Sand slashes any inch of uncovered skin, blown across the parched desert by screaming winds. My knees aching from 5 days of cycling, pushing a bike laden with 20 kilos of gear, all my worldly possessions. We've crossed snow covered mountains, slept in abandoned shepherd's huts, and now we're heading deep into the Dash-e Lut desert. Two days with no civilisation, no water source and no supplies. Normally an easy feat, but tonight we're shattered.
As we roll out of Marvast, the last town we'll see for 48 hours, a beat-up 1980s Peugeot pulls in next to us. Decades of sanctions slapped down by the current "super powers" mean Iran's roads swarm with the cars of our parents generation. But that won't stop the Iranians from smiling, and this car's no different. Packed with 3 generations of one family, both front doors open so Ali and Reza can greet us with open arms.
Two months in Iran has armed us with the Farsi language skills to chat with any smiling stranger. It's impossible not to pick up the language when every passing person stops to welcome you to this fascinating country. Ali and Reza proceed to do exactly that, before enquiring where we're going.
It's cold, it's windy, the sun is setting and we've got the exhausted look of nomads who've been wandering for days. There's no way we're pedalling any further, Ali and Reza won't hear a word of it. Allowing two hungry, homeless strangers to push off into the night would go against every grain of the centuries old Persian culture of kindness. One where travellers, strangers and guests are treated like a gift from God.
One hour later we're huddled next to the heater, steaming cups of tea in hand, smiles spread across our faces. Your clothes are dirty, take mine says Ali. You haven't showered in days, use our soap, shampoo and towel says his wife. You look hungry. Chicken, fish, vegetables or rice? Name your favourite and dinner will be ready in an hour, says Reza. Our every need is met with endless kindness. True kindness from the bottom of the heart, no expectations and no strings attached.
Curious questions are thrown across the carpet, where we sit before a feast fit for kings. What do you think of your time in Iran? What did you think before you arrived? What do your friends and family think about your safety in Iran? Common questions we receive on a daily basis.
To them I answer: I love Iran. In these fraught times, I hope our borders stay open, and bridges are built over walls, so the rest of the world can see deep into your soul. Because Iranian people have proved to be a shining light in a world descending into darkness.