Stuck in the middle with you!

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Flag of Iran  , East Azarbaijan,
Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So we woke up this morning full of optimism, went to the bank and then went to breakfast and filled ourselves with eggs, bread and odd little bits of soft cheese. Marcin said he was eating a lot in case we didn't get lunch but the truth is he always eats a lot and a free buffet is a scary place to be standing in front of him. Breakfast was good, the food was simple but decent and tasted fresh. There was more Turkish/Iranian tea and no coffee... I need coffee.

So with no money we headed out to try our luck. We made an early start, cursing our alarms and got to the main bank as it opened. We took the bikes first, we hadn’t realised how close it was. Once inside we struggled to find someone who spoke English but a guy helped us out and gave us directions halfway across town. Worrying about fuel we took the bikes back. We tried to go down a side street but it turned out to be an alley so we turned about. By the time we got round the police were waiting. They just wanted to give us some hassle, they checked my passport but were only interested in where we from, nothing else. They asked silly questions like what was in Marcin’s case and what was in fuel tank and then they left. We left too and headed back. We ate and contemplated our next move. We had until 2 to sort this out and armed with the knowledge that the central bank could help we decided to walk there. We were not in the best of moods, optimistic but slightly gloomy. We knew we were in trouble, the setback if we crossed back into Turkey could end our trip for good. We were desperate to avoid that. We came up with as many options as we could, none of which were a good solution. Along the way we went into a travel agency. It just occurred to us that they may be able to help or offer some advice. Three young ladies in typical Iranian dress with headscarves greeted us, one spoke reasonable English. We explained our problem and then there was a mad ramble between them for a solution. The two who couldn’t talk were very interested in Marcin. He slouched in the chair they invited us to sit in like he owned the place and the novelty value of a giant Viking sprawling in their sofa reduced the ladies to giggling school girls. Interesting!

The one speaking with me gave me some paper and told me where the bank was. She said we had to get a cab and produced a note. Another girl produced a note and they came around. Marcin and I exchanged glances and then she gave us the money for a cab. We refused very politely but were more than a little surprised at this generosity to a complete stranger with no way to pay them back.

We walked and stopped at another bank for advice and were given directions to the central one we were apparently in need of reaching. We were walking along, noticing the amount of Pergeot 405s there are here, there are thousands, every 3rd car is a Pergeot 405, sometimes called other things but always the same. Then, another one passed us, honking its horn. We had learnt to ignore it. Honestly, there is no point in America invading this country. If they really wanted to do some damage then don’t use guns, they hurt people, just take away their car-horns and the country would slump into a deep depression, their driving would become joyless and empty. We looked as this car carried on honking its horn. It was the guy from the bank and he was offering us a lift. This time we accepted his generous offer and on the way up we were glad we did, it was a long way and he pointed out the things we should see like any man proud of his town. So he dropped us off at the bank wanting nothing more than to shake our hands and wish us luck, this man knew we had no money so couldn’t have wanted anything from us. The Milli bank was large, guarded by police and looked important. For the first time I had a sense that we just might get this sorted. We went in and the man at reception stood up and greeted us with the usual big smile and "welcome to Iran" which is occasionally interchangeable with “Welcome to Tabriz.” We explained our problem and were told the Visa department was upstairs. A strong sense of relief washed over us and the mood lifted. We headed up and asked our way to the department to be met only with a man who explained it was not possible. Dejectedly we sloped outside to form another plan. We were now left with another suggestion that the touts trying to exchange dollars might be able to help us. In desperation I went back into the bank and talked with the man on reception. He seemed quite annoyed that my service had been less than I had hoped and stormed upstairs to shout at the man I had spoken with earlier. This time he said it was possible and began doing the paperwork. It seemed like we were finally out of trouble and it was a nice place not to be. I had my passport copied, I filled in some forms and I waited for my cash. Finally the man came back and asked me for the money. I reminded him that I had no money, I wanted to get some on my card. He repeated that it was not possible, he just thought it might be for a minute and did the paperwork.

So I left and we met up outside the bank. We were beginning to worry. We went and found one of the black market cash dealers who said it would be no problem. He took us to a place with a glowing neon sign that said “Visa Card”. We breathed a sigh of relief. He came back and said it was not possible. We tried a few other people in a few other places and the same thing. We even went back to the visa place ourselves and they told us it was not possible. We went to find tourist information as we’d been advised they might be able to help. They were just typical government officials with their hands out. We told them what was going on, had some free tea and listened to him explain this happens a lot and he could help us. We met some other bikers outside of Istanbul and he let us try to ring them. They didn’t answer and we didn’t know if our texts were getting through. He tried to charge us for the phone call but I told him we’d come back and thank him properly later and he seemed happy with that. In desperation we rattled together our loose change left over from other countries. We had about 7, 6 euros and 50 Polish Zloti. It wasn’t going to get us far and it certainly wouldn’t pay our hotel fees. The tourist guy helped us turn it into the local currency and it should have been enough to fill both of our bikes and get us back to the Turkish border. Of course the hotel had our passports and we owed them money. What I could do at the border I didn’t know, I was hoping I could wing something, bribe an official to let me get some cash at a cashpoint. I just knew we were getting nowhere in town.

Back at the hotel I borrowed a phone and called the embassy. I spoke to a woman called, Sandra who asked the obvious question, didn’t you know about the situation in Iran? Well I would think the answer to that is pretty obvious by now. In the end she had a partial solution. I could transfer money from my account to a company who would forward it to the embassy in Tehran. It was still a long day’s ride and we didn’t have the fuel for it. We also didn’t have any passports or enough money for fuel to get there but I took the details anyway.

We waited patiently for news from our fellow bikers and then finally a miracle. A text got through saying they could lend us some money. We were massively relieved, finally we were getting somewhere. Now we could get to Tehran and collect money once we arrived. It looked like we wouldn’t have to turn back.

We went back out for a walk, this time with a bit more enthusiasm. Marcin wanted to buy a bulb, a H3 spotlight bulb to replace a blown one. We went into one place to be told they didn’t have one and couldn’t help. While Marcin was asking what to do a young lad came round and took us to the best place, a big mini-mall selling nothing but car spares, he then led us to a shop he said would be good. We tried there. The guy who clearly owned it came back with the right bulb, we asked how much and were told, “It’s no problem. It’s a gift.” Before we could really say anything they brought us out free Tea and chocolate. We chatted about the country and left with nothing more than a handshake between us. For the next few hours we wandered and it was the same. People were friendly, interested and just wanted to come and meet us. We stopped to take photos of peoples bikes and in every case they invited us to sit on them, just happy we were interested in them and their city.

At one point we went back to the Bazar in a quest to find booze under the counter. A young lad dressed as Mickey Mouse wanted to have his picture taken with us!

As the hours dragged by we began to worry a bit about our friends as text messages didn’t seem to want to get through. We finally got a message saying where they were and that they could spare us 250 euros. We rode down to the hotel which was only just down the street from ours but it was nice to ride our bikes without the bulk of the luggage on them. My little single managed 201.5 miles before we filled up and still no sign of reserve. I was dead pleased.

They were out getting some food so we wandered about. We found a bar full of old guys smoking those glass pipe things. They saw us looking and started waving so we went in to say hello. We were invited in with lots of hand shaking and tea was brought for us. We were invited to sit down and ended up at the back with the younger guys who spoke the best English. We’re still not sure how they work but the guys didn’t seem to be particularly affected by it. One of them told us, “What else is there to do? There’s no drink, no dancing, no girls!” You can’t argue with that.

So finally we met up with our friends. They’re in Tehran in a couple of days and so are we so once the money situation is sorted we’ll be able to buy them a drink and say thanks. For saving our arse.

The population of this town are amazing. Everyone is interested in what we’re doing and there’s a real sense of pride in the town, the culture, the history and the people. In a way I’m glad this happened. It got us off the bike and got us mixing with a warm and welcoming town in a great way. One of them told us, “The Iranian people are great, the government is bad.” Where is that not true?

We chatted about things during the endless walking we did today and Marcin and myself agreed on something. America wants to invade, they want this country’s oil. We met some soldiers, they were happy to have their picture taken, happy to chat and nothing but friendly but they’re just kids. Kids with guns and the last thing they want is a fight. There is nothing here that could stop the juggernaut of American military power and no reason on Earth other than profit that it would have its eye on this great little country. The people are warm, decent family-oriented people who just want to get on with the business of tooting their horns at one another on the busy main roads. They’re not looking for a fight and they don’t want one. They’ve been sanctioned out of the international banking system so they just got on with making their own and it works fine. They have a really great balance of capitalism where there’s a decent standard of living for most people without the trappings of too much excess.

When I hear on the news that America is warmongering here it will be a real blow. Everyone should visit here and see it for yourself. It’s been amazing. Where else will people offer to help you when you tell them you have no money? Certainly not London.
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