In the morning we packed up quickly and rode into Meshgin Shahr to have a quick breakfast. With the amount daylight each day decreasing rapidly as we approached midwinter we were eager to get as much cycling done in the morning as possible. We found a place in Meshgin Shahr to eat pretty soon, and the owner was delighted to see us. He was learning English and was chuffed to have some people to practice with. As we left he insisted on us not paying – actually, not just to be polite as is often the case.
This is something that been a bit confusing to get our heads around in Iran, the concept of ta’rof; a ritualised politeness as our guidebooks tells it. Most vendors, shopkeepers, restaurant owner etc. will offer your meal or shopping for free when you first try to pay but mostly only as a gesture of politeness. You have to insists on paying two or three times before they accept. But occasionally, as with the guy this morning, they really do want to give for free as you are their guest.
After this we started to make our way out of town. We stopped at a shop to grab some food for the day and naturally attracted a small crowd of guys around us and our bikes. Before we knew it we had been invited into a office type building next door And given tea and bread and cheese while more and more guys arrived as we explained to each of them in turn where we were from and what we were doing.
So it was a very eventful morning and we had barely even begun to cycle. We were riding down a lot today, first to some more populated lowland areas, where towns and villages popped up more frequently. We stopped for some food at the last town on our map and then descended a long way into a deep gorge with a lot less snow around than before.
Climbing gradually out of the gorge we found ourselves very close to Ahar, the last big town before Tabriz. Before arriving the police passed us and asked to see our visas, but it was all very friendly and didn’t take all that long. I think they just wanted to find something to do, it must be a pretty quiet job most of the time.
We didn’t go right into Ahar, there wasn’t really the need or the time. We took the ring road out around it and found a place to camp as the road passed over a wide flood plain underneath it.