you to drink.

Those bars are ruled by organized crime, the will eventually try to:

– Make you PAY EXTREMELY high BILLS, give the incorrect change and even in some cases force you to take money out on your bank card/credit card, stealing eventually the codes of the latter;

– Drug you and STEAL ALL you have (eventually shoes and glasses too);

– AGGRESS you if you complain;

Calling police can be helpful, it may help against aggressions, but police will not do more, they are all aware of the situation, but don’t stop the crime from the roots, there are maybe some reason why police don’t act strongly against those bars.

Pay extra attention if you are ALONE or DRUNK.

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HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE SCAM:

They develop and improve their techniques daily and are professional.

Is quite hard to recognize them, nearly every woman or girl could be a scam in Riga.

Few things that makes you recognize them:

1) Fast interest in you

They will start to be friendly after short you met them, even before.

But they will not forcely approach you first, their technique is evolving, they know how to behave to make you approach them (maybe they smile, look at you or just stand next to you), like “normal” girls would do.

2) Extremely friendly and good company

They are trained to have nice conversations with you and they will be agree in almost anything you say in the beginning.

3) No French Kiss

Even if the behave flirty, they will not allow you to do more than giving them a small kisses, touching legs or back. They will become quite disgusted and disturbed if you try to do more. After having tempted you and behaved bitchy they may even call Police if you try be just romantic, and they may say that you tried to rape them.

If you combine those three attitudes together, you may be 95% sure you are handling with a scammer criminal girl.

If the above facts apply you may:

– Just leave

Make sure she does not know where you are staying

– Call police

telling them that she is scamming you (maybe she carries some drugs or sleeping pills with her).

– Get back your stuff

If she already stole some of your money and you want it back, there is no better way to just take it yourself, cause police will not help, see where she puts it and get back on it.

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WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN SCAMMED, THREATENED OR ROBBED IN RIGA:

Making reports to the police does not help, since more than ten years there are daily reports to the police and the criminal bars are still working, in the same place, with the same people.

The thing that may be more useful to do is to bring this issue to national (which are corrupted as well), international mass media, internet and make public awareness about it, you can eventually give the police stations a rating on internet and also mention your report with some reviews (which works better than police reports):

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Latvijas-Valsts-Policija/304251296284224

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Policija/253446478031577

https://plus.google.com/101360299143666175684/about?hl=en&review=1

https://plus.google.com/112842030997255090706/about?hl=en&review=1

https://www.mywot.com/en/scorecard/vp.gov.lv?utm_source=addon&utm_content=rw-viewsc

You can also share informations on the facebook group “Riga Scams Report and Informations”:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1570152769880704/

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Krušovice Sporta bārs - Nightlife in Riga

You can read even comments of people who has ‘worked’ in the ‘pubs’ (as stated by them)  , those persons don’t even fear to write that. This is sign of a completely authorized scam from the institutions.

 

Krušovice Sporta bārs - Nightlife in Riga

 

(reviews from http://www.inyourpocket.com/latvia/riga/nightlife/pubs/Krusovice-Sporta-bars_10774v)

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THE DANGER OF IGNORING AND IGNORANCE

 

Krušovice Sporta bārs - Nightlife in Riga

 

If you just google the words “Riga scam” you will get hundreds and hundreds of experiences about people got robbed, with the same criminal scheme but always different techniques.

The most sad thing is that most of people that gets robbed are not doing any report at all because they feel ashamed of public opinion which may think that they were with prostitutes or went to a strip club even if is not so. Or they may not feel safe with the police.

Many locals reply to those horror stories with words: “stupid westerners; idiot tourists; people looking to get robbed; if you are idiot you will always have those problems; those tourists were looking for troubles;you deserve this treatment if you are looking for girls; etc…” – As if being friendly and talking to a girl is already a reason why you should be condemned as sex tourist or prostitute seeker.
I really wish to the people that writes such disrespectful comments to go to go on vacation to get robbed, agressed and spoiled up completely, like this they would understand the sensation.

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If you don’t believe all this, just go to have a walk in Kalku Iela wait to get approached by a girl, or get in one of those bars and ask for a beer, but be sure to be fit in your body and have many big friends coming to rescue you.

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I would correct the title I gave to Riga: ‘the title of Capital Of Scam 2014’, maybe instead of “2014” I would say: “anno post soviet Union”.

http://www.inyourpocket.com/latvia/riga/Scams:-tales-from-the-trenches_70957f
http://www.inyourpocket.com/latvia/riga/nightlife/pubs/Krusovice-Sporta-bars_10774v
http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/Latvia/Riga_Region/Riga-440232/Warnings_or_Dangers-Riga-TG-N-1.html#top=%23topics&page=1&tgCount=0&themes=0
http://destinationriga.blogspot.com/2012/08/10-things-for-tourists-to-avoid-in-riga.html
http://wordtravels.com/forum/discussion/5292/safe-bars-in-riga/p1
http://www.travbuddy.com/Warning-Scams-In-Riga-Latvia-v203223
http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/60441/
http://www.thegmanifesto.com/2010/10/second-night-in-riga-latvia-scam.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6164119.stm

Facebook Group “Riga Scams Report and Informations”:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1570152769880704/