A final dash on the bikes would bring us to the beginning of the fourth and final leg of our journey along the Karun. (Start with Part 1 if you’re new to this series.)
With visas ticking (ever the bane of the Westerner in a restrictive country with endless potential for travel), we returned the bicycles to their owner and set off once again on foot — though with significantly lighter loads than those with which we’d departed a month previously.
We had just three days left to reach Abadan, a 120km march away across the arid plains of south-west Iran, and the region of the heaviest ground fighting during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980–1988 — as we were reminded on a regular basis.
But this was now long-ago history for the ethnic Arab inhabitants of Khuzestan, who continued to invite us in on a nightly basis for a place to sleep and a meal. It was strange to no longer be able to understand the small-talk between family members, the language on the street now being purely Arabic.
The last day’s march was a gruelling 64km along the hard shoulder of a highway. Walking 40 miles in a day is not an experience I particularly wish to repeat. The reward, however, was to wake up the following morning in Abadan, having reached the end of the river Karun — and the forbidden border with Iraq.
Barely able to move after the final day’s walking marathon, we hired a driver to take us to a nearby war memorial. If I’d thought the final leg of this trip to be a challenge, the sight of the thousands of families come here to pay tribute to sons, husbands and fathers sent to their deaths in the ‘human wave’ attacks of those all-too-recent years served as a poignant and timely reminder that our own self-inflicted woes were nothing compared to the great dramas of humankind.
This was not the note I’d imagined this journey to end on. But it seemed completely appropriate, given that the entire trip had been defined by unexpected turns of events. Though we had indeed followed this river from end to end, I felt that our deeper experience had been defined by the culture in which we’d immersed ourselves, not by our route or mileage, nor by whether the expedition had succeeded or failed in any kind of traditional sense.
It would take time, of course, to properly process the events of the preceding weeks. But for now, all that remained was to celebrate, Iranian style — by letting off fireworks in the street and then eating a massive kebab.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little taste of our journey through Iran! The full story of this trip will be told in a forthcoming film. More news very soon…
Items of equipment for this trip were kindly sponsored by Big Agnes and Osprey Packs. Our Iranian visas were procured with great efficiency courtesy of The Visa Machine. We’re also grateful to the folk at Lyon Outdoor for supplying Exped drybags and Aquapac waterproof camera cases for this journey.