Thursday 04 July – Below decks there was an agent already waiting next to the bike, he wastes no time in telling us his fee which we have no choice but to pay as he also needs to fill out some forms for us. Then onto immigration which was a combination of entertainment, tedium and bewildering administration. I was given a number that seemingly did nothing as it was a free for all but the guards had some system that was secret to only them. Everyone was held in immigration for at least an hour for no reason whatsoever, it seemed we had to wait until everyone had a stamp. The Iranians have to have their eyes lasered too but they weren’t interested in our eyes.
As with Bandar Abbas, it’s not one office for everything. A grand total of 4 offices, 6 desks and one cash machine had to be found and visited. All of which are spread out around the port which meant we had to drive around all done under a time pressure as everything closes at 18.30, it’s a Thursday so it’s the Dubai weekend tomorrow and Saturday. Everything has a fee, and the little buggers charge you overtime too. Which was reduced slightly when I looked flabbergasted as it was three times the normal price. The only saving grace was the seemingly polite, gracious and efficient Arabs working in these offices, plus the nice little gift of some chocolates from one of them.
As Dubai was not on our route until last week we hadn’t accounted for a massive jump in accommodation price, and our budget simply would not stretch. Though whilst in Turkey, Rochdi (motorcyclist who we spent some time with), we learned of a website called “Couchsurfing” which entails members offering their spare beds/couches for travellers all around the world. We found it difficult to comprehend why people would want loads of strangers staying around their houses. A couple of interesting stories from Rochdi including him staying with a man in Romania who took him to a dirty thermal pool in the middle of the forest at midnight before getting naked and singing songs, enlighten us to the type of people these may be. Though Rochdi had been doing this since he left Belgium and on the most part had great experiences. So whilst taking some time out in Shiraz Iran, I decided to give it a go and search for a potential host in Dubai.The guy we found, Diggy, was highly recommended and had nothing but positive feedback from other couchsurfers so we contacted him and sure enough he replied encouraging us to come and stay.
We finally left the port at 18.30 with a new stash of paperwork and headed for Diggy’s place. The sun was already setting and the journey from Sharjar involved a 7-lane megahighway where undertaking is common practice and the traffic moves fast. Driving through Dubai at night was a pretty amazing experience though and one we’re pretty glad we got to do. Paul said he felt like batman. It was quite surreal and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the shift from conservative, down-at-heel Iran to glittering Dubai.
We arrived at Diggy’s place, still a little anxious about what couchsurfing entails and how we will get on with our host. Diggy greeted us like friends he’s known for a long time and then showed us up to his apartment. First thoughts were that it only had one room which at first was a bit of a concern but after feeling completely relaxed in his company after only an hour we knew it would be fine. He’d arranged a gathering which was sort of the last thing we wanted after the 36 hour trip but it was really nice to meet his friends. One of which was also a ‘couchsurfer’ a Malaysian guy called Mizzy who won’t shake hands with girls as he only wants to ever touch his wife. Fair enough but Diggy finds amusement in teasing him about this which he takes in very good humour as it is actually quite funny. Later on in evening two more people arrive that Diggy is also hosting. An American girl, who is backpacking and a cyclist from Rotterdam, Martin. Martin was one of the most interesting and intriguing people we have met on our trip with some of the best stories ever. He had just come from Afghanistan, and was continuing onto Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen after already cycling from his home in Holland to Japan before heading back west. This was also his first “couchsurfing” experience after mostly camping and living off solely bread and water. His total spending including flights and visas equated to 7 dollars a day so far. His stories included tales of hallucinations of evil blue smurfs when he had gone too long without food and water. Diggy had actually passed him on his way to work camped under a metro station in central Dubai after not being able to locate Diggy’s place the previous night. He was surrounded by police at the time as he was using his large flip knife to spread peanut butter on his bread.
Diggy treated us like royalty. He ferried us around and cooked beautiful Indian dishes for us all the time. We visited Abu Dhabi and saw the biggest Mosque in the world, went swimming at midnight in the sea looking over the city lights, which was still the temperature of a bath, went to a night club for his friend’s birthday and he even took us shopping to find a bag for our stuff. Why does his do this? For good karma – he also travels and understands what it’s like and I guess he was treating us how he would like to be treated. A lesson learned I think.
We were having so much of a good time with what felt like a new family that we realised we weren’t getting the things we needed to do done. We had booked some very cheap flights to Nepal for the next week, but we had an oil leak on the bike that needed looking at and had to arrange shipping. The first thing we did was scope out a Yamaha repair garage, it turned out that there was just a seal that was missing so nothing major, but they also gave it a full clean to ensure that it wasn’t leaking from elsewhere. The shipping of the bike was more complex, we had been in contact with a few freighting agencies by email, but decided it would be easier to go direct to the cargo village located next to Dubai Airport. We found an agency we had contacted and went inside to chat, where we learnt that shipping to Nepal or India was significantly more expensive (£1500) than we had presumed and included a number of bureaucratic steps including obtaining a dangerous goods certificate from the country it was travelling to and a Police release certificate from Dubai. As Myananmar (Burma) is impassable for overlanders, we knew we would need to ship the bike once again after travelling through Nepal and India, so we decided to enquire about shipping directly to Bangkok from Dubai to potentially save on the double costs and nightmare bureaucracy that it always entails. Unbelievably despite being a lot further distance the cost is under half the price of getting it to Nepal and no dangerous goods certificate required. We decided although it was emotionally sad not to be using the same bike for the India/Nepal leg that it was far more viable budget and time wise to ship straight to Bangkok and look to purchase a cheap bike in Nepal.
So we began to dismantle the bike there and then with the help of Mr Shiju’s Indian team. The Turkey baster contraption we brought in Iran worked a treat in draining the fuel and we only removed the windscreen, the wing mirrors, the panniers and the handle bars. We left the wheels attached so less hassle when we get to Bangkok. We left the bike there and Mr Shiju said to arrive around 11am the next day to take pictures of the crated bike and take a final measure/weight and final price.
The next day we needed to visit the Police offices to get clearance forms which verified we had no fines to pay and then would allow the vehicle to be exported. As usual, the buildings to visit were spread out and you have to return to the first building once you have the stamp from the second building. We spent the two hours running around in near to 50 degree heat, totally clueless. We got sent to a third building we didn’t need to visit and sat at 4 desks only to be moved onto someone else.
We have left our carnet with Mr Shiju and he will post out to Bangkok when it’s complete. He is also storing the bike for 40 days whilst we’re in Nepal and India. Paul then had a celebratory McDonalds and spent the next three days relaxing with Diggy and co.
Diggy returned home one evening and said more guests were coming. An Iranian girl and her mother, so we promptly tidied the place up. Fatima seemed to be a very liberal person and has travelled a lot. Her mother was a fairly strict muslim and needed to pray when they arrived, this also occurred at 04.00am in the morning. They arrived late and left early in the morning so we didn’t get to know them too well.
On our final night at Diggy’s I cooked a Mexican dinner and once again a number of his friend’s including Mizzy came over. We said our goodbyes and early the next morning Diggy dropped us at the Airport.
We spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and it couldn’t have been more of a contrast to Iran. It was never a country we planned to visit nor did I have a particular interest or desire to visit the place. Of course we would have preferred to do the Pakistan route as we wanted to travel by land wherever possible. But on a whole it turned out to be a real highlight of our trip due to the great new friends we made.