New Year's Day 2009 - Esfehan, Iran
HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my readers!! :-)
Well, I spent a very quiet, sober New Year's Eve on a 16-hour bus trip from Orumiyeh to Esfehan. Leading up to midnight, I was listening to the City of Bristol Boys' Choir (particularly my son with his beautiful soprano voice - a few years ago now! Sorry to embarass you, my son); at 12 o'clock I opened a bottle of warm, flat Coke, whilst listening to Il Divo, followed by Madeleine Peyroux. So now you know a little of my musical tastes.
Since my last missive, I have been travelling by lorry, car, minibus, taxi and big bus (coach, I think I mean!); the weather has been bitter, snowy, icy and freezing. A bit like UK, by all accounts. I had to cycle at one point (cos 3 of the 4 lorries travelling in convoy one by one broke down!), but this was not a nice experience: icy and slippery and traffic hooting me off the clear single carriageway. I stopped at a little shop and ended being given a lift to the city of Van. But not without its little misunderstandings by the driver. One of my (very) few, slight incidents I am happy to forget.
Now, though, I am more southerly and so the climate is temperate. Up 'til now the only cycling in Iran has been to cycle from a hotel to a bus station and from a different bus station to a hostel. (don't say I don't experience variety on this trip!). Therefore, I have yet to see what it's like being on the road proper and to see how I fare. From the lofty heights of the coach, I am expecting it to be a little hairy: the hard shoulders do not look cycle-friendly and the driving leaves much to be desired.
I plan to stay two or three days here in Esfehan: to obtain a visa extension beyond the allotted 30 days; to clean my poor bike (it was stashed under the belly of the lorry for 24 hours; I'm surprised it's still talking to me); to see beautiful Esfehan and to get the feel of another new country.
There are 5 other cyclists in the hostel: a Pole and a Korean, each travelling solo and from their home countries; and 3 Slovenians cycling just for a week in Iran. Plus a Japanese backpacker.
I am wearing my buff on my head as my compulsory headcover, but not hiding all of my hair. Why? Because on the first day in Iran I noticed, to my utmost surprise, that many women did not cover ALL of their hair (unlike ALL other Moslem countries I've visited). I have been wearing my charity shop bargain dress as a tunic over my trousers, but today, the hostel manager said I was OK not to wear it. Well, well, knock me down with a feather. After all that's been said about strict dress and head code.
9 January - Shiraz
On 6 January, it was 8 months to the day since I left home. I am now one third through my trip and I clocked up 6000 miles on that day. If I'd been near internet I'd have done an entry on the day, but didn't think it right to have done it retrospectively. :-)
The first week in Iran and I really wasn't enjoying it particularly, I have to say. Maybe it was something to do with being propositioned by the hotel manager the first night in Iran; being constantly sniggered at by groups of young men, as I go by in the street; being unable to receive text messages from anyone cos the Iranian simcard seems only to let me send out; being rejected in a village when I was looking for accommodation for the night, by the police, the mosque, the shop and the bus all saying cycle to the next town (65 kms away!), cos you can't stay here; as a consequence of which, I ended up back on the main highway, taking a lift in a lorry before nightfall, ostensibly to this next town, but ending up being abducted 300 kms further on. I did eventually manage to get the driver to stop at a town only 150 kms further on, where, surely, there would be accommodation! Suffice to say, there was none, that is, until some kind men brought me to the mosque and I was able to stay in one of the guest rooms there. I was tired and feverish, cos I have a chest infection. I hung on for 5 days hoping it would clear up itself, but eventually had to resort to my course of antibiotics I had with me. It is slowly clearing up now, but I am very chesty, not eating much and feeling a bit weak.
So, that's the negative. Now for the positive. As you know, there is good in every situation. As a result of my lorry trip, the day after, I met up with the young Polish guy, Tomasz, who had left Esfehan the day before me. Since we have been cycling together these last 4 or 5 days, I have relaxed more and we have had some friendly encounters and hospitality. I am hoping to be able to keep up with him at least for the next few days, as it is much nicer for me to be travelling with someone. We're just going to see how it works out. Tomorrow will be a day of mountains; up which he might easily cadge a lift holding onto a slow-moving lorry, but which I don't think I could do (although we did it with a very kind, slow car the other day) and so leave me going at my more sedate pace.
We arrived at Persepolis, in time to have just 1 hour to look around this ancient city before sunset. We camped in the grounds near the site behind a security fence and with security men there all night. It was freezing, but warm enough in the tent with my down jacket and sleeping bag, woollen socks and warm hat. With it being dark and cold early on, we were snug each in our own tents from about 7pm until 8am, having had cup-a-soup, a bit of bread, some cake and fruit for our supper.
Shiraz used to be the capital of Iran under Karim Khan (a long time ago). It has the biggest mosque in Iran. It is also a cultural centre for poets (Hafez being the father of Persian poetry).
Weather is warm in the sun, but very cold out of it, although no frost or ice.
23 January - Bandar Abbas
I have SO enjoyed these last 16 days cycling with Tomasz; it has completely changed my trip through Iran, cos I know it would not have been the same without him. Tomasz has been given a year's 'leave of absence' by his girlfriend back in Poland to do this cycling trip to Vietnam. He is so savvy about cycling, finding accommodation and dealing with people that cycling with him has given me loads of tips on how-to and made me more relaxed travelling through Iran. I was even able to deal with someone exposing himself to me as he went by in the car because I could laugh it off with Tomasz.
We have camped wild and listened to wolves howling at night (quite a few of them and pretty close!). I just held my breath and hoped they would stay away. Amazing what courage a bit of canvas gives you. We also were warned about snakes in our last, urban, campsite - but saw none, thankfully.
We have stayed mostly with families in small villages. We turn up in a village in late afternoon, go to the shop or cycle around and usually get invited to stay in someone's house, where we are fed, watered, sometimes showered, given a room to sleep in with mattresses and blankets.
We travelled for the first couple of days up and over an incredible range of mountains! Breathtakingly dramatic, as much for the unexpectedness of them as for the rock formations themselves. Very cold, but no snow at our level. These were the hardest days for me, cos Tomasz has a habit of cadging lifts with slow-passing lorries on the uphills (one lift was for 15 kms!), which just leaves me struggling up under my own steam. The first time this happened was out of Shiraz. I thought I had seen the last of Tomasz and so resigned myself to going at my own pace. Then, lo and behold, ?2 hours later, there he was, at the top of another mountain, having waited an hour and 10 minutes for me! After that we continued to travel for the next 16 days. And, on the flats, we cycled well together. I have even cadged 3 lifts myself, with VERY amenable drivers.(Children, do NOT try this for yourself; it is EXTREMELY irresponsible and dangerous).
From Shiraz, we went towards Bushehr, but turned left before, as neither of us like big cities. We then followed the Persian Gulf down to BAndar Lengeh, via Kish Island, which is a bit like the Channel Islands: rich and tax free. We managed a discount on the ferry from Bandar Aftab; and whilst cycling past a diving centre, were given 10 minutes free on a jet ski. Now you'd think that if it is your first time on something, you might take it a bit easy at first to get a feel for it, especially if it had a bit of poke to it. Now so, madman Tomasz. He was in the driving seat; I was the counterbalance for the turns on the back seat. Straight out to sea we went, sharp turns left, right, left, right, ooops, no, straight then left again, and now let's turn all the way round and head straight for the shore; ooops, nearly up on the beach, but no, managed to serve away to go zigzagging out to sea again. And so on. I was hanging on for dear life and trying to anticipate which way we were turning. No we didn't capsize. For both of us it was the first time on a jet ski; for me it was also the last. :-) But great to have done it!
We also had free entry into Dolphin Park, camped free on the Women's Plage; and given free passage on the ferry to Bandar Lengeh the next day. If I'd not been with Tomasz, I would have experienced none of this.
We parted company yesterday morning, our 17th day; he to continue to Bam, Zahedan and Pakistan (presumably under police escort because of the troubles in that area); I to continue to Sharjah and the rest of the Emirates. We might meet up in India. It was hard parting, as you might imagine after travelling for so long together.
I bought my ferry ticket to Sharjah, at twice the price given on the internet and at a time that brings me in to Sharjah in time to cycle to Dubai in the dark, instead of early in the morning, as advertised on te internet! Great, eh!
I was taken in by a lovely family for last night and tonight. I sail to Sharjah at 10.30 in the morning. Salim and his large family have given me a great last impression of Iran and I am very glad for that.
My next news update is likely to be from Abu Dhabi, including a few photos.
31 January - Abu Dhabi
Quite an eventful week. I arrived at Bandar Abbas port. Salim came to see me off. We waited. Then this little guy from the shipping line, whom I had met when trying to buy my ticket 2days previously, came and announced something to the gathered throng. I joked with Salim that the sailing had been cancelled. Apparently, though, no joke. That's exactly what he had said. Not that he attempted to convey that to me, even though he saw me there and knew I would not have understood what he had said. Boy am I glad that Salim was with me. He proceeded to spend the rest of the day with me sorting out a refund, helping me purchase a flight ticket (the options of waiting 4 days for the next sailing or of travelling back 200 kms to Bandar Lengeh in 2 days' time, were not greatly appealing - so much for not flying on my trip! But, hey, I'm flexible), taking me to the airport in the evening, packaging up my bike and making sure I took off!
I arrived in Dubai airport at 10.45pm; welcomed by smiling, friendly, relaxed dish-dashed staff all speaking wonderful English. I felt comfortable straightaway. They came over to baggage claim to look at my bike and wanting to come with me. One lent me his phone to call my hosts to say that I was on the way. Someone chatted to me outside the airport and asked if I had organised any television coverage.
I cycled into the city centre (plenty of street lights and my back light flashing) and arrived at Pat's and Labid's, friends of my father, at the unsociable hour of 1.20am.
I had 3 days in Dubai, during which I relaxed the first day: washing clothes, lunch by the Creek (a vibrant place with abras and water taxis ploughing back and forth), rest in the afternoon, evening meal with wine, followed by Pat and I going across the Creek by abra (the small water taxi) to the cultural festival at the Heritage Village.
On the second day I took my bike, for service, oil change and new back tyre, to the German-staffed Wolfi's Bike Shop. I hardly recognsied her when I went back to collect her - so clean and new-looking! :-). Robert, the service manager, fortunately mentioned that I needed permission to cycle along the one and only road to Abu Dhabi, which happens also to be a 6-lane, in each direction, motorway.
The third day was spent obtaining the required permission for cycling to Abu Dhabi. The upshot was that, as a result of popping into Dubai Municipality (to see if there were still any people who remembered my father working there 30 years ago); of meeting a security guard (Mohammed) in the reception area who realised who I was talking about because he recognised my father's features in me! and who then took me to meet 2 other staff (Mohammed and Mohammed)in my father's department; of being taken to meet the Assistant Director of the Environment Department, who wrote a letter for me to take the Traffic Department for my permit; I was then driven to the relevant building, met with the Director of the Right of Way department, who organised an official letter (through her assistant, Abdullah), as well as a police escort (Abdullah)! She was insistent that I accept this arrangement, 'for my own safety', as they did not want anything to happen to me.
Duly, therefore, last Wednesday, I set off from my hosts at about 7.10am, cycled along the Creek, watching the dhows being loaded with loads cargo stacked up all along the creek side, through the tunnel, meeting up with Abdullah and his co-driver (Abdullah) near the distinctive, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel along the Jumeirah road, complete with all-round flashing lights as well as a big, orange, 3-flashing-arrows sign on the top of their vehicle. And that's how I travelled to Abu Dhabi (cos they had liaised with Abu Dhabi police to take over at the border, which also meant, at one point, I had 2 police cars escorting me until the Dubai lot could U-turn back to their own province). I was just amazed at all these arrangements; and very appreciative: the E11 Sheik Zayed road is fast and busy - and I was nicely cocooned from it.
I arrived at my next hosts': Andy and Julie, plus children, Lucy and Daniel. This came about from my translation request for an Arabic version of my intro letter, resulting in Andy's sister responding to an email sent out by my friend, Alison, in the Geography department at Bristol University! They live in a lovely villa, with (freezing-cold,-in-and-straight-out-again) pool, in a quiet neighbourhood before central Abu Dhabi. Whilst here for a few days for R&R, I shall be sorting out some photos for the website, organising a visa for India (ooops, I thought I could get it at the border) and trying to find a passage to India.
In the meantime, Tomasz had to cycle in cold and rain; had something go wrong with his bike for which he had to fit a motorcycle part; had 4 police escorts before Zahedan and 3 more once there and now should be in India, having had to travel by train because of the troubles in the region.
Ooops, this is a long journal entry. I'll stop now, so you can get back to work or have a cup of tea. I'm going to be uploading some photos within the next couple of days and so look out for them.