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Flag of Iran  , Qazvīn,
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

So this morning we left Tabriz. It's the first time I’ve been a bit heavy-hearted about moving along. The road is always beckoning to show us more but sometime you just want to see more of where you are first. This was one of those times.

I had not managed to arrange a bank transfer because our hotel was not equipped with the latest advanced technology such as touch-tone phones. Calling my bank was a non-starter because I had to sit in an automated switchboard. We decided to get an early start and head for Tehran, stopping somewhere for lunch to make a skype call or borrow a phone around the time the UK banks open.

Breakfast was the same as yesterday, salty cheese, eggs and bread so chewy it was dangerous to teeth. I was woken by Marcin’s alarm which played this slightly odd noise that my brain couldn’t register as an alarm. Then got a hit on the leg and slowly the fog parted and i was alive... and still shattered. We had settled the bill last night so after loading the bikes we headed out. We road past some of the great things we’d seen with a slightly heavy heart towards the touts offering to exchange our euros for local money with which you can’t but beer. Once that was dealt with we got on the road. The way out showed us glimpses of historical buildings and waterways we’d never been close to before. We’d missed so much but had no time to stop as we were hours late on the road and had a very long ride to Tehran. It took us nearly an hour to get out of the city. We stopped for fuel and paid suspiciously more than we should have and went on our way. The fuel quality here is really excellent, the bikes are running well and the mileage we’re getting is top notch. Marcin’s has a slight issue in that he’s carrying brand new tyres and his rear has canvas hanging out. We’re getting that sorted tomorrow morning.

So once we were out the scenery started to change. We couldn’t get onto the motorway, try as we did but that didn’t bother me. For a while the economic speeds were not just expedient but vital for our survival. The driving was so bad even Marcin slowed down and he never slows down. It’s not that they drive fast so much as that they drive sporadically, changing lanes suddenly, forcing you out of the way and wandering across both lanes. They overtake without warning just to sit in front of you at the same speed, in other words they drive just like Marcin!

We went up again today to around 2200 metres and the mountains were snow covered and cold, really cold. It was one of the coldest days we’ve had. We were reading 6 degrees but the wind was biting through us, especially me with my summer jacket, worn out gloves and no heated grips.

We stopped for a photo and to do our next stupid thing in Iran. We found a nice little place in the mountains but we rode straight through the gravel to the dirt but the dirt wasn’t dirt, it was clay of some sort. It filled our treads and turned our tyres into muddy slicks in seconds. After we got the pictures we headed out. There was a step to ride over to get off the clay, I only got grip enough to jump up but standing on the pegs and bouncing for more weight. It worked and I got out with my dignity more or less intact. Marcin didn’t. His massive extra weight and lack of rubber on his back wheel left him sliding around like a... well, a heavy bike on soft clay, I guess. I ran over to help, grabbed the rear rack and pushed. More sliding. I got a better footing and he gave it some power. I got sprayed with mud and we didn’t move an inch. As we looked up a car stopped. At first I thought it must be police but it was just some local guys stopping to help. I think we probably would have been ok but it was still welcome help indeed. We got her out in a minute with all of pulling and pushing leaving me just a little muddy. We had to stop for handshakes and photographs and then we were back on the road.

At first the roads were amazing, the scenery, even after we joined the motorway was truly spectacular. The sheer scope and scale of the rugged mountain landscape was awe inspiring, a truly magnificent view that you have to experience for yourself. Soft rounded green-tinged mounds built into ragged rocky needles scraping bluntly into the cloudless sky all around us. White snowy peaks blended into the horizons at the edge of our vision. At times there was nothing else, just an endless tapestry of rugged natural beauty as far as could be seen.

Driving down a hill I heard a strange rattle. Not wanting to have any trouble in the middle of nowhere I listened intently, looking for where the noise might be coming from. Suddenly the worst happened. My bike died. She died completely, everything went dead, the dash, lights, everything. I had no power so I coasted to a halt on the shoulder hoping Marcin would notice I was missing and come back up the slip lane. Thoughts flashed through my head of recovery trucks, blogging about how bad these BMW Singes are, pulling fuses at the side of the road, replacing wires, bodging a workaround fix. I looked down and something didn’t look right, the key was moved. I tried it and everything came back on. I must have caught it with my sleeve and turned her off. Third stupid thing in Iran.

So I caught him up and we carried on. We stopped for fuel in the middle of a desert. I had done some calculations in my head and put it to Marcin. We weren’t going to make Tehran today, we had too far to go and it was cold and would be dark too soon. I also needed a phone and internet access as early as possible to arrange the wire transfer. We had hoped to do it in a fuel station at the side of the road but the fuel stop barely had fuel. Looking around there was nothing about and even motorway signs telling you where you could stop to use a mobile phone as there was no coverage anywhere else. We agreed with some reluctance on Marcin’s part to head for a large town on the way only 150 miles ahead. The transfer can take 2 or 3 days so it was vital we got to arrange it today, not so important we made it to the city to collect it. The scenery after that was totally different. It was a real slog, cold and miserable with nothing but a flat, dirt plane to look over with white mountains framing the horizon for hour after hour. The wind kicked up too, not enough to be dangerous but enough to bring an added nuisance to a tough ride. Finally, to break the monotony we hit potholes. It was like the road was just breaking up beneath us. The roads were among the worst we’d seen, the holes were dangerous, smaller bikes would have been in trouble, they were harsh enough to snap a cast wheel if you hit a bad one dead on.

Eventually we found the town after 150 miles with no break or stops. A new personal best for us. It was pretty big with only a couple of hotels so we just stopped at the first one. 35 a night, give or take the exchange rate with breakfast and internet. On the way in we passed an area full of cars and bikes although far smaller than us. We attracted a lot of interest, people stopped what they were doing to stare at the strangers. We got stuck in traffic so Marcin suggested we ride down an alley. He had the only working sat nav so I agreed. He then drove through a market into a narrow alley. I stopped to help him bump the bike round the corner so he could carry on. We just about made it and then he got on a few more yards, looked back and said with a grin, "Shit!" A local guy came up to laugh at us telling us it was a no through road and he was now stuck. Some more bumping and a lot more swearing and we turned it around. Next time we filtered as hard as we could and found our way to the hotel. My being covered in mud from head to toe didn’t go down very well but we got the room and it was pretty decent.

We went out to get some food and found the same problem we had in Tabriz. No kebabs! In London a red and blue neon sign means a kebab shop but here everything has the same kind of signs. I suppose that makes perfect sense if you think about it. We explored the whole town with no luck, no food anywhere other than a couple of sandwich shops.

People here are different. It’s more lively than Tabriz, it’s a university town and people on the streets are younger and more rebellious maybe. A lot of people showed interest in us one way or another. Most people eyed us up and down, Marcin attracted a lot of attention from them, eyeing him suspiciously. One girl didn’t notice him and then shrieked and hid behind her boyfriend when she did. This time though a lot of people were weird about it. We heard a lot of shouts and giggles and had a lot of nasty stares. Several times guys came up to us and asked where we were from but everything was fine when we told them. They just smiled, shook our hands and welcomed us. The problem is people are taking us for Americans. They clearly don’t see a lot of white people here and the prejudice and resentment runs deep. Everyone asks us where we’re from and are always fine when we tell them. We stopped at a motorway toll and asked how much. The young man working there asked where we were from. When we told him he just smiled and let us through for free. No problem. Anyone else visiting I would strongly recommend doing something that shows people where you’re from. Maybe an extra sticker of your national flag? There is a great deal of negative feeling here towards the Americas which is totally understandable because there’s a great deal of equally unwarranted feeling towards them from what they understand as being the whole Western world.

We got some food in the end and were told proudly it was traditional Iran food. I found some Falafel and ordered that. Marcin ordered spaghetti, an Iranian delicacy apparently. We were pretty surprised when both came in a sandwich. Marcin decided that a spaghetti sandwich was fine but just to be on the safe side he ordered another sandwich with chicken and some soup. Washing all this down with a lemon flavoured alcohol-free beer was very strange. The food was ok, nothing special but it was just a sandwich shop. We haven’t found much else here, there are no restaurants or other social eating places. We’re hoping Tehran might be better in this respect but have read it’s not likely to be very good.

So there we are. All up to date. Tomorrow we’re taking an easy ride into Tehran after getting a tyre fitted to Marcin’s bike. My fuel system has packed in again. No idea why, everything looks fine. My only thought is it could be the cold. It is a pressure operated vacuum system and not a great one at that. When I think about it then it’s only be difficult when the temperature gets very low. I will give her some attention in the morning.

We’re then stuck in Tehran until the money arrives. It’ll be nice to have a break but would be nicer with booze. A good night out with the other bikers would hit the spot just right. We should arrive pretty early so we might be able to source some beer somewhere.
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