Arriving into Shiraz, one thousand miles from Tabriz in twelve days, felt like a mini victory. Although keen to cycle on towards the port city of Bandar E Abbas, it was the turn of the Iranian New Year celebrations (Norooz) to halt my progress. The whole country grinds to a stand still for four days, officially, but, as I was to later discover, not all services keep to this schedule.
Shiraz had a nice feel about it, and many of the Iranians I had met were in unison over it being the best place to see-in the New Year. With the twice-weekly ferry service from Bandar E Abbas to Dubai grounded, I decided to stay in Shiraz for a total of five nights. The time passed quickly while writing, planning my exit, and exploring the city on foot.
When looking for an internet cafe on New Year’s Eve I got talking with a local shop keeper, and what started as sharing his Wi-Fi ended in a break-neck motorcycle ride across the city to score some illegal contraband – alcohol! How exciting. It’s been a few years since I was last on a motorcycle and, I must confess, it was an exhilarating step up from Shurly Anne, made more so by the illegal stash I was carrying. It all seemed very well organised; a phone call with the order, a race across the city, and a shifty looking exchange of money for merchandise through a car window.
It was evident that evening, however, it was not a service that many had used. The celebrations were pretty, well…. Sober, for lack of a better word. It’s probably a case of knowing where to go to find the party, which I didn’t, and found myself with a crowd of others in the park, listening to a political speech; Rock and Roll it was not.
Unable to buy a ferry ticket in Shiraz I cycled on towards Bandar E Abbas for the most enjoyable four days of bicycle touring in Iran. The days were long and hot, and the road offered up some fantastic spots to wild camp each night. I even managed a one litre shower, which felt particularly risky given I had spent the entire trip in long trousers and sleeves.
Bandar E Abbas, it turned out, was a popular location for Iranians to celebrate Norooz, and the extra foot fall rendered it chaotic; the roads were ram-packed with cars, bikes and people. As were the hotels, which inflated their prices, leading to a long search for somewhere within my price range. It was 10:30pm when I eventually settled, soaking wet from hours cycling around in the rain.
At the same hotel was another bicycle tourist, Alberto, who had cycled there from Italy. Alberto had arrived a day earlier and was experiencing similar difficulties trying to get to Dubai. We decided to team up the following day to arrange ferry tickets, only to discover the ferries were not operating until the 7th of April. Two days after the expiration of my visa, and over a week beyond the affordability of my severely depleted cash reserves. We were told we may be able to get an illegal boat ride from the island of Qeshm, which sounded more than a little dodgy, but we were running out of time, money and options.
Qeshm also had an airport with regular flights to Dubai and was only a short ferry ride away. Our first attempt to escape the mainland was thwarted by bad weather, and, following another overnight stay, we woke to calmer seas. Sadly, the ferry operator would not allow either of us to leave the boat after reaching Qeshm without paying for our bicycles for a second time.
We cycled along the coast towards the airport, asking around for a boat leaving for Dubai, to no avail. The airport was the last chance, but following a fiasco booking tickets and getting through airport security, we missed the first available flight and spent the night camping outside the airport.
Iran had been awkward to get into, difficult to cross, and then tricky to get out of. Many of my experiences were very positive, but with such limited funds I don’t feel I managed to fully enjoy all that Iran had to offer. The country is being strangled by sanctions, but the real victims of the political regime are the people, as they struggle to find work. Iran aims to attract 20 million tourists by 2020, however their paranoid approach to allowing foreigners to enter makes this look deluded.
Dubai, in contrast, was the direct polar opposite, and I was very fortunate to spend a week with Paul, Liz and Lara Begley, while waiting for my Visa to enter India. Paul is the son of friends of my parents, Tom and Marg, who happened to be visiting when I arrived. Dubai is a spectacular city and it is so very easy to settle into a very high standard of living there. The time flew by as I caught up with some writing, processed the visa application, and enjoyed the company of the Begley’s. I also had the privilege of visiting Lara’s school and presenting my journey to around 150 children over three separate sessions. It was great fun, the children had lots of questions, and one class even made me good luck cards.
I was truly spoilt, and, through a friend of Liz’s, was able to speed up the visa processing time to just 3 days, enabling me to make the flight I had booked to Mumbai. Thanks again for having me, it was great to meet you all, your hospitality knows no bounds.
In Mumbai I now reside, more on that next time…..