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Published: November 12th 2011
So I had this vision that when we crossed the Anatolian Plateau in Eastern Turkey and entered Iran the cold would be over. After all, Iran is a hot desert kind of place, isn’t it? Well yes, Iran is a hot desert kind of place, but a bloody mountainous one. So far we have rarely been below 1,000 metres in altitude, and mostly have been at 1,500m plus. Often we hit 2,100 or 2,200 metres on our rides between places. Which means it’s not so hot in late Autumn! In fact it’s been bloody freezing. On numerous occasions we have ridden roads with snow at the sides. Hot it is not.
Forgetting about the cold for a moment – not so easy to do when you’ve been wearing a t-shirt, light merino top, thin cycling jacket, fleecy top, bike jacket and are still freezing – but if you are able to forget about the cold and look around, in a dry, brown, mountainous kind of way Iran is quite beautiful. Or, perhaps spectacular is a better word than beautiful.
Fortunately, we have now made it to Yazd where we are far enough south that it is getting
to 20+ degrees during the day… although we are still at about 1,500m.
Iranian driving standards? Put it this way, I miss the Greeks. In Greece you were expected to drive on the hard shoulder so that vehicles could overtake. In Iran the expectation is similar; except now the vehicles are coming the other way! On several occasions we have had to move onto the hard shoulder when someone coming towards us has pulled out to overtake. It isn’t like they didn’t see us either, more like ‘me behind big truck, in little blue truck, you on small bike, you move over enough room for us all’. Crazy. Although, it actually hasn’t felt that dangerous, you just need to expect it to happen and keep a close eye on the traffic coming towards you (and from behind).
On other occasions we sit back and watch ‘Iranian musical chairs overtaking’ (stoelendans for the Dutch, apparently). What happens is five or six cars will be behind a big truck. The front one will spot a gap, and then all six bloody pull out to overtake. The little train continues past the truck with each car nipping back in
Iranian kiddies at school
The view from our hotel window in Urmia. (Toch wel anders dan het plein van de Kastanjehof, he?!)
to a tiny gap between the truck and the car in front, hoping to make it but probably without any actual visibility of what’s coming until the car in front ‘nips into the gap’ and they can see the road ahead. From up high on the quite tall bikes we get a better view of what’s coming, and on several occasions I have been convinced that one of the cars was going to be left without a chair (gap to pull back into) when the music stops playing. My current approach when this is happening is to slow down and sit a long way back so that if someone is left without a ‘chair’ we have plenty of time to stop.
You also see some unexpected sights on Iranian roads, like the chap with his donkey and cart crossing a dried river bed using the road bridge… in the fast lane on the four lane highway… going in the wrong direction! It definitely pays to be alert here.
Fortunately, even though the petrol is bloody cheap (between €0.05 and €0.40 a litre, depending on whether you have an Iranian fuel card) the Iranians either don’t seem to be
able to afford too much of it, or don’t have too many people to visit, so the roads between towns are fairly quiet. However, as I think I’ve already mentioned, inside the towns it is traffic chaos. Although, the nice bit is that when you have negotiated the traffic chaos they will generally let you park your bikes inside the hotel! And we though bashing a bigger hole in the wall was accommodating.
Oh, and Iran is the world capital of speed hump building. The bloody things are everywhere. One minute you can be sailing along at 100km/h, and the next moment you are supposed to be doing 50km/h because of possible pedestrians; and if you missed the sign the whopping great speed hump will ensure you slow down; as your handlebars smash through your bottom jaw.
A Euro is worth 18,000 Rials here, and a 50,000 Rial note is quite a big bill. When we changed 300 Euros a huge stack of neatly bound 50,000 Rial notes was thrown down on the counter. 5.4 million Rials in total (108 notes). There was so much of the bloody stuff I couldn’t even contemplate stuffing it
Bridge in Esfahan
Um, no river though!
in my wallet; not only would it not have bent in half, it simply wouldn’t fit. So we stuck most of it in a side case on the bike. As we ran out I kept wedging my hand into the case to get more out. I thought I’d got it all when the last batch came out with the paper ‘band’ around it. Then we were counting our money in Esfahan and discovered we were only just within our meagre budget of €50 a day for Iran. I was surprised, as I thought we’d been doing better than that. So after lots of calculating, and counting we were just about to head out and I thought ‘better check the side case, cos maybe I missed a few notes’. Did I what! There was another 1.5 million still in there. I’ve never felt so rich. People throwing huge paper bound stacks of bills at you, being able to ‘lose’ 1.5 million and still be roughly on budget. Great stuff, more of it in future please.
Unless you make the mistake of coming without any… because due to banking sanctions none of your cards will work in Iran. Literally none. No
credit cards, no ATM withdrawals, no over the bank counter withdrawals. No cash with you = big problem; as some other bikers discovered, sending us a desperate email for help. Fortunately they were able to sort it out through a wire transfer to the consulate in Tabriz, but not a great situation to be in. Then again, they were not the most well prepared of bikers, because they were suggesting we catch up for some beers while in Iran.
Oh, if I didn’t mention it already: no shorts and no beer in Iran. Sort of an anti-Australia really.
Probably the most memorable aspect so far in Iran has been the people. The level of friendliness and interest in us is amazing. As you walk along the street people say hello, stop you for chats (mostly to ask where are you from) and offer to help you. The highpoint of this was probably in Urmia, a town in North Western Iran we enjoyed a lot. Although in Sanandaj we became the centre of a growing scrum of about 50+ interested onlookers who were about to surround us, movie star style. We began to worry that if we
Parking Iranian style #2
And Tanja told me "there's just a few steps to get the bikes up and then we can park in the lobby"... easy?!
didn’t move the bikes while we could still get out we may never get free! Then in Esfahan we were accosted by a group of about ten girls who stopped us to pepper us with questions, surround us and insist on a few photos with us. They were all University students in Tehran on a ‘girls outing’ to Esfahan. Shy and retiring they were not, in fact they were completely the opposite of the repressed image many people have of Iranian women.
Where we are now
Currently we are in Yazd, a desert town somewhere in the middle of Iran. From here we will go to Kerman, probably camp in the desert for a night or two, and then make our way on to Pakistan… where the real ‘adventure’ begins (if it hasn’t done so already). Fortunately we are back together with the other three bikers from Turkey, and another one joins us tomorrow. So we should have a group of six of us together for the more questionable bits in Eastern Iran and Western Pakistan.
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