Iran

Monday afternoon here, and we’re still visa-less for India. We haven’t given up either hope or effort – I’ll let today’s blog title speak for itself (credit goes to ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’).

We’ve got 70 hours left within which we need to score a touch-down – so watch this space okay ⏰

PS: Karen got her stitches out today at a local hospital and they were just brilliant! We have nothing but praise for the medical services she has received in Iran….exceptional!

 

Yep, that’s right folks – if it’s Sunday morning we’re back at the Indian Embassy in Tehran, ever hopeful that they’ll shift into gear and organise our visas as time is rapidly running out.

We caught a taxi down to the embassy and got there just after 09:10am, and were surprised to find the visa section open as the embassy website advertises open hours of 10:00am – midday.

The waiting room was sparsely populated this morning – a stark contrast to our previous experience, and familiar with the system we queued up at the first window to be logged in, then queued up at the second window, directly behind a young Italian guy applying for his visa. He has previously lived and worked in Finland, China and India in his work associated with student support services, and was hoping to go work in India again.

We chatted with the Italian guy for a while, and a young Iranian lady – the only one I’ve seen here in Iran to have facial piercings – a bold statement in such a conservative society.

We didn’t have to wait too long before we were served – and were then told to wait another 30 minutes as some discussion was required. A while later we were instructed to queue up waiting for admittance to the inner sanctum – the waiting room we’d been in previously, and eventually we were summonsed to see the senior visa officer.

He offered us visas for air travel which we politely declined, and then Karen launched into a passionate description of our travels, and our need for the visas. The visa officer was quite taken with our stories and was impressed when we showed him some photos of our motorbike – fully loaded with gear and 2 x spare tyres, and with Karen wedged in behind me – and he disappeared upstairs to seek approval whilst we waited again in the waiting room, but ten minutes later he stormed into his office and slammed the door shut – the body language did not bode well.

A few minutes later one of his minions came out and told us that approval was still required from New Delhi, and that we should return in two days time. How frustrating – we knew that approval from New Delhi was required a fortnight ago and still no answer has been received.

Back at our hotel we mapped out our next moves – we’ll return to the embassy tomorrow to get an update, and we’ll be ready to escalate our case to New Delhi ourselves if necessary. We also put out an SOS to the Horizons Unlimited New Delhi community – perhaps they have some magic oil we can grease the embassy’s immovable wheels with.

Dinner was enjoyed at the Tehran Chinese Restaurant – the food was good as always and the staff there pleased to see us return, and then it was early to bed, with Sjaak Lucassen again waxing lyrically from the DVD player. We’d hoped for a restful sleep as last night sleep was difficult to come by, unfortunately this evening proved no better. The stress caused by this ongoing wrangle with the embassy never leaves us.

Chilling in Tehran …

After our 920km ride from Shiraz to Tehran yesterday, today was planned as a down day, allowing us to relax before we go visit the Indian Embassy here in Tehran.

In reality, ‘relaxing’ translated to myself spending all day and most of the evening drafting and redrafting a memo to various embassy diplomats seeking assistance with our visa applications. If we fail in our last-ditch attempt at least we’ll have the knowledge that we tried everything we could think of.

Karen spent the day uploading photo galleries to our blog, a time-consuming activity that was impossible to do in either Esfahan or Shiraz as the internet connections there were too slow. She also patiently reviewed each and every draft I worked on – that’s teamwork for you!

We also finally managed to watch the DVD we bought months ago from Sjaak Lucassen – “Sjaak the World” – “The story of a motorcycle trip that none of us will ever take” – 5 years, 5 months and 1 day travelling the world on his R1. Karen suggested that we have a movie night for the “Perth Motorbike & Sidecar Riders” group when we return to Perth and show the video, and have a small cover charge and then send the proceeds to Sjaak to help him with his plans to ride his R1 to the North Pole. That’s the great thing about Karen – she’s always thinking about how she can help other people 🙂

 

My original route for Iran consisted of Tabriz – Tehran – Esfahan – Shiraz, then out to Yazd, Kerman and Bam enroute for the wild east frontier town of Zahedan where we would set ourselves up to cross into Pakistan, but I hadn’t counted on the bureaucracy of the Indian Embassy in Tehran, so from Shiraz Karen and I needed to return to Tehran to once again try and obtain our visas for India.

On Thursday I was looking at some maps and gauging distances, as if we get our Indian visas in Tehran we’ll need to bolt to Zahedan to meet a convoy of overland travellers and quickly cross Pakistan’s western lands with them, before our Pakistan visas expire, and when asked by Karen how far the return trip from Shiraz to Tehran was I erroneously said “630km” (this is actually the distance from Tehran to Yazd), rather than the correct answer of 920km.

Around four o’clock Friday morning I woke up having realised my mistake, and I fretted over that for the next two hours until the alarm went off at six am, and I could explain the error to Karen. To be quite honest the stress of the India visa challenges is having a flow-over effect, and I’m making mistakes in simple things like distances and dates, something I’m usually pinpoint accurate with. At least my riding hasn’t suffered, not yet anyways.

Karen was unperturbed about the additional 300km we’d need to cover in order to get to Tehran in one day, as the alternative meant stopping overnight at the halfway point (Esfahan) and that would introduce its own set of challenges, so we loaded the bike and were leaving Shiraz’s city limits by 07:30am.

We stopped for fuel just out of Marvdast, perhaps 40km north of Shiraz, to ensure that we had the range to reach Esfahan. We’d planned also to get a drink but some big guys at the servo were taking too much interest in the bike so we refuelled, remounted and rode off immediately.

We stopped again in Surmaq to find some breakfast, as Karen had spotted a cafe that was open. Some men inside were reclining on a large day-bed, sharing food and smoking their pipe, and I tried to order two omelettes, similar to what some of the men were eating, but we were served with a tomato paste and something concoction, and some flat bread. I ate the sloppy mix with my flat bread but Karen thought it reminded her of dog vomit and couldn’t eat it. We bought some little cakes from the shop next door and hit the road again.

We stuck to the 110kmh speed limit and made steady progress back to Esfahan, averaging an actual on-ground speed of about 90-95kmh by virtue of our stops and occasional slow traffic conditions – the most extreme of these being the police checkpoints along the road that have speed bumps to slow you down to a crawl as you pass the officers standing on the side of the road. The external temperature down here was about 36.5 degrees – warm but manageable.

We refuelled about 40km south of Esfahan – our intention being to then stick to the ring-road deviation around Esfahan and avoid the need to enter Esfahan city for fuel, but the deviation was poorly sign-posted and we got sucked into the vortex of Esfahan. As I battled with the traffic and Karen kept her eyes peeled for the few road signs that vaguely pointed the way towards Tehran we attracted the attention of two men onboard a little Honda 125cc motorbike, and they started to follow us.

I slipped through a red-light – to be quite honest if you stop on the red you run the risk of being rear-ended by cars because they are expecting you to go through – and the little motorbike came along with us, pulling up alongside Karen with the rider gesturing at her to pull over. Karen presumed that the rider was one of the guys that had tried to get our attention a few minutes prior, and she just waved back, indicating that we didn’t have time to pull over and stop for a friendly chat. Over the Sena intercom Karen advised me to keep on riding.

The rider then pulled forwards a bit and when I glanced over I could see the badge on his uniform, the pepper spray he was holding in his left hand, and the AK47 slung over his pillion’s chest. That was enough for me – we pulled over and stopped in some shade on the side of the road, the Honda blocking our forwards movement once we’d come to a stop.

Neither of the two policemen could speak a word of English, but we ascertained that they wanted to see the bike registration papers, so I pulled the laminated papers out of the tank bag and passed them over. The rider inspected the papers whilst Karen asked his gun-wielding pillion if she could take his photo, but he declined and I had the papers returned to me by the rider with a wave for us to carry on our way. Upon reflection we’re convinced that he couldn’t read a word of English so the papers would have been indecipherable to him, but he was happy with what he saw and we were happy that we hadn’t been pepper-sprayed.

We left Esfahan behind and settled into the second-half of the ride. Karen was parched and we looked for a shop selling drinks but the first few we scouted didn’t have anything for sale. Things were getting a bit dicey as the temperature had climbed over 40 degrees, and whilst we had bottled water on our panniers the bottles are exposed to the sun and not insulated, so the contents are close to boiling point.

We saw signs indicating that Natanz wasn’t too far away – I’m talking 85km further north which was better than Kashan at around 135km (Natanz you’ll recall is the little village off the main road we stopped at on our trip down to Esfahan a week ago) but shortly before the Natanz turn-off we spotted a rest area just off the main road, so we peeled off and made our way there. We bought a large bottle of cold water and shared that and the little cakes we’d bought earlier in the morning under the shade of a small hut in the car park, and then rejoined the six-lane highway.

The temperature at this stage was hovering over 44 degrees and Karen was starting to feel the effects. I was warm but I’d kept my jacket zipped up and that was keeping the hot wind off my chest. I’d planned to refuel and stop for water at the rest area south of Qom we’d used on our trip south to Esfahan, but it was much closer to Qom than I recalled, and so we had no option but to suck it up and press on through the blistering heat.

The highway north of Esfahan has a posted speed limit of 120kmh but I was cruising around 100-110kmh to try and manage the bike’s engine temperature. It seemed like ages but eventually we saw the sign to the rest area, so we left the highway and once again I parked the bike on the forecourt of the large restaurant-shop. The guard waved to Karen, gesturing to park the bike in front of his vantage point in the shade, and I thanked him with a few IRR later for keeping onlookers off the bike whilst we had a few bottles of water inside.

We remounted and rolled around to the adjacent servo for a top-up, but I was distracted in conversation with some locals as I refuelled and the nozzle didn’t click off when the tank was full so I spilt a fair bit of fuel over the bike and ground before I realised. Karen had to jump out of the way to avoid the splash, and that was registered in my mind as something to be watchful for in future. As I washed the fuel off the bike with our hot bottled water some guys on a small Honda came up and started chatting but Karen didn’t like the pointed questions being asked about the bike so we remounted quickly and scooted off.

On the highway we were constantly being photographed by people in passing cars – sometimes they’d jockey from one side of us to another so they could photograph us from all angles. We also attracted the attention of more policemen about 50km south of Tehran, this time cruising in their patrol car.

We pulled over – I let the patrol car stop in front of us and then I rode around it so it was between us and traffic coming from behind, and two of three officers got out of the car and stood behind the bike for a minute or so checking the license plate before the senior officer approached and shook my hand before asking for our passports (I think, as his English wasn’t up to Oxford standards), whilst his mate chatted to someone on his mobile. I indicated that our passports were in the top-box, which was buried underneath our spare tyres, but as I prepared to alight and get the passports out his mate wrapped up his phone call and spoke briefly to the senior officer, who then tapped my helmet and indicated that I could put it back on and carry on our way. It looked to us that whoever was on the other end of the phone call had given us the tick of approval, and we were allowed to go.

I do note that the highway between Shiraz and Esfahan features a network of ‘automated traffic violation system’ sites – point-to-point cameras that detect forwards-facing number plates used in calculating average speeds over known distances, but despite the odd burst of speed to clear obstacles our average speed would be well under the permissible limit, and our bike doesn’t have a front number plate. Also, I acknowledge that I’ve seen plenty of road signs indicating that motorcycles aren’t allowed on the highways here, but the police didn’t have an issue, and neither do the toll-booth operators who wave us through with a smile, free of charge.

About 100km south of Tehran we started to encounter congestion on the road and began dicing with the cars. Often I’d try and sit in the slow lane but that could lead to being trapped behind a very slow truck or ute, so occasionally I’d pull out and blast ahead, making full use of the three lanes available to us.

If I’d thought ahead when we were last in Tehran I would of marked our destination – the Tehran Grand Hotel – in our GPS, but I hadn’t, so instead we plunged into the hectic traffic of this city of 17 million people and navigated by instinct and luck towards our hotel. Road signage was again vague and often displayed too late to react to – when you’re the only motorcycle in a melee of cars and buses five abreast on a three lane road you don’t get much chance to make early lane selections and often we’d get swept away from where I wanted to go, as life preservation rated higher than lane selection. I kid you not – the rules of the roads here looks like this – “If you want to turn left you should be in the outside right hand lane and vice versa” – as every intersection was an absolute shitfight of jostling cars. Add to the mix our camera-snapping fans who would drive within a whisker of the bike, and you can imagine the situation we faced. In fairness I think that Iranian drivers are accustomed to squeezing their cars into the narrowest of gaps and as the bike doesn’t occupy the whole width of a car lane we frequently had cars nudge ahead of us from either side as I simply couldn’t protect our space from both sides simultaneously. The concept of safety buffers simply doesn’t prevail here in Tehran.

The going got a bit easier when I noticed some local riders on their 125’s were using the dedicated bus lanes, so whenever I could I slipped down these lanes, grateful for the buffer away from the cars. I was looking for Valiasr Street – a 17km street that runs north-south through Tehran and which leads to our hotel, but despite our eastwards cross-cut of the city and a few promising but ultimately misleading signs we missed the street and overshot it. I turned north on a random whim and by complete fluke Karen and I started to recognise things we’d seen on our previous sightseeing tour through downtown Tehran – a building featuring a large mural of a martyred soldier, and the park opposite. We’d walked through this area and then caught a taxi back to the hotel, so shouting above the road noise as Karen’s Sena had run flat, we retraced the taxi’s route to the hotel. We picked up Valiasr Street, elated with our efforts and surrounded by other riders on their little bikes, waving and shouting out encouragement in the early evening traffic as we head for our destination. Negotiating the final intersection involved cutting across six lanes of cross-flowing traffic as you can’t stop despite the red light, and Karen assisted by hand-signalling the drivers that we were moving across – great team work.

I rode up to the entrance of the hotel – Karen thought I was going to ride through the doors into the lobby, and switched off the bike – 920km and twelve hours after departing Shiraz that morning. I was elated at our success, but Karen was looking shattered – I think she thought she was going to have a heart attack as we rode through downtown Tehran.

We unloaded the bike and parked it underground as quickly as possible, and then showered and ordered room service as it was now about 9:00pm and we were tired from our day.

I penned a little ditty to celebrate our success but I think it was lost a little bit on Karen, but she deserves full credit for her support and stamina over a very hot and challenging ride in which we faced a lot of potentially scary situations as she surmounted every difficulty thrown our way.

Sung to the tune of Petula Clark’s 1965 hit of the same name my ditty goes like this:

Downtown
where everyone goes
Downtown
where the traffic never slows
Downtown
Riding in Tehran
Down Town.

And that was our day. Fingers crossed that our efforts will be rewarded and we’ll get our Indian visas this week.

We started the morning not really knowing what the day would bring.

We tried in vain to contact the Indian Embassy to check on the progress of our Visa applications but couldn’t get through by phone with no response to our emails. We decided to ring Perth Embassy to ask for assistance and this was given…but the outcome, via email later in the day, had us no further forward as Tehran just said that they had not heard back from New Delhi and again offered the option to fly the bike…..they just don’t get it! With my operation only yesterday Vince asked if it was possible to save us the 2000km return trip back to Tehran (should the answer be a Yes) and collect the visas in Zahedan but this was denied. If they are going to issue the visas it will be via Tehran.

We also knew that Reza would be in contact with the Pathology Lab and try to get some results today but we were not sure when. He popped by at breakfast to let us know that he would contact them at 9.00am when they opened. He then got back us to let us know that they had told him to call after 2.00pm. So we decided to go for a bit of a walk around the local area whilst we waited…..I think the waiting is always the hardest and most stressful part.

It was very hot, so we became “shade seekers”, hunting out any snippet of shade we could find as we walked. We met some men who had soft serve ice creams and we asked where they got them from…..sign language indicated go ahead then turn left. Sure enough we found a shop with ice cream, so we bought a couple and sat in the shade to eat them…delicious, and they did cool us down.

We walked the length up the street and crossed the road at the end, where we found the fruit shop that had helped us out with directions the day we arrived. We proceeded to buy 3 bananas and 6 peaches…..the man standing next to Vince insisted on paying for our fruit as a welcome gift to Iran. Vince tried to refuse politely, but the man was having none of it and not content with that, he then proceeded to give us some of the pistashio nuts he had already bought as well.

We walked back up the road, on the opposite side this time, and came across another grocer selling watermelon. I picked one out and took it to be weighed…but the man just shook his head and put it to the side and went to go and pick a better one for me by tapping and listening to each melon in turn until he found one that met the grade…apparently my watermelon selections skills are remedial and could do with some work….. it cost us about A$1. Whilst this was going on an older man had struck up a conversation with Vince and was happy to welcome us to Iran.

As we continued our walk back we came across a young girl with her father sitting on a motorbike. I asked if we could take a picture by holding up my camera and asking in English, and her father nodded. The lighting was difficult as it was around 11.00am and the sun was scorching but she was in the shade.

A little further on in our walk we came across a police motorbike….so Vince had to get me to take a picture or two, or three, or four.

Back at our hotel we rested for the afternoon in our air-conditioned room. 2.00pm came and went with no word from Reza. We had a late lunch, around 5.00pm, in the hotel caravanessi and waited for news. Reza came and told us that the results were still not in but maybe tonight. In the meantime we met an Aussie couple travelling overland in their 4×4 from Holland to Australia. Emil and Claire (This Life Outside – Global Adventure) came and joined us sitting on the day beds in the caravanessi, and we all shared tales of our adventures and life……we will try to catch up with them to travel through Pakistan (safety in numbers)…..if we ever get our indian visas. They shared some Dutch peanut butter with us and we shared our watermelon…..really yummy and refreshing….can I pick watermelons or what?

Around 8.30pm Reza came and told us that the Lab had called, the results were in but we needed to get there before they close at 9.00pm. Thursday and Friday are the weekend in Shiraz, so if we missed it we would not get the results until Saturday. We abruptly excused ourselves from our new friends and caught a taxi….because the traffic is so heavy in the evenings and taxis have their own lane so it would be faster. The traffic was absolutely manic and slow, even in the taxi fast lane. I nervously watched as time ticked by….wondering if we would make it in time….we got there just on 9.00pm and Reza and I dashed up the two flights of stairs, whilst Vince paid the driver (80,000IRR). The door was shut and initially there was no answer to the bell or door knocks. Eventually the door opened and three girls went to walk out….we were too late….or so I thought. Reza spoke to one of them and before we knew it we were all walking back inside and lights were getting turned on……I was handed an envelope and opened it up…..I looked at the paper in my hand and began to read the results…….no evidence of malignancy…….what a relief! I thanked the girl at the counter….hugged Reza and Vince in public…..I don’t care about the rules….I was just so relieved! We caught a taxi back to the hotel (50,000IRR) and the 3 of us had dinner. Reza’s wife called whilst we were eating and her first question was about my results….she and her daughter have been praying hard for me….as have my family back in Australia. I’m touched that there has been a lot of interest in my welfare here at the hotel, including the local taxi driver, the waiter, Uppersia staff, and the receptionist…..Iranians are very kind and caring.

I shall sleep well tonight!

Shiraz Sightseeing

Today we met Reza, our Guide and helper, at 8.00am for a tour of Shiraz City. We needed to start early as it gets so hot here in the middle of the day.

Our first stop was at Nasirolmolk mosque, were we saw the beautiful light coming into the room though the coloured windows (the pieces are held in wood not lead and the glass has a coloured film over it). It was very beautiful and mesmerising…very peaceful. We moved to another part where there was tomb of someone that people come to pray to.

Next we went to Narenjestan-e-Ghavam Museum (UNESCO world heritage listed). This building was used by the state representative in Shiraz from the capital (Governor’s Court). It was a beautiful building with very intricate mirror, mosaic and fresco work. Iran really does have incredible artistic talent. Here we also visited the museum and watched an artist at work on miniatures….such fine detail and brushes…we looked at this work through a magnifying glass.

It was starting to get quite hot and see stopped at a small shop to get some water before entering the Sa’dieh Mausoleum (the greatest Iranian poet). The gardens were beautiful and many people were paying their respects. Part of the complex included the “fish pond”, really a sub artesian well. People were throwing coins in ….a man with his family gave a coin to both Vince and myself to do the same…..Iranian’s are so generous.

We did have plans to visit the Delgosha Gardens and the Arg-e-Karimkhani (Karimkhani Castle) but it was almost noon and very, very hot….so we did a quick drive by and got dropped back to our hotel.

Rezza came to pick us up at 4.30pm to take us to Presepolis (city of Persians)…which Vince has been wanting to visit for ages. It was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-33- BCE) and is about 70 km northeast of Shiraz. The earliest remains date back to 515 BCE. Unesco declared the ruins of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979. It took us an hour to drive there, and we spent around 2 and a half hours walking around. We both thought it was absolutely fabulous. There is so much history here….it moved Vince beyond speech….he wanted to get his sleeping bag and stay there overnight to soak up every drop of the experience. It is very well set out for tourists, with information also provided in English. We trekked up the mountain to the tomb of Artaxerxes II. The guard wanted us to leave but we were hanging out for the sunset. Reza managed to convince the guard to let us stay….not only did we get awesome sunset shots….but we were the last to leave…..on the way out the guard showed us photos on his phone of Persepolis in Winter, covered in snow…and in Spring with a rainbow. It was really special!!!!

Many people stopped and said hello to us whilst we were there, and I helped a little boy and his family out who had hurt his foot….with my “magic cream”….amazing what a placebo will do! His Mother was most grateful as he stopped crying immediately she applied it! They didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Fasi, but we managed to communicate well. Reza joined us at the end and was able to facilitate the thank you conversation. A young couple from near the Caspian Sea were visiting and asked for a photograph with us…..to which we agreed. We realise we are a bit of a novelty in Iran…and we don’t mind cooperating provided it is done politely and not trying to turn us into some kind of freak show.

We were a little sad to have to leave Persepolis but it was getting dark and we still had an hours drive home, and we hadn’t eaten. Back at our hotel we had our dinner and went to bed. Vince says it’s the highlight of his trip to Iran….and I agree!

A knock on our ramshackle door awoke us at 08:30am, and Karen was ready to draw blood before her feet hit the floor, less than impressed at being awoken from a deep sleep that had taken most of the night to achieve. On the subject of doors – our rickety double-door here at Niayesh Boutique Hotel uses a simple padlock at the top to lock it closed, and has a nesting pigeon watching guard from the lintel overhead. Karen calls the pigeon ‘Princess’ 🙂

The door-knocker was a cleaning lady wanting to clean our room, so we threw on some clothes, grabbed the Mac and iPad and went outside into the covered courtyard to check our emails before breakfast, when a few minutes later the taxi driver that Reza had sent for us came through to collect us and take us to see the surgeon.

We jumped into the taxi and had a wild ride to the surgery. Our taxi driver was fantastic – sometimes I even caught him looking left or right before we charged across oncoming cars or merged into one of the log-jams that were starting to form in the early morning traffic, and once he lashed out and used his indicators – “very stylish” I thought.

Reza was waiting at the secure doorway to the surgery – this is the place we attended yesterday afternoon without seeing the surgeon. Reza had gone there early in the morning and had worked his magic to get Karen an 11:30am appointment, and whilst it was about 09:00am when Karen and I arrived there Reza explained that it was best to be early, and we certainly didn’t want to miss our appointment.

We were calls upstairs and had a short consultation with the surgeon, who was very caring and understanding. Karen explained her history and concerns, and the surgeon agreed to go straight in and remove the lump, before ushering us downstairs so we could watch some soccer on TV in the waiting room.

After a short wait Reza was instructed by the surgery receptionist to get Karen something to drink, so we jumped into Reza’s Renault and he drove to a nearby fruit drink bar, where Karen and I had a pineapple smoothie each, and Reza a carrot-flavoured one. At a pharmacy across the road Karen had her script filled – the one written out by the specialist she had seen yesterday, as he had prescribed a combination of sunscreens and other lotions and potions to help protect her skin from the harsh Iranian sun.

Back at the surgery we watched Iran thrash Kuwait 9-2 in indoor soccer on the TV before we headed upstairs, where Karen changed into a hospital gown and hat before being led by the hand into the fully-equipped operating theatre, and I was given a 2001 edition of ‘National Geographic’ to read by the surgeon, as he walked by on the way to theatre.

I hadn’t quite finished the article about tensions in Indonesia before the surgeon walked past and gave me a wave, followed shortly afterwards by Karen, sporting a big smile and a specimen jar containing her lump.

We had a quick conference in the surgeon’s office before we were back in the Renault, with Reza whizzing us through town to drop the jar off to pathology. Reza managed to pull a few strings here as well, getting them to fast track the pathology report so whilst it takes a few days for the tests to be completed, we hope to get the results as soon as they come available.

Reza had us wait at the pathology office whilst he went back to the surgery and collected some paperwork that had been left behind – Karen’s histology report from Perth – and we went downstairs to the pharmacy below to fill the script the surgeon had given Karen, but by this stage I was out of Iranian Rial and only had a couple of US$100 notes on me, so with a smile and a wave the pharmacist gave Karen the pain-killers and antibiotic cream free of charge.

Back at Niayesh Boutique Hotel I arranged with the front desk for us to stay three additional nights – so now we’re here til Friday morning at least – and then Reza, Karen and I enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the courtyard. We took the opportunity to learn more about daily life in Iran from Reza – he explained about the cost of university and how imported cars attract a 300% import duty, amongst other things. We’ve asked Reza to take us sightseeing tomorrow around Shiraz, and I think he’ll take us out this evening as early morning or evening is the best time to go around Shiraz at the moment, as the afternoons are stifling hot.

Lunch concluded, we said farewell to Reza and went and laid down for an afternoon nap, still quite amazed at how quickly and efficiently Reza had been able to arrange the surgery for Karen. Only half-jokingly did we wish that he’d been available to help us get our Indian visas in Tehran, the only other cloud hanging over our otherwise sunny trip.

 

Well we started the day not really knowing what to do…..unfortunately over the last month I have developed what we are hoping is not another invasive squamous cell carcinoma. But it’s reached the point we need to get it checked out for peace of mind.

We contacted World Nomads (our travel Insurer) and they told us the process we need to follow but could not help with any names or contacts for Dr’s here. We asked reception but all they could offer was to go to a chemist and speak to the pharmacist…..hmmmmm I don’t think so!

Given our tight time frames my plan was to find a Dr…have it excised completely (no time for the biopsy run around) and send it off for histology. If necessary they can email me the results and if follow up is required we can deal with that then. That’s plan A!

Vince went back to our room (as wifi only works in the lobby) and whilst he was gone the “Angel of Mercy”, in the form of Reza Alizadeh, visited me. He had been talking with the receptionist in Fasi and I hadn’t realised they were actually taking about me. He approached me and offered his help….I asked if he was a Dr, to which he replied no, but he could help me find the right one.

One of his daughters is a surgical nurse and he called her for advice. Before we knew it we were being whisked away by taxi to the MRI hospital. Within minutes Reza had us through the reception screening and down to emergency. He explained to me that the Dr was on rounds and we would need to wait. In less than 10min the Dr arrived and Reza was up and talking to him as he walked. The next thing we knew we were called to a desk where I had to give my details – via Passport, and Vince parted with the equivalent of Au$10 as the Dr wrote out a referral for me to see the specialist on the 9th floor. Reza explained that this is the top man in his field (Dr Sodayfi) and it is normally at least a 3 month wait to see him.

Through security and upstairs, Reza worked his magic on the ladies at the front desk and we were told to sit down. Vince parted with the equivalent of around Au$20 and we had a bit of a wait…but eventually we were called through. The specialist could speak English but also spoke with Reza in Farsi. He examined me with two nurses present….as well as Vince and Reza….so it was a bit of a party really! He agreed it should be excised completely and sent for histology ….Yahooo! He wrote me a referral to the top plastic surgeon in Shiraz (Professor M. Hossain Rajabian) who can perform the procedure under local in his consulting rooms. He also wrote me a script for some creams for my rash…..as he could see I was quite red in this heat.

Back into another taxi around 2.30pm but the Doctor’s rooms were closed and we will have to got back tomorrow…..but at least we are moving forwards.

I’m a firm believer that the Universe sends you what you need when you need it….and we needed Reza today! Vince says it reminds him of the program “Touched by an Angel”.

Esfahan to Shiraz

Whilst I’d set the iPad alarm for a 07:00am wake up, it was actually almost 09:30am when we awoke, so the early start to our 480km ride to Shiraz was dashed before we even commenced.

We skipped breakfast and got straight into packing and loading the bike, and by 10:30am we were in the thick of Esfahan’s morning traffic, making our way south across the road bridge and looking to pick up Route 65. We passed Siosepol Bridge (the Bridge of 33 Arches) over the Zayandeh River, it’s the longest of the 11 bridges in Esfahan. Karen jumped off the bike and walked through the park to take a few photos of this impressive footbridge whilst I plugged Shiraz into the GPS.

Karen was wearing her helmet still as she went to photograph the bridge (to keep her hair covered as we were in public) and our Sena’s were still switched on. I could hear her saying hello to two local ladies that approached her. The next second I could hear Karen over the radio yelling out “Don’t hit me, if you hit me again I’ll hit you back!!!!” What had happened was the younger one had asked for money and when Karen had replied she didn’t have any money (which was true) the girl took umbridge and hit Karen on the shoulder. She was shocked but unhurt. I asked her over the Sean if she needed any help but she was already on her way back to the bike. You meet all sorts on the road!

At one of the major roundabouts we needed to negotiate the traffic was absolutely chaotic, something like seven or eight lanes merging down to four, with buses barging through the gaps and cars weaving all over the place. It was hot already and the cars were barely crawling along, and I managed to stall the bike at the most inopportune time, but a quick restart got us out from underneath a bus and back into the melee.

On the outskirts of Shiraz I pulled over for fuel at a CNG station, already crowded with long lines of cars and trucks. The pump attendant waved us forwards and we squeezed through the cars to the front of a line. We were wedged between the pump island and the refuelling cars, and so I stayed on the bike and refuelled in situ as I couldn’t get off. We had hoped to buy a drink of water and perhaps some breakfast but there were a few commotions in the line behind us and we were starting to get a bit crowded, so we just paid up and took off.

As soon as we’d left Esfahan behind the desert took over again. This time we were on a dual lane highway, max posted speed 110kmh, though we just cruised at 100kmh as I was trying to conserve fuel in case we couldn’t any more fuel on the remaining 460km to Shiraz. We saw a few small dusty shops tucked into a curve and pulled over for a drink. A couple in a car pulled over and started photographing the bike, then got out of the car and carried on photographing, and when I told them not to touch they nodded (the guy at least spoke English), but when I turned my back he was encouraging his female companion to climb on the bike for a photo opportunity. Karen quickly and clearly voiced her disapproval, and they bolted back to their car and sped off. It’s not that we don’t mind people admiring the bike, but it’s unstable when parked up on awkward slopes and it’s not a plaything.

Traffic was light on the highway. One blue dual-cab ute kept on passing us and then we’d overtake it, and eventually it drove up right next to us – so close Karen could have reached out and touched it, and the rear passenger tried to pass Karen a melon out of the window, but a tap of the brakes and quick wiggle had us drop behind and away from the car into some open space. Once again today we’ve noticed that the more the Iranians like you and want to get to know you – the closer they will drive to you, which is very disconcerting at times.

We pushed on through the 35 degree plus heat, and pulled over at Soghad when I saw a servo, ready for more fuel and some lunch. The men in the dual-cab ute where also stopped there, so we had a brief and friendly chat until they drove off and I repositioned the bike out the front of the small food shop.

We got a bottle of water each and some small cakes for lunch, and once again Karen had to admonish some guys that had started to fiddle with the switches on the bike.

Back on the bike we passed a sign saying we had 235km still to ride, so we were passing the half-way point, and it had taken four hours to get this far (it was about 02:30pm at this stage), so I wasn’t expecting an early arrival in Shiraz.

The temperature started to rise and we were both getting quite thirsty, so when I saw signs just outside of Pasergad pointing to a tourism restaurant we pulled off the main road and negotiated some road works so we could double back and find the restaurant, which stood out as it offered shady trees to park under, away from the blistering heat. A bottle of water each and a snack on some potato chips that we’d bough the evening before, and then we headed off again.

We entered a well-defined valley and could see signs of crop cultivation. Soon we could see green crops growing in the fields, and occasional herds of goats and sheep. A deep river bed cut through the fields on our left, but we couldn’t see any water in it. The closer we got to Shiraz the more abundant the crops became. Some of the fields were barren, and in them we could see the goat herders and their goats. In some fields we saw tents and pens of goats, and in another field people were herding their goats up a ramp and into a covered pen, in preparation for loading onto a truck.

About 20km north of Shiraz the traffic started to become more congested, and the riding more challenging, as cars and trucks weaved all over the road in the race to the front. Where I could I’d slip to the back and get some clear air, at other times it was easier to bolt to the front, but that would often bring on a challenge to other drivers, and they would quickly close the gap and swarm all around us.

I’d studied my Google Maps the preceding evening and was able to rely on my memory to get us close to our hotel, but I missed the last turn and took us on a little excursion. We pulled over and asked some locals for directions and they pointed us back up the road, and an elderly gentleman who ran the fruit stall adjacent to where I’d pulled over stopped the traffic for us so I could then squeeze the bike between a small gap in the low fence that divided the centre of the road, and get us travelling in the right direction. I rode up to the mosques as instructed, and again we pulled over to ask for directions, this time from a young man on a scooter. He waved to us to follow him, and after a laborious u-turn we followed the scooter down a little side-alley and straight ahead I could see signs to our hotel.

We checked into the Niayesh Boutique Hotel, and whilst Karen blocked the toilet I unloaded everything off the bike and covered it up, but not before chasing off a hotel guest who had climbed on and was getting the hotel security guard to take photos of him.

Dinner was at the restaurant in the sister Niayesh Hotel, tucked away down a few covered alleys and served in a caravanessi style. I enjoyed my lemon chicken kebab and rice, but Karen couldn’t face her greasy and unpleasant vegetable and meat stew, and left it untouched, and having tasted a bit myself I could understand why she didn’t want to eat it. And so ended another long day on the bike 🙂