Thursday 19 July 2007, Wild Camp
Our monthly income arrived in the bank today which meant we could draw money and head to Iran. There were no Rials in Dogubayazit. Apparently the import and export of Rials is not allowed. So we changed our money into USD. It is so long since we have had to worry about hard currency that I forgot to check the quality of the notes. The buggers at the bank gave me old USD 5 and a torn USD 10. I hope we can pass these off to some-one somewhere.
We could have changed the Turkish Lira at the border with the many touts available. Considering we had to do a double exchange it may have been worth while, but we didn't know if there would be a possibility to change Lira. We did change some USD at a fairly good rate. The Euro exchange rate was worse.
The border is not very busy, except for the very long line of trucks. We arrived at lunch time and had to wait for the staff to finish lunch before we could exit Turkey. Iran was easy. I was expecting to be ignored as a woman but was not. Pieter did most of the paperwork though. Even so at the checkpoints I automatically got out of the car to deal with the officials and had no problems.
It was 30k to the first bank and some diesel. The banks were closed because it is the weekend. The trucks were lined up to buy the cheapest diesel for a long time. The attendant at first refused to fill the 4 jerry cans but Pieter insisted and we now have a full load on board. He then said that we only had to pay 5 USD. I paid the metered price though: 2 USD for 132 L of diesel!
Some women in the town wore chadors. This is a semi-circular piece of cloth used to cover yourself from the top of the head to the toes, over the usual clothing of scarf, long sleeves and long pants. It needs at least one hand to hold it and sometimes teeth are used instead. Difficult! Others showed quite a bit of hair above the forehead. Pieter was pleased to see men in short sleeves. All his long sleeved tops are winter weight.
The road goes across a flat plain with wheat fields for miles. It has gentle turns and plenty of parking spots with emergency phones. We could make good time.
We stopped just off the road next to a field. The farm workers came to say hello. They casually squatted down on their haunches to talk to Pieter. He tried to but could not stay down long. I said hello from the van - lucky me.
Friday 20 July 2007, Tabriz
On the outskirts of Tabriz we were stopped by a plain-cloth policeman looking for drugs. The man checked through the cabin and then wanted to check the back. He also wanted to make sure we had sufficient hard currency and that it was not forged, so I showed it to him. He riffled through it and returned it. Very strange.
Tabriz traffic is as bad as Kampala and Cairo. The drivers do stay on the right hand side of the road, mostly. Other than that the main road rules are to not let anyone in and to go where ever it seems quicker. Pieter loves this kind of traffic as he thinks of it as a game. I hate it and a glad I am not driving.
We went straight to the Tourist Office and met Nasser Khan. He is very proud to be mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. In fact he sold us a copy as I am not happy with the Bradt Guide we bought in Istanbul. It reads rather like a story and I like point form easy to find information. He mentioned that Iran had brought in a system of giving tourists Iranian number plates. We did not want to bother with this. In any case we had been given a letter instead at the border. This should be good enough. He also told us about a park called El Gholi where we could stay the night.
What an amazing place. Not for the park which is like any other large park but for the Iranians. They bring small tents, blankets, gas for making tea and the whole extended family to spend time outdoors but in the shade. We walked around and took several photos. Satar invited us to sit down and share some water melon. I could not refuse. Pieter does not really like it and one water melon is far too large for me alone. We sat with them talking about South Africa and Iran. We took them to our van to show it to them and then we went for a walk around the lake. Saher, Satar's wife, asked us to their home for dinner. We had a lovely evening with them. Dinner was around a plastic table cloth set out on the floor - eating Iranian style. The floor itself was covered in hand knotted carpets. We were able to show them our website as Satar has a dial up internet connection and we ended up spending the night at their apartment. It was truly a warm, friendly, wonderful time for us.
Saturday 21 July 2007, south of Tabriz
We have not heard any calls to prayer - seems very strange. Iranians are Shia Muslims and only pray 3 times a day, perhaps that is why.
Next morning we first went looking for gas as one of our large tanks was empty. Filling up with gas is impossible, Firstly Iran uses natural gas and secondly the Iranian connections do not fit our connections and there are no converters. We visited the Blue Mosque with Satar and Saher. The mosque was built in the middle of the 15th century on the order of Jahan Shah. It was originally covered in blue tiles, hence the name. It was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1779 but has recently been restored. The restoration includes painting the original patterns in paler colours to highlight the original tiles. I think this works well. It must have been magnificent in its day.
We also went to the nearby museum with its interesting authorization seals. Downstairs are sculptures by a modern artist. (I did not write down his name). They depict quite grisly scenes concerning lost hope, the destruction of the world by war and famine. Interesting though.
Satar had to prepare for a lecture so they went home and we went through the Bazaar. It is vaulted like the one in Aleppo and is the second oldest vaulted bazaar in the world - after Aleppo. We then headed south and found a parking spot in an old road works quarry.
Once we had settled for the night I decided to check our money as I was not happy with the way the police had handled it. Only then did I discover the unpleasant truth: he had taken over € 1,000 by slight of hand. This is a devastating loss and leaves us with very little to spend in Iran. We had saved money in the previous months and of course had taken this month's income as well to ensure we had sufficient money. I had hoped to have enough hard currency left as back-up for times to comer. There are times, particularly at borders when this is a necessity. We both felt very sick and railed against our stupidity - or mine as I was the one who had actually given the !!!!! the notes. We decided to return to Tabriz and go to the police. Surely such a slick operator was known to them.
At least living is cheap in Iran. Diesel is cheaper than any other consumable (1 USD for 60 litres!) and food costs very little. In any case even if we shot through Iran we will have no money in the bank for the next month.
Sunday 22 July 2007, Tabriz
While we were packing up an old man came by with his tea thermos in a plastic bag. We joined him for some tea. Then he walked off south. Where did he come from with just a thermos, glass and sugar in a plastic bag?
Luckily Mohamed heard our conversation and offered his assistance. He was a male nurse visiting his family in Tabriz but working in Australia and so had excellent English. He took us to the nearest police station. They said we had to go to another police station. A policeman came with us to show us the way and introduce us there. We took a taxi. This station was the Foreign Affairs Police Station. They said they only dealt with visa issues and we had to go to yet another police station. We took a taxi back to the car and drove through. Mohamed was amazed at this passing the buck but stayed with us. Here the police initially did not want responsibility but eventually took our statement. They also informed us that only uniformed police could stop us and even they were not allowed to search our belongings or car; the identification shown was not valid - we had figured that one out already; all policemen have uniforms so we said look around and said 'You are all police and no-one has a uniform on'.
We took Mohamed to lunch in thanks for his assistance. Lunch was at a traditional Iranian restaurant where we had soup, yogurt and cucumber salad, Kebab on a huge bed of rice and a quarter onion. Very nice. Mohamed offered to come with us the following morning but we felt we would be OK.
We spent the night parked in the street near the police station. 8:00 am is very early for us. The local residents were curious and came to say hello and ask the inevitable "Where are you from?"
Monday 23 July 2007, Tabriz
Up early and at the police station by 8:00, it was a matter of hurry up and wait. The statement had to be written out a second time. We then went to another police station where we gave a statement which described the man. Again it was hurry up and wait. Eventually we were shown photos of criminals. We saw the thief near the start but looked at quite a few more to be sure. The photo was printed and we confirmed it was the thief. It was lunch time again and the office closed down. The next step was for a warrant of arrest to be issued and the police would arrest the thief. The arrest was expected to happen by the next morning. Really! We would see.
I decided to buy a new top. My first attempt at Iranian dress produced lots of stares but no comments. I had already changed the scarf from being tied at the back to being tied at the front. I had read that it was important only that the nape of the neck be covered. Well in Tabriz the front of the neck is also covered. My shirt was also a bit short and of thick hot cotton. I do have a top I bought in Zanzibar which was light, long and much cooler. But one top is not enough.. We walked through the bazaar and I asked where I could purchase something similar to my Zanzibar top. We were directed to a sleep wear shop! Oh well, I will just have to wear my nightie during the day. I did purchase a typical Iranian coat though. It is made of very light somber coloured material and I am as cool as I can be in this heat (40° C) with a scarf. I HATE having my head and neck covered. Luckily Iranian women tie their scarves very loosely not tightly pinned up like the Egyptians. It is easy to let it hang and allow some air to circulate around my neck.
We also bought a new camera. It cost less than the one we are using (purchased in Lusaka in 2005) and is just so much better quality. It has a 12x zoom starting from a reasonable picture, not a wide angle picture.
Tuesday 24 July 2007, Tabriz
We met our interpreter in the morning but there was no news. Surprise! Surprise! This time we spent the night at El Gholi so he would be able to find us if there was any news.
Wednesday 25 July 2007, Tabriz
We were halfway through breakfast when a car drove up and the driver told us to contact our interpreter. They had arrested the thief! We quickly gulped down our coffee, packed up and headed into town. A line up had been arranged before we arrived. This was a group of men all standing and sitting around in the office, most with designer stubble. We were asked to point out the thief. Pieter did so immediately. As an afterthought I was asked if I agreed. As it happens I did. The thief had to make his statement, sign it and he was formally arrested. The whole atmosphere was very genial. If we did not know better we would have thought it was a group of colleagues having a friendly conversation.
The thief was handcuffed to one of the detectives and we all headed for the Courts in a taxi. The judge asked us several questions and the thief was taken off to jail.
Thursday 26 July 2007, Kashavar
We had agreed to meet our interpreter at the police station at 9:30. We were early and found the thief there. Once again we all went to court this time in a police van.
The thief was to spend another 3 days in jail while the police investigated. We decided to leave Tabriz for a few days.
Friday 27 July 2007, Ghraey
The scenery yesterday heading south along Lake Orumiyeh was uninteresting scenery and it was HOT. The air conditioner is not working properly or maybe it just can't cope. To-day we have headed for the hills and it is much cooler. At one small town we had to ask the way. I showed the Farsi script in the LP and they tried to tell us but it was a bit complicated and they could not speak English. Just then a bus came by and hey said "Follow that bus". We did and it worked. Some things just do not need translation.
We are now very aware of the issue with diesel. There are few service stations around and they sometimes do not have any diesel. If there is diesel there is likely to be a long line of trucks waiting. Sometimes there is a long line because the diesel is expected within 4-5 hours. Petrol is a bigger problem for the Iranians. They are restricted to 90 litres a month. Enough to drive to and from work or less. I don't know how tourists in petrol engines cars will manage. This may be a problem for us as well. The generator uses petrol and our alternative cooking method (to gas) is petrol. So far Pieter has managed to fill our 4.5 litre can using part of the monthly allowance of a generous Iranian. We will have to play it by ear.
Takht-e Soleiman is a 1500 year old Zoroastrian Fire Temple. Zoroastrianism used to be the state religion way back before Christ until the Arabs invaded and brought in Islam. Zoroaster was born in about 1550 BC predating the Jews in having a monotheistic religion. They believe in an omni-potent, invisible god represented by an eternally burning flame. Dualism, as in the eternal battle between good and evil, is core to the religion and is believed to co-exist within the supreme being and all living things. The religion is still alive and active today although there are not many followers. The temple was built next to a crater lake formed by sediment on a lake bottom. It had all the elements for worship, air (wind), earth, water and fire (from a natural volcanic gas vent). It was interesting but not much is left. More interesting was some of the visitors, I assume Kurds. There was quite a large party of them. The men wore baggy trousers, shirts and cummerbunds. The women wore baggy pants, a top and a diaphanous dress over this plus the inevitable scarf. Colors ranged through reds and greens. Obviously Friday best.
It was very nice to drive through an area that was not flat plain with mountains in the distance. We found a lovely place for the night on a riverbed cum track. It was away from the road and we could not hear any traffic. A first in Iran.
Saturday 28 to Monday 30 July 2007, Tabriz
We arrived back in Tabriz in the afternoon , called Mohammed and asked for his help. We told him what had happened since we last saw him and asked him to come with us on Sunday to the police station. He agreed and Sunday morning we went to obtain an update. The thief is still in jail and now has two different alibis. The police are working on the case but do not expect to know anymore before next Saturday. As for the insurance, we need to obtain a letter from the judge but can only do this once the thief has either been convicted or found innocent. This will be an endless story I think.
We had Sunday lunch with Mohammed and his family. Once again the friendliness of the Iranians is remarkable.
Monday we spent relaxing, catching up on washing and tinkering with the electrics in the car.
Tuesday 31 July 2007, Zanjan
It was time to leave Tabriz - again! By the time we arrived in Zanjan it was after lunch. We needed to send the application form for a new carnet to South Africa and asked for a place to send it. A man who owned a car spares business offered us the use of his fax machine. Unfortunately the fax could not go through. We needed to check the fax number on the Internet.
Obtaining the application form is a short story on its own. All that needed to be done was print the application form from the web site. Simple enough. Except the Internet Cafes I tried at did not allow downloads of any sort! I could not even read attachments to e-mails! Even the Cafe where I used my own PC would not allow me to download, although the attachments to e-mails did download onto my laptop where I could read them. At the last Internet Cafe we were at in Tabriz I decided to try again. This time I was successful. Unfortunately it came out very small so I had to retype the application form adding the details. This was easily printed out. The next issue was a photocopy of my passport. There do not seem to be photocopy machines. Eventually Pieter took a photo of it and this was also printed out.. The pages to be faxed were all sorted out before we left Tabriz but we did not find a fax machine. Must be there somewhere though.
Zanjan was our next bet for faxing. Wednesday morning we checked the fax number and it was correct. Next step, to find a fax machine. We were directed to a post office. They tried but were unsuccessful. Eventually the pages were scanned (at another place) and the Post Office e-mailed them to David who would then fax them through. This took over 3 hours. The fax number was correct. It is a problem with Iranian communications.
Again we found a park used for picnics with mosque, toilets and water. The traffic did not stop all night though.
Wednesday 1 August 2007, Tehran
Tehran traffic is as bad as expected. As bad as elsewhere just considerably more cars. 4 cars in 2 traffic lanes instead of 3. There are many express ways which make going from one place to another easier. There are even special places where u-turns are legal, just in case you are going the wrong way or the turnoff you want is only available from the other direction. We were headed to Park-e-Mellat hoping it would be similar to El Gohli. It was late, Pieter was tired and when we found a quiet side street we stopped for the night. We checked Park-e Mellat next day but there is no possibility of parking for the night and the traffic noise would be terrible.
Thursday 2 August 2007, Barq Abad
The reason for coming to Tehran was to obtain Pakistani visas. We have many conflicting stories about getting the in Zahedan. First though Pieter needed new visa photos as he has none left. I on the other hand have a whole new set, all with a scarf on. After much driving we parked on a busy street in the hope of someone telling us where we were in relation to the Pakistani Embassy. It was one block up, talk about luck! First though the photos. After being sent to a few places we finally ended up at a studio photographer. The photographer set the scene properly, nothing makeshift, took the photo and then indicated we should come back on Sunday. No ways were we staying in mad Tehran longer than necessary. If we were prepared to wait he would print them. The process was longer than just printing, First the photo had to be digitally enhanced, then it had to go through hardware that converted it into a standard photo, then it had to be chemically developed and printed. What a strange process. It was reasonably expensive as well but at least we now have enough visa photos for a while.
By the time the photos were ready it was lunch time. The Pakistani Embassy was closed for the weekend. Question was would we stay for Saturday and see some sights in the meantime or just go. We first checked out Park-e Mellat. When we realized it was not an option we left Tehran. We will just have to get our visa in Zahedan. If not it will mean a long drive back to Tehran.
Once again the scenery was very uninteresting. Flat with mountains in the distance. We stopped next to another park with mosque, toilets and water.
Friday 3 August 2007, Hamadan
The first thing we looked for in Hamadan was a park to stay for the night. We found Baba Taher Park and stopped. It was very busy, not surprising on a Friday. The really amazing thing was that many people slept there overnight, either in their tents or just outside on mats. We created lots of interest, answered the usual questions and bought some ice-cream where the choice was limited to rose flavour. It was the wrong place to be as it was very, very noisy all night.
Our current carnet is with the ANWB in Holland. Pieter phoned them to ask them to release the deposit for our new SA Carnet. They asked that the story be put on paper and faxed. He typed it out, had it printed and sent it by e-mail anyway. Once again we had problems faxing. A local business tried for us without success. He then explained where the post office was. We missed it and stopped at an up market hotel to ask for the Post Office. They had fax facilities so we said go ahead. And they did! Moral of the story - if at first you don't succeed go to an expensive hotel.
We found a much quieter Tourist Park on our way to Ganjnameh but by then it was too late.
The Ganjnameh Inscriptions appear in cuneiform script in 3 languages, Ancient Persian, Elamite and Babylonian and provided a key to deciphering other inscriptions. They are there to remind the people traveling on the main route to Babylon of the greatness of their king. The translation reads: A great god is Ahuramazda (the one god of Zoroastrianism), who created this earth, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king, one king of many, one lord of many. I am Xerxes, the great king, king of kings, king of countries containing all kinds of men, king in this great earth far and wide, son of King Darius, an Achaemenian. Its called blowing your own trumpet. The sire was full of Iranian tourists, with stalls to cater for their needs and shade trees for their tents.
Saturday 4 to Sunday 5 August 2007, Sanandaj
Next stop Sanandaj where there is supposed to be a great value classy hotel. The road started the same as previously, over a flat plain with mountains a little close. Until we went through a tunnel and the mountains spread out below us. We had not realized just how far we had climbed. A pleasant change.
Sanandaj is vibrant. The good hotel is now expensive, beyond our normal budget and even more so with our reduced budget. We booked into a budget hotel instead for showers, peace and quiet. The rooms are away from the street and the loud street noises which go on until late at night do not penetrate. There is also a table and power source for our laptops. Bliss
We tried to phone Mohammad without success. If anything happens we just hope the police phone us or send an e-mail.
Sanandaj is the capital of Kurdistan and there is a strong Kurdish influence. The men all wear the baggy trousers as in eastern Turkey. The women, although not peacocks, also wear less somber colours.
Monday 6 August 2007, Marivan
We rose quite late, getting in extra sleep. Then headed west. The scenery was interesting with dry hills and green rivers in the valleys. We decided to spend the night at Marivan. First we went to Lake Zarivar where Iranians relax but it was very busy and noisy so we decided to move back to a large area of trees off the main road. Much quieter.
Tuesday 7 August 2007, near Ravansar
Today we drove through the Howraman Valley. This is mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide as being a beautiful place. It is certainly dramatic scenery with tremendous rough steep mountainous terrain. We enjoyed it immensely. The tar road was good and the dirt road patchy. It would be difficult in the wet and there are very few spots to stop for the night. There is one section of road with 19 hairpin bends in a very short distance straight down. Shades of Ethiopia.
For the first time the brakes overheated. Mainly because Pieter had to stop for a long time while a truck unloaded. This was in a village where the road is basically single lane with a few places that the car coming from the other direction can squeeze past.
The people are not as friendly as in other parts of Iran. They seem almost suspicious and apprehensive. However, when we stopped for water at a mountain stream there was lots of interest.
Wednesday 8 August 2007, near Nahavand
After a stop in Kermanshah to sort out carnet details over the internet we went on to Bisotun. Here is a panel carved in 521 BCE showing Darius standing on the head of Gaumata a rebel who refused to accept Darius as king. There is also an inscription saying that Darius fought in the name of Ahuramazda (Zoroastrian god) to defeat his enemies. Nothing much changes in this world.
We are back again with plains and mountains. The only difference are that the mountains are closer.
We have dumped our new generator. It has been giving endless problems. After purchasing a new coil in Erzurum it worked for a while then stopped. Another new coil bought in Tabriz helped for even less time. Maybe someone will find it and be able to repair it. We will now have to look for another new one. It is Chinese so it , or something similar, should be readily available. On the equipment note, my palmtop has also given up the ghost. This will also have to be replaced as it is much better to capture notes on than pen and paper.
Thursday 9 to Monday 13 August 2007, Esfahan
We booked into a budget hotel for the cool and the showers. Initially we shared a 3 bed room with a Pole whom we hardly saw. Then a 2 bed room became available which is much better for us. The first few days were spent sleeping and relaxing. There was air conditioning in the 2 bed room. Lovely!
The rest of the time was spent sight seeing, extending our visas for another month and getting an update on our case in Tabriz. We met 2 Dutch couples who are driving through to China and beyond. The conman stopped Leon and Claire but they insisted on going to the police station where upon the conman made a hasty retreat. Ad and Susan were caught just like us. But not by the man we identified as he was in jail at the time. They have a truck with a security camera and actually took photos of the conman. The police now have these photos and are looking for him. Apparently he has the same build and eyes as the man we identified. We hope to see these photos ourselves one day. They met a French couple who had also been caught by the same conman. I do hope his career is short lived!
Esfahan has many mosques and palaces from the 17th century Safavid era. They all have extensive magnificent rich opulent blue tiling. Unfortunately the open area in the middle of the Imam Mosque has scaffolding with canvas on top to provide shade so the height and extent of the arches cannot really be appreciated. The Jameh Mosque is much more gracious in my opinion. It has porches from the Seljuk (1028 - 1220 CE), Mongol (1220 - 1340 CE) and Safavid (1501 - 1736 CE) eras. The Seljuks used bricks in decorative patterns, understated elegance as LP puts it. The Mongols introduced stalactite moldings then the Safavids really went to town on decoration with tiles.
I also went to see Manar Jomban with Ad, Susan, Leon and Claire. This is the 14th century tomb of a revered dervish Abu Abdollah. Its claim to fame is the shaking minarets. Every hour an attendant climbs one minaret and starts shaking it. It sways quite a way. Eventually the bells on the second minaret start tinkling.
Tuesday 14 to Sunday 19 August 2007, Shiraz
Once again the road went across flat land between mountains. It is drier here though with little cultivation until near Shiraz. There is a lot of road construction in progress as with most of Iran so far. All the main roads are being improved and widened.
Our first stop was DHL to confirm that Shiraz was the last possible city to have the carnet sent to. It is and we must stay until the carnet arrives. Once it was on its way we went for a trip out to Persepolis.
Persepolis was started by Darius the Great in 515 BCE. Building continued until Alexander the Great razed it in 330 BCE. It took 10,000 mules and 5,000 camels to take all the booty away. Vandals have been around for a long time! There is still enough left though to be impressive. The function of the site is not truly known but it is thought to have been where the Zoroastrian New Year Festival was held. The main staircases have reliefs of subject peoples bearing gifts carved on them. Doorways and entrances also have reliefs of other scenes. The carvings are magnificent and all 2,500 years ago. It must have been an awe inspiring site in its day.
We met Jaff at Azadi Park where we parked / camped and invited us to his villa. He has a house where they live. The villa is for relaxation. It is a large piece of land with a garden and a pool. A lovely place to spend a hot afternoon. He went with Pieter to have our batteries checked and look for gas (unsuccessfully unfortunately). We spent a few days with them in and around their house and villa.
Monday 20 August 2007, near Mehriz
Picked up the carnet this morning and went on our way to Yazd. We took the long way round and stopped at 6pm right away from the road. There were water troughs for goats and sheep. The water is brought in a huge tank on a bakkie (utility, pick-up).
Tuesday 21 August 2007, Ravsabjam
We met up with Ad, Susan, Leon and Claire at the Silk Road Hotel in Yazd. They were on their way to Kerman but we first spent some time walking around the old city before heading out. I also checked up on progress in Tabriz with the Tourist Police. There has been no progress!
Wednesday 22 August 2007, Bam
Basically the scenery continued as in most of Iran, driving through a plain (not cultivated now as it is far too dry). with mountains in the distance. We did come close to some mountains though with magnificent muted pastel colours - cream, grey, red, orange, brown, purple. There are lost of trees and colourful plants on the drive into Kerman. Such a change from the dry semi desert we have been driving through. While driving along the ring road at about 100 kpm, a taxi came along side and a passenger took our photo. Anything goes on the Iranian roads!
On the way out of Kerman we caught up with Ad, Susan, Leon and Claire. They had spent the night in Kerman with friends of Mark and Amanda, another pair of over-landers. We found them trying to fill up with diesel. The garage owner did not want to sell to them, something about preventing smuggling. In the end we all managed to get some diesel. We can only assume he sells to smugglers at a much better price. There were no problems at the next service station so Mark and Pieter completed filling the tanks. Mark continued to fill up at every station we passed as his diesel consumption is very high.
On arrival in Bam the main concern was finding secure parking for the night. Difficult with 4 vehicles especially in a town where the effects of the earthquake in December 2003 are still very much in evidence. The others paid for secure parking at the Azadi Hotel. We elected to stay outside the Police Station. They wanted to cross to Pakistan tomorrow so we would have parted anyway. The police were very nice, one even offered to buy us whiskey or vodka! We declined but it must be available in the town.
Driving around Bam on Thursday, evidence of the earthquake is everywhere. The public buildings, including a sports centre, mosques and a few apartment blocks are all new but individuals have not yet recovered. They all live in houses that are either under construction or still in the state the earthquake left them. Rubble is everywhere, right where it fell. Little has been done to remove it. It is very sad to see the Arg-e-Bam now as compared to 'before' photos. It is/was a mud brick walled citadel from the 9th century. The town was a staging post on the trade route between Asia and Europe from the 2nd century. Marco Polo passed through. Restoration work is in progress but it is not open to the public.
Thursday 23 to Friday 24 August 2007, Zahedan
Imagine! Road works in progress in 40°C! How on earth do they manage! I am glad we are in a car, even if the air conditioning is not as effective as I would like. The best part of the journey was going through the mountains about 100k from Zahedan. The colours were spectacular. The photos just do not do them justice.
The bush telegraph works as well in Iran as in Africa. When we stopped for diesel we were told the other 3 vehicles had already passed through. They must have been up at the crack of dawn.
Friday was spent relaxing and waiting for the Pakistani Consulate to open on Saturday.
Saturday 25 to Tuesday 28 August 2007, Tehran and back
Did we think we would be one of the few to get a visa at Zahedan? How wrong we were. The consulate absolutely refused to give us one and said we had to go to Tehran. All Pieter's persuasive powers were in vain, not even our poverty swayed them.
First step was finding secure parking for the Land Rover. The police were really helpful but none of them could speak English. We followed them around from one escort to another escort, from one place to another, going round in circles and returning to where we started for the second time, 2 hours later. Finally we managed to communicate that we were actually looking for secure parking so we could go to Tehran. They tried the Tourist Inn, no luck. They tried other hotels, no luck. They even tried the Pakistani Embassy. Eventually Pieter suggested the Mosque we had parked in front of for the last two nights. This was arranged and they took us to Iran Air to buy tickets and then on to the airport. The plane had been delayed in Tehran with technical difficulties and would come when repaired. The purchase of the tickets had happened after hours and in a rush so it was only at the airport that we realised they were one way and cost double what we expected. We had actually showed Iran Air how much money we had and explained we would be returning. How he expected us to pay for the return I don't know! Apparently if you buy tickets outside Iran they are half price.
Pieter talked to the staff at the airport and we were given a refund. Next was a taxi to the bus station where the cost of transport was 20% of that of the air tickets. A lot less comfortable though! There were plenty of buses leaving for Tehran and by 6:00 pm we were on our way. The journey took 22 hours arriving in Tehran about 4:00 pm Sunday, much faster than we could have driven the distance. Much less tiring as well. The bus was air-conditioned with drinking water on board. Once at the Tehran bus terminal a taxi driver offered to take us to a budget hotel - only USD100! Even in Europe a Formula 1 only costs USD50! Do they really think all non Iranians are rolling in money? We found a taxi to take us to Imam Khomeini Square where the LP indicated there would be true budget hotels. We found the Fars Hotel nearby on South Sadi St - en suite bathroom and air-conditioning. What a glorious nights sleep. And breakfast the next morning.
Monday we went to the Australian Embassy first for a letter of introduction. We used the metro for the first part of the journey and then a taxi, all based on the information in LP. At the Australian Embassy we asked for the Farsi address of both the Dutch and Pakistani Embassies to be written down for us. Just as well as the Dutch Embassy had moved in the last 4 years since the LP was printed. Then it was off to the Dutch Embassy for the letter of introduction and on to the Pakistani Embassy. At the Pakistani Embassy we were given application forms and told to come back tomorrow. This was too much for me, we just did not have the money for another night in Tehran. Besides which we wanted to get back to the Land Rover. The Consul happened to be in the office and he noticed my distress and after we explained the situation promised us our visas that afternoon. First the procedures had to be followed. This involves photo copies of every page in the passport with a stamp on it! Pieter attended to that while I filled out the application forms and wrote a letter explaining why we did not apply for a visa in our home countries, Australia and Holland. By the time we were ready the office had been closed for over half an hour. It was then a matter of depositing the fee into a special bank account and coming back at 4:00pm for the visas. We went and had a decent meal of rice, kebab and salad.
With our visas and passports in hand we returned to the bus station to catch one of the many buses back to Zahedan finally leaving at 7:00pm and arriving at about 5:00pm on Tuesday. By the time we returned to the Land Rover we had 7,000 Rials left - less than 1 USD but enough to half fill the tank with diesel or buy 2 x 1.5 litre bottles of water. We did have another € 50 to change into Rupees at the border though. Talk about running on the smell of an oil rag!!!!
One bad thing though. The Dutch Embassy had faxed a letter of introduction to Zahedan the week before. Someone managed to obtain a visa there. Perhaps they offered a 'gratuity' for the service. It cost just over USD100 for the expenses related to the trip to and from Tehran, plus the discomfort. We just do not think in terms of bribes. Perhaps we have to start doing so once we are in Pakistan.
Wednesday 29 August 2007, Pakistan
What a terrible night! Firstly small boys decided to jump on the back of the Van once we were in bed. Pieter moved the Land Rover to another street, unfortunately a very noisy street. Then, once we were sound asleep again, some young adult males decided to bang vigorously on the door. This time a passerby stopped and called the police. They took us to a 'safe' place. First the Tourist Inn with no luck, then the Pakistani Embassy! After we were once again soundly asleep we were seen by an opportunistic thief. He could see a mound through the front window and obviously decided to grab what he could. Unfortunately that 'mound' turned into a screaming woman!
Time to leave Iran!!!!!
But first the Pakistani Embassy owed us for not giving us a visa - at least in our opinion. So I used their tap water to get all the washing done (it dries nicely inside while we drive) and we filled up with drinking water from their barrel. Finally we left for the border. We did not pass any diesel stations on the way and there was none available in Mirjaveh, the border town, so our last few Rials went into the Charity Box.
In Zahedan petrol is sold from plastic jerry cans. The police take no notice but this must be black market as petrol can only be purchased legally using a card valid for 100 litres. Iranians are restricted to 90 liters per month. Tourists buy a new card when ever they need more petrol.
Customs thought they had a problem because our carnet had expired on 2nd August, but checked upwards and were told that since we were leaving anyway it really was not an issue. Then passport stamps and through the mauve gates to Pakistan. My scarf was removed within the first meter. What bliss!
NB. While we were having a terrible night, Mariethe and Richard, whom we met at the border, were sleeping soundly, camping in their car at the Tourist Inn. Lucky sods.
|Cost per litre diesel||0.13||172||0.01||0.02|
|Kilometers per litre||7.7|
|Hotel per night||120.05||156,556||12.51||17.11|
|Days in country||41|