Archive for the ‘6.Iran’ Category

The last few days 18-27/10/10

Posted: October 30, 2010 in 6.Iran

If one more thing goes wrong with this *£%$ing car I’m going to leave it in the bloody desert for the massive vultures, surprisingly rare camels, and the carpet making Nomads. Yes, we have more problems, no I’m not happy about it and yes I should have bought a Toyota, words I never thought I would utter and words that will see me set adrift, cast a side and excommunicated from the Land Rover world.

After spending a few days in the desert town of Yazd and a couple more days enjoying the sights of Shiraz it was time to push on to the coast. From Shiraz the road to Bandar Abbas and the ferry to Dubai is a 12 hour slog through the desert.We decided that this was not a good idea for the car and our relationship; it gets damn hot in that car, which doesn’t do much for tempers. We actually had a proper fight the other day over the length of my hair: I, and the rest of the world think it looks great, Megan demanded, yes demanded I get it cut. It’s yet to be resolved. So we sensibly broke the trip up with a stop over at a town called Sirjan. The Lonely Planet only recommends one hotel but unfortunately provides no map. After an hour of searching I swallowed my pride and pulled over to ask for directions. “Of course I can help you”, said the friendly man with his entire family on a motorbike, ‘follow me’.  What followed was a mad chase through the city alleys for half an hour only to end up on the outskirts of town nowhere near any hotel because he was taking us to his house!?! It turns out that he knew no English. It was very kind of him but after driving all day in 40 degrees only a ‘look’ from the navigator made me hold my tongue before I launched into a barrage of insults. I simply smiled politely and drove back into town. Finally, only after driving down a few one way streets, having to ‘chat’ to the police, and two more hours had passed did we find the hotel.

The next day we drove our final leg in Iran and headed over the mountains to Bandar Abbas. It was only a distance of about 300kms but it was 300kms of trucks. I have never seen so many trucks in one go, and I’ve been to a truck show. It was quite an amazing sight but it did make for some rather slow progress. The road was littered with the carcasses of dead lorries that had found peace at the side of the highway and there were several tunnels without ventilation; driving through them was like putting your mouth over an exhaust pipe, ummmmm nice. We finally arrived 6 hours after we set off, averaging about 50kms an hour, (just worked that out in my head by the way) and for a change we found the hotel in under 2 hours, a new record.

The day before the ferry we went to the ferry office to find out about tickets. It was all well organised and only took a couple of hours, and we left $800 poorer but optimistic about our cruise across the gulf… right up to the moment we tried to start the car. Nothing. Rien. Nichts. Niente. Nada. The immobilizer had broken. I took the dash apart and after fiddling with a few wires the engine burst into life and we drove off to find a garage. Again. No one seemed to understand the problem and it was only once the local English teacher had been dragged out of school that we managed to get our message across. After an hour of no joy I finally rang the company that installed it and was told how to bypass it, which is worryingly easy. Bloody car.

So with the car slowly dying our final day in Iran started early. We were told to get to customs at 8am, even though the ferry didn’t leave until 2200. The night before we had filled up every available container with diesel, adding another 300 tonnes to the car so we hoped they wouldn’t weigh us, as we would no doubt have to pay extra! Customs only took a few hours and we were finished by 11’ish, leaving us with nothing to do but sit in the terminal playing enthralling games of eye spy for the next 11 hours. We’ve had more exciting days.

We finally boarded the ferry at 2100 and well, let’s just say the Greek ferry in comparison was the QM2. It was a fifthly, cockroach infested hell hole, no exaggeration as the photos below prove. It was just a nasty experience that I don’t want to relive so please don’t make me. I’m trying awfully hard to repress it and Megan is still in a mild state of shock; she wakes up in the middle of the night screaming about giant ants in her cabin. One up side was that we met fellow travelers with whom we could share stories and mutter about the state of the ship and how Europe is soooo much more civilized.

So that was Iran. How to sum up? It’s interesting and the novelty value stays with you the whole way through. There are some fascinating sights but it’s the people who make the country and who left us with the most endearing memories of the place. Two weeks was enough; we were both ready to move on and I doubt we will go back. However people should visit, just be prepared for constant staring, 20,000 offers of tea, some nasty police, friendly locals, a pocketful of money that has no real value, and an interesting story at the end of it all.

P.S. We went to Persepolis, it was alright.


Posted: October 29, 2010 in 6.Iran

So I promised that i’d tell you about the crossing in to Iran and as we are now safely in Dubai here it is:

Iran has not started well. I’m going to try very hard not to get all depressing on you and I realise that I might start to sound whiney, which is crazy seeing as we have the opportunity to do this amazing trip but after the last few days I can begin to see why people fly.

The border crossing was going so well. Turkey went smoothly and quickly and when we crossed into Iran the border guard took us to meet the tourist information man, who was very nice and very helpful and we got all our papers stamped and Carnet signed. In fact, it took less than an hour before we were on our way… or so we thought. After clearing all the main gates and compound a small barrier lies between you and the Islamic Republic of Iran. I pulled up to the gate only to be accosted by a number of men demanding to know whether my car took diesel or petrol. You see, if your car is diesel you are meant to purchase fuel cards, however the tourist information man said this isn’t entirely necessary and to just ignore these men, so I did, and pushed my way past to the guard on the gate. He said I could go through so I jumped back into the Land Rover and was just about to set off when the screaming reached fever pitch. The guard finally gave in to the shouts from these men and made me go and see a little man in a hut off the left of the main gate. The smiles from the men who had gathered around the car made me nervous. The man in the hut, who had clearly just been woken up, came out to check my car to see if it was indeed diesel and then after announcing it was retired back to the hut, leaving Megan and I to do battle with these randoms. Basically, to travel through Iran and get fuel you need to get fuel cards, which you buy off the government. The number of fuel cards you need depends on how far you are traveling and as we are going to Bandar Abbas in the south of the country we need a lot of fuel. However the dude in the hut had no interest in selling me a card and the only way I could get one and the stamp to get into Iran was to buy a card off the black market bandits.

The first price I was quoted was £600! Umm….. no chance mate. We simply didn’t have that kind of money to waste. Feeling very annoyed we drove back to the tourist office to see if the man could help but his only reply was ‘this is Iran, good luck!’. Back down at the gate we parked up and ignored the constant laughing and jeering from the men, which seemed to help as when they finally came over the price was £350, still way too much. An hour later the dude in the hut came out and beckoned me into the office. He took the passports and Carnet and was about to sign and stamp them when the group rushed in again, shouting and screaming. By this time Megan and I had both had enough; I started to get cross and they surrounded me, trying to intimidate and threaten me, Megan at this point started screaming at them. This had a profound effect and we finally managed to agree to $200 for 300 litres worth of fuel cards (which is still pretty cheap but about $199 too much). Finally we got the cards and our stamp and were our way, an hour and a half longer than we should have been. Who these guys are I don’t know, local Mafia by the looks of them but anyone coming this way prepare yourself for hassle.

About an hour after we crossed the border the new temperature gauge broke and I noticed someone had stolen the dust caps off my wheels, bugger.

The plan was to get to Tabriz, a city about four hours from the border and because of the delay at the border we didn’t get there till around 5. Tabriz is a lot larger that it seems on Google maps and although I have read that driving in Iran is mental I naively thought that if I can drive around Colney Hatch Lane Tesco Extra, North London, on a Saturday morning in the Land Rover 130 then nothing would phase me. Man was I wrong. I can’t describe how bad the driving is. There are no rules bar one; drive wherever you like, in any direction and at top speed. It’s unbelievable. We stopped at one hotel on the outskirts, which quoted us $142 a night, well out of our budget so we drove further into the city. We got lost, we got stuck in the worst traffic jam known to man, I nearly ran about seven people over, as they simply step into the street without looking, and at least two people bumped into me. Two hours later we gave up and retreated back to the 5 star $142 a night hotel. Both of us felt deflated and upset. We had hoped Iran would be a highlight judging by all the things people have said but the first day left us with the desire to get through Iran as quickly as possible and catch the ferry to Dubai……. I’m sure things will improve.

Sorry about going back in time and i’ll be up to date from now on, promise.

Plans, they keep on changing.

Posted: October 23, 2010 in 6.Iran

During the last four days our plans have changed at least nine different times. As I have already mentioned we cannot get a visa for Pakistan so we are going to have to ship the car to India. We met a nice Austrian fellow called Tom who is doing the same thing and as of yesterday afternoon we were going to ship the car from Bandar Abbas to Mumbai with him and share the cost of a container. However, the car has developed a serious electrical fault that we are concerned we will not be able to get fixed in India, as there are hardly any Land Rover dealers in the country, so we are sticking with the original plan and getting the ferry to Dubai to get the car fixed and then hope to explore the UAE and Oman (I might even get a bit of off road driving in) for a month. We will then head off to India to meet up with my brother and father to explore the northern hill stations.

The car is really starting to try our nerves and we are both on the edge of our seats every time we drive, waiting for the next problem. Currently;

Still no handbrake

Still no temperature gauge

The exhaust is not sounding happy

The extra battery has given up the ghost, so no fridge

The radio has stopped working, which means we have to talk to each other!

The turbo has started leaking oil

Power steering pump is leaking

So not that much then! I know they are all little problems but it’s draining having to stop all the time to check temperatures and oil levels and it takes the shine off the day, ah Land Rover ownership……

On the plus side, I’m becoming quite the mechanic and have even bought a multi-meter and worked out how to use it. Although, that was only after I got a reading of 234 volts from the battery on my first attempt.

Things you might not know about Iran:

The majority of chairs you sit in have been covered in PVC wrap, which can make for a rather sweaty posterior.

Everyone drives old Peugeot 405’s and Hillman Hunters.

The men wear some very pointy shoes.

The women sport some massive hair, lifting their head scarves a clear metre off the top of their heads.

The driving is unbelievable, 12 million accidents all about to happen at once.

Iranian pizza is not like any pizza you have tasted before, and not in a good way.

There are no vans.

There are no pushchairs.

Hotel toilet seats are frequently padded, which is something every toilet should have, man are they comfy.

Iran didn’t start well with the border crossing, which is a story you’ll have to wait for until we are safely tucked up in Dubai I’m afraid, sorry.

The first couple of days were spent in Tabriz finding our feet and getting use to the constant stares from the locals. As a man if you are not wearing white pointy shoes five times too big for you then you are clearly a tourist. The tourist information man was very helpful in changing money (you can’t use Visa in Iran so all money has to be brought with you) and after we changed $300 we became multi millionaires! The exchange rate is around $1 to 10,000 Iranian Rials, and 3,000,000 Rials in 50,000 notes is a lot of paper to shove in you pockets, under t-shirts and down bra’s but we managed it! When I got back to the hotel I lived out one of my many fantasies by making a bed of money and rolling around in it… until Megan came out of the bathroom and gave me one of those looks that bring play time to an end.

We met loads of fellow travelers in Tabriz; two Spanish couples overlanding, one going the same way as us and another coming back, plus a Polish couple coming to the end of their year back packing around the world. We shared a nice meal with them, which only cost a dollar each. However due to the overspend in Turkey I still insisted we split it between four, I mean 2 dollars is a tank of fuel!?! Yes, fuel is that cheap- 80 litres is around 2 bucks! It’s heaven if you can find a station selling diesel, as everyone in Iran drives petrol cars and only the trucks use diesel, so in order to find diesel we play the game of spot the queue of trucks and cheekily jump to the front, which no one seems to mind. One problem with using petrol pumps that are solely designed for lorries is that the nozzle is massive and the fuel comes out very, very fast. I got caught out on the first and second time (and the third time to be honest), as the tank in the Land Rover is not really designed to accept fuel entering at Mach 4 and it comes shooting back out all over shoes and trousers. Megan pointed out that I always wanted a pair Diesel jeans and then couldn’t stop giggling when I had to change outfit in the middle of a garage forecourt with Iranian truck drives watching on, character building stuff.

From Tabriz we headed to Qazvin about an hour west of Tehran, stopping briefly on the way to engage in a polite conversation with a policeman who thought we had been speeding. It turns out that on Iranian motorways there are different speed limits for each lane and even if there are no other cars on the road and you still want to travel at 100kmph you have to be in the outside lane. $50 was his initial demand but after a little persuasion we gave him $25 and drove off quickly before he had time to count it. Anyone else driving in Iran be warned, there are men with speed cameras everywhere!

Qazvin to Kashan took us round the outskirts of Tehran. We had been warned not to go into Tehran as the driving is even worse (if that’s possible) and due to our short time in the country there are more interesting places to visit. Kashan is a very interesting town with one of the most interesting bazaars we have visited. Megan and I could have spent hours watching men repairing the old carpets and sitting in the courtyards people watching, looking to see who had the pointiest  shoes. Here we met yet more overlanders, Tom ( Gruss and Fred, all making their way to Bandar Abbas as well and we spent another evening being affable. Man are we being sociable these days! It’s not in my nature as normally I hate everyone but I’m beginning to come around to this ‘talking to others’ lark.

Another day and another city. Esfahan was described as the jewel of Iran and it did not disappoint. The main square is massive and second only to Tiananmem Square (that’s in China Nick). There is one problem though, sitting down to enjoy the evening we were approached four times by different people all wanting to talk to us and tell us their life history and how amazing Iran is. To be fair, it was very interesting and gave us both a glimpse of what life in Iran is like for normal people. The final time we were approached by a young builder who was learning English by himself and it lead to one of the most surreal conversations I have ever had. He presented us with a list of words that he had clearly copied out of the dictionary and asked us to explain them to him. It was all going well until the words started to become difficult, for example, ‘pious man’, ‘hermit’, ‘irrefutable’, and others I can’t remember (but more likely don’t know the meaning of). If we didn’t know the definitions we made stuff up that sounded right. He then went on talking for about 20 minutes in broken English while Megan and I had no idea what he was talking about, but we just said yes a lot, and eventually looked at our watches and said we had friends to meet!

So far Iran has been interesting and it is nothing like you think it’s going to be. Yes, all the women wear headscarves but we have both found it more relaxed than certain parts of Turkey. Everyone is über friendly and although there is a lot of staring at no time have we felt threatened. We have been stopped by the army at check points but it’s all very pleasant and after checking our passports we are sent on our way with a smile and a wave. When we told people we were coming to Iran the first thing people said was ‘is it safe?’, and so far yes, it’s very safe.