As I sat on the footpath trying to cool down an elderly, yet surprisingly spritely, gentleman on a modern mountain bike stopped to ask, in very good English, if I was OK. I replied that everything was fine, I just needed a break. After the usual chit-chat I told him I was looking for the Kosar Hotel. Semsary, or Sam as he preferred to be called, gave me some simple directions to the hotel and began to pedal away.
After riding about 50 metres Sam returned and said he was heading home for lunch, and then asked if I would like to join him. With nothing better to do I gratefully accepted his offer. We headed off in the direction of Baghmisheh, a modest residential district on the eastern outskirts of Tabriz several kilometres away. As we wound our way through the chaotic traffic Sam would occasionally catch a tow from my panniers when we rode up some of the steeper hills. Sam’s wife, Agdaz, had prepared an enormous lunch – enough for six people not just the three present. After lunch, Sam and I swapped life stories – his far more dramatic than mine.
Sam was in his sixties and a retired officer from the Iranian Air Force. But in his youth, he had served his National Service in the Iranian Army during the Iran/Iraq War where he had seen several of his closest friends killed in action. This was to affect him deeply.
Thanks to his regimen of daily cycling, swimming laps three times a week and light gym work at home, Sam was incredibly fit for his age. He had little interest in motorcycling but his enduring passion was mountain climbing. Sam had climbed all of the major peaks in Iran – most of them well over 4500m. But the one climb that he was most proud of was scaling Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Not because of its difficulty but because he had led an expedition of disabled Iranian war veterans, sadly both young and old, including several amputees with prosthetic limbs and one who was completely blind. In his retirement, Sam had made it his own personal mission to provide some form of rehabilitation for disabled war veterans.
It made my able-bodied travel seem quite unremarkable.
As lunchtime meandered into late afternoon I made to bid my new-found friend a fond farewell but Sam would have nothing of it. He insisted that the traffic to the hotel in the city centre would be very dangerous at that time of day and that I should stay the night. I began to politely decline his offer but was really very relieved when Sam became more insistent and I didn’t have to go searching for the Kosar in peak hour traffic.
Sam and Agdaz’s home was quite roomy and split over three floors. They had three adult children who were all away with either work or study. The entire second floor was unoccupied and given over for my personal use including the ensuite. I don’t know what the Kosar Hotel was like but I doubt it could offer the same hospitality.
Unbeknownst to me, as well as becoming my host, Sam had immediately appointed himself my personal tour guide, interpreter and historian. In the time it took me to have a shower and put on some clean clothes Sam had come up with a plan for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening as well.