Stef found a host in Jolfa and left us after we had all changed a small amount of dollars for rolls of money worth millions and millions of Rials. He had found a host through the website 'warmshowers', and the remaining trio found a hotel for no more than 12 US dollars (equal to 450.000 Rials, which Iranians call 45.000 toman or 45 Nietnull's, as we call them). The amount of zero's really is confusing so we don't mention them. The next morning we found Stef's bicycle in front of an Iranian mobile internet shop, and decided to play a trick on him by hiding it. After our tears of laughter had dried up, we all shook hands again and agreed that the universe didn't want us to split up again.
Stef had arranged for another host, Akbar, in Marand, who didn't make much trouble of a guest multiplication factor of four. Shortly after we had executed our routine bag explosion in our bedroom there, our hosts presented us a sugar beet in syrup to fill our stomachs. As soon as the last plate was licked Yashar said it was time for us to go to our English class. (Yashar is the 'apprentice' of Akbar, a 'famous' warmshower host that hosted more than 800 cylers in Marand)
Not knowing what to expect we were led into a building down the street where we were introduced to a group of students. We were each placed into a different group and began to exchange questions about eachother's cultures. We discovered dancing, western music and alcohol are forbidden in Iran. More importantly, we also learnt how to properly greet women in public. It's simple: you just don't - in public. This felt weird but we didn't discuss the subject. We also noticed that our internet wasn't working properly, and the students explained that there are filters on a national scale, easily bypassed by installing a VPN app.
Over the course of the next two days we explored the bazaar in Marand, where curious natives came to greet us in their best Iranglish. We received gifts from merchants of all kinds and visited the ruins of the castle before paying a short visit to the ancient mosque to perfect our panda-rolling skills on the soft carpets. In the evening we joined Yashar's volleybal team to show them how it's done. Stef and Yuri, being on the side with Lucske easily won. Lucske stole the show, shouting a loud celebrational "Friday, Saturday, Sundaaaay!" and the occational "YESTERDAY!" after every goal. During our time in Marand we noticed a thick white carpet had formed on all roads, and when we finally decided it was time to head further towards the east, we received word that the main road was closed. "There is no such thing as a closed road", Stef said to the ill informed messenger, so we packed our bags and left. However, leaving was harder than we had expected it to be. The snowy road wasn't really a problem, but people kept pulling us over to offer us a place to sleep or a cup of tea or just to snap some pictures. About five kilometers outside of Marand, Kosar was even waiting for us with her dad to present us with some gifts. We don't think she realized just how delighted we were to have a new mount on our bicycles. We are bringing these green smiley-faced puppets to Shanghai for sure, they may even see some parts of Japan!