1 July 2013 – We knew this day was going to be hellish the ride is at least 600km and there is little other than dessert between Shiraz and Bandar Abbas. An early start was again on the cards just to reach Bandar Abbas before nightfall.
Our 2 litre bottle of frozen water was ice for approximately 40 minutes before completely melting. The temperature quickly reached 42 degrees, the ride gave the same feeling as opening an oven door and being blasted with the hot air. I thought we’d been/seen the desert but this was real desert. The warning triangles changed from cows to camels. I’m not sure how anyone survives in this heat but there were a few small townships that line the motorway – well it’s actually just a single carriageway. There is something serene about being in the desert and I quite like the feeling of being totally alone. The only downside to that of course is that you’re completely vulnerable if anyone takes advantage of that situation.
On one of those ‘alone’ stretches a man in car pulled up behind us flashing his lights – we ignored him as we’re not stopping for anyone in the middle of the desert, then he overtakes and speeds ahead and pulls over trying to flag us down – again we ignored and drove past. The chase continued, he hopped back in and then again flashes us from behind, and was indicating an eating gesture. He then pulled alongside saying ‘food’ and again putting his hand to his mouth and chomping – he just wanted to feed us. He obviously didn’t realise our thoughts on being flashed down by a stranger in Iran in the desert with no-one around for miles, was quite a scary situation. He is still in pursuit and beeping at us as we pass a service station, we know we need petrol, but if we stop the guy will undoubtedly follow us and as lovely as it is that he wants to feed us up we have a long way to go so we passed the petrol not knowing when the next stop would be. He eventually gives up, probably thinking what ungrateful twits we were.
The petrol situation became a bit desperate and we had to turn back as the light began to flash. All over Iran the stations have been plentiful but not out here. This is the only time we have come close to running out. Our drinking water was now suitable for a hot bath but all we had. Just when you think it will have to make do, the guy next to us came over an offers his still near frozen water.
The last hour of this journey was physically painful. I was near tears at one point but reluctant to say anything as it wasn’t the ideal place to be stopping. This ride was far too much for a day. After 8 hours on the bike my knee pads started to dig in, my legs and hips really ached due to being locked in the same position and all I wanted to do was get off, we stopped for a very quick relief break but the pain returns quickly once back on. Paul is feeling it too and was starting to become shaky and dizzy, plus his face was the same colour as a tomato.
We reached the edge of Bandar Abbas after a monstrous 9 hour ride and stopped for a quick rest before the search for a place to stay. We were pleasantly surprised as we were expecting Dogubeyazit part 2 but there are palm trees. Which I generally think make everything look better. We have gone from an oven to a sauna here, being next to the sea makes Bandar Abbas air very wet and instantly makes your skin clammy and clothes stick. My hair has not been in tight curls since I was about 8 – thank god for the headscarf to cover my mop.
A guy comes over and he’s looking at us, then the usual questions commence. I can imagine what I look like but I can see Paul and the guy clearly feels very sorry for us and offers his house to rest in, but the only thing on our agenda is to find a hotel as quick as possible and get in the shower.
The 9 hour drive in the desert heat has actually made me grateful we’re skipping Pakistan after the stories we’d have heard included 12 hour rides at ridiculously low speeds – maybe a bit dramatic but I’m sure another three hours would have surely killed us.
We stopped at a fancy hotel with wishful thinking they would have bargain basement prices, which they didn’t so we had to move on. Frustratingly all the roads are one way which makes it harder than normal to navigate.
We finally arrive at a hotel after abandoning the search for the hotel we’d looked up as no-one knew where it was. Only problem is they have no parking [or so they told us] but point us to a hotel down an alleyway next door. Turned out this was the hotel we we’re looking for originally but the front entrance is dug up and they definitely have no parking. The guy from the previous hotel followed us. After being told to wait 5 minutes, the guy who followed us then says ok parking. We follow him and it looks like he is leading us back to other hotel to park in front. Paul is becoming frustrated as prior to this they had already told us to move the bike twice. In the end we park in the lobby of the hotel that said they had no parking in the first instance. I don’t know what was going on.
There has been a distinct change in the way people look here. The skin is much darker and the features are more Indian. The clothing is also more akin to typical Indian dress, there are also women who wear a metal type face mask which is iconic of this area.
Tuesday 02 July – The only thing on the agenda for Bandar Abbas was to sort shipment of the bike and us to Dubai. Firstly, we were pointed to a travel agency by the hotel manager. We’d read to go straight to the ferry company but thought we’d check the travel agency out first anyway as they were just over the road from our hotel.
We were told the ferry was full and the next sailing was Saturday which would have meant 4 days in a town with nothing to do. Paul was ready to book the tickets there and then to avoid them being sold out for the Saturday sailing too. I convinced him we should head to the ferry company offices on the off chance they still had tickets left.
The company we used was called Valfajr in the South Seas Shipping Company building, the taxi driver dropped us of outside by this time it was still only 08.30am.
We were immediately told ‘yes no problem, ferry tomorrow’ but then the saga began. Firstly, a young chap was brought in to act as translator. Then after a lot of conversation in Farsi and taping on a calculator between the four men who shared the small office, we were given a piece of paper with prices. The cost for our tickets 1,200,000 Rials each then the bike 9,240,000 Rials and a cost for handling which I can’t remember. We were pleased with this as we were expecting more. The only problem was that we couldn’t pay in dollars so we had to head back into town [20 minute drive] to change the money. The translator guy stuck us in a communal taxi where people hop in and out, we’d assumed he said ‘take them to an exchange place’ but when the guy pulled up at a taxi rank and we didn’t get out, he looked confused.
Despite speaking no English and us speaking no Farsi [other than a few basics] he understood what we wanted and then made it his personal mission to get us to the exchange place. The first stop was closed but we waited, as we were told the guy was coming. It was time pressured as we’d read the cashier at the ferry office closes at 13.00 but who knows how long it would take back at the office. The exchange guy didn’t show up so we went elsewhere. Eventually armed with a stash of rials we headed back to the ferry offices.
All the men were still sat in the office, one of them reviewed the prices we’d been given which turned out to be incorrect and the loading fee was removed as it had already been included in the bike fee, so then we had around a million too much cash in Rials.
Anyway another elderly guy with the assistance of our translator, began to put our details into the computer. Which was halted when the power cut out and he had to start over again which was a lengthy process due to him being a one finger typer. Our translator was a nice young guy who was interested in what we doing and of course what we thought of Iran. He called us ‘Mr Paul’ and ‘Mrs Amy’ made us smile. Just as we thought one finger was finished, he revealed a problem ‘No tickets, finished’ they’d sold out. Of course we already knew this but didn’t tell them that. Giash [the translator] smiled at us calmy and said ‘No problem, no worry, we solve problem’ They called head office to see what they could do. They were definitely trying their best, a few phone calls, one very irate phone call including fast pacing, a lot of huffing and puffing, sweaty brows and a long wait confirmed head office had given the go ahead and we could board the ferry we wanted. I’m not sure why the guys in that office went out of their way to help us but they did.
We went back to hotel jubilant that we would be on the ferry the next day, the only thing to worry about was the potential misinterpretation of our visas on exit.
With some free time on our hands we ventured out to find a birthday card for my nephew, a sim card to call our friend at the shipping company if needed and a turkey baster type tool to drain the tank of petrol in Dubai where we would be freighting the bike. The turkey baster was significantly easier to find [first shop we went] than the birthday card and sim. Despite mobile phones and accessories occupying every other shop, nowhere sold sim cards. After asking in about 40 shops we finally found one.
Whilst laying on the bed, mid disagreement with Paul about something trivial probably, the whole room began to sway. At first it was like ‘woah what is happening’ then we quickly realised it was an earthquake but by this time it had stopped so was probably only 10 seconds. Paul went to reception to check if we should do anything but they were confused and didn’t understand what he was talking about, even with the body swaying action. I think we felt it as we were four floors up. Online news confirmed it was an earthquake that measured 6 on the richter scale but the epicentre was a few 100km away so what we felt was mild. It’s apparently quite common as Iran sits on 7 major fault lines and there have been much larger earthquakes in this region before.
After the mini excitement we decided to pack up for the next day as we would be setting off early to begin the paperwork. Then the hotel room phone rang and Paul was asked to go down to reception. He immediately worried, so I went with him for fear if he went alone, the next time I saw him might be behind bars or on a ransom video with a gun to his head – bit over the top probably. An anxious trip in the lift revealed a smiley Giash from the ferry company come to take us out to the beach and eat Icecream. That was honestly the very last thing we were expecting. He did exactly just that, plus a mango smoothie and then wouldn’t let us pay as it was ‘his welcome to Iran.’
I don’t think anywhere on this planet is like Iran. I seriously doubt we will ever encounter such genuine kindness and such generous hospitality ever again – unless we return of course.
Wednesday 03 July – We left the hotel at 6.30am to get to ferry port. We’d been told to get there for 08.00am even though the ferry does not depart till 9.00pm, but we allowed for ‘things to go wrong’ you know hotel porter asleep, the door of the garage been locked, running out of petrol, the bike breaking down.
We got to the port with no hitches – we didn’t even get lost. So arrived at 07.00am. First stop was the entrance security who looked at our documents, then someone else came and looked at our documents then they discuss for quite a while, all smiling for the duration. Many times the easiest situations require a 20 minute discussion to determine what should be done. We think we’re at the wrong port for a little while as we’re not sure why they seem to be talking for such a long time. Finally they decide we can park, they direct us, we park, then the police come all smiling ‘Salem, Salem’ then they direct us again, we park, then get moved again. Three attempts to park later and we’re sat in the passenger terminal until 08.00am completely soaked in sweat already.
Firstly we drive back to the security gate, we park, then get moved, again. Then onto a porta cabin, they check the chassis number against the carnet but do nothing with the paperwork. Then onto the next building where they take the carnet, we’re sent to two different desks, dealt with by three different people asked to sit and wait two times then we’re handed three pieces of paper, the carnet is partially filled in and then we’re sent onto another building armed with the information ask for Mr Sadidpanah. The same man we we’re told to call if we got into trouble – one of the three guys from the office yesterday.
Onto the next office it is, we leave the bike outside the terminal building this time and head there on foot. Again, sent to two desks. Mr Sadidpanah was not there so onto another guy he begins to fill in the paperwork, offers us a tea and then we wait again. He finishes hands over yet more paper and tells us to wait for Mr Sadidpanah. By this point we’d been at this two and half hours. Whilst waiting some other motorcyclists come into the building also chasing paperwork but they have just come from Dubai. Mr Sadidpanah arrives completes the final bit of the carnet, hands over more papers and then directs us to another building for security and then return to him. Off we went. When we got back to Mr Sadidpanah this was the process complete the only thing left to do was take the bike to the loading point which should have been the easy part. But no-one was there at the first gate so went to the second, no-one there. Returned to Mr Sadidpanah and then he finally escorted us and found someone to open. The fact he drove is a telling sign. It was too hot to walk anywhere without AC and that’s what we’d been doing – dressed in bike gear whilst lugging the backpack around for most of the morning running from office to office. Why everything can’t be done in one or two buildings that are next to each other I don’t know. After four hours everything was done but it was clear to see why they say arrive at 08.00am when the ferry doesn’t sail until 21.00pm and they don’t start the boarding process until 18.30pm.
The passenger terminal is alot more occupied than it was this morning and it’s full of men dress in turbans, loose trousers and knee long shirts and women in either full burkhas or embellished dresses with heavy sleeves and borders – this has not been the normal attire in the rest of Iran.
We come to learn these people are from the province of Baluchistan. The area which is considered the most dangerous for overlanders to travel through which starts in Bam and covers part of Afghanistan and west Pakistan. This is the area an armed escort is mandatory for. Iranians consider the people from this area as backward due to lack of education and their typical tribal way of life and are actually quite open in their discrimination against them as we found out first hand.
Whilst waiting in the terminal we attract the attention of a few people. Firstly a guy who brought us a coffee and made one Afgan guy move when he sat next to us. Then a staff member who talks about his wife in America and touches on some politics, which we avoided again. Then a guy who is travelling with his wife and his parents. They are only travelling by ship as his father won’t fly.
From 17.00 a queue started to form outside the customs door, we knew this was going to be a free for all but the people travelling have blocked the way with luggage which is not your standard one suitcase per person. There are high trolleys loaded with packages of rice, electrical goods, toiletries, cooking equipment etc. At around 18.00 a crowd formed around a desk. Surely after everyone waiting for at least four hours there isn’t a form to be filled. Sure enough there was – and a payment for yet another piece of paper. There was a queue to get the form and no queue to pay – you just had to push. As ever not the most efficient way it could be done.
No clue what to do next – do we joined the queue of luggage at the back or not? We asked the family and they pointed us to the front we lingered there for a few seconds then the security spotted us. We thought we’d be told to go to the back but no, they tell everyone to move out of the way to let us through despite everyone else standing from 17.00 and we only decided to join at 18.30
Our luggage is put through the scanners. First they question the spare bike stand, then they find my Pen knife. I accidentally left it in my bike jacket pocket and immediately ask for my passport. A few tense moments later and they hand my passport back and we’re free to go.
We then become the focus of another guy travelling who clearly sees himself as superior because he can speak English and is not from Baluchistan. He tries numerous times to involve us in political conversations mainly about the nuclear bomb programme of Iran and the fact only the government hates the English. He then tells us to sit infront of the ‘Taliban’ for our picture. The guy was starting to speak louder and touching on more awkward topics when luckily the passport control opened. It was segregated so we stood in separate cues but could still see each other but again we were taken to the front. They took our passports and ushered us through separate doors. They scanned my luggage against and then I was patted down, we met up the other side but we were not given our passports back. We wait for a while then spot the guy who took them and he just said to wait more.
21.00 came around and we then again got taken to the front to board but we had not been given our passports. I asked and then someone ran off to get them – they just forgot. We were asked for our tickets and I handed over everything we had including the fee slip we paid. Which caused a commotion as apparently we shouldn’t have paid whatever we paid and they wanted to give us our money back.
When we got on the ferry we were seated straight away. It quickly became apparent the seating was segregated too but I’d been allowed to sit with Paul. Then the captain came over and said the ferry was very full [which we knew as we were actually extra passengers] and that he had a VIP he would move us too. As we sat waiting for everyone to board which was very chaotic, one of the crew members came and put our luggage on the seat next to me so no one could sit there which caused some funny looks, then as he passed again he shook his head in anguish and said ‘argh Taliban’
A family of ladies joined us in the VIP which was all abit awkward at first and it felt like we were in a fish bowl with all 8 of the ladies looking at us. Fatima was the ring leader and she had actually helped us a little in the waiting room by asking about our passports. She spoke a little bit of English but no-one else did, so she rang her daughter on the mobile so she could invite us for dinner when we got to Dubai. They then of course tried to feed us with snacks.
At around 11 we all settled down for some sleep and then we woke for some dinner. A quick venture downstairs was disheartening at 01.30am to see that we were still in the ferry port. We finally departed at 02.00am – 5 hours late. Not exactly what you want when the crossing itself takes 12 hours and we’d already been awake since 06.00am. Thanks to the captains special treatment we did get some sleep but I doubt the crowded passengers downstairs managed the same luxury in their upright seats.
When the ferry finally arrived into Sharjah I joined the younger girls for a view of the city in the distance and then said our goodbyes as we were again moved to the front for priority dismemberment. It was in the port at 15.30 and we got off the boat at 16.30.
We would have loved to have some photos of this whole experience, though throughout Iran we have had to be especially careful where we point the camera as it can be easily interpreted as espionage, so photos at a port were a no go.