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Flag of Iran  ,
Thursday, November 3, 2011


A fairly easy day today apart from being followed by the spectre of death everywhere we went. We woke up in the quiet little town between Tabriz and Tehran with only about 70 miles left to get to the city. I guess it would have been a more interesting story if we'd woken up in a different place to where we slept but sadly that didn’t happen.

Breakfast was pretty standard, the only downside is they fed us western bread instead of the home spun stuff. Not that either is better but it’s nice to do the local thing while we’re here. Three American women were staying at the hotel, they were attracting a lot of the wrong kind of attention around the lobby with their loud voices. I wonder how well they’ll fare on their travels. I guess it’s easier to blend in here for women. With a scarf covering most of your head it’s simple to go unnoticed. I’m bald with a shaved head, Marcin is the opposite and Blonde and we stand out like a pork pie at a Jewish wedding, or indeed a Muslim one.

Marcin went to change his rear tyre, I stayed behind. It’s a good job I did because something I’d eaten finally caught up with me. We’re both looking a bit run down, our faces are red from the cold and wind burn, our lips are chapped and our stomachs are holding on as best they can. Well mine stopped holding on and I had to make a mad dash to the little-boys room. After a couple of clearouts that were so ferocious I felt it might be necessary to count the bones in my spine I felt washed out but a little better. We’re both a bit dehydrated, a lack of money and shops is making water difficult to find. They buy in bulk here and we can’t carry large packets of small bottles so we search for big ones. Luckily the last few hotels have had fridges with water in them and we’ve been drinking that. Turns out it was just kitchen tap water and we’ve been mostly fine so we’re topping our systems up now and making a point of carrying as much H2o as possible. Marcin came back, riding on a shiny new TKC80 with a radically different tread pattern to mine but it looks like it means business while we ride into the savage highways of Pakistan. He grinned at me asking to guess how much it cost him. I already had a good idea. They did it for free, of course. From the attention we got, especially the giant KTM I knew they would probably do that. They even cleaned up some of the dirt and stopped to pose for pictures!

So we hit the road, the hotel was hot and unpleasant and the fresh air cleaned up my head and guts nicely and the bug was forgotten quickly. We took a brief interval to call the embassy on our way out No answer and the message box was full. Not a massive problem as Tehran was close. We planned to find a hotel and then head straight there. We had a hotel in mind, found off the internet and was already loaded into the GPS so it should be an easy ride. It was but we suffered from the same slogging conditions as the day before, nothing to see and an easy straight road. The kind of slog where your mind wanders.

I got the impression that Tehran was going to be big when we hit the city sprawl 35km before the signs said we arrived. By the time we were at that distance the roads were getting busy and the driving standard had deteriorated badly. We plodded on. Attention from other drivers was positive but not always very welcome. People leant out and waved, honked their horns and tried to chat with us at 65mph, wobbling dangerously close while other drivers blindly lurched in front of us. It was a warm welcome but you really just want them to stay in lane and a friendly smile would have done nicely.

The roads got more and more congested until we were stationary. In fact, everyone was stationary. We went through a tunnel and fought our way to the front down bus lanes which seem to be open to bikes. Bikes in fact seem to be ignored. The locals pay a different price for fuel to what we were told so maybe there have been recent changes. We stopped for gas along the way and Marcin tried to argue for a better price. The pumps advertised 4000 per litre but jump to 7000 when the gas starts. The locals now get a gas card entitling them to 60 litres at the cheaper price, after that we all pay the higher rate. Bikes get no concessions at all, only car drivers and presumably they have to apply. In the end it’s like a reversal of the British road tax system where they apply for a right to drive on the road and get paid to do it which is a brilliant system except the tax has leapt so high so suddenly that I can’t help thinking that the locals must be feeling the pinch.

We sat in traffic endlessly, at one point on a hill where the lights changed every three minutes for about 20 seconds so we crawled along, sweating in our cold-weather gear and helmets, too big with our luggage to slip through gaps, not that there were any and if we were slow enough to leave one four or five cars tried to jump into it. I turned off the engine as often as I could to help her to cool down but even so, she was overheating badly. The fan was running constantly, she’s not a great city traffic bike, she like to run free and frolic in the wild green yonder, running free with her kind, not stuck in traffic being stared at by the entire population of the town. I told Marcin I wanted to pull over and let her cool down. He didn’t seem keen, he’s never keen on suggestions that slow his rampant progress forwards. Then his clutch seized on so he suddenly came round to the idea. Mine was pinking and growing increasingly bad as she got hotter, his was playing up too, cutting out and spluttering, both were pinking slightly under heavy acceleration.

So we stopped at a hotel which the GPS took us to. It was pretty obvious it wasn’t the right one. We were looking for cheap, they were going for rich. They offered us a room for $100 a night, i negotiated it down to $70. It was still early so Marcin thought it best to find something cheaper and so the mad frenzy of riding around looking for a hotel began. First we got lost and then we asked directions. That got us nowhere as asking for advice from someone who speaks a massively different language cannot end well. In the end one of them got into his car to lead us to the hotel he knew. We followed for around an hour until we eventually pulled up at a slightly dishevelled place which was far more our style.. I went in as "I’m better at that sort of thing" and began the negotiation. They wanted even more money than the last place so we left! Outside a couple approached us and asked if we spoke English. They were lost and the irony of them coming and asking us was not lost on anyone there. We asked where they were staying and got a card. The driver insisted he knew it and we headed off to sit in stationary traffic for another two hours in which time we moved barely 200 yards. We saw him using his phone and asking drivers for directions, I had a bad feeling about this!

In the end after a painfully long and dangerous ride we did find the right place. We negotiated it down to 40 000 rials which apparently works out to 20. Marcin wanted to find somewhere cheaper and we did but cheaper meant no breakfast, nowhere to park the bikes, no internet and a free-standing Calor Gas heater screwed halfway up the wall.

I decided the hotel we were at was fine and 20 was cheap enough so we stayed in the end. The man who seemed to be in charge is the kind of guy who is so keen to do everything imaginable to help that he flusters himself doing it. Nothing was too much trouble or too complicated.  After unpacking our gear we went for a walk to find the British Embassy. Our long wait in traffic had meant that normal office hours were over and we were now relying on the 24 hour duty staff. We discussed other important matters with the man in charge such as the availability of black market alcohol. We were advised and provided a map to the Armenian club which was likely to satisfy our needs.

We found it on foot with little trouble. It’s an anonymous grey building with spikes and barbed wire and armoured doors and guards. Anything with that much security can’t be good.

We were allowed in but they were closed for the weekend which falls a day ahead of ours in the West. This meant nobody was available to process our cash until Sunday morning, a full two days. We left pretty dejected, we’d lost a day already after making good time getting this far. We wandered aimlessly to the club and discussed our options, selling equipment or scratching together our cash and making a dash to the border, camping and not eating along the way. In the end we decided it was probably the best option.
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