This is part of the eleventh section of my around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Turkmenistan or read our previous visit to Iran
15/9/05 My third visit to Iran on this motorcycle. Each one has become easier. The old method of emptying the entire contents of the vehicle onto the ground for inspection in case of alcohol, inappropriate literature or drugs, has gone. None of my luggage was searched. The stern border faces now replaced with relaxed smiles with one female officer dealing directly with me and handling my paperwork, unheard of before. Just four offices, carnet stamped, 60 minutes and into Iran. Just after clearing the border I had been negotiating with street money changers when a plain clothed man requested my passport. I asked for identification which he produced, of course I couldn't read nor verify its validity. I requested to photograph it or him which he refused. Suspicious that this was a scam, as I think changing money on the street is still illegal although the old days of black market rates has disappeared with the bank rate now the same as the street rate. He smiled at my caution and beckoned over a uniformed army officer to verify his identity, they inspected my passport and the plain clothed man departed in the army officers official vehicle, whilst I finished my currency exchange. The road to and from the border through barren mountains, and deciding to take the quicker inland route, away from the busy Caspian Sea road, that I had taken before, I was soon on desert flatlands and hot. A new Mercedes police car came alongside, sounded its siren, on glancing over there were smiles and a thumbs up, indicating me to go as fast as the bike could so they could monitor its maximum speed. I refused politely, and they departed with another blast of the siren. The busy road had many accident remains, some having just occurred, on this Thursday afternoon holiday, the weekend here being Thursday and Friday corresponding to their religious holiday. I had travelled 600 km, and often is the case, found it easier to camp than search for a hotel when just travelling through. A windy spot amongst young trees near the road.
16/9/05 There are now just 35 countries in the world that our motorcycle has not been ridden in. Of those 22 are islands requiring shipping to and from each country. It seems a bit illogical to try to visit each island country, some so small they have virtually no roads and will be expensive to visit. It remains for the future to see how illogical we become in the effort to visit as many countries as possible over the next few years. At 157 United Nations rccognised countries, I believe that our motorcycle has already visited more countries of the world than any other of the more than one billion motor vehicles ever produced. (A vehicle defined by most governments as combination of the same chassis and engine). I would be pleased to be advised if someone knows differently. Broke camp for the 350 km to Teheran. The road has been a mostly good four lane all the way. The capital city in a country of 75 million people is sprawling and growing. It still surprises me how it is possible to just ride into an enormous city, looking for one small hotel, its only street frontage a doorway, the rest upstairs, using the basic map from a guide book. There are excellent street signs in this country, both in the local script and English. Heading initially for the centre, then asking directions to a landmark, then a street and finally the hotel had me guided by another motorcyclist who also got lost in the one way streets. A parking station for the motorcycle and I was at the same hotel as six years ago, about the only one for backpackers, at less than $US 4.00 a room. The young women here are pushing the dress code, perhaps not as fast as in Afghanistan, but now some wear jeans covered by a mid thigh length light weight coat, often not coming any lower than my shirt if it were worn outside my pants. The scarf is always worn, but again is often pushed back so far on the head revealing at least half of the hair that I wonder it doesn't fall off occasionally. Black is still a dominant colour but some dress entirely without it. Women move about alone and some of the male backpackers have conversed openly in public, on busses and in the streets with unescorted women. All of the above is vastly different from my last visit six years ago. The society also seems wealthier, with more modern vehicles mingling with the 40 yr old designed Hillman Hunter look alike. Many shops, automotive, restaurants, fruit and vegetables, petrol stations are open on Friday, the religious holiday.
17/9/05 Different personalities have different traits. I know that I am most alive when entering a new country. See the border crossing as a challenge, the money changers as an art form and the new culture fascinating. Entering a new city can be frustrating yet again rewarding when settled into new accommodation where everything is the same but different. Am most ill at ease when my time in a place has past its due date but I am kept there by circumstance. Hopefully there will always be new countries and cities to visit, if not alzheimer's will probably provide them anew. Planning this last part of the trip is proving to be quite difficult. Our daughter called off her wedding about a month ago but the family are still coming to visit as their accommodation and airfares were already booked, so I still need to be back in Australia by the 17th of October. With no airfare booked as I don't know where I will end up, today was at the embassies, and thinking. Kuwait, Australians no longer need a visa, Bahrain, visa on arrival. I hope to be able to transit Iraq to Kuwait, less than 200 km, near Basra in the south, the safest area of the country. The Iraq embassy was alive with a couple of hundred Iranians, with relatives in Iraq, they were trying to get reuniting visas. There is no such thing as a queue or line in these countries so it's a matter of joining the crowd and trying to be seen. After 20 minutes I was near enough to the front to be told to come tomorrow at 9 am. The alternative plan was to get a boat to Kuwait from Bushehr in southern Iran. At the Valfajre-8 Shipping Company's head office I was informed that this service, along with the one to Bahrain, and also Qatar, was stopped a year ago, even though their web site and brochures still say it is running. They do however have a passenger service from Khorramshahr to Kuwait, they assure me can take my motorcycle. So by the end of the day the decision was made to go to Kuwait, either by boat, or via Iraq if possible.
18/9/05 The same scene at the Iraq embassy this morning. Allowed to enter the building I was informed there was no possibility of a visa. Only reuniting relatives were getting visas. The shipping company sails Wed, Sat, and Mon at 10 am to Kuwait, the same time a day later for the return trip. I need the bike there the day before sailing for customs clearance, but as customs is closed from midday Thursday and Friday, I decided to rush for the Wednesday sailing. The bike was booked, $US 110.00, and my ticket, about the same price, purchased, and I was riding out of Teheran by 1 pm. The freeway to Qom doesn't allow motorcycles, but I joined it half way where the on ramp had no signage and was later waved through the toll booth at the end before being seen by police. The heavily trafficked road is then four lanes most of the way to Arak and Borujerd where on dusk I found a place in the mountains to camp. Nomadic sheep and goat herders were bringing their animals back to the army like tents and I could see small cooking fires dotting the hill after dark settled in.
19/9/05 Muscle strength is something we maintain later in life than youthful exuberance or the will to expend energy. Peaking in strength at about the age of 30 yrs I have noticed little deterioration since then, however I am now, at 52, starting to realize the downward slide is well underway. The motorcycle seems heavier, and just living an active life is now insufficient to maintain the strength I feel is necessary for comfortable riding over poor roads fully loaded. An exercise regime seems the only solution to slow the muscle wastage of age. It is 1000 km from Teheran to Khorramshahr so by 7 am I was on the road again choosing to have breakfast at the first rest stop. Cold in the mountains to start it was soon to be 49 degrees by my thermometer sitting, like me, in the sun on the motorcycle. Coming off the mountains the heat hits you like opening an oven door and there is no release. I slowed my speed to help the engine cope. It has been again burning a lot of oil with the faster roads and hot conditions. Sections of the flatlands are irrigated, others desert wasteland. This is the oil area and gas venting fires burned from towers seemingly compounding the surrounding heat. Passed a couple of oil refineries and closer towards Iraq more military and memorabilia of the Iran-Iraq war, tanks on display along with murals of soldiers. The last 40 km the road becomes a causeway heading out to where the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers merge in the enormous marsh lands, now dry, of the two countries. Iraq is just 15 km away from Khorramshahr, Basra a further 30, its city lights can be seen at night. Checked into a comfortable hotel after bargaining the foreigner price down to just above the locals price only to be told tomorrow was a religious holiday and all businesses, including customs, would be closed, leaving me possibly stuck here till Saturday's boat, five days away.
20/9/05 The helpful receptionist at my hotel contacted the freight agent at his home address who suggested I be at his office at 7-30 am tomorrow for a slim chance of making the ferry. He also advised me many Iraq and Iranians cross this border to visit religious shrines in each others countries, both being majority Shiite Muslims. A group of English speaking Iraq's was staying at the hotel and advised it was only three hours transit to kuwait, but three hours too long at this point in history. The paparazzi have been following me since my arrival in Iran. Taking advantage of the four lane highway's and their mobile phone cameras they overtake, slow down, force me to overtake while they take photos, then overtake again. Not concerned if they are boxing me into the traffic or getting so close I can reach out and touch them. Probably just bored with the long straight roads. It is the same in towns where my entourage hangs close enough to talk out their windows or ride motorcycles within inches, as if short sighted and trying to see. If it happens occasionally it is a boost on the long ride, but to happen constantly is trying and my annoyance sometimes flares.
21/9/05 The first country I visited just to say I had been there was Burma (Myanmar) in 1996. A one day excursion for myself and the motorcycle. I was only allowed a 12 km radius of the small town near the Thailand border. The eight km ride into China at the top of the Karakoram Highway was a similar, early days, just for the fun visit in 1997. After we had visited a reasonable number of countries the novelty of visiting, just to say we had been there disappeared for a few years, only to reappear recently when on the second journey out from Australia, late last year, we had decided to seriously try and visit all the countries along our route. That is not to say we hadn't already been trying to visit all the countries, it was more what lengths would we go to. The limit was reached trying to go to Vietnam. A token visit without really getting much from the experience. Having already bypassed North Korea, and South Korea (not wanting to rush through), and Iraq, it will need at least a third sweep of the world to "meaningfully" visit most, or all, of the remaining countries. Kuwait is virtually an island country, surrounded by two countries that are difficult to pass through. This morning the hotel receptionist led me to the port terminal where its manager arranged an agent to look after the bike's paperwork. From 8.30 till 10.30 we raced around, caught taxi's to port authority, customs and who knows where, getting a myriad of signatures. The promised roll on roll off ferry was an Australian built fast cat, but had no special place for vehicles. The bike was pushed and lifted onto the front deck amidst piles of passengers luggage. The 10.00 am departure didn't happen till 12.30 with everyone of the 250 seats full and children sitting on parents laps. A slow progress down the river dodging shallow spots and floating debris with Iran on our left and Iraq on the right until we entered the Gulf for a quicker crossing amongst oil rigs.
Move with me to Kuwait
or go to our next visit to Iran
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