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The Iranian border. What the hell was I doing here? Now would have been a good point to turn around. It had been a great trip so far...Eastern Europe. The sweeping plains of Hungary...The misty mountains of Transylvania.. The Black Sea coast and Istanbul...The bizarre landscapes of Cappadocia and the wide open spaces of Kurdestan. A great trip. Why go further? I thought as I rolled up to the barriers. This was where the adventure really began....
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Get yourself a drink, lean back and click on MORE below for further stories, witty anecdotes AND PHOTOS!....
I'd engaged the services of a local to get me through the process. It was worth it. My passport was put on the top of piles and the 'where is green card?' insurance queries were smoothed over. Within an hour I'd legally left Turkey and was coasting down a wide and dusty valley towards Maku, the first large town in Iran.
Another country. Another culture. Another language to grapple with. Was that a Hillman Hunter in my rear view mirror....?
The previous week had seen me riding through an increasingly arid yet spectacular landscape stopping over in Sanliurfa, near the Syrian border, Tatvan and Van on the side of Lake Van. The further east I rode the fewer western travelers I encountered. The atmosphere was taking on a more Middle Eastern feel - which I liked - and I found myself becoming more comfortable with solo travel. Men in road cafes invited me to join them and were always curious as to my route and plans. I'd bought a small scale map of the whole route with me and was marking on it the roads I'd taken so far. Great ice breaker. That and photos in the 'Istanbul to Kathmandu' guide book.
I finally rejoined the beaten track at Dogubayzit (also known as 'Dog biscuit') - about 35kms from the border - where I'd planned to stay for a couple of days before the 'big push' to Iran. I particularly wanted to see the Ishak Pasa Sarayi - a stunning palace/fortress high above the town - a picture of which I'd looked at wistfully years ago on an old 'Turkey' guide book.
I rode the steep and rough track to the fortress and pulled over to take in the spectacular.....smell? Coffee?! I followed my (well trained) nostrils to the campfire of Arlette and Marc from Bern, where they were brewing fresh coffee. Exquisite! Ah, you can always rely on ze Swiss.
I'd also hoped to tie up with other Overlanders who, according to the guidebook, '...throng to the campsite beneath the fortress where the food is excellent and the bar rocks in the evening with travelers sinking their last beers before entering Iran'. I had to be there. That night I sat on my own in a large bar, empty but for one man playing an electronic keyboard and what sounded like Turkey's entry for the Eurovision song contest circa 1977. Rocked? I wasn't. Seemed like nobody was heading for Iran these days. I had a restless night's sleep.
I left the next day. Somewhat quicker than planned due to being attacked by the 'Beast of Dogbiscuit' - the largest dog/hyena I've ever seen - as I cautiously descended the rough track down to the main road. A sign that it was time to leave Turkey? I took it as one and rode east to the border...
Iran. How would a British biker be received? I was feeling apprehensive.
For the first time on the trip I felt a little uneasy - maybe I should have taken those GB stickers off...relationships between Britain and Iran were tense due to Nuclear issues. I made a note to avoid the topic - stick to talking about the weather...
My destination that night was Tabriz a distance of around 350kms of dust and highway. I was expecting this. It was the 'Dusty Highway' after all....
It was smooth and wide enough but the driving had taken on an urgency... You MUST overtake the car in front NO MATTER WHAT - and it doesn't matter how you do it. And all the cars seemed to be 1970s Hillman Hunters. How did that happen? These cars were at their most dangerous around dusk. I rode into Tabriz - around dusk.....
Click on MORE below for PHOTOS, 'Tales from Tabriz' and an in-depth discussion about the future of Nuclear power in the Middle East.
The Lonely Planet recommended the Hotel Morvarid who....' allow guests to keep their motorcycles in the lobby'. That'll do nicely. All I had to do was find it.
As you near these towns you are pulled in by some gravitational force which you can't fight. You find yourself 'sucked in' to the core of the city unable to turn left or right. I wrestled the bike through the wild traffic like a man gaining momentum through rapids towards a waterfall.....Fortunately my calculations had been correct and I was washed up outside the Hotel. I breathed a sigh of relief and, sure enough, was invited to bring the bike in.
I unloaded the bike, showered and stepped apprehensively out onto the street in an effort to find somewhere to eat. Not easy. I was familiar with Turkey where restaurants 'shouted' for your custom. This was different - you had to look for them. 'Luckily' an English speaking local, Saeed, came to my rescue and led me to a cafe lined with men smoking Hookah pipes. I was greeted, shown a seat and a pipe was prepared for me.
'Most agreeable', is the phrase that a Victorian traveler would have used. Smooth and mellow..but - I'd rather have a coffee and cigarette. Interestingly enough, I later found the following on a 'Hookah" website.
"Don't let the fruity flavours fool you into thinking shisha is harmless. You are still getting all the tar and nicotine of an ordinary cigarette, along with some nasty hydrocarbons from the smouldering charcoal. A 45-minute session of smoking a hookah pipe is the equivalent of having nine cigarettes".
Hmmm. Nine cigarettes in 45 minutes. Time for some fresh air.
I thanked Saeed, bade farewell to the smokers and returned to the Hotel where the foyer was looking considerably busier than when I left. Three more bikes had turned up. Three bikes and four bikers.
Bill and Rich were supping tea in the foyer. ' The girls will be down in a minute - they're getting 'dressed'. Jo and Becky appeared in their now compulsory Iranian headscarf - the Hijab. Jo grinned sheepishly and Becky scowled. 'I HATE this!' she hissed. Her 'attitude' was to get her into a number of confrontations the further east they rode....
I'd been feeling lonely so really enjoyed their company and an evening of British humour put me back on track. Our paths were to cross many times over the following months.
But I was bound for Teheran unlike the others who were, perhaps wisely, bypassing the city heading South.
Friends of friends who'd helped arrange my visa, had also arranged for me to stay in their company apartment - normally set aside for visiting businessmen. Excellent. It was with their emailed map lashed to my tankbag that I plunged into the mayhem that is Teheran's system of highways like a pilot from the 'Dambusters'....
10 km from Tehran I'd become more focussed as the traffic intensified and quickened. Although the motorway had three lanes they were driving as if there was FIVE lanes. Unbelievable. It really felt as if I'd driven into a stock car race. I held my ground as best I could , chisel jawed and squint-eyed, sweeping from one motorway junction to the next. And, despite being swept North instead of South at one intersection, I finally made it through the chaos to the piped muzak calm of the Hotel Homa.
I was met by my man - in Iran - Mr Azizian. " Mr Roberts? We've been expecting you...".Within the hour later it was smoking jacket, pipe and slippers and satellite TV in the company's luxurious apartment. Life on the road. It's tough but someone's got to do it....
Next: The sights and delights of Teheran.
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