Saturday, July 30, 2011

Iran, 16th to 23rd July. Orumiyeh to Esfahan

Kirim, who owns the hotel,  has been a complete star. He lived in the US for 10 years and speaks very good English. I had asked him the day before if he knew an insurance broker and he arrange for an acquaintance of his to come by. I had been warned on many blogs etc that the scammers at the border will try and get $100 USD, but the price you should pay is $30 USD. So that is what I was expecting..... Not the $10USD I was charged. 
His stardom carried on as he took me in hand and walked me through the amazing bazar that is next to his hotel.  It goes on and on, and every so often he would stop an ask a pal where to find a sheepskin. This was accompanied by a running commentary about local things, national things, women in vails,  importing plastic was fantastic. Sure enough I saw some fleeces and 5 minutes later and for about £10 a deep and luxurious addition was made. I did not dare say that I had heard you can get them for £5 at Ikea, anyway this had a story. Back to Batty and we chopped to size. The leather was deemed to be too dry, so after a bit of consultation with the artisans that Kirim had found to make some straps to attach the skin to the seat, animal fat was prescribed. This man had friends everywhere, and next thing I knew, we were in a butcher, with a lump of fat the size of a brick, rubbing it into the hide. I had to head on. 
Karim on the right

Some fun going on in the street for the holiday weekend that was just beginning

We have done some packaging illustrations for Ahmad, and here it is practically the only tea.

Another night for Batty in the Foyer of the Hotel

With the lump of fat and the sheepskin bundled into my backpack ready for the next 'oiling' I headed south and made for Bukan, a town on the map. 

Not a long ride, about 3 hours, but it is getting hot. 40 degrees according to my brilliant new whistle that I had picked up in an army surplus shop in Van. Not only does it whistle loudly, it has a compass and a temp gauge. John McComb had tipped a whistle as a good thing for a single biker to have. If the bike falls on you and you can't budge it, a whistle will last longer than a shout.

Got into town and was pointed to a building that was a hotel. I need to learn what the Farsi figures look like for the word Hotel, as the Latin text is getting pretty subtle in these parts.  
هتل is it...I learnt in the end

Met Davud in a very tasty local Kabab place, I am continually being greeted and welcomed, but Davud spoke good English and enough to converse. He found the idea that I was 46 and had no wife or family of my own particularly extraordinary and told everyone of this phenomenon that we were to meet, as he guided me around the town. Even his parents and brother, when I was taken to their house. I had asked him if he was married, but he laughed and said he was only 17, which he look a lot older than. A dinner had been proposed, but alas I had eaten, it would have been quite an experience. Anyway by 9 I was ready to go and left. Apparently it had made Davud's year....

17th Bukan to Hamadan. 
Hard riding, with strong headwinds up in high plains and harvest on the go. Sheepskin v comfortable. 
Rather a thought free day. 
Had 3 offers from people for me to visit their homes. 

I had heard that Iranian driving was quite a sight to be hold and it is. The cocktail of large slow trucks, not many dual carriageways, and a shameless confidence born of a faith that is bound not to fail them when  overtaking over a blind brow of a hill. 
You certainly have to keep your wits about you. Eventually one begins to read it and even understand it, well.... I got a smile and a wave from a chap who screeched back on to his side having attempted to overtake the car that was over taking the truck that was coming around the corner to face Batty, who had every anchor over the side, and was running for the ditch. 

A good thing is that one knows that they won't have been drinking, so it is at least sober reckless driving. 

It is the same on the streets when walking around, it is a sort of dance that everyone does whilst crossing the street through all the traffic. People of all ages, just make their way across any speed of road that in the UK would have had them arrested. 
I started noticing a fair number of people with limps, but that could have been caused by anything I suppose. 

18th July Oridibehesht hotel, Hamadan. 

Either there is a general lack of appreciation that red on a tap infers hot, and blue cold, all plumbers are colour blind, or there has been a huge over supply of one colored taps and at different stages, but it has developed into a joke that initially frustrated me. Every bathroom so far in Iran has been a trickster that has caught me out, one can almost hear the plumbers sniggering away. 

Good snap of the new seat cover

How a marble hill is chopped/sliced down...we will see it in a loo soon.

Some enthusiasts who pulled over and gave me some fruit for the journey

Not very clear but this arch is made of spent tank shells

                                                            Hamadan town centre

It may have been the last 2 nights spent in hotel rooms that could best be described as prison cells that have caused this feeling that I am in a sort of incarceration. The rooms were white tiled floors and walls and only one hard white central light a piece. The beds were single metal framed, with the hardest mattresses ever claiming to be one. But that was not really the reason for this feeling, I am quite happy in simple and fussless places, it is the communication incarceration that is beginning to get to me. Everywhere I go there are out stretched hands of welcome, invitations to people's houses, constant friendly questions in pigeon English which answers are not understood, and failing sign language. Here is this lovely people, intelligent, warm and interested, who I cannot have the conversations I would so love to have. It is an alienation that is vexing me. Further intensified by the Farsi text, that I cannot read, rendering menus and signs meaningless. The guide book shows some of them, but there is such an overwhelming  bombardment of new forms, in so many styles, that it would take months and years to grasp it.  

I suppose it is one of the challenges of solo travel. 

The Spanish course I have on the iPhone is going to be mastered for South America. 

Estefan. Melal Hotel

Have spent 2 days and 3 nights here. It is a slightly higher notch hotel and has BBC WS on the tv and saw the Murdochs' do their ever so humble act. 
Have often heard that it is a gem of a city and wanted enough time to see it. Mette gave me a couple of names of people to look up and spent the first day just wondering around the many sites of this world heritage city. I was picked up by a guide called Esam and arranged to have a full day going around the next day. 

That gave the rest of the day to tackle the Contemporary Art Museum  and the Natural History Museum. 
Some familiar birds, but old and dingy...the 50p ticket seemed expensive for what they showed...out in 30 mins

These macabre exhibits seemed to attract every one the most.

These 2 were the only exhibits that the Art show of advertising students had and my opinion
The Car one is a photo of an undamaged car, but crumpled to make it look smashed up.

The tour around the sites with Esfahan with xxx ( not going to put his name here for reasons you will see) was a fun day, as much in what I found out about his life and dreams, as the spectacles of the city, which were numerous and great and photos will tell their stories.

Ferdosi Bridge, 1 of 5  crossing the Zayandeh

Taj al-Molk Dome, maybe the finest brick Dome ever

XXX sending a love message no doubt

Chehelsotoon Museum Murals; Wars

                                               Chehelsotoon Museum Murals; Parties

Chehelsotoon Palace

Chehelsotoon Palace

Chehelsotoon Palace

Lotfollah Mosque...probably the prettiest of all. 
Taken with a image joining device on the Camera, not convinced

                                            Lotfollah Mosque, from across the square
Lotfollah Mosque

Imam Mosque

He is a 28 year old highly qualified in numerous languages and business courses. He and some pals run their own carpet shop, and he does some guiding when they are quiet. He lives at home with his highly religious parents, as everyone does till they get married. He has never had a girlfriend to speak of, that went beyond a kiss. Again this is pretty much the norm till you marry. 
We got to this conversation after I told him about the trip I am doing, and he sort of joked about having a girl in every country. I brushed it of and quipped that maybe a few years back as a younger man I might have had a go. He sort of cried out that he was so unhappy that as a young man he, like all his friends, were deprived of sex and knowing that the world over it was pretty much going on. I had to put him right about western girls didn't think of sex in quite the same way as men do, and there was a process to relationships that could fail at any stage before the bedroom....more often than not. I think he was rather disappointed that the average number of partners in the west for boys and girls was about 6, so there were many who just had 1 or 2 in their lives. So sexual frustration was a world wide phenomena and his experience was probably akin to my parents generation. Then people just got married much younger as a way to satisfy these natural force. 
Did he not have girl-pals that he discussed this with I asked, but it was just not something he has or could. I would love to have that conversation with a local girl here, but there is hardly any eye contact, and a conversation of that nature seem as likely as flying carpets. 
I had been developing this theory, before I met him, that the men and women here were rather like avian species, as a lot of the blokes do themselves up like peacocks, that would have them at home along Old Compton Street in Soho, whilst the girls are veiled. XXX liked this theory and thought it about right, although he dressed pretty straight and the girls are beginning to show more hair and face, and their true beauty is abundant, but still under wraps. 

I once had a few dates with a girl called Scheherazade who I had met at a wedding a few years back in London, she was half Iranian and a complete knockout. Alas it did not go beyond a few kisses either, but the preparation for this land of beauties was started. 

When questioned it was more of a social revolution that he prayed for, rather than anything vicious, but he wants it now and was happy to take to the streets and follow, but not lead it. 

15th July, Crossing from Turkey to Iran at Sero. On to Orumiyeh

Top tip: if you arrive in a town in Iran, and need to ask for directions, find a stall that is selling something you fancy the look of. I was trying to find a money changer that I knew was nearby and asked a guy who happened to be selling all these fantastic cup cakes (Iranian style), he tried to help, but in doing so, when complimented on the fine display, gave me one. Delicious. Alas he could not help, but would not let me leave without a bag of these delights. I had read you had to offer something 3 times here to have it accepted, but alas my numerous offers to pay for them did not succeed.
A few minutes later I stupidly (?) walked  into an iron bar that was sticking out of an awning at head height. It drew blood, although looked worse than it was. Somewhat thrown, I started walking back to the hotel, when a beep from a car heralded a lady holding out a handful of tissues for me. I guess she must have seen it, and so kind.

My experience of Iran within hours of arriving.

I had left the "plush" (don't get me started on the broken aircon, the broken shower etc) Turkish hotel at 6 in the morning to make for the Sero crossing by midday. It was a 150 miles away and all the mixed reports made me want to give it as much time as possible.

The last 4 days had been rather dull from a journal point of view, but I will report that it is amazing how much one can catch up on in 3 or 4 intense and long days. The business is going great, looked after by my fabulous colleagues, and a few of the on going development things are in v good hands now. Our online strategy meeting lasted 5 hours and over 20 new actions, small and large, emerged for the team to get stuck into over the next quarter.

I feel a bit bad about Maarten and Line from Holland, who I had met in Van and who were cycling to China from Holland, because I kept blowing them out for dinner. Sadly the UK and US hours just kept conflicting. Here is a link to their trip.

It was great to be back on the road again. Good though the 'work' days had been, the beginnings of frustration at  Batty's static-ness was beginning to tell. The road from Van was through and over a range of mountains that had the height record broken again at 2700m.

The last 20 miles was on dusty 'about to be tarmaced' road and we emerged at the border post as if we had been through the paint spray shop.

It took an hour and a half going through the crossing. I was so wary of the warning I had had of insurance touts that I ignored any approaches, and suddenly found myself been greeted 'Welcome to Iran' and I was in. Rather painless, but fantastic, fulfilling a long held wish to be here. The trouble was that I had missed the insurance booth to get the mandatory 3rd party insurance for the bike. I thought I would get it in the town I stay in, and crossed my fingers that we would stay safe getting there.
The Garmin maps that I had been given did not have a detailed map of  Orumiyeh on, so finding a hotel was tricky, but ended up in the Reza Hotel.

On the road to Sero, Turkish/Iranian crossing

It will have to be a 2 night stay as tomorrow is Friday (Sabbath) and the insurance offices are closed.