Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bomb blast and taking the long way round.

Burned out bus in Baluchistan
So here's the good news.
We're happy to be on the road heading for Quetta. Spirits are high and we happy to be moving.

Here's the bad news.
Quetta is the place where a Scottish guy had his head removed back in April. I'm trying not to think about it but can't help to worry again when we pass the remains of a bus in which  18 people heading for the Iran border we're murdered just recently.

We keep making jokes about Taliban, being abducted and held to ransom often to break the monotony. But I think in the back of our mind we really are slightly bothered even if no one admits it. The Taliban won't be interested in tourists surely but the police are convinced we are a risk. At the last checkpoint before the city of Quetta, the police guys mentioned that 2 people are killed everyday here, usually police. The police car driver waves his arm and beeps the horn to gesture everyone is ready to go and  to stay close by. Ok let's move then!

Our destination is a hotel is on the outskirts of the town but the police driver has been told by someone we want to visit the bazaar in the centre of the city! Just what we wanted to do, parade through the centre of a dangerous city with the local police then go shopping for herbs and spices after 8 hours ride Of course, that would be great thanks constable. 

Our destination hotel
Since arriving in Pakistan We keep hearing, "It's dangerous for you, we must go quickly" or " You must not go out at night, its dangerous for you". So here we are plodding along in full sight of the entire population of Quetta as its getting dark, trundling along at such a slow pace we feel we are in a funeral cortege  I've noticed most of us are wearing lots of black so that's convenient. Everyone else in the streets are staring at the infidels arriving. Just staring. Am I paranoid, or is that bearded guy phoning some gun toting Taliban waiting at the ambush ahead? 

 Jeroens bike is overheating again and he explains this in his usual persuasive banging on bonnets and shouting at "You fucking idiots, your making us a target"! They seem to take this well, all things considered, and bring around another police car which has a good second gear, this speeds up our procession and helps to cool Jeroen and his overheating engine. It's now dark and everyone is nervous. To add to my excitement, the fuel warning light reminds me I'm about to run out soon and be left at the side of road as fresh meat but thankfully after around an hour we arrive at our hotel and are relatively safe in the fenced grounds of the Gardenia resort just before the bike dies.

The place is OK  offers hot showers , a real toilet and WiFi  Great! More importantly, beer is available so I'm happy. So happy in fact, the dripping tap which I use as a shower to clean my toes doesn't bother me. The lack of any toilet paper makes me snigger, I shrug off the fact that although the the WiFi is quick , it isn't connected to anywhere outside the hotel. Ah well we have cold beer on its way, nothing will bother me then. We've driven into one of the worlds most dangerous cities so running water, WiFi and a clean bum doesn't bother me, I'm happy i still have a bum and use it to support my beer drinking activities later that night.

So next day were looking to get out of town as soon as possible but Pakistan has other ideas. We need a letter of permission to drive to Lahore, and just to make it interesting, the road is closed.

Dave and Richard head off to get some cash from the bank, get a permit to drive out of Quetta and hopefully come back with their heads still on. The rest of us take advantage to carry out some maintenance on the bikes and our mental health.

When David & Richard return they have some good and bad news.

The good news - We got the permit to travel from Quetta.
The bad news. - We have to go via Karachi!

Apparently it's too dangerous to take the more direct sensible route, a diversion of 1500kms south is whats needed

By now, we're not really phased by anything Pakistan bureaucracy can throw at us and happily get on our way. What we didn't know is that whilst we were driving through the city, some nutter blew up a bus killing a child and injuring 16 in the city centre. This is no place for a holiday.

 The northern part of road to Karachi is beautiful  amazing scenery of sharp golden mountains  dark brown rock formations, excellent roads and the never ending friendly people of the countryside welcoming foreigners to their land along the way. 

I can now understand how rock stars and celebrities can get pretty used to this. I've waved to a million smiling people today. 

The day is long and we've relaxed into a routine, stopping for photographs and occasional drink. Perhaps being careless with daylight  we arrive in  the outskirts of Karachi in the dark. The route on David & Jeroens GPS Sat nav's agree to take us direct route to the hotel. The traffic is absolutely crazy and the heat and congestion force us to take a 5 minute break. Jeroens bike decides it's had enough and stalls. So here we are in a busy busy part of town, our popularity hasn't weaned yet and around 50 people circle our group. One kind man even feeds Martin and me with some pastry. What lovely people live here, or so we believe. 

When we do get to our hotel, we're made aware that last week local police abandoned a week long fire fight in this same suburb in which we'd stopped for refreshments and snacks.

In addition to avoiding, toll roads, ferries and even gravel roads, why don't Garmin add a function to the GPS unit for travellers to avoid dangerous Mafia controlled suburbs as well?

No room at the Inn.

Some pics from the day.

Another burnt out vehicle

View from Karachi hotel

Richard and Martins pad.

Karachi hotel

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Banged up abroad.

Turn right to Pakestan?
Leaving early from our government run basic hotel in Zahedan just on the border in Iran, we aim to get to the border early to ensure we reach Dalbandin some 300kms into Pakistan before nightfall. So we do the usual motor bike queue-jumping through the lines of buses and trucks, being careful not to kill any pyjama-wearing local in between the narrow dark corridors of trucks and trailers.

the first of many
We get through the Iranian and Pakistani customs and passport control fairly easily, however the next set of customs changes all that and time grinds to a halt. I swear Pakistan have saved their biggest idiot to stamp the carnet de passage document for our bike import into the country. I won't mention to the guys that I dropped some of their passports in the middle of a compound and have to rush around to pick them up with help of some more pyjama clad locals.

Here's how it goes everywhere else in the world so far;  open book, stamp two locations, date and sign, tear out bottom bit. 2 minutes at most.

Here is the Pakistan border version, sit, wait, look at form, look at driver, read carnet, write down all vehicle particulars on loose sheet. Look at carnet. Look at driver. Sigh deeply, take deep breath. Write something in foreign language, look at carnet, look at driver.... You get the idea! 20 minutes each for 5 bikers just for this. 

So, we've arrived when the border opens at 9 but we don't leave until 3:15 in afternoon. This means that we're heading along one of the most dangerous roads in the world in falling darkness and unknown territory with nowhere to stop for the night! Along the way the road deteriorates to make things even more interesting on which the other guys in in the adventure style bikes sail on regardless. My sports bike feels every bump. Once again I'm nervous that I'll break the poor bike and soon nearly do as I fail to see a huge speed bump at a remote a rail crossing and too late! I'm propelled into the air like an idiot. I land ok and celebrate my success too early as another hump I also didn't see sends me into the air again, this time I hear a clunk and something breaks. 

We're in the middle of nowhere, aren't we? No. We're in fuckin Taliban country! and we're unarmed! Fuck! We really don't want to break down here. It's getting darker and the stress level, shows on all our faces. Jeroen's bike is making funny noises too. My bike is ok, the clunk was a spare sprocket tied under my seat coming loose. Easily fixed with cable ties. This tells me to slow down but  it's becoming pretty clear that we will not make Dalbandin tonight and decide to stop at a village on the way. If the border crossing had been quicker we would have made it. Bugger! 

There are no hotels here, so, we find ourselves staying overnight in the police station in Nok Kundi. It's fairly basic It has walls, cells, occasional electricity, a roof you can climb onto to see Afghanistan and its less hospitable offspring. Let's hope they don't see us! The police don't want us on the roof as we're a practice target apparently. There goes the idea of rough camping looking up at the stars. David picks cell no 3, the rest of us crash on the dusty concrete verandah outside. Despite the depressing state of the town around us, our spirits are high and were happy to dig up some local food, Dahl, bread, packets,of biscuits and some drinks. No beer sadly, we're still in a dry country. 

Watching  Long Way Round

We're told it's best to sleep before 9:30. Like the banged up bad boys we are, we ignore this, mostly whilst we gather around to watch, of all things, Long Way Round on my iPad. Weird and wonderful moment watching 5 grown men on bikes, sick of riding bikes in weird places, watching a TV show about blokes riding on bikes in weird places. How more weird could this get?

When we finally settle to bed, expecting silence and tranquillity, the police switch on a noisy short wave radio at one end of the station whilst the other two gun toting guards loudly discuss the current state of affairs, or price of chapati's for all I know. They cannot stand the silence it seems. David and myself decide we're still trying to get a handle on things and stay up for some time chatting about the day, trying to comprehend where we are and who thought this would be a good idea? We feel reasonably safe here as long as there isn't a large crowd outside of maybe one or two hundred more who would have no problem pushing down the heavily armoured gate bolted to the sand compound by a weak tree branch.

Eventually I climb into my sleeping back and lie back, staring at the stars above through the police dipole antennas. I'm hoping they're connected to the American forces 50km away in Afghanistan and just in case, I have my little emergency spot beacon thing alongside that upon pressing the red button would bring the helicopters if we needed them through the night, surely? I stuck with this nice thought which helps me me sleep.

Local shops?
Next day, we're all up and cheery. First thing is new battery for Jeroen's bike. The old one has cooked and is,now totally dead so the police take us to the nearby town where there is a small shop. Well, shop is an overstatement, an indoor rubbish tip behind a garage door is more accurate description. The door belongs in the rubbish tip too. The helpful guys in dirty pyjamas sell Jeroen a battery in a box. It's obvious the box and the battery belong on the rubbish tip as well but we have little choice, and with Taliban surely aware of our overstay in this town we happily grab the only option available. 

So, 2 hours later, mucking around with cables, jump leads and much swearing, the KTM is running, but only just! We need to get petrol and with no petrol stations within 200kms, we buy from local petrol pimp. For him to see 5 unusual bikes with police escort is not a daily event here and apart from occasional killing of bus loads of migrants or suicide bomber excursions, we doubt that very much else happens here either. Before long we have around 50-60 people around us but the police really don't like this, they are more nervous than any of us. This makes me nervous too.

crowd around Jeroen's bike
Trying to get out of town, Jeroen's bike stalls again and stress level is suddenly high once more. We need to get a jump start as the battery we fitted is not charged enough. This takes more valuable minutes, and more swearing as we have to remove,some panels to get at the terminals simply to get the engine going again. It's stinking hot, and we're getting pissed off. Not all of us, mostly Jeroen who screams in anger when it stalls once again. Again I hear the Pakistan catch phrase, "It's dangerous for you we must go, go go"! So we manage to restart the bike and eventually get on the road aiming for Quetta but it was not meant to be.

Filling out more pointless
forms and ledgers
At every roadside security check point stop we're getting fed up with having to fill out all our details, with name, fathers name, passport, reg etc ... Jeroen takes advantage of the guard doing it for us and tells him his passport No. H546 34567 2341223 5432 665765 443 112. The guard runs out of columns, "This is very long number", he waggles his head in Pakistani accent but keeps on going anyway. I have to leave the room as I can barely keep my face straight and walk away holding my breath, trying not to burst out laughing.

We're only 300 Km's from Iran border after 2 days, so we're not too satisfied with our progress but the thought of a mechanical breakdown close to darkness in this country is scary. We'll get this bike right and head all the way tomorrow, we hope! So we decide to find a hotel and stay here well before daylight ends. With slow escorts and delays in changing over our armed convoy we run out of day again. Allah has decided its best we stay in Dalbandin.

 Not everyone is happy with this choice but when Allah provides beer and free Internet, the moaning stops. Especially from me. 

Bomb blast and taking the long way round.

Martin decided to climb in cell No.3 also

View from roof of Police station of local town.

Cell No 4 - Kirk, infidel.

Wild camels on a slow relaxing walk across the deserts from Afghanistan

Heading into Pakistan

Looking back to Iran from police station roof.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The penny drops and so does my camera.

To reset the trip meter on the Triumph requires you to press one of the 3 heavy buttons on the speedo for about 3 seconds then scroll to the next and do the same. Then to reset the GPS trip meter requires a couple of presses before it asks you if you're sure you want to reset. I also notice the tracking function on the GPS has been switched off as well. Not too easy to do so I doubt this was an accident and if I wanted to conceal just how much mileage I'd covered, this is the way to do it. The penny drops. I'm not going to get angry at myself for being a fool, I want to have faith in people so I decide strongly to let it go, forgive myself for putting faith in others. Lets move on.

Steven and Jeroen
I've arrived in Tehran and catch up with Jeroen who's been waiting here for a few days. We were in Africa together on the Charley Boorman trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls a few years ago. He lives in Dubai and the short ferry ride brought him to South Iran, he thought it would be good idea to come with me through Iran and Pakistan.

I was a bit nervous of the Tehran traffic at first not knowing what to expect but despite the amount of cars and congestion, its fairly relaxed and I find the hotel quite easily.  The hotel room is fairly basic, well very basic really. The mattress is a board. The bathroom says, don't put paper down the WC. Where are you supposed to put it?... in the bin of course. Not me!  I don't care if I clog up the plumbing, I'm not putting shitty paper in the bin to collect flies stink the place out and bother me all night, no way.

on way to Esfahan
Despite the limited plumbing network I have to say, I'm amazed at the friendliness of the Iranians, I've lost count of the number of people I've waved to, or heard say "Welcome to Iran". They really are very nice people, eager to please and happy to see tourists in their country. No exception to this is Mohammed, a business colleague of my brother in law who lives in the fancy part of Tehran. He invites us over and we have dinner and some drinks. We're impressed with the hospitality of Mohammed and his beautiful wife who take care of us as there own, it feels. Thanks for that!

Sadly we're off on the road next day as we are well behind schedule, so next day head for Esfahan.

Abbas hotel grounds
Abbas hotel, Esfahan

Esfahan turns out to be my favourite place in Iran so far. The hotel is rather lavish but cheap by normal western standards. $100 buys a lovely room in a place that was once a palace for the Sultan. See some more info here. This is in my top ten hotels of all time.
This all changes tomorrow as we aim for Yazd, but for now we live like kings.

Esfahan is a lovely city with amazing architecture and gardens. More importantly we even manage real coffee at the local bazaar, magic!

As I'm travelling, I'm also filming a lot of events for TV. So there I was thinking, buying a flash memory camera instead of a hard drive or tape recorder type would guarantee that I'd never have mechanical problems with it. That was the theory.

I know it's not designed to be dropped, but when tested by mistake from around knee height to the ground I've found that that theory doesn't hold up. I was trying to set up the camera on the tripod quickly and didn't fit it correctly. It falls to the floor and I'm looking at a dead screen now. Fuck! Now what?

With a sick feeling in my stomach we continue on our trip to Yazd hoping to get it repaired whilst there, or at least have shipped to Tehran perhaps. I hope this will work whilst I'm in Iran as I might never see it again as  shipping out of Iran is difficult due to trade sanctions. In the end I decide to try a repair shop in Yazd, they are the official Sony repair people so there might be some hope. This idea turns to dust as I arrive at the scruffy building filled with broken TV's and rubbish on the street outside. The scarf covered girl at the desk takes the device and tells me to come back tomorrow. I cant wait this long and request they have quick look to see if it can be repaired. This is seems to be understood and she tells me to wait. Come back after lunchtime.
free repair shop

Waiting like an expectant father outside the shop for hours pacing up and down saying hello to locals who welcome me to Iran for what seemed like an eternity the shop people invite me in and hand over the once dead camera now fully working! I can't believe they fixed it here, in this backwater, but they do. Whats more, when I go to pay them for their work, they refuse! "It's a gift to you" says the owner. How amazing is that? I'm so impressed with the kindness of these people, can you ever imagine that in Australia, or UK?

I'd already said to Jeroen to leave me behind and head for Bam so I'm now some 4 hours behind him. When I arrive at the guest house, there three other guys with bikes there. David, from England and Martin and Richard from Austria. They are heading the same way us us so it makes sense to group together for part of the trip, especially the dangerous area of Baluchistan in Pakistans south west. I'm happy with this idea and we head out for tea.

A shower and change and I'm in local restaurant sitting on the floor eating yet more kebabs, yummy! but why can't we sit at a table for gods sake. We invented them for such events but here we are struggling to reach across a carpet spilling drinks and avoiding other peoples smelly feet specially bared for the occasion. My left hip is aching but the food and fake beer is good. I even try the Hubble bubble pipe, orange or mint ? Oh thank you I'll try both.  Time to go, I try to unfold my aching legs and have problems straightening up, I feel my age here, about 95 after todays mad ride and sitting folded up for an hour. That's the last time I'm eating dinner off the floor, maybe be quaint but utterly bloody stupid really.

Next day and the lhe last hundred kilometres or so to the border, we're escorted by police. This really slows us down and starts to drive us nuts. The petrol stations all use a card to issue petrol to tourists but as the police hang around, we find we cannot get any petrol suddenly. In the end we buy some overpriced black market low octane fuel from young kids right across from the police checkpoint! The police drive us there! My bike doesn't like it and pings and knocks to tell me so. I feel like I'm torturing my baby that has been so faithfully reliable, this is how I repay my bike for taking me almost 13,000kms across the world. Not good.

Sad hotel on Pakistan / Iran border
The next day were off to the nearest place to the pakistan border in readiness for the crossing the day after. Another, sad hotel, another sad toilet which is a hole in the floor, complete with cold shower and bed of wood. "Put the toilet paper in the bin" says the photocopied sign stuck on the wall. My mind goes back to the open bucket at the petrol station in Albania which nearly made me vomit. No way. I don't know why, but it's just not right.

I've raced through Iran to try to catch up on my schedule and didn't get time to visit a few places on my list but I probably don't need to for the moment. If there's one thing I can say is that the people are amazing. Everywhere in traffic, in streets, in shops and hotels, the people are amazingly friendly  We've been fed lunch by police, given fruit by some stranger when sitting on kerb waiting for fuel and I've had my camera fixed for free. The people are aware that they are not seen in best light overseas but they don't like their government, and many don't like the police. We had no trouble from either but feel saddened that the good people of Iran suffer for the sake of the politicians, Iranian or otherwise.

I've only had one week here but its left an good impression on me despite some hiccups along the way.

Esfahan bridge,  Iran
Shah square, Isfahan, Iran.

on the road in Iran
Abbas Hotel Esfahan, Iran

Banged up abroad in deepest Pakistan.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome to Iran! here's the bill.

I’m happily across the border and excited to see and taste a new country. I was thinking this is the first of the dangerous ones, well, apparently so. So far, it's good, the roads appear better than Eastern Turkey, the landscape is pretty much the same and  apart from several cars and buses, no one has tried to kill me. I'm heading for Umria just across the border to meet a Facebook friend who has invited me to stay there. Since I'm well behind schedule, I'm thinking maybe give it a miss and head towards my mate Jeroen waiting for me in Tehran, so for the very least I can drop by to say hello and thanks for the offer. As I park at the side of the road to set my GPS, a white Peugeot 405 draws up in front of me and out jumps a young handsome, happy guy with a big white smile, its Hossein, my host in Umria. "Hi there, follow me" he gestures. He’s been waiting on me. How cool is that!

Courtyard of Hosseins house.
Fifteen minutes later we arrive at Hossein's place and I'm unsure the protocol here. The bike is 
parked within the walls of the closed residence but now what. Should I tell them I want to continue to Tabriz now or wait? However, the family make me feel so welcome; I decide it would be bloody rude to leave now. When I explain "I have to go tomorrow" I feel this isn't received so well. "You must stay longer"! they say, "I can't I must catch up" I stress.

Inside the house, Hossein shows me a room with a small table, a laptop, some blankets in the corner and a door to a small courtyard. "You make yourself at home here, please use my internet”, this will do nicely I think to myself, meanwhile still trying to work out in my head how early I need to leave to get to Tehran before dark next day.
I’m impressed with a guest book Hossein has put together with a list other travellers who have entered a page of thanks you’s and how wonderful it all is. I will do the same. Hossein’s younger sister also asks me to fill in her guest book which I do gladly.
Hossein’s family are nice people and we sit in the front room for lunch. They prepare a spread in the middle of the room on a rug. We all sit on the floor to eat. OK this must be the norm, although I can't sit too long or my ageing left hip pains me. A bit weird but I can go with it. Then mother sits in the corner away from the rug, as if she's been told off or is not allowed to eat with us. I'm trying to work this out but no one else notices. We have some lunch and afterwards I try to catch up on emails and other things on Hossein’s laptop.  Hossein asks that "he can show my bike to his friends? I’m ok but he wants to drive it! I never allow anyone to drive my bike; after all, I need it to get me to Australia and can’t risk any damage. However, since these people are going out o their way for me and against my better judgement I relent and after many, "be careful", "are you sure you're OK with big bike" or words of that nature I hand him the keys after turning it to face the 
Hossein and his 220cc Indian bike
gate. "Only for an hour" I'm sure he says.

At the same time, the family is locking up. Again I'm wondering what’s happening. "You come with us to town" or words to that effect beckons dad. At least I think that’s what he meant.
OK, that’s nice of you, taking me a tour perhaps, still not sure as I sit in the front seat, I did try to offer this to mother but there’s none of that here, men sit in the front. Mum sister and Hossein’s little energetic brother jump in the back. So.. I'm wondering where they will take me. Five minutes later I find out as we stop at a petrol station, Hossein’s dad, who’s mentioned money a few times already, mentions it some more. "You buy benzene" Oh! OK I see, I pay petrol and you take me tour, I understand, that's fair, so I hand over a wad of notes wondering if it’s enough, he fills the tank from empty to half full. That should do, meanwhile I'm still distracted and very anxious about my bike and is Hossein OK with it. The little brother starts to get on my nerves a bit as the additives in the chocolate chip cookies I mistakenly gave him start to work.
Dad takes us for a drive through the centre of Umrie, not really impressing me at all but I smile and 
Hossein, Dad & Mum
appreciate the generosity of the family bringing me here, then the tour I expected ends promptly and we find some highways on which the car stops several times at fruit sellers on the side of the road. I'm still not sure what’s happening but I'm not really caring about this at all now. I’m more concerned at the safety of my bike. The anxiety is becoming overpowering and after about 90 minutes hopping from fruit seller to fruit seller, I'm starting to worry more. I'm trying to ask when we're heading back, just as we stop at an orchard. What seems like an eternity, and with hyper-boy now really getting on my nerves, the family buy two large boxes of apples and lift some grapes from nearby vines. I help carry them to the car to speed things up and we finally head for home. Ah great! I feel relief starting to settle as I'm heading back to my bike however the little brother maintains my stress level as he tries to climb in the front using up the remains of his sugar overload.
Fifteen minutes later we arrive back at the family home and I'm stunned to see no bike. "Where is Hossein"? One hour I'm thinking. Is he close? I ask the dad who tries to call Hossein, I can hear the beeping from his phone that you get when the phone is out of range or switched off. He does this calmy several times in silence.  He nods negative. I'm far from calm and starting to get even more annoyed now. I've never loaned my bike to anyone, no one. Ever! This is my punishment for being stupid. In my head I’m trying to convince myself all is fine and I’m making a mountain out of a molehill but my inner voice is telling me I’m a liar.

My place of worryship for several hours.
Sitting by the computer waiting.
Two hours later and I'm now angry, I hide in the bedroom, trying not to think about it and trying not to let this kind family feel my stress. I can’t stay here forever so head to the front room in an attempt to make conversation with dad about family and so on. I show my family pictures and as always around these parts, they latch onto Suzanna, the blonde with big boobies picture. He points at picture, touching Zans boobs with his finger, “who is this”? I’ve already moved it away as if he’s molested my kids and now  I need to kill him but discount the thought very quickly, it was an accident perhaps. This is Suzanna she’s 20. “Hossein marry your daughter and live in Australia, send me money” he mentions “No fucking way on earth mate” was my thoughts still trying to forget his finger on my wee girl, but lightly shrug it off with “We don’t want her to marry until she wants to, and then hopefully in her 30’s”.  I don’t think he understands.

Eventually, after several cups of tea, me tapping on things, looking at my watch and what seemed forever, Hossein returns well after dark with the bike appearing intact. I'm jokingly trying to ease my stress with, "where have you been, my baby" and even hug my bike! All seem to be jolly but inside, I'm annoyed as hell. That was no hour, “where the hell did you go”? I'm thinking.
He mentions “I even filled it up for you” but i see the fuel level is around the same as I had left it, I must be mistaken.”You didn’t have to do that” I reply, rather perplexed.
Anyway, a few deep breaths and sigh’s  I'm now settled that the bike is OK as we head out for pizza by car. All good, we get some non alcoholic beer and now most of my stress has gone, either that or the relief has overcome my anxiety and I try to forget the way I’d felt about all this most of today.
Its late, Hossein drops me at home, goes off to work, night shift in security somewhere and will return in the morning. I find a bed has been made on the floor but this has no mattress and I cannot lie directly on a hard surface so set up my camp bed and sleeping bag making sure the family don’t see me do it. Next day I'm up putting away my bed before everyone and whilst visiting the bathroom find bodies sleeping in the front room, I realise all of a sudden that my bedroom is theirs. Crikey, this family has given up their room for me, how nice is that?  I feel guilty about any negative thoughts from the night before and try to be quiet as possible, knowing Hossein, who's been staying at work overnight will be here to take me to insurance office and to pick up some currency soon.
Hossein arrives on schedule and hands me an Iranian sim card I’d paid him for the night before but I’m surprised that phone shops were open this early. I’ve shrugged this off and after waiting for some time and some tea, he then kindly drives me around town to get insurance and several banks later we obtain a large wad of local cash.” I’ll cut and fit the sim card later when I get time” I think, keen to get moving.
Hossein and my baby
Then as I leave, dad who mentions at least every minute that they have little money asks me for some. "Fifty dollars" he says. "I'm jokingly repeat," you want money from me, for what"?  "For you staying here" he states without changing expression. I’m a moment of astonishment I'm thinking, I've missed something here, maybe someone told me this earlier and I didn't hear I was being charged. I give him the benefit of the doubt. "OK", I hand over 50 Euros,” it's all I have, no dollars”. He gives me some change in local currency which I stupidly don't count, I'm still in shock at this. I'm thinking, maybe this is normal and I've just learned my first Iranian culture thing. Welcome, here's the bill mate!  I try to shrug it off, but this eats at me the rest of that morning.

Trying to ignore what has just happened I take some photographs, bid farewell and I’m on the road. Out of town now, I'm passing over the causeway of lake Umria stopping for some more photographs and some video. Lovely place I’m thinking, I'm back on the road and the sick feeling of having to stump up payment earlier has gone. I’ve also learned another lesson and I’ve put away the picture of Suzanna deep in my wallet.
Lake Umria

Many cars and trucks beep and people wave "Welcome to Iran!" These people appear genuinely pleased to see a stranger from another land. I feel a lot better after several “Hello’s” and now I'm back into it. Perth to Perth - Yes!
Yes, this is the thing, to be on this trip, now I’m finally in the swing of things fully, no worries, no delays, I’m in it. All I have to do is stop for petrol and a drink or even eat, the simple life. Forget the negative thoughts you had earlier and move on.
I’m heading for Tehran and after several hours of happiness and the simple life have passed I'm curious about just how far I've travelled since Perth in Scotland. The last time I looked was around 10,400 kms. The distance button on my GPS now reads 346kms. What the fuck! I double check the trip meter on my GPS, yes 346. I hit the brakes as if a kid has stepped out in front of me and pull over to check the bike trip meters, press No. 1 - 610kms, What?. Press No. 2 - 610kms! What the fuck is going on?
Where are my proud 10,000 + kms I've been savouring as I go? What is happening here? I didn’t reset these! Why would I? Why would anyone?

The penny drops, and so does my camera!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rough camping for beginners

Serious faces at the border
I'm at the Turkey / Iran border, it's 6pm and I don't fancy driving to Umrie in the dark. Strange new country, strange new roads, strange everything. I've been looking for hotels on the way but they all look a bit dodgy. I quite relish the thought of rough camping, my tent long gone I'm left with a bed and sleeping bag so I'm looking at possible spots to camp but they are all too close to the road. I don't want to advertise my camp if I can avoid it as I'm still not sure about security around here, is it ok? There is plenty of army towers with guns aimed at the ready, sticking out of pillar boxes. I'm not sure which way they point but they're waiting for something or somebody. I do hope they wait till I'm gone regardless.

Looking for somewhere to stay I zig zag up a narrow lane which steepens and becomes more difficult with boulders, potholes, rutts's and muddy puddles. This bike is not meant for this kind of stuff! This reminds me of Wales and my various trips to the BMW off road skills team training days. It's amazing that I'm suddenly in off-road mode and none of this bothers me or my bike and I'm impressed. All my off-road worries about this bike have gone for now.

Friendly Kurdish family
At the top of this laneway there is a house with two guys sitting drinking tea. I'm still impressed with my handling of the bike over huge bumps and potholes but they don't notice how good I am!
With odd sign language and noises I ask them if there is anywhere I can sleep, a field or grass nearby.  One of the guys shows me a bit of grass and tells me I'm welcome to make it my home for the night, however his uncle gets wind of this and as I lay out my bed he's telling me I must sleep in his house. I do try to explain im happy there but he insists. This goes on for 10 minutes after which he phones someone and then hands me phone. "you must do what my uncle says", crackles the voice in thick accent, "it is dangerous for you". I ask the uncle, "so where do i sleep?
A night in a complete strangers house

I'm now in a large room with a great carpet of a local mans house who insisted I stay there. Its too cold they gesture. Well it is a long way from the warm temperatures of 6000 feet lower.They feed me, show me the bathroom and so on and after a long chat with several people on the porch i find myself in my sleeping bag on the floor. How nice is that? I wanted to finish the small bottle of whiskey before I left for Iran but tea it is.

It's very quiet I here. There are no windows but net style curtains. Is this a cell and I've missed something. Now I'm getting paranoid. I'm scared to check if the door is locked and I can't get out. Stop it Steven! It's all good. Go to sleep!

Next day I'm up early and packed. After nearly an hour, no one appears, they're all still sleeping. I'd have liked to see everyone before I go but I'm anxious the queue at the border will be getting longer and longer before opening time. Anyway, I'm off to Iran.

The border crossing into Iran was an easy affair, in fact I mistakenly crossed over and was welcomed by border soldiers "Welcome to Iran" before the Turkish gate dude called me back to have some more stamps and waste another hour walking around in circles.

"Welcome to Iran, here's the bill"