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.

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

View Larger Map

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.