Jet Lites rider Rick Gunn recently hit the road again in Spring 2014, adventuring to the desert expanses and diverse cultures of Oman and Iran. He is working on a larger piece with more photos for potential magazine publication, but here is Rick’s first take on traveling into what some consider “enemy territory.”
When my plane finally touched down upon the Persian Gulf’s largest island of Queshm, I’d made my way into the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Making my way across the tarmac into the gritty light of the passport control, it would be mere moments after exposing my American Passport that three Iranian Security officials descended upon me, and pulled into a small interrogation room. Thoroughly questioned and fingerprinted, it wasn’t until I looked up to see a portrait of the infamous Ayatollah Khomeini’s scowling down at me that there arose within me the obvious question.
“WTF am I doing here?”
The answer came quickly.
I had come to join my good Iranian friend, and fellow world cyclist, Mohammad Tajeran on a cycling adventure that would take us 200 miles around one of the most fascinating places in the Persian Gulf. In my bike bags I carried 500 letters of friendship created by American elementary students, and we hoped to exchange them with Iranian students along the way.
In our way, we wanted open a dialogue, however small, between the children of America and the children of Iran. We called it “The Wheels of Peace Children’s Art Project.”
At first glance, the Islamic Republic seemed defined by what it was missing.
Cycling through the streets of Queshm City on the 35 we saw no American flags being burned, no scowling religious fanatics pushing nuclear brinksmanship, and no cries of “Death to America!” Instead, we saw the day-to-day textures of a small Islamic city, and a flood of young, sharply dressed Iranians swarming the streets, sitting in cafes and participating in the most capitalistic of activities: Shopping.
Chasing Mohammad through a tangle of traffic, past a blur of mosques and shopping
malls, we pedaled to escape of the noise and madness of the city, until eventually the road curved, the horizon opened, and the city gave way to a quiet two-lane stretch of road along the obsidian blue waters of the Persian Gulf.
For 10 nights we would follow this road through a scattering of ancient Persian fishing villages, each of them swarming with Bandari people. A mix of Arab, African, Persian, Balooch, and Indian, they’d inhabited the area since before the rise Islam in 650 A.D.
Rattling over dirt streets beneath highwalled Persian architecture and earthen wind catchers, we became entranced by the Bandari women, each of them cloaked in every conceivable fashion: silk, satin and sequins – their billowing heaps flowing past in riot of exotic hues – blue, black, electric yellow.
We rambled through coastal plains by day, absorbing the tapestry of the landscape, and camping by the light of the starry desert sky at night.
Before we were done, we’d stop in a oneroom schoolhouse to exchange a portion of the letters. But it wasn’t until we’d come full circle on the streets of Queshm City that I had time to reflect upon the experience.
I recalled a conversation that seemed to define my time in Iran.
We’d cycled into the Ancient village of Laft on the island’s north shore when I stumbled upon a metalworker cutting a section of iron fence. Caught off guard by my pasty complexion, he turned off his grinder and approached me with welcoming eyes.
“Italy?” he inquired, in struggling English.
“California.” I replied.
“America!” he said as a smile swept his face.
A silence passed while he searched for the right words to say.
“America good!” he said. “Very good!”
“Iran good!” he added. “Very good!”
He then lifted his hand, crossing his fingers in a sign of solidarity.
“America, Iran – hope, hope!”
Rick Gunn is an photographer and adventure cyclist based in South Lake Tahoe California. His travels have taken him to all points of the globe, including a three-year circumnavigation of nearly 30,000 miles. View more of his photos and read about his adventures at SoulCycler.com.