December 31, 2009 GMT
Iran - Bam & race to the border

Approaching Bam was a scary experience - long gone was the superb engineering of Iranian roads and the trouble-free road connections between major cities... the road that connects Kerman to Bam had some horrific stretches of single-lane traffic bouncing over potholes, with trucks bombing it to the border as if their life depended on it. You know things are getting dangerous when you have to accelerate to 140kmh to keep a relatively hassle-free pace that allows you to overtake the major troublemakers. Way faster than my comfy traveling speed of 100kmh.

But anyway. Got to Bam late, went straight to Akbar's guesthouse (the usual stop of overlanders) and had an early night.

I spent most of the next day fighting with the nasty Sality virus, trying to get it off Mr Akbar's PC, but without my toolkit, a fast internet connection, or even a CD-ROM drive on the machine, it was a struggle...

0wned by sality

While the computer was doing things I would read, reflect or just chill out.

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I visited the ex-magnificent, now-demolished and under re-construction Bam Arg (Citadel/Castle)

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of which very little is left

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from the 2003 earthquake that claimed more than 20,000 lives and left Bam in ruins and devastation.

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On the way to the castle, a typical Iranian family on a motorcycle:

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(What do you mean "helmet"?) I've seen families of 4 riding bikes like this, while eating and carrying a small animal (goat?) with them. One wonders what the value of human life is in the minds of these parents, or how dire the lack of alternatives really is.

After visiting the castle I did some simple shopping for foodstuff and generally got myself ready to enter Pakistan. I knew that the police escorts overlanders from Bam all the way to the border, so as far as I was concerned Bam was my last stop in Iran.

So on the day I wanted to get to the border I let Mr Akbar know, he let the police know, and at 06:30 I was ready to go. The police car led me to the local police station, where I waited for the next team that would escort me out of Bam... and hence the waiting game started. It was all fine and well until a little further from Zahedan (it was already noon by then, as I was constantly waiting on the police to changeover, do their paperwork etc), when something that *really* pisses me off happened - the police took my passport, gave it to an 18-year old conscript (soldier) who jumped in a passer-by's car and left for the border, asking me to follow the car.

The reason I was so pissed off is that this happened after the dude had tried to persuade me to ride pillion on my bike, apparently holding the spare TKC80 tyre that was occupying the second seat. After I refused (obvious safety reasons), the soldier flagged down a passer-by and jumped in, with MY PASSPORT. Goddamnit, it's mine and they have no right to keep it from me. We had already been through this. But they just ignored me and the guy left. I took off my helmet and commenced shouting down the guy who was in charge. I told him I'm going nowhere on a leash, that this is illegal, that I DEMAND my bloody passport HERE NOW. I threatened and I hollered and I played angry (I was almost really angry, actually) and I made him give me his name and number and acted very you-just-see-what-will-happen-to-you.

They were doing something illegal to me, you see. And it's especially annoying when they're ignoring your requests for an explanation on top.

After half an hour my passport was returned by another soldier in another car. I took it and left, thinking I just might have time to make it to the border before it closed for the day... but it wasn't meant to be.

At the next police checkpoint I was stopped again, my passport was taken again (all the while being reassured they would just take down the information and hand it back) and then... you guessed it! They wouldn't give it back and they thus forced me to wait there, less than 50K before the border, for ONE HOUR. Once more I started a shouting match and was nasty to the guy in charge which was a shame because he was very polite (but still ignoring me and doing something grossly illegal dammit!), who in the end gave me my passport back. But then I had to wait for the escort... by the time it arrived, it just took me to another checkpoint 10K down the road where I was handed over to the next guys who (surprise!) announced that it was too late to cross the border today, and I had to check into a hotel they would take me to (how attentive!) to spend the night there.

It wasn't even 16:00 by then, and I was very soon to find out that they had played the same scam on Simon and Lisa, two Brit travelers I had met in Bam, and Nico, a German biker who was tagging along.

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The group of 3 had started from Zahedan (a *really* short ride to the border) and had been stalled by the police and led to the hotel... it was preposterous. The police had actually lied to them about the border closing at 14:00 (which is patently false), to convince them, after hours and hours of delays, to go to the hotel.

Is it a surprise that the hotel was expensive and crappy? I was happy to meet them, because in my blind fury I needed someone to share my frustration with, and they were only too happy to spill our venoms together against the business that the Iranian police make by stalling people, forcing them to waste a day, trampling over their right to hold their passport, not providing any real security (the soldiers weren't even armed for crying out loud!) and finally delivering us to a "safe" crappy hotel that surely split the money with the police.

A corrupt, disgusting state of affairs. But that's what every traveler approaching Pakistan from Iran has to get through.

After this whole ordeal we obviously didn't want to leave any more money to the hotel, so we cooked in the room using all of our cookers - it was a nice little live portable stove comparison gig, which was actually good fun. Lisa cooked deliciously and after all those hours of frustration had us licking our plates and putting on extra portions of pasta... and then some more.

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This is how you get petrol in Zahedan... all of it is apparently smuggled to Pakistan (where it's sold for a multiple of its value in Iran), so petrol stations are "empty" (at least for us foreigners).

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The next day we left for the border at 7, Simon carried our "security" guy (who was protecting whom I wonder?)

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... and of course were at the border by 07:10, pictures and all...

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...and out of Iran, cursing and muttering all along, pretty soon.

This was my itinerary through Iran, for the 5 weeks I spent there.

OSM Iran complete

It was a sour ending for a country that meant a lot for me. So many places, so many people, so many strong warm feelings... the coppers were the only stone in my boot. Unfortunately not a freak occurrence, but rather the symptom of a faulty system (a theocratic police state), it made us all very happy indeed to leave Iran behind.

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at December 31, 2009 05:09 PM GMT
 
 

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