Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dubai, 29th July - 5th Aug

Spending a week here. Collecting a few bits and pieces sent by my amazing Vicarage Crescent friends and arranging freight and flights etc.
Ramadan has started, and it means that there are a lot of people away and businesses close early...also folk can be a wee bit tetchy by the end of the day, having not eaten or drunk anything since 4 in the morning.
Have had to change my plans a bit, in that sending Batty to Katmandu is prohibitively expensive (£3000+, apparently only one airline goes there from Dubai with a large enough cargo door...), so Delhi it is for about £800.
Rainbow Cargo were suggested to me on Friday (sabbath)  by a chap on customs at Dubai Cargo Village, as a company who send bikes and 'dangerous goods'. I called them the next day and arranged to go there on Monday.
It was a funny mixture of abandonment and freedom seeing Batty being packed up, having whittled my needs down to a backpack. Having had her as my reliable constant for a couple of months, I was now so light of 'stuff' and responsibilities, it was almost disconcerting.

As chance would have it, I met Giancarlo at the shippers. He was sorting out shipping his Yamaha to India as well, and had been recommended to Rainbow for the best value.

We met for supper a couple of days later and I learnt that he  had come through Iran and been on the ferry a couple of days before me. He had had a month there. He is Italian who was brought up in Lausanne, Switzerland, just a few miles from Bella and Humphrey and this is his blog for all you French reading  travellers out there:

Another marathon shipping trial. In the end and had I, or anyone else for that matter, known what they were doing, getting the export certificate takes about an hour. Alas I was taken and sent to 8 different offices all over the city and over 6 hours. There were loads of condradicting opinions and instructions. These are the correct ones for anyone reading and trying to ship their vehicle and needing an export certificate:

You will need your registration doc, carnet and passport.

Mr Othman, Daira Traffic (RTA) is the man to see, and his office is off Al Aids Street and 100m down 8 Street. Opposite Terminal 2.
First get a proof of ownership form from him, which you need to fill out with registration number etc. Then this needs to be stamped by the CID  (police dept, 600ish metres down the road and around the corner away,  he will explain where, even ask him to draw a map as I have found directions here are very ambiguous). Go to the 'internationally wanted' (don't ask me why) office in the CID building for stamp. Then return to Mr Othman and he will issue the Export license doc.

Rainbow kindly put their driver at my disposal and had he understood what we needed to do and where, it would have been a far greater help.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

23rd to 28th July. Shiraz to Bandar Abbas, Iran and Dubai, United Arab Emerates

23rd July. Shiraz. Home of the grape.

Drove some of the best roads yet in Iran between Esfahan and Shiraz, stopping for the night in Yasuf, which was interesting in that I had to stay in a 4 star hotel. There were only 3 hotels in the town, and the cheapest had said what equated to $50, this is over double my budget, and the rooms were v squalid for the rate. So I eventually found this other posh one, that took pity on me and agreed on $40 a 50% discount on their rate. 

Rocked into Shiras at midday, I thought this might be a fun place when I saw this guy on cycle with a huge hooter on the handlebars, that he had some pump attached that he was vigorously using to honk his way through the mad traffic.  I had to ask a few people directions till I found the street. The last one was a guy called Omid, who I randomly asked. He kindly showed me the way. Once found he asked me to come to met his family that evening. I agreed as he seemed a good fellow and there was no hint of an agender. Which  is an awful thing to say as there has not been with any of all these offers that have come my way, but it is my cynical Anglo Saxon mind that is almost confused by what I take as unbelievable generosity and openness. It is in fact just their natural  behaviour towards strangers. 

It was good to meet his mother, who I guess was a bit older than me and spoke great English and then his 23 year old sister, who also spoke very well. So we had a couple of hours chatting away, hearing all about their happy and quite versatile lives, their travel wishes and matrimonial plans. All open and nothing not up for discussion. Again this wish for fast social change was very apparent, but not expected in their generation. The parents were married before the revolution and their wedding pictures were without the vail. I asked for an opinion, and although it was preferred without as an option, it was such a norm now that it was not a subject of any annoyance. 
I was asked about what I saw as the difference of the cultures, and I thought it comes down to a stronger or certainly different family structure that has the children in the house till marriage (30 on average and too long as far as mother was concerned), the ever present Islamic faith that is only practiced by a relative few, I was surprised to learn, and no alcohol. I am finding it weird that one, not that I crave booze, it is just such part of our social life for it to be completely nonexistent takes some understanding. It seems like a near essential prop that enables interaction, courtship and certainly in part the fun and edgy youth culture that drives and stimulates much of our ever developing culture. 
I met another chap, Ali, today who explained that after the Iran/Iraq war in the seventies and eighties, the Iranian leaders told the families to have as many children as possible to rebuild the decimated population. So now there are huge numbers of late twenty year olds, many of whom are unemployed, living with their parents and with little prospect in this politically and economically isolated land. A sad state of affairs, and there is some anguish beneath all the smiles and generosities. 

Scenes from around Shiraz:

Omid had kindly volunteered to call the ferry to get to Dubai, so by 9 am he had let me know that they were running every day, so off I went to one of the most anticipated visits of my time in Iran.....

Persepolis is and was one of the great proofs of Iranian/Persian's significant place in history. It marks the beginning of one of the first civilizations and the largest empire the world had known....right up until Alexander the Great showed up and nabbed it in 331 BC. 

My imagination cannot really do the job of translating the remaining ruins into what must have been an extraordinary human achievement by any standards and in any era. I am sure Hollywood has done the job for me and will have to look it up. 

Now if you ever hear part of the so called 'establishment' going on about what vandals graffiti artists are, have a look at these names carved on to some of histories greatest  treasures. I am showing the tip of the iceberg, there are hundreds from  the days of our Empire. Perhaps that makes it alright? 

Here are some other poor pics of significant history

With a head full of wonder and respect, I hit the road for Bandar Abbas early afternoon, to get the ferry to Sharjah near Dubai. It is over 400 miles south and I wanted to do as much in the remaining day as poss. Darab is a town about 200 miles along the road the way and got there at about 7pm. I asked for a local hotel, and was guided to this very snazzy and looking place. My immediate thought was that it would be way over budget, and although I would have stretched it a bit being knackered by the many hours in 45 degrees, I could not believe it when the very pleasant receptionist said it was about £15. A lovely room with en-suite and breakfast to boot. 
My plans to leave at 5 am to avoid the heat did not have a chance against this most welcome comfort and I did not get away till 7,30. 

About 2 hours later, Batty ground to a halt, I had run out of fuel. It shouldn't have happened, as I give a very wide safety margin on the Garmin fuel gauge of 300 miles, when the range is 4-500 miles. And I was at 250ish.  I had noticed that I had been putting in more oil on the last few fill ups, so I guess I was being warned something was amiss. 
As luck would have it there was a sort of road side cafe 1/2 a mile on, and as we were on a hill, it was not even a push, but a glide. 
If I meet other people as friendly and generous as the Iranians on my travels, I will be of course delighted, but surprised. The guys enjoying their tea and lie down in the shade, sprang into action when they realized what the score was. One guy, Hero 1,  went off in his car to I think a farm whilst the other 2 Heros made sure my tea glass was always full and engaged me in the best conversation, without a word of each other's languages. From my trip, to all things Iran, the chat went on and on until Hero 1 returned with 10 liters of diesel. Unfortunately Batty did not want to start and Hero 1 got about bleeding the system. It is not that I wasn't happy to do it, but he was right in there and knew his way about a diesel, eventually we ended up swopping the injector for the spare I had. The old one was very coked up and probably had a lot to do with the poor fuel economy. She started up straight away. 
I begged to let me pay for the fuel and the time (at least an hour), but I could not for the life of me. 
Batty was going well now, although the local diesel is really smoky and I could see my black trail as I powered up the hills in the mirror.  Going at the same speed as a lot of trucks, I had chocked on hundreds of miles of what must be the world's most polluted roads, I was giving some of the same. Not a great moment in this supposed Eco trip. 

As it happens I have only stopped at a diesel station twice to top up the mainly Veg oil that I had found quite easily, including from a pizza joint. The trouble is that diesel here is massively subsidized and a gallon is just pence,  had I done the whole of the country on it, it would have cost maybe a tenner. As it is I must have done at least 85% of the 1500 miles on veg oil, which is about £1 a litre. I don't suppose running trucks on veg oil is going to take off here for awhile. 

Oh and another thing I have had to struggle with paying for is fruit, which I picked up at road side stalls. I just wanted a couple of the delicious local peaches, but always get given 4 or 5, and a blank refusal to be allowed to pay for them.

Leaving Iran.
If I ever come across a people on this trip that has a more complex and long winded customs and freight procedure, I will be annoyed, but surprised. 

I booked into a hotel in Bandar Abbas and after a very welcome shower, went to find a travel agency that Lonely Planet recommended. The temperature is in the mid 40s and as humid as anything and the healthy walking option soon became a silly idea, but it was too late and I arrived at the agency not looking or feeling my best. I was offered lots of tissues. 
This is when I was told that the ferry was full for a week, I could not believe it. Nothing in what i had read or understood had given any hint of it getting booked up so. It was when she did not know about the bike's price that I started thinking that there was a lot of communication failure getting in the way. It was too late by then to do anything other than go back to the hotel. 
I got on one of their very slow Internet pcs to see if I could glean some more. Luckily I found a  new thread on Horizons Unlimited that thankfully gave the shipping company name and address. So along I went in the morning at 8.30. What followed was a near 10 hour bureaucratic trail that took me to over 20 offices for parts of a puzzle that I had absolutely no idea had to do with what. At last by six in the evening I had my passenger ticket and Batty was ready for embarkation. 2 hours was spent sitting around and another 2 involved going back to the hotel to check out and collect Batty, but it had been a marathon. I read of others taking half a day.
Once the process was in play and I was confident that I would go that evening, I was surprised at how relaxed I was, pretty confused but relaxed. All the guys in the process were warm natured and happy to take this dumb foreigner through the ordeal. The night before I had been on quite a decline with the prospect of a week in one of the hottest most humid places I had encountered. 
Batty waiting to board at Bandar Abbas

That is where all those water melons come from

So what of Iran, do I want to come back? It has been, to date, the most challenging land I have been to. Not that I was ever in any remote danger or had any aggression shown me, in fact I have never had such warmth from those in uniform and those not, but in terms of having 2 weeks in near isolation from my kin, culture and language. In fact I only met 1 Frenchman and a group of Swiss lads for about 15 mins in the whole 2 weeks. Although the Internet works,  it does not like, BBC,  newspaper sites etc etc and I rather gave up trying to get and send email as it took forever and one had to hunt around a bit. I would love to come back, but I would with others and with a great English speaking guide. I would also come in the spring when it is much greener and cooler. There is so much to see and do, a life time is not enough.  The people are fabulous, the landscape stunning and the culture fascinating and rich. The food has been good, kebabs in the main, I am sure that I did not try it's best. Carrot jam is everywhere and I rather got a taste for it, along with the honey that breakfast always came with. The breads were flat and delicious fresh, teeth breaking if the slightest bit old. 

28th July UAE
Waiting to disembark, in an oven like ship's hold for a few hours

Ship docked at 10.30am, managed to sleep for about 5 hrs on the boat in train like seats. Because there were 100 more passengers than normal it took until 5.30 pm to clear the customs etc. Again I had read others who took just an hour or so, so I really pulled the short straw on this passage.
As if it was the most normal thing in the world, when I went, mid trail, to get the Carnet stamped in a little hut at the docks, the guys asked me to join him and his colleagues for lunch, it was all laid out and it was a delicious curry, something my taste buds had been crying out for. They were originally from India and I think Batty's Indian heritage may have had something to do with it. A great welcome to this new land.