I ended my last report from Astara on the coast of the Caspian Sea. From there I ventured along the coast road to Rasht and then down to Tehran. Again I attracted the attention of the local plod, this time in the guise of motorway police. They pulled me over just for a good look at the car and couldn’t even guide me to a good hotel.
After driving around the major routes of Tehran for about an hour I stopped to study the map and try to figure out whereabouts I was in relation to the city. Suddenly there was a whoop of joy and two lads on a motorcycle stopped alongside me. We chatted for several minutes and I asked them if they could give me directions. They said that they could do better than that and told me to follow them. After about 15 minutes of weaving through Tehran traffic, and that’s a feat not to be under-rated, we arrived at a great hotel. The lads wouldn’t accept anything for their trouble except a postcard each.
On the second day in Tehran I realised that I was fast running out of US Dollars. I had already established that travellers cheques and debit/credit cards were not accepted in most of Iran, but I thought in the capital it might be different. A quick call to the British Embassy soon settled that as they confirmed that neither method of payment would be accepted only hard currency, US Dollars, Euros, GB Pounds. So I decided I would have to budget tightly and make a dash for the border. It was going to mean pushing Bridget a little harder than I wanted before arriving at the Pakistan border but needs must.
From Tehran I drove down to Esfahan some 300 miles south. Although the car was not sounding too good at the end she coped very well. We ran out of petrol some 50 miles short of our destination. Iran is the 3rd largest producer of oil in the world and yet they have to queue for fuel. I have passed queues of lorries as long as ¾ mile. The problem is simply that they haven’t got enough filling stations. They also have a ration scheme whereby they are allocated a number of litres of very cheap (under 7p a litre) fuel each month and use a chip and pin card in the similar way to a mobile phone pay-as-you-go card. Once they have used their allocation they have to pay almost four times more, around 25p per litre.
Anyway, as I said, Bridget ran out of fuel and so I used one of the jerry cans for the first time. As usual, although in a lay-by on a major route, a small number of people gathered to take photos and just as I was about to leave a car pulled up and asked one of the onlookers how far it was to the next service area? As he didn’t have enough petrol to get there I gave him some fuel from one of the cans and you would think I had handed him a bar of gold he was that grateful.
Well we arrived in Esfahan in the mid forties degree centigrade and Bridget needed a rest so we took a day off. I decided to walk around the town to see what might be of interest. Iran is big on Mosques in the same way as Italy is with Duomo’s, so I was hoping for something different. I found a building that looked similar but in some way different to the normal mosque so decided to make a closer inspection. It turned out to be a famous (in the Muslim world) school of theology called Chaharbagh. It’s architecture, decoration and setting is really beautiful. As I was about to leave I was approached by a man in uniform who said “Hello welcome to Esfahan. What country are you from?” So I told him and we spoke for several minutes during which I noticed an emblem on his shoulder and the word Police! His English was very good so I asked him what department of the police he was in. He replied “I am with the Tourist Police”. Without thinking I pointed to his gun and said “And is that for shooting bad tourists?” Fortunately he realised that it was my unusual sense of humour and laughed politely. We were joined by another man who wanted to ask some questions and it turned out that he is a Mullah and teaches at the school. I was invited to tea (which they drink all day long) with him in his ‘cell’ and he offered to be my guide for the rest off the day.
The remainder of that day we spent site seeing, and in discussion about pretty much everything, including politics and religion. There was one interlude in a bazaar whilst we were talking, a couple stopped us and the lady said “I saw you on the road yesterday in that beautiful car”. This was followed within two minutes by another couple approaching us and asking if they could have their photo taken with me. They had never set eyes on me before nor I them: the whole episode was quite surreal.
The 1st August and back on the road completing over 5000 miles since the start of this adventure. We made our way without any undue events to Yazd. It appears on the face of it to be just another provincial town but I am learning that in Iran outside appearances can be deceptive. I was picked up by the tourist police at a road junction coming into town and given an escort to a hotel. From the outside appearance it wasn’t very promising but inside it was splendid.
Bridget was running so well today that I was tempted to go on to Kerman, the next planned stop, but decided not to push to much before the ‘robbers road’ in Pakistan. It would have been a total of over 500 miles and the midday temperature was 47/48°according to the weather people here. There’s no doubt that leaving early morning and stopping around midday is much better for the car.
Saturday and another 200 miles closer to Pakistan. We arrived at Kerman around 12:00 and quickly found a ‘Tourist Police’ car with three willing officers to escort me to a hotel. This time I also received a cold drink as well! On the drive I was flagged down a couple of times to have photo’s taken and was stopped twice at police checkpoints. A senior officer at the second checkpoint kindly gave me a bag of pistachio nuts, so all in all the ‘boys in blue’ are in favour at the moment.
I fell into the company of several students that use this hotel to ‘chill out’ and was invited out for the evening. I thought it was exceedingly nice of them to invite a ‘wrinkly’ along and it was a great opportunity to learn their thoughts on the future of their country and their own aspirations. They were surprisingly frank and confirmed a number of things that I have previously heard or were hinted at. The government is widely unpopular and the international politics have little support. The feeling seems to be that if the UN is correct about weapons, the money could be better spent on necessities for the people and that might also remove the sanctions that are causing considerable inconvenience.
The religious police that we heard so much about after the downfall of the Shah are still very active, threatening peoples livelihoods and futures if they don’t obey the strict codes of conduct, particularly things such as women’s dress.
Today is Sunday 3rd August and we have arrived in Bam. The earthquake of 4/5 years ago almost totally destroyed the city and the evidence of the devastation is still everywhere to be seen. Although there is building work going on it appears that more housing is desperately required.
That’s all for this report. We move to Zahedan tomorrow which is within 30 miles of the Pakistan border and is the last place we will stop in Iran. I plan to stay over for two days and give Bridget a check over before going on to the ‘robbers road’.