8th February - Nosratabad to Zahedan - distance 111km - ascent 280m - average speed 23km/hr - current position 29,30N 60,50E
We are now approaching the final leg of our journey in Iran and doing it in some style. This south-eastern area of the country is far from safe for independent travelers, so we have had the precaution of a police escort for the last two days and today was no exception. Keen for an early start we were up at 5am and were on the road just over an hour later. After a chilly first few km, we enjoyed the sunrise above the mountains, our first while cycling, and were soon warming up. Our escort chopped and changed during the day as relays of police vehicles and soldiers kept pace with us. They were all friendly and keen to do their best to guard our safety. It has rather restricted our normal flexibility as the van also has to drive at 20km/h (our normal cycling pace) to stay with the escort. Ro managed this very patiently and still managed to take some film whenever possible, while Dickie took to the bike for the first 70km. Jamie filmed for the cyclists today nipping ahead wherever possible to grab some footage. Thanks to our prompt start we arrived in Zahedan early, having covered a hilly 100km by lunchtime. Pauline even cheekily surfed the Mercedes police car for the last 5km. Foreigners are still a bit of a novelty here and we attracted quite a crowd while searching for a hotel. Eventually we opted somewhere decent after knocking 60% off the initial price, and are now enclosed in relative luxury. Much to Sarah's delight we even have an ice cream bar in the lobby! All a well deserved reward after the efforts of the last few days and weeks. No sooner had we arrived than Dickie and Nic headed for the police station to begin the long paperwork process for exiting the country tomorrow.
Zahedan town is basically the last in south-eastern Iran, and is set amongst a stunning backdrop of parched desert and distant mountains. We are now only 90km away from the border with Pakistan, and Afghanistan lies barely 30km to the north. Many of the security concerns we have encountered stem from our location. There is a steady influx of Afghan refugees and Pakistani immigrants passing illegally through the area seeking the greater wealth and stability that Iran has to offer. Immediately on leaving Bam three days ago we certainly felt that we were entering a relatively wild and untamed region. However, what is reassuring is how efficiently we have been monitored and looked after. Nevertheless it is certainly the most 'sensitive' area of our journey and we are all anxious to move on. Tomorrow we should enter Pakistan, the fifth country on our expedition and another step closer to achieving our goal. The team is performing superbly and I cannot praise their efforts highly enough. Cycling through Iran alone is a major challenge. In less than a month we have crossed a country three times the size of France, enduring freezing conditions, illness and all the challenges that an alien culture can bring. Being over halfway is another major psychological boost and we are even starting to think about the delights of Kathmandu and the mountain itself. However there is still a long way to go and we need your support as much as ever. On behalf of the team I would like to thank all those who keep us entertained with their regular emails and updates from home. Also those who have become official supporters and are thereby helping us directly to complete our journey and support the charities we are raising money for. Visiting Bam showed us the value of the work MERLIN has completed. Do have a look at our charities pages for more information. There are people working there for little reward but who are making an enormous difference to people's lives. Remember that the proud residents of Bam lost everything in a matter of seconds and that legacy will remain with them for years. Apart from the obvious good work that charities undertake, the local population were stunned by the generosity and attention of Westerners, and that we should care for their welfare at all. Bam is recovering slowly but northern Pakistan is currently enduring far worse. In the aftermath of the earthquake there a few months ago, their population who had far less to begin with, is suffering terribly in a harsh winter.
Please help to spread the word of what we are trying to achieve and many thanks for your continued support.