Iran - Part 2

Jomhūrī-ye Eslāmī-ye Īrān  -  Islamic Republic of Iran

19/11    I have trouble deciding whether to stay or to leave Ateshoni, but in the end I'm off. I never thought that the desert could be so interesting, but the scenery keeps changing all the time. There are salt patches, sand dunes and mountains, with some oases sprinkled in between. Late in the afternoon I get lost, as usual, but finally end up pitching my tent in the desert on a sandy track. I can't ger a peg into the ground and find that underneath the sand and stones is a layer of tar seal. I'm camping on the old road.

This isn't snow, either

20/11 It's cold in the morning, about 6 deg. When I leave, 1 1/2 h later, it's already 12 deg. I head back the way I came last night, up into the mountains, to find Karanagh. It turns out I rode right past it last night, but there were no signs and I didn't see it because of a police checkpoint on the main road. I approach it via a dirt track, just following my nose. By good fortune I end up right by the old aqueduct, still in use oday to irigate the fields. As I stop in the village proper I'm approached by a young man, who opens the restored caravanserai for me (and sells me a ticket, of course).

On to the next tourist stop, Chak Chak. This is even harder to find, as it is signposted only from the opposite direction and located on the other side of the road than the map indicates. This is an important Zoroastrian pilgrimage site. The views from halfway up the mountain are nice, the site is ho-hum, if you are not a Zoroastrian.

The tree is supposedly 1200 years old

I head South on a dirt track, not on my map, to Yazd, where I find the Silk Road Hotel in the centre of the old town without any problem. Here I bump into Lars from Germany, the first bike traveller I meet since Romania. He's been on the road for 1.5 years all over SE Asia and also heading for Dubai, Oman and Yemen. He, too, had introduction letter trouble with the German embassy, but in Islamabad. Being a lawyer, he intends to sue them on his return. He's had even more trouble with his bike. Not surprisingly, he rides a BMW R100GS... I'm glad I sold mine and hung onto the Suzi. The hotel is something out of 1001 nights, with a central courtyard, appealingly fitted out with tables and chairs and other sitting down tools. It's cheap to boot and there they serve good food. Lars and I walk into the old town onto the roof of a building, from where we watch the sun set. A young Chinese woman tells a harrowing story about being robbed in a street here in Yazd.

21/11 Lars is off to Esfahan, before heading to the Gulf. He suffers even more from the cold than I do, as he comes from the tropics. I spend most of the day talking to other travellers and doing laundry. Quick trip to the water museum, which is mildly interesting. Police have apparently arrested two suspects in the case of the Chinese lady's mugging. None of them are Iranians. A French cyclist arrives and has a similar story from the outskirts of Shiraz, where a car pulled up and he was robbed at knifepoint in broad daylight. I'm wondering whether Iran is so safe, after all.

22/11 I follow the walking tour "Getting lost in Yazd" from the LP guide. Quite nice, but after some of the other mud towns and villages not that amazing. I think I'm already getting "temple overload". Time to head for the coast. In the evening I get picked up by a very young English teacher in a private language school, where at first I get asked all the usual questions about my trip, Germany and NZ. With the more advanced class the discussion soon beomes political and religious. The upshot is that I don't pack up that night, so I'm going to stay another day. There is also a cold coming on, so it's probably a good idea.

23/11 Bettina, a German traveller, wants to go and see the Towers of Silence, so we go together on the bike. It's on the outskirts of town and there are some good views from the top. The towers themselves haven't been used since the 1960's, so they are in bad repair.

24/11 It's a long and uneventful ride over the mountains and through the desert to Shiraz, but it's cold. The desert here is boring, unlike the central deserts I was in before. I thought that Iranian driving had improved a lot over what I remember from my transit dash in 1989, but approaching Shiraz I get charged by several overtaking buses and trucks. There is enough tar seal for all of us, though, so it's not too bad. As I stop at the outskirts of Shiraz to consult my guidebook a car pulls up beside me and I find myself invited to Mohammad's home. Before we get there, though, he drops me off at another family's place and disappears, supposedly for half an hour to sort out some time off work. He doesn't turn up for a long time and it turns out that he doesn't have a key to his family's home and so can't get in. Meanwhile, the family heaps hospitality on me all evening. The parents only speak Farsi, of course, but one of the daughters soon turns up and we're away. Eliza studies computer science. She is very friendly and stunningly beautiful. For some reason she thinks her PC has a virus, because the internet connection gets dropped occasionally and I notice that there is no dial tone in the modem. The virus is most likely at the telecom company... It's called "dodgy phone system". Eventually we proceed to Mohammad's place. I get to see the mother in the entrance briefly, but are then ushered into a flat downstairs. It seems that with all his sisters around they want to keep me out of the way.

Mohammad and his shadow

25/11 Mohammad and I have breakfast downstairs and he then takes me for a drive. We stop off at Hafez' Tomb, very nice. The next place he has a discussion with the ticket sellers (I gather they want much more money for my ticket than his) and he then says that they are about to close for something he can't explain, so we leave. We drive all over the city for him to run some errands. Later, he wants to take me to Persepolis, 45 km out of town. I tell him that it's too late, but he insists. Some quick preparations: he installs a screen on the dashboard of his car for inflight movies! And fly he does make his Peugeot Pars, flashing his lights at anything that gets into our way and squeezing through gaps where I would have hesitated with my bike. The speedo needle doesn't fall often below 100. He proudly tells me that one of his friends from Dubai once brought his Ferrari over and did Shiraz to Tehran in 4 hours, cruising at 250 km/h. Since his car only cruises at half that speed he has plenty of time to constantly fiddle with the controls of his gadgets. I remember someone telling me the annual death toll on Iranian roads has now exceeded 20000. When we get to Persepolis the sun is low over the mountains and they close in 30 mins. We climb up the hill alongside a fence and so get a good view and a few fotos of sunset over Persepolis. In the evening we pick up a friend and then find Lars in his hotel. We go together to a very nice restaurant where a band plays live Persian music. Lars and I resolve to travel to Bushehr together on the 28th.

26/11 My cold got a lot worse, triggering off a migraine attack, as ususal, so the day is a write-off. Since it rains all morning that is not so bad. It's a shame, though, that this is Mohammad's day off due to a problem at the factory where he works. In the afternoon we go for another drive around town together and stop off at an internet cafe, but the connection is so slow as to be almost unusable.

27/11 Mohammad drops me off in town and I walk to Sa'adi's tomb. It's a nice park with an underground tea house and there is a spring with fish in it. It's a lot further than Lars suggested, though, so my legs get well needed exercise. Lunch in a very nice converted Hammam with live music. In the internet cafe I realise that I have fever and so I head back to Mohammad's house, where I have to wait outside until a sister arrives to let me in. This is where things get a little strange. When he gets home I can hear angry voices. He then wants to take me to a friend's pizza joint for dinner. Despite my fever and headache I agree. After a while sitting in the pizza place he suddenly decides to get the pizza delivered instead, so we go home again. A little while later his mother appears in the door to the room (but doesn't enter) bearing dinner and chay! All she can tell me is that Mohammad is asleep! I never find out what went on and I only can hope that it wasn't me who caused trouble. Resisting Mohammad's repeated offers to take me to the doctor and my own urge to kill the headache with Aspirin pays off: the fever disappears during the night, having done its job to enable my immune system to kill the cold bugs.

28/11 After breakfast I farewell my hosts Mohammad and his mother, meet Lars at his hotel in town and we are off to Bushehr. It's a nice ride over the mountains, despite the truck traffic. The mountains are barren, but beautifull. Lars' GPS tells us that the pass is 2100m high. When we stop for lunch in the town down the other side it's finally time to pack away the layers of plastic we have been wearing against the cold. The closer we get to the coast the more greenery there is, particularly palm trees, but the country is still arid. We get into Bushehr in good time and by chance stop in front of the Malavan Traditional Guest House, but the gate is firmly padlocked from the outside. The next place is supposedly full and the one after requires us to have special permission from police headquaters to stay there. No problem to get, but it just takes time.

Safe crackers at work in Bushehr

The town is deserted when we arrive, but later in the afternoon it comes to life, when all the shops and businesses open up again. They hold siesta, just like the Spaniards, and for a good reason: in summer it is humid and temperatures exceed 50 deg.

29/11 A quick wander around the old town, but it's nothing amazing. Most of the old buildings are derelict and will disappear in a few years time. We have decided to follow what looks like the coast road and camp on the beach somewhere. Once out of the plains we get into barren hills with interesting rock formations. We follow one road to the coast. It ends at a couple of mud villages and there is a beach. This is the only beach we get to see, after that we see the Gulf only from a distance and there seem to be large mudflats. So, when we get to the next town we decide to forget about camping and take a room in Kangan instead. The port is full of wooden dhows and there is a nice sunset with the mountain range behind the town turning red. Still no sign of my new brake disc.

One of the many water reservoirs on the Gulf coast

30/11 I've become a little slack checking my bike lately, it's been so reliable. This morning I kick my tyres and find the rear is flat. Can't see anything in the tyre, so we stop off at a tyre repair shop and they find air coming out at the valve stem. I remove the tyre, find a piece of wire and they patch the tube. They are very eager to work on my bike, but they are very rough and when the tyre is finally inflated with the valve hanging at at alarming angle they say it's OK. It isn't. I'm glad that I can do most things myself. Then we are off, following the coast where possible. The scenerey is often very interesting with mountains leaning away from the coast the way windblown bushes do in some other places. The forces at work are quite different ones, of course. Around Asaluyeh there are pipelines, chimney stacks with big bright orange flames atop and industrial plants everywhere. Beyond that it's the back country again with farmers and fishermen. We turn off the main road at Gavbandi, because it coninues inland, and again at Bandar-e-Moqam and the road turns into a track. In an Arab village we want to buy some supplies to be able to camp. They get the shopkeeper from his siesta to open for us. Soon the track becomes quite rough with most bridges long ago washed away. We find a camp spot by the sea, but Lars' bike digs itself into the sand, so we abandon this one. Just a short distance along we find our own little castle, abandoned recently by the Iranian army. Great views and sunset and very peacefull. In a tank behind the building I discover a small snake with a wide head. Lars thinks it's a viper. It's unable to leave its prison. I feel sorry for it, but see no way to liberate it without exposing myself to danger of getting bitten. When it moves there is a loud hissing sound.

1/12 At 2h Lars wakes me up: it is starting to rain! We scramble out of our sleeping bags and carry our stuff inside the tower. When we are finished, so is the rain. So little of it falls, it's all dry again within minutes. We move downstairs, but have trouble finding sleep again with thoughts of sandvipers and strange noises about, most of it wind. In the morning it is grey and almost overcast, the sun comes out briefly. The weather seems to be coming from North-West, inland, where it's almost black, but where we ride eventually the sun comes out. When we step out of a restaurant in Bandar Lengeh, where we stopped for lunch, the rain starts. We have a wet ride to Bandar Abbas, about another 180 km. We discover that our rain gear isn't waterproof anymore, so we arrive sodden and cold. It is getting dark and the streets are practically flooded. Lars is trying to navigate with the map in his LP guide, but the map turns out to be almost completely wrong. One hotel offers us a room on a floor that is a building site and to get to the toilet and shower you have to traipse through the construction area that will one day be a corridor. To make up for it it is expensive. Next place we meet Laurent again, who I have already met in Yazd. He is travelling with a guide and his mom and they propose we take a suite together, as there are no more rooms free. Too expensive for us, but after erring around town in the dark and rain for another hour without finding anything we return there and the five of us settle into the suite. According to the guide it will rain even more tomorrow and should continue for another two days.

More of Iran's heritage crumbling away

2/12 Lars has a problem: he wasn't given a disembarkation card on arrival in Iran ("please keep this form until departure") and LP says it's a big hassle if you loose it. So we get a taxi and go to the ferry company to check out the ferry and what to do about the little problem. Ferry is OK, we have to arrive the next morning to complete formalities all day. The form is a problem, nobody knows anything about it. They talk to the taxi driver and a two hour odyssee across Iranian bureaucracy follows, the taxi driver trying his best and taking us from office to office. The result is - none at all. Lars doesn't get the form and gives up. Back to the hotel and a change of room. We take a cheaper room together with Laurent, who has to wait a day for the next train to Yazd. We walk along the beach (full of rubbish) and watch what appear to be smugglers unloading contraband by the boatload and a very beautifull sunset. There were only a few drops of rain during the morning and it turns out to be dry later.

3/12 The paperwork to get our bikes onto the ferry is an all-day farce. We even get told in the afternoon that the customs office is closing now and to wait outside. At that point our customs agent has disappeared with our carnets, so it's panic time. When the ferry arrives (late) it is full of new cars, but no private vehicles. The top deck has to be unloaded with a lift one car at a time. When the passengers and freight for the return voyage are already on board they are still unloading. The car decks are practically empty on our voyage, our bikes being the only private vehicles. Luckily, there are reasonably comfortable bench seats on the otherwise primitive ferry, so we are able to stretch out and sleep.