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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Tracking map

I think this is getting closer to what I was after. As yet it only started in Turkey, and I will try and back date it in due course.

I have put it on the 'Route' page/tab

7th/8th/9th/10th July, Dogubayazit and Van

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View Larger Map

I promised the Turkish barber who last cut my hair in London that the next time would be in Turkey. With a week still to go before leaving for Iran, and at Huw's suggestion we both walked into a barber. For the last year or so, and up until the last cut in London, I have been self barbering. Not for any particular reason other than trimming a bit here and there over my ears developed into more ambitious cuts, the acquisition of serrated scissors and before long it seemed to be  pretty straightforward once all the mirrors were properly set up.
 Once duly tidied up we went into the hammam. Huw had been using the hammam as a regular ablution facility to complement his camping life, so this was very normal for him. I have been to 2 before, once in Moscow which was a hugely ornate and entirely naked affair–it was the start of a stag night which ended up with one's clothes back on.   The second had been in Tbilisi, Georgia. this involved a pretty robust, uncomfortable and over familiar massage. so the deal was  to just sweat it  and have a shower. It  was very relaxing and as it was a local (no tourists to speak of) set up, it was only a few quid.

Sorry no photos….

8 July,

Hit the road before nine for a beautiful four hour journey to Van. It involved the highest point of the journey so far at 2600 m. 

It is right in Kurd territory and one can see the life people have here. 

One of the more depressing things that started happening in these eastern parts, is some of the kids (not this delightful lad in the picture) are asking for money, probably not really understanding what they are doing, but it is a new phenomenon and, as in other places around the world where this happens, it compromises the experience. It is apparently much worse if your a cyclist, where stones are thrown at you if you do not stop….perhaps they do know what they're doing. I found this out from Peter and his wife who are staying in the same hotel in Van. Coincidentally I had passed them battling all the way up to the high peak the day before and wish them good luck as Batty did my battling for me. They had cycled from Bavaria on a 4000 km, two months trip that they had just finished.


 Van is quite a big city and I'm staying here for six nights. This is longer than perhaps anticipated, but I wanted to be here with some margin for a quarterly, half day, business meeting that we always have. We conduct it over the Internet using a web conferencing facility. The first three nights are in a modest hotel, the next are in a much plusher affair in the hope that with its plushness comes a robust Internet connection.

 In the morning I walked down to the castle which is on an outcrop of rock by the lake. It is about 3 miles, followed by  a scrambled to the top to see great views. 

Van is a modern place, with a lot of contemporary fashion outlets 
and a lot of development going on.

The Asur  Otel is pretty central and they have let me put Batty in a locked up courtyard. It has allowed me a bit of time to have another fiddle with the clutch. Although not as serious as before it did need looking at before I go to Iran. Fuat Bozbay runs the carpet shop right next to the hotel front door, he and I had started chatting the evening before when a lot of Kurdish protesters had run pass with riot police and water cannon in hot pursuit. He assured me that it wasn't dangerous and relatively common. Yesterday when he saw that I was fiddling around with the bike, he came over and I asked him if he knew of any local mechanics to get some ball bearings etc. He brilliantly did, shutting up his shop and spent two hours with me as we went round a few places getting the bits and pieces that I needed. I tried to buy him a drink, but he would not hear of it  saying that I was a guest. The various shops that I went to with him, also refused any remuneration for their help.  Truly lovely people.

In the evening I popped into the hotel bar for a quick drink (the first in about a week) and met Thomas who runs the UNHCR here. He kindly asked me to join him for a drink later on in a bar and we ended up having quite a night of it. Fascinating hearing the inside story on this volatile area and the struggles that the UN has in its efforts to help displaced people.


There is a street  about a 10 minute walk from the hotel that is known as 'Kahvalti Sokak'  (Breakfast Street).  Famed for the quality and range of morning offerings. It was fun to see and experience this particular unique place, but I get the feeling that it has become a bit of a tourist thing (not that there are many this year from my witness and what I keep hearing from everyone) and my eggs and something were fine, but not special.

I am struggling with ways to show and track the route I have taken on this site, and I am on to a possible solution with, but it is a bit of a code muddle for this code illiterate...any way a few hours of that followed by Thomas kindly taking me  to a delicious kabab joint at a village along the lake for lunch. 

For the next few days I am going to have my head down on work things and wont be very attentive to blog matters, followed by the run through Iran for 2 weeks. Things may have changed, but my understanding is that internet is not very available, so there may just be one up date at the end of the month.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

3rd 4th 5th 6th July, Malatya, Mus and Dogubayazit

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Farewell Goreme

Farewell Jane and John

Off to Malatya in morning. A full days driving and all up high in the Anatolyan mountains and hills, all above 1000 m and up to 1900m. Stunning roads and all dual carriage ways with hardly a car on them. One comes across a lot of road works but that has been the case on every road I have been on here. The investment is staggering, then I heard that the Turkish last quarter economic growth rate was 11%, making it the fastest growing economy in the world. I am going to have a chat with Miranda, who looks after my stocks and shares and see if there are some funds worth looking at. With the proposed entry into the euro and uniquely positioned between East and West, a stable  democratic government (albeit polarizing and slightly non secular), property values set to double over the next 3 years, it would not be a stupid punt.

I have been on the look out for a sheepskin to put on the seat. Apparently it will do wonders for posterior comfort. Not that I suffer much, but any additional luxury has to be good. Anyway the point is that in Malatya, where I stayed, there is a market by the hotel with lots of stalls selling wool, but non appeared to be attached to the fleece (that was quite a feat of sign language) I was offered one, but the shop keeper had been sitting on it for the last 20 years by the look of it and it would have been wrong to have torn them apart, yuck. The qwest goes on.
During this market meanderings, a chap came up and said hello. He was in his 30s I guess and said he had lived in the UK for a few years, in Bristol and Reading, but was sent home when his visa ran out. I asked what he missed most. The women he said, they are the most beautiful in the world. I tried to compliment him on the many Turkish beauties I had seen, but he would not even hear a comparison. That is something I miss too, and only gone a month....

Bit by bit, the further east I've gone it has started to get dryer and dryer, and green a more precious colour on the landscape. The people outside the towns are very rustic, with a great many cattle and donkeys wondering along and across the road.  The trucks are slower, and Batty's overtaking skills are getting practiced on an hourly basis now. There have been no Ferraris in Turkey, and only one in Greece.

Stayed in a very suspect Otel in Mus, the loo stank, which is not a nice thing to clean ones' teeth next to. It is the worst so far, but they have been kind and allowed Batty to stay in the office over night.

Headed for the frontier town of Dogubayazit (seems to be known as Dogbuscuit by some).

Lovely drive and a lot reminiscent of the Highlands (Scotland), but bigger temperature swings.
 A local herdsman and his boys
 A long shot of his tented village...he offered me a bed for the I understood it, but alas it was mid morning and I wanted to push on.
Another local, no regard whatsoever for other road users......

Parked up for a break and photo shoot, when a military patrol stopped and asked me what I was doing. No great issue and a few handshakes and pointing at the map, had them smiling and leaving.
 Just before the law arrived and stopped the next shot...which would have shown a larger brow.
 Nice spot though, worth defending

Most delicious trout for lunch, and prepared at a road side garage restaurant, funny how that can be.

As I head nearer Dogubayazit (MAP) I saw the first sign post for Iran. Although I will not be going there till next week, it is exciting to be this near.

I met Huw in a cafe, where he was supping and advised me the establishment's offerings were good. We got chatting and heard about his 18 month journey around North Africa and around on to Turkey in his Landrover Forward Control 101.

We teamed up in the morning to go and see the Palace of Ishak Pasha near Dogubayazit  that is 4 miles up the hill. Amazing place, with brilliant views, alas hit by Russians and earthquakes I believe and now needs imagination to see it's full glory of yesteryear.

This town is in the shadow of Mount Ararat, Turkey's highest at 5000+ m.
 Noah landed on top of it as well, you may remember.