September 30, 2002 GMT
Iran is big. Really, really big. Bigger than the UK, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France and Switzerland put together. Three times the size of France and one fifth the size of the US. Get the picture? It's big.
We left Lake Van and headed North through the Kurdish mountains to the border town of Dogubayazit. Both the weather and scenery was beautiful - although the temperature dropped and we did have a small rain shower crossing one of the higer summits just to remind us of home. More village kids hurled bits of roadside furniture at us with a worrying improvements in accuracy. One semi-professional female shot putter of at least 6 years old lobbed what can only be described as an extinction level event meteorite at Adrian's front wheel - forcing him to slow down for at least the second time that day. Strangely, after they had finished lobbing building materials at whoever was leading at the time, they quite often waved at the second bike. Adrian developed the tactic of serving violently at the kids as they ran towards the road, which seemed to terrify them and delight them in equal measure and elicited more waves than boulders.
We passed the hundreds of petrol stations selling smuggled Iranian fuel that surround Dogubayazit and headed for Murat Camping - this is the traditional staging point for overlanders crossing the border into and out of Iran. Halfway up a mountain, for £1.20 a night you get the most incredible views and the opportunity to share a beer or two with other travelling folk. After listening to music from a traditional kuridsh duo over dinner (complete with Korg synthesiser), we picked up some useful info. from a French couple who had just spent a month touring Iran. We decided to stay one more night before crossing into Iran and killed a day looking around the town and exploring the mountains - but not the Pacha's Palace (which we were too tight fisted to pay to enter). That evening proved interesting as we planned how to improve the world with an East German guy called Henrik and a Kiwi chap named Kev. Henrik seemed to be concerned about how the world was being affected by capitalism and the media whilst Adrian and I just wanted to fit air filters to all the lorries so that we didn't have to breathe so much black smoke. As we headed off to the border the next day, we passed an enormous Turkish army exercise taking place along the main road. There was a seriously large amount of tanks and other hardware which we would love to have photographed for you, but....
The queue of lorries waiting to get into Iran was four and a half miles long - apparently taking 5 days to get through. The drivers were all camped out along the road in the baking heat, patiently waiting their turn whilst eating water melons. Fortunately, we tourists went straight to the head of the queue where we visited a total of 5 different offices in 2 hours before we could official 'leave' Turkey. Only to discover that the man who stood at the gate had gone too lunch - so we baked in the midday sun for another half hour with a couple of chaps from Azerbajaan. As we rolled the bikes into Iran, I was relieved of my 'nice' pen by the gate man and then we were welcomed to Iran with a smile and a handshake. The entry paperwork took only an hour and the friendly disposition of the officials was in marked contrast to the surly nature of the Turkish. The all important carnet documents were checked, stamped and we weren't hassled, questioned or searched in any way.
Shortly after leaving the Iranian border town of Bazergan we lost the signs to our stopover destination - Tabriz. As we stopped to ask directions from a chap who turned out to be the english teacher at the local english centre, we watched a car gracefully clip the kerb and turn completely turtle. We think that the unfortunate driver who stood staring at the wreck of his Hillman Hunter had been previously staring at Adrian and I in his mirror when he should have been watching the road. Talking of Hillman Hunters, this country must have been sold the entire production facility for Hunter and Avengers as the place is full of them. Not just one or two but 99% of all vehicles are Hunters and the remaining 1% Avengers. And in that god-awful original light blue, cream or mustard green. All of them flat out, everywhere and loaded with smiling, beeping and waving Iranians. Everybody waves at us, beeps at us, calls at us, wants to know how we're doing, where we're from and wishes us welcome to Iran. It's astonishing that the overtaking lorry drivers coming the other way that force us into the gutter, flash their headlights and wave cheerily as they do so. Hotel staff want to photograph us, and us to photograph them. People even come and knock on the door of our hotel room and ask us sign their book of foreign visitors.
Feeling like beings from another planet, we rode into Tarbriz and to the Hotel Mouramid where the staff helped us park the bikes in the marble floored lobby and then lent us enough Ryalls to buy dinner - as we hadn't changed any money yet. We ate very well that night for a total of $6 and after the meal were approached by two generations of English teachers, also out for a meal, who generously offered us any help that we might need during our short stay in Tabriz. This is one friendly country, but we have been warned to take care during the later desert phase of our trip...
On the Friday, after changing some money on the black market with the help of the chap from the Tourist Information office, we over-ambitiously headed for the town of Hamadan. But boy was it hot by the time we set off. In the heavy traffic, it was difficult to keep up any kind of pace and when we reached a stretch of nice, clear motorway, we were stopped almost immediately by the police. They politely informed us that bikes weren't permitted on the motorway but realised that there was no way off it until we had reached our destination. So they just disappeared at high speed and left us to it. In the end we gave up the ghost and pulled into a brand new motel some 150 miles short of our destination.
We set off early the next morning to avoid the midday heat and easily covered the remaining distance to Hamadan by lunch time. But we had screwed up as there still wasn't time to visit the spectacular underground lakes of Ali Sadr. This meant that we would have to kill the afternoon in Hamadan, visit the lakes the next morning which wouldn't leave enough time to cover the 300 miles to our next stop of Esfahan. Problems, problems, problems.
We are keeping tabs on the world service re. the political situation and may be meeting up with three other guys on bikes in Iran if we feel the need for more security when we reach Pakistan.
And by the way, it cost $5 for over 60 litres of fuel.
Posted by Sean Kelly at 07:51 PM
September 24, 2002 GMT
Dogubayazit and the Iranian border
Stop press - we have just arrived at the Turkish border town of Dogubayazit - near to Mont Arrarat and Noah's Ark.
Will find a place to stop for the evening and make a break for Iran early as I believe the crossing maybe lengthy if not tricky. We're also a little bit worried about how the laptop will be received by the customs officials.
Oh, and some of the stone throwing kids have been practising as one of them got my front wheel this morning...
Posted by Sean Kelly at 12:52 PM
To Nemrut and beyond
Sorry, but this is a big entry as we are still moving fairly quickly and have not come across any usable internet cafes for a while...
After uploading the photos for the last update, we saddled up and went for a spin around Cappodocia. If it's not eroded or carved from volcanic rock around here, then you might as well forget about it! Feeling a bit flush we even forked out a cool 15 million Turkish Lira (£6) for a guide to drag us around the underground city of Ozknack. OK, I've see bigger wine cellars, but he got us in and out of the site in record time. On completing our little tour we chased back to a high point to watch the sunset over the mountains and bumped into a young french couple we had met earlier in the day. Things got a little bit weird at this point as they introduced us in turn to Mustapaha of the Goereme Lemon House. This lovely old fella had carved his own house from the rock in 5 months flat, and also attached a huge 'lemon store'. As we sat in his hewn front room, drinking beer and eating lemons, we and the french connection tried to work out what exactly he did with the thousands of lemons in his care. To no avail, and to this day it seems to be a mystery in the area. Maybe he's trading them on the stock market?
We returned to our backpackers' pension for dinner, and I started to wonder how much fun all these intense young folk are having on their travels. All under thirty - bar us obviously, and all retired by 12:00pm on a friday night. They seem to collect destinations like stamps. So, we hit the locals bar and watched the young turks tearing up the dance floor.
And by the way, we relocated from a dorm to a small hut on the roof obviously designed for gnomes or half-wits as a) it was tiny and b) the ladder up to it was as lethal as a Cotes building job. Hot air ballons with deafening burners 20 feet above us at 5:00am were most definately not welcome!!!!
On Saturday we said farewell to the oasis that was Kose Pension and headed off to see the ancient stone heads at Nemrut Dagi - as this was en route east and some student said we should. We didn't have enough cash to pay for the rooms, so Adrian used his visa (and remembered the number) to get some extra, fortuitously as it turned out. The scenery changed rapidly from mountain scrub, to desert, to moutainous desert and back again. The roads were excellent as our Irish tarmac crew were still some distance ahead of us - although I think we are catching up with them now as I saw a pot hole yesterday. Then we got caught in our first speed trap. Bugger. 106km/h when the national limit is 90km/h. On video the whole caboodle. The on-the-spot fine started at 40,700,000 (£17) turkish lira each. Fortunately for us this was reduced to a one-off 40,700,000 when the guy in charge realised we were english and he had a friend who has a UK kebab shop. We paid up dutifully and apologetically. And then, god bless them, they gave us some money back and waved us on our way.
After about 300 miles, we reached the town of Montya, the nearest major town to Nemrut, and got directions from a tyre dealer. He gave us directions all right, but didn't mention that the road took us 40 miles to the top of a 2150m mountain on some of the trickiest roads I have ever had to negotiate. Naiveley, we had assumed that the site would be near the town with accomodation and fuel. As we wound our way further and further from civisalisation, through remote villages we got low on fuel and the sun started to set. A local had told us there was a hotel but as the road deteriorated, we began to suspect he had mis-understood and that we would be camping out on the moutain in our bivvy bags. We had water for tea/coffee so it wouldn't be the end of the world. The heavily loaded BMWs coped pretty well with the rocky, gravelly track and just as the last light faded, we rounded a corner to see a hotel, on top of a desolate mountain, with a lawn and fountain for pete's sake!
Talk about a massive relief - and we arrived in time for a shower and a rather excellent dinner. The company included a bunch of Israeli girls, a Japanese couple and a French guy, all there to view the stones at sun-rise. So, we rose at 5:00am and joined the not-so-merry throng in a mini-bus to the summit of the mountain to watch the sun come up over the stones and miles and miles of nothing but mountains. I think this may have been the Hotel of Dr. Morreau.
After breakfast and snoozing for a few more hours, we rode the last 3 miles to the top of the mountain to view the stones in daylight. This was standing up on the pegs enduro-style stuff and quite fun in fact, I think we both have a lot more confidence in the off-road ability of the bikes as a result of this. It took about 2 hours and a fabulous ride to get back down the mountain to the outskirts on Montya - by which time we were desparate for fuel. So we stopped gratefully at the first service station displaying a Visa sign. We couldn't help notice that there were a large number of smartly dressed male turks eating and drinking at newspaper covered trestle tables spread across the forecourt of the garage. And before we could pay, we each had a seat and a plate full of rice, meat and bread as guests at a wedding. Before this I couldn't imagine a reception on a motorway service station forecourt with antiquated lorries belching acrid black smoke over the happy couple, but that was basically it! The people were so friendly even though only one guy could speak any english, but we were starving and ate well before bidding adieu.
The heat was pretty intense and progress slow, we had to stop for a break after a creature flew into my helmet and stung me on the chin! So we gave in and holed up in the only hotel in the town of Bingol. Secure parking was provided for the bikes, although this involved a horrendously steep ramp to negotiate (more off road skills required). We'd just sunk a few beers when 5 of the local police turned up to find out who the hell we were and where on earth we thought we were going. Adrian sent them on their way happy that we would not be their problem after the following morning.
Next stop the beautiful Lake Van before we break for the Iranian border...
We were on the road fairly early to take advantage of the cool morning -well 10:00am (it does take quite a while to escape from a Turkish hotel and get loaded up), and headed east for the 200 or so mile run to Lake Van. The Irish tarmac crew had been very busy and the roads were in very good condition. This combined with the fabulous mountain scenery and glorious blue skys made it really a ride to remember. Although we had been expecting heat similar to the previous day, the road climbs towards Alpine altitudes and consequently the temperature was perfect for travelling.
On the road, almost everybody waves, flashes their lights or beeps their horns as we pass. There have been quite a few army road blocks checking for Kurdish rebels, but so far they have just laughed at the rather ambitious Visas stamped into our passports and waved us on. I had heard reports from other travellers in the area that the local kids throw stones, and one or two have done this. But I don't think they are discriminating towards western europeans in particular, just motorcyclists!
The only other hazards worth a mention are the numerous herds of cows and goats the meander aimlessly across the road with complete disregard for tripe and liver. We have seen a large amount of road kill over the last few weeks, so we take it easy when we see anything remotely bovine heading in our direction.
Lake Van is huge, alkaline, shimmering blue and beautiful. Unlike the town of Van. After experiencing the world's slowest internet connection, we gave up trying to find a cheap hotel and de-camped to one we had passed on the way into town. And very nice it is too, with fabulous views across the lake after our 'good cop - bad cop' routine reduced the price to a level appropriate to our budget. The plan is to make for Dogubayazit tomorrow which is the port of exit from Turkey into Iran. The run will take us along the east side of the lake and should make for a very pleasant journey.
Posted by Sean Kelly at 12:39 PM
Rate of attrition
Well, what's gone wrong so far, not much actually...
1. Broken wire/connection on Adrian's intercom - still not fixed properly
2. Oil mist collecting in air boxes leaking out of carb inlets after prolonged high-speed running- they all do this sir
3. One fuse blown in torrential rain - replaced
4. Burned hole in arm of Aerostich jacket with exhaust pipe - patched using sleeping mat repair kit
5. Adrian's centre stand leaning increasingly to starboard
6. One temporary misfire attributed to dodgy fuel.
7. One watch strap broken and consequently one watch gone AWOL.
8. One of a pair of twin horns fried after too much use in Ankarra
Posted by Sean Kelly at 12:23 PM
September 20, 2002 GMT
David Bailey's got nothing to fear
Well, there's clearly more to this photography lark than we thought, but we're starting to get the hang of Adrian's digital camera after some disappointing initial results.
Regardless, we thought we'd post a few snaps for your obvious pleasure and delight.
Not sure when we'll post next as the availability of internet cafes in the east ot turkey may become sparse, so until the next instalment...
Adrian demonstrating this year's vagrant Bedouin look in Transylvania
Sean hamming it up as per usual at Vlad's pad in Transylvania
Have I gone deaf, or have the intercoms packed up again?
Adrian's natural beauty overshadows the world famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Cappadocia is beautiful, this just can't do it justice
Adrian at the dooway of an Iconoclastic church and discovers a quotation for repairs from P.Cotes building
Posted by Sean Kelly at 11:06 AM
September 18, 2002 GMT
Istanbul to Cappadocia
Thanks for the comments chaps, keep them coming...
After our last post, we wandered over to the Grand Bazaar for a look around. It really is quite a spectacle. Adrian thought that it reminded him of the Victoria Centre - and I must confess I could see what he meant. I had my first thick, black Turkish Coffee which had the texture of gravelly sand except not as smooth. It has kept me awake for 36 hours now and I'm starting to hallucinate!
We ate kebabs at a street stall and retired for a few beers at the hotel. In the cab home the taxi driver tried to rip us off for the fare but he didn't put up much resistance when we protested. More of this to come I suspect.
Next day we upped sticks and headed for Ankarra. We stopped en route to try and fix the intercoms and discovered a blown fuse and broken wire on Adrian's bike. We will fix this when we next stop for a few days.
We motored to Ankarra and again picked up a hotel for the night before pressing on towards Cappodcia which is where we are now as I type. We are going to spend the night in Goreme village tonight and go sightseeing the famous mud city tomorrow.
Oh, and we got moved on by a member of the Turkish army for stopping somewhere sensitive to check our maps. Needless to say we pressed on without much argument as I've seen Midnight Express and have no wish to re-enact the shower scene with anyone!!!!
Posted by Sean Kelly at 02:32 PM
September 16, 2002 GMT
Istanbul and yet more rain
We set off from Budapest and headed for the Romanian border. Weather and roads were great but after making a slight navigational error, we ended up in a small town called Debrecen about 30 miles off our route. But what the heck, that's travelling, so we found a nice enough place to stay and parked up for the night.
Next day we picked up our road and crossed into Romania without any hold ups or problems at the border post. There is a lot of difference between the two countries - with gypsies, horse and carts featuring large amongst the many hazards on the road. Whilst there was a fair stretch of pot-holed road, there must have been a huge recent, and ongoing, ec investment because most of the roads were fabulous, pristine tarmac. This place would be fabulous on an R1 believe it or not. There are an awful lot of small villages and towns along the major roads which slowed progress a little - along with the periodic teams of road builders who always stopped work to stare at the bikes as we passed. A few made gestures which I think were friendly. A misfiring Porsche would attract less attention I feel.
Anyway, we found a small family run guest house for the evening and flaked out. By this time we were a little concerned as the locals were bringing home the cattle along the major roads. I have a sneaking suspicion we were 'ripped off' for breakfast but prices were so cheap it seemed unimportant. Next day we headed for Vlad's pad and did our first real tourist stuff at the Transylvanian village of Sighisoara. Suprisingly we found out very little about the Impaler, so we saddled up and headed south for the Bulgarian border.
Given that we had hear some unfavourable reports about Bulgaria, we holed up just shy of the border at a truck stop in a place called Giorgiou. A meal, a few more beers and we crawled into bed feeling pretty shattered. An off duty copper spotted us kerb crawling for hotels and escorted us to one run by his 'good friend'.
The crossing into Bulgaria also went pretty smoothly with no delays and we set off aiming to cover the remaining distance to Turkey in one hit. Impressions of Bulgaria were brief but favourable. There seemed few people around compared with Romania and some fantastic mountains with Swiss style chalets were a suprise. The weather picked up as we dropped down the mountain and the sun seemed to become somehow more intense. I suppose we were now heading south rather than east.
We crossed Bulgarias easily by late afternoon and reached the Turkish border post. Bumped into a Brit on a pedal bike who had spent 4 weeks cycling from the UK. And I though we had it tough as he'd lost one and a half stone in the process! We had to front up some cash for a visa and insurance but otherwise had no difficulties getting through. Just seemed to take a long time.
After this, things went down hill and we had torrential rain as we drove along the excellent motorway to Istanbul. Adrian's tacho packed up, my bike developed a slight misfire and our intercoms stopped working. This slowed progress and we finally entered Istanbul a lot later than we would have liked. The roads and traffic were so bad in the rain that we bottled out and checked into a very posh hotel - the first we could actually reach. Not very hard core I know - but you should have seen the weather!
This afternoon we were going to walk to the Blue Mosque, but the heavens opened up on us yet again. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH US AND THE WEATHER!!!!! The streets were completely and utterley awash as there must be no drainage whatsoever. Lots of pedestrians were getting drowned by splash from the traffic. So we didn't walk, left the bikes making the hotel look scruffy and got a cab instead....
My ears are still ringing, we and the bikes are filthy but after 8 countries and 2300 miles in 6 days we have made it to the start of the Eastern phase of our jouney unscathed. And now I think is where the fun begins.
Oh, and we're already fed up of carrying our gear in and out of everywhere.
Posted by Sean Kelly at 03:17 PM
September 12, 2002 GMT
Arrived Thursday morning in Budapest. Beautiful weather for a change as the ride down through Germany and Austria has been dull and grey. We have just stuck to the Autobahns so not much scenery and not much to report.
My bike is still losing a little oil from the airbox breather and onto my boot whilst Adrian has had to re-adjust his tappets. One of Adrian's rocker cover nuts has escaped - at this rate there won't be much left to ship home, maybe we'll need a parcel, not a container.
Otherwise the BMWs have run well over the 1300 or so miles we have covered so far. Progress has been a little slow, but we are still on schedule to reach Istanbul by Monday. Getting up and off early is not so easy - as expected.
Also, I think my clothes are starting to get a bit 'ripe' so a laundry stop is anticpated if not essential. People in this internet cafe are giving us funny looks.
We will drive to the Romanian border this afternoon and find a hotel before riding on to Bucharest tomorrow. Everything here seems very cheap - so we are both very much at home.
Posted by Sean Kelly at 11:27 AM
September 09, 2002 GMT
Wetter than fish
Just a quick entry on our first day as innocents abroad. Drove through torrential downpours to arrive without drama to a slap up meal at the groenedijk motorcycle loft hotel, outside Ostend. Greeted by Sonya, but proprietor Ivan was, perhaps wisely, off tonight.
All is well after a couple of beers, but looking forward to a good nights kip.
Hope to post some pics soon, when we have read the instructions.
Stop press! Ivan arrived later and proceeded to relieve everyone in the bar of 5 euros each playing the game of Groenedijk Pool. A game so perverse he must surely have invented it!
Posted by Sean Kelly at 10:30 PM