We have made the executive decision to, most regretfully, fly over Pakistan and Iran (and as a side-effect nearly all of Turkey) from India to Istanbul Turkey. From Istanbul, we will continue the European leg of our Eurasian bicycle tour, still aimed at finishing in Paris, France.
Highlights we’re looking forward to in Europe include visiting my good Serbian friend, Lela, at her home in Belgrade. I met Lela in Beijing last year, where she also taught English. I’d also like to visit Medujorje, Bosnia, a pilgrimage destination for Christians, especially Catholics, but we still need to discuss this option more. Nakia also has a few friends in Bosnia. Northern Italy is home to My Favorite Restaurant In The World, San Rufino, in Leivi village, near Chivari on the Mediterrainian cost. After all my raving, we couldn’t pass up their 15 course set meal overlooking the Mediterranian Sea. We also hope to coordinate meetings with our American friends Jen and Natalie, who will each be in Europe this summer on study/internship. Finally, one of our close Chinese friends, Cecilia [her English name], recently moved to France to start a 4-5 year graduate degree in Comparative Literature. She was in our small send-off group in Beijing when we left last Sept (2007), so she will have the honor of being the only person to see us both at the beginning and the end of our 1 year journey.
The number 1 reason we are not going to Pakistan and Iran is cost. Due to the sad lack of diplomatic & business relations between the US and Iran for several decades now, the already difficult and lengthy process to get an Iranian tourist visa is even more lengthy and difficult for Americans - but NOT impossible. Jim had found a contact in Iran who has been helping us for a couple months now. He wrote a letter of invitation for us, submitted it to the Iranian government for approval, and recently even got it back approved. The big set back is a regulation that American tourists in Iran must be accompanied by an official tour guide at all times. Our contact informed us that said tour guide would cost us US$100 a day - simply way out of our small budgets.
We’d also heard from one other traveler that the landscape from Tehran to the Turkish border was not as good as in other parts of Iran - dry, hot, difficult. Moreover, the road from Pakistan into southern Iran would most likely have to be traveled by bus, as it is 100s of km of desert. Though that could have been easily handled.
Additionally, many people (mostly Americans) have also been worried about safty in Pakistan. On the contrary, we have heard about wonderful experiences several other European bicycle groups have had in Pakistan in the past year. We were really looking forward to a personal perspective on Pakistan, which seems to be one of the most misunderstood countries in the US. However, without Iran in the route, going to Pakistan doesn’t make geological sense. And yes, we care about our parents worries and wish to leave them at ease.
In an effort to acknowlege and show our respects to Pakistan and Central Asia which we are now unable to visit, we would like to include two charities in this part of the world, often neglected by funders and aid organizations. I will write a separate post to introduce them later.
For the time being, if you haven’t yet read the book, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, I strongly encourage you to get your hands on a copy. It is perhaps the best account of Pakistan on the ground in the last decade, highlighting the higher importance of education over military force as a means to “fight terrorism” by builiding balanced-education schools in poor areas.