Back in the UAE

24/3 I'm back in Oman and get a nasty surprise from the customs officer: he is curious as to what a bike traveller carries in his luggage and makes me unpack almost everything. The whole "check" takes about an hour. Once on the road I set about exploring what other tar roads there are, but Sarfait turns out to be a military camp and I'm not allowed to ride on the roads beyond the gate. Another one loops back towards the border, meandering along the barren mountainsides for a very long time, until I meet a military patrol right out of Mad Max: a jeep in camouflage colours without windscreen, the two occupants with their heads wrapped in their headscarves and the driver wearing dark goggles. U-turn. It is now getting rather late and I start to freeze here at 1000m altitude. I camp on the beach in Mughsayl, where it is nice and warm.

The BMW Club dismounting at the Hatta Fort Hotel

Khalid is preparing a long bike trip

25/3 I have a nice swim in the sea before leaving, but I cut my foot on a rock or coral. I resolve to head back straight to Sharjah without exploring Oman's back roads and pistes any further, because of the condition of my chain. At lunch in Thumrayt I meet 3 expat dirt bikers from Muscat having a few days of fun in the desert. The rest of the day is spent riding in a straight line through the almost featureless desert. I stop in the resthouse at Ghaftain and the following day in Nizwa. It's a real shame that I can't explore the mountains any more, but my decision to cruise back to Sharjah is confirmed when right at the Omani border post the chain jumps off. In Sharjah Stephan welcomes me back to his flat. With the chain replaced and a weekend at hand it's time for Stephan to try out his new toy, a BMW K1200RS. We join the BMW Club for a day out to Hatta, late breakfast at the posh Hatta Fort Hotel. Then we take to the hills, on what is probably just about the only bike road in the country. An enjoyable day out with a nice bunch of people.

31/3 The "new" Iranian consulate has been moved again, so I visit the Indians and apply for a visa. I only get 3 months single-entry, but it will be ready in only a few days. The next day I visit the Iranians and they are very efficient, even pre-printing the application form. They keep my passport and the visa will be ready after the weekend. For a fee I even could have had it on the spot. Just before I arrive I am stopped by a bike cop who tells me that tourists aren't allowed to drive their vehicles there. He is taken aback when I contradict him, he rings base and then lets me go, despite me not having any papers on me. Outside the Iranian consulate I spot a VW camper and meet Christian and Elisabeth from Salzburg, Austria. They have been on the road for two years and have shipped their van from Cambodia to Dubai to drive home, only to find they can't get a Saudi visa, so they will take the ferry to Iran, too. They invite me for a coffee and we park up on the beach somewhere. There we are accosted by a veiled lady, who is excited about the van, as she likes anything old and the van is 26 years old. We are invited to her home where the Arab hospitality is laid on in a big way. Her husband arrives shortly after and we are invited for lunch. He is the assistant harbour master of the port of Jebel Ali and phones around for alternative ferries to Iran, but there aren't any. Late in the evening Stephan's daughter Lenna and her boyfriend Remy arrive from London for a visit. The three of them go in the car to Khassab the next day, for a similar trip that we have done before. I can't go, since my passport is at the Iranian embassy.

8/4 The Pakistanis are giving me the run-around, not wanting to issue visas for non-residents at all. When I explain that I'm travelling overland people seem to bend over backwards, but it will take two weeks to issue a visa. In the end I have to travel 3 hours to Abu Dhabi to the Embassy. I get a visa, but it only allows me two weeks stay. Next weekend the others go through Wadi Bih, where again I can't go, because my passport is at the Pakistani embassy. So I meet them at Dibba beach for a night's camping.

18/4 The Indian embassy is another adventure. It takes 4 visits to get a visa. On my last visit Mr Fixit tells me that he has held back my visa, because he thinks that it won't last long enough. (I have to LEAVE within 3 months from the date of issue, not entry.) I explain my trip and he very kindly gives me an extra month on my visa. We take my bike to the car workshop that does most of Stephan's work to have my chain guard improved. I explain slowly and exactly what I want done to the head Indian. When I return a couple of days later a mechanic proudly shows me the a very nice chain guard he has made out of aluminium. It's a nice copy of my existing guard and I tell him so, but I'm very sad to have to tell him that that's not what I wanted, as it doesn't protect the chain any more than the original one. They finally make an extension, but it's still not what I need, not protecting the chain from dirt thrown around by the rear wheel. A bike shop in Dubai later makes an extension of the extension out of a plastic container. My parcel seems to be lost in the DHL system for now, the number is not traceable in the UAE.

23/4 When is a courier service not a courier service? DHL isn't when you are sending a parcel from Germany, as they don't deliver it, they simply hand it to EmiratesPost. Once I find that out it's easy to recover it. As usual, Stephan doesn't get a notification, but I can collect it anyway. This may be a blessing in disguise, as I don't have to pay any duty. I suspect that if DHL had cleared it through customs I would have had to pay quite a lot. So, I change both tyres plus some other bits and get my ferry ticket. Strangely, the ferry company keeps both my carnet and my bike rego.

24/4 Farewell to Stephan and the cats. The port is a breeze, only 3 counters in two buildings to visit. The only hiccup occurs when the last customs man asks for 10 Dhs to stamp some paper. Problem: the ferry people told me I had nothing to pay, so I changed all my money. The head honcho fixes the problem with the stroke of a pen. Pffffuuuhhh. The rest of the afternoon is spent waiting. Even when everybody is aboard the ship doesn't leave for hours. I suspect that they have to time departure and arrival to the working hours of customs and immigration on both sides. The concept of customer service just doesn't exist here. On the ship I meet a French backpacker and an interesting Iranian mining engineer, who is involved in Uranium mining and the construction of the processing plants. He seems to say that Iran is planning to build bombs, but I don't want to enquire any further.

What is this? (Hint: view down the side of the ferry)