Wednesday, 21 September 2016

" We are sailing ........"

 But first is is down to Bandar Abbas. We get an early start to maximise the cooler temperatures. Wise move Dick!  It starts off cool but gets progressively hotter as we get closer to the Gulf.   The temperature gauge on the bike moves upwards  through 32,  36, 38, 40, 41, 42, and then tops out at 42.5 degrees. That is hot and as I understand it humans top out at 50 degrees or not much above it. And this is Autumn here !  We got very good on our travels at sheltering from the rain under over ridges. Here is the opposite. We find one to shelter under from the relentless sun!  It is near the top of a mountain pass and the temperature drops to a cool and welcoming 37 degrees in the shade.


We see trucks lined up in a huge queue leaving the duty free port zone 

Then is is back down the heat as we approach Bandar Abbas. Bandar is a ferry port, a very large cargo port and a very large Iranian navy port. It is right on the narrowest parts of the straights of Hormoz separating Iran from the UAE states. A huge chunk of the worlds  oil passes in ships close to here. In history the Spanish, the Portugese and the East India Company from England have all established bases here.The United States patrol the straights constantly. That might not necessarily be helpful! 

We find a hotel right in the centre of town. From our bedroom window I can see the Persian gulf just a city block away. I sniff the air. I smell a familiar smell. It is the smell of fresh gin and tonic wafting across from the fleshpots of Dubai about 100 km across the straights from where we are! 

And now today is ferry day. Will we or won't we get on the ferry? .  Does it still exist?  I take a taxi out to the shipping company office. Yes, it does exist,  Yes, is sails tonight. Yes, there is room on it! So a ticket is bought and the bike booked, too.  Note to self, don't do what I did on the ferry to Iceland and forget to book the bike! I rush back to the hotel. We pack up, and off we go to the ferry terminal to do all the bike paper work, customs clearance etc 

What a process. Lonely Planet warned us and they were right. Customs and Shipping combined took me 4 hours and involved vists to 12 different officials, two bike inspections and a mountain of photocopies. It made border formalities in Central America seem like a walk in the park.


At one stage the shipping man asks if I "would like a young boy?"  I do a double take! At 10.00 am in the morning!  However the offer is one of assistance from a young man standing by and I  am helped by him as a  "fixer" or guide and because many of the offices are well separated and not sign posted it would be impossible to do it alone. I am relieved that unlike Central America there is no bribing of officials, everything is absolutely above board and his fee seems to be built into the reasonably light wharfage and handling fee. In spite all of the bureaucratic  hurdles to jump through  everyone is hugely pleasant and helpful. In the terminal several locals insist on buying us cold drinks even though we still have plenty of  Iranian Rials left. 

I get the bike parked in front of the boat ready to go even though it is 9 hours to sailing time. I see the boat. The Interislander ferry it ain't!  The Iceland ferry it ain't !  A cruise boat it ain't !  It looks not much bigger than the ancient dhowls tied up at he wharf. There seem to be no cabins. It might be a sleep on the deck for the 10 hour crossing. The guidebook suggests helpfully that we sleep in our vehicle! Anyway I console myself that whatever it is like it can't be any worse than being down the back an overnight economy seat on United Airlines! 

We then wait at the terminal for 5 long hours to loading. Then the formalities of emigration. Then we are on Board. At 11.30pm ( 2 hours after sailing time!) I am allowed to put rage bike on the boat. I am not the last vehicle. The ramp comes up after me. 10 minutes later we are sailing. And thus we are off to Dubai. Hooray! 

The ancient city of Persopolis

We get  to Persopolis early in the afternoon and find a hotel about a kilometre from the ruins. It is very hot and it seems very crowded so it is an easy decision to go first thing the next morning when it is cool and the crowds thinner.


What an amazing place and one of the founding centres of modern Western civilisation - or at least until Donald Trump destroyed the concept of western civilisation ! The city was built by King Darius in something BC finished off by his son. Alexander the Great then came and plundered it and used 3, 000 camels just to take the spoils of the treasury away with him. I think the ancient city it is more inspiring than the Parthenon in Greece or the ancient ruins of Rome. One almost feels privileged to see it. We spend several hours taking in the wonder, the grandeur and the history of it all. 



Then reality hits and it is time to head down the road to Shiraz all of 53 km away. We look for a hotel on the northern approached to the city as it is easy to find. Who couldd fail to spot this!  


Again we find a room available. One of the aspects of Iran is that or the booking services of Trip Advisor do not work in Iran so it is very difficult to book a hotel in advance. Now that the sanctions are lifted it is time that Facebook, etc pulled their digits out and extend their services to Iran. It is interesting to note  that Google works in Iran although the Google blog service doesn't. And of courses foreign credit cards do not work so it is cash everywhere for us. The Iranian Government said in the newspaper the other day that now that the sanctions are limited there is no reason why foreign banks cannot set up international links and they want then to do so. But it is only the Russian banks that are showing interest at the moment 

Anyway back to being travellers. In Shiraz we get a local taxi and visit the sights. We visit the old palace in the centre of town that was a prison in the days of the last Shah.

We visit the old bazaar 


Then it is back for an easy afternoon. Tomorrow is going to be a long 600 km day down to Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf where we hope (for hope read have to!) catch the overnight ferry to Dubai. It only sails twice a week and changes it schedules from time to time  without notice. Fingers are crossed!

Time for a bit of luxury

Yes folks, it is time for a bit of luxury and a bit of well deserved rest. So we re jig the program and head down to the fabled city of Esfahan. Robert Byron once described Esfahan as one of the rare cities of the world that is a balm to man's soul. We are about to find out. 

We barrel done the Persian Gulf highway to Esfahan. A three lane motorway all the way with virtually no traffic 


Motorbikes do not have to pay tolls and at every toll booth we always get cheery waves 


We arrive down the beautiful leafy streets of Esfahan 


And we arrive at the Abassi hotel which is said to be the oldest  hotel in the world at 300 years old. I am not totally sure about that claim as I have stayed at some olde English hotels that I think are at least that old. The mattresses of one of those  English hotels was at least 300 years old or at least it felt like it.

However I digress. Joy of joys there is a room at the hotel. The most expensive room  in the hotel but you only live once and it is only money anyway. As a matter of perspective is is only twice the nighty cost of an average New  Zealand motel ! 

But what absolute luxury. It started at the front door 


And you get the picture in the following photos 


Dates right outside the front door 

The local non alcoholic beer 


We meet a delightful chap called Maken who is Iranian but now lives in Vancouver and has an Immigration business specialising in immigration between Iran and Canada. He was a delightful young man who gave us some fascinating insights into life in modern day Iran 

Diana mets up with three lovely Iranian nurses having a night out (and a night away from their husbands!) In very broken English I hear about their husbands !  


We decide to stay 3 nights in the hotel and have a two  day break. The first day is just blobbing out. The second day we play tourists and visit the local sights such as the beautiful castle and the beautiful square 



We visit the Armenian Church built by the Armenian community who were conscripted here as artisans many years ago 


And we visit the old bazaar. It has beautiful objects in it. Beautiful copper ware, silverware and fabrics.  I can report that the  fabric of Iranian society is very good ! 


We have one last meal in the lovely courtyard area of the hotel. And thus well rested on the next day we head down to the ruins of Persopolis just north of Shiraz


Out into the desert

Today we head out to the desert town of Kashin. The reason for going there is of course so that I can  "Cash in " some US money into local Rials. Anyway we take a nice trip down lovely roads and I deviate from the chosen path to avoid going through the holy city of Qom 

We manage to find our hotel which is a " traditional house " of Kashin made of compacted earth and grass such as you can only do in a rainless climate 


We navigate the tiny lanes 


And settle into our special hotel. 


Getting the bike in and out was an interesting  exercise indeed 



It did fit through !



The architecture and buildings structure  was interesting and you could see tourists photographing it ! 


We dine under the stars eating traditional Iranian food in a courtyard 


Another eye opening day in Iran.

Settling in to Iran

Firstly just how do we navigate in Iran without a GPS ?  Well firstly I look for the Southern Cross in the sky! Having discarded that as a workable  option it is a case of then intensely studying Mapsme on my iPhone and marking a route.  Then memorising it.  Then also looking at Google maps where the Internet is available. I also use the road map on the tank bag. I use the compass when I am riding which still works on the GPS. I also  an eye on the position of the sun.  I study the Lonely Planet book on Iran each night with the intensity of reading passages from the bible. Then last but not least we become unafraid  of asking bystanders. They always help. The combination of all of that seems to get us there. 

We do the cultural thing today by first visiting the big Mausoleum at Soltanyeh. It is the third biggest clay domed roof in the world. 


It is full of scaffolding inside but you get the picture of the size 



We then then head up to the Zoroastrians  ruins  of  Takh- e-Soleyman. The Zoroastrians worshipped ( and still do )  the elements  of earth, fire water etc. At the  ruins is a small volcanic lake which used to have gas coming out of.  Burning gas on the water  - water and fire symbolism. 




Again everyone is friendly, helpful and interested in us ( and the bike!) 


The scenery is lovely although desolate ( the girl in the picture is not desolate!) 



We take a wrong turn somewhere in mid afternoon and find ourselves heading to the Iraq border. Whoops!  We backtrack and head to the town of Bijar in the Kurdistan province of Iran. As it is getting close to dark as we get close to town I select suitable apricot orchards to camp in if we have to. Again locals show us the way to the only hotel in town. There is a room available. Yahoo!  And each night the hotels have got better. This one even  has a European style toilet!  It has been a good day on day 3 in Iran 

The first full day in Iran

Our program had us stopping in Tabriz, a big city about 50 km down the road.  We look at stopping at a very very flash hotel on the edge of town. To make up got the previous night. Uniformed doorman and all of that.  Sorry, no room at the inn! Pity 


So we push on down to the town of Zanjan. Lovely dual carriage road all the way. What a contrast from Armenia 


Stunning scenery with ochre coloured hills just like the Atacama desert in Chile 


And thus we get to Zanjan having sort of mastered the art of navigating and finding a hotel without a GPS. Again an obliging local jumps on his motorbike and leads us to a hotel. You only have to stop anywhere on the side of the road in an town in Iran and someone will try to help you. And most people speak reasonable English !  Certainly my Farsi and Arabic is somewhat non existent. And the hotel was an improvement on the previous night although still fairly basic. 

It is interesting getting through traffic like this 


Our next day - into Iranian Kurdistan 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

And across the border to Armenia

" The day started full of promise" We started off out of Tbilis ready to head down the road to the border crossing. There were two crossing to choose from.  The decision was taken out of my hands as we missed the turn off to the first one. 

We follow the "M6". It is not quite the standard of the M6 in the UK!  The road gradually deteriorates 


And gets worse 


And worser!


After two hard hours we arrive at the border crossing. It is shut!  There is a power failure so no computers. "How long?" A shrug of the shoulders. We wait two hours. Occasionally the power comes on and off again. Still nothing happening. We decide to cut our losses and backtrack for two hours to the turnoff to the other crossing 

We get there at 3 pm. 7 hours on the road and we are 70 km from Tbilisi !  Not good. Then a difficult 2 hour border crossing. They do not like the paperwork for the bike. Virtually no English spoken. We get thru by 5 pm. Then it is a difficult ride on very very rough and broken roads thru a tight valley 


A scary tunnel with a dirt floor and no lighting 


Abandoned factories everywhere and deserted apartment buildings. A general air of decay, gloom and despondency. Light starts to fade.  Will we have to pull over on the side of the road and put the tent up? 


We arrive at the town of Sandzador just on getting fully dark  and find a hotel. Even the hotel seems run down but ut still a welcome shelter from the thunderstorms that arrive just after us 

Next day dawns more promising. We head down to Yerevan - capital of Armenia. The weather looks passable ! 


We by pass the centre of town and soon we are riding close to Mt Ararat. It has a bit of a cloud cover today. 


Pope Francis was obviously a bit of a hit when he was here 


The roads  get better and the scenery gets better 


We go over high passes 


And we head to the town of Goris where it is time to find a hotel and stop for the night 

Tomorrow- 150 km then the border crossing to Iran 

We are not sure if this blog site works in Iran. If not then we are off the air until about the 20 th September when we arrive in Dubai on the ferry from the bottom of Iran