Bicycle Touring In Iran – Part 3

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.

The que for bread in the morning in Shiraz was about 40 mins.

The que for bread in the morning in Shiraz was about 40 mins.

People flocked and after receiving their bread laid it out to cool.

People flocked and after receiving their bread laid it out to cool.

Breakfast of champions: very tasty fresh-out-the-oven bread, yogurt and spicy chick peas and lentils freshly cooked in front of the bread store.

Breakfast of champions: very tasty fresh-out-the-oven bread, yogurt and spicy chick peas and lentils freshly cooked in front of the bread store.

The Bazaar was busy with folks looking for a bargain.

The Bazaar was busy with folks looking for a bargain.

Very intricate artwork was available - way out of my price range though.

Very intricate artwork was available – way out of my price range though.

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.

An impressive castle with turret's influenced by the french.

An impressive castle with turret’s influenced by the french.

The Mosque on New Years Eve was home to a special, and rather therapeutic ceremony.

The Mosque on New Years Eve was home to a special, and rather therapeutic ceremony.

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.

The illegal contraband, which tasted like methylated spirits.

The illegal contraband, which tasted like methylated spirits.

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.

Really, there must be something (anything) better to do in celebration of a New Year than listen to a politician.

Really, there must be something (anything) better to do in celebration of a New Year than listen to a politician.

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.

Creased mountain ranges on route to Bandar E Abbas dominated the skyline.

Creased mountain ranges on route to Bandar E Abbas dominated the skyline.

The sun coming up after the first of three fantastic nights in the wild.

The sun coming up after the first of three fantastic nights in the wild.

Day two brought more hills.

Day two brought more hills.

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The wind has nothing to get in it's way for miles upon miles.

The wind has nothing to get in it’s way for miles upon miles.

 

The Sun going down the night before reaching Bandar E Abbas. The best camping spot of my tour in Iran just before putting up the tent and showering.

The Sun going down the night before reaching Bandar E Abbas. The best camping spot of my tour in Iran just before putting up the tent and showering.

The last push to Bandar E Abbas was a relentless slog through wind, hills and eventually rain.

The last push to Bandar E Abbas was a relentless slog through wind, hills and eventually rain.

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.

Leaving for Qeshm.

Leaving for Qeshm.

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.

Some wild Camels we passed on Qeshm - How did they get there?

Some wild Camels we passed on Qeshm – How did they get there?

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.

Poor Shurly Anne being packaged for the flight.

Poor Shurly Anne being packaged for the flight.

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.

Alberto and I relieved and happy to finally make it to Dubai.

Alberto and I relieved and happy to finally make it to Dubai.

 

The Burj Khalifa at one kilometer tall, towers above a prestigious many.

The Burj Khalifa at one kilometer tall, towers above a prestigious many.

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.

One of three presentations to a great bunch of 8 - 12 year old's at Lara's School.

One of three presentations to a great bunch of 8 – 12 year old’s at Lara’s School.

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…..

11 Responses to Bicycle Touring In Iran – Part 3

  1. Gregor, yeah me !!! April 11, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    Brilliant !
    You really are a LEGEND………Fraser !!!!!!!!!
    How the devil are you ? Do youuuuuuuu have a phone no. soas I can speak to you ?

    • Fraser April 17, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Well hello big G,

      Great to hear from you, did use the computer all on your own? Haha!

      No telephone number but I’ll drop you an email with my skype details.

      Speak soon

  2. Anonymous April 11, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Wow Fraser, wow!

    It re-enforces my prejudices about the way that some countries are governed. We are lucky to live in a liberal democracy and your experience of Iran is so far beyond my own experience that I struggle to get my head around it. I can’t work out who is served by countries such as these, would they prosper and relax in a more liberal environment?

    But hats off to you for remaining positive and only using a couple of expletives, I would have peppered any account with them – I can cuss going up a hill in Wales!!! I admire your resilience and your even handed approach – something people like me can only dream about.

    And ….. the whole story just gets better and better – love it – can I ask if you would ever return to Iran?

    Geoff

    • Fraser April 17, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Hi Geoff,

      Only those in charge are served by themselves. Not sure I would ever find a reason to return.

      All the best!

  3. Jane April 12, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    I was waiting in anticipation for the final part! Glad u had some company. Amazing how you keep going. Bread looked good! Bazaar place Iran but Dubai looked exciting and what a treat…..a bit of luxury. Wishing you a more relaxed experience in India xxx

    • Fraser April 17, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      Thanks Jane,

      Going well so far, new post up soon…

  4. Anne-Laure April 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    I really like your concluding post about Iran. It sounds like the end of the journey in the country was as eventful as its beginning and middle, but it sounds also much more positive.

    The bread look really apetasing and Shiraz very beautfiul :)
    And the wild camping spot stunning! It must have been lovely to wake up to such views.

    I’m curious to hear more about your time in Mumbai. Was there any specific reasons why you flew rather than cycle there?

    • Fraser April 17, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Hi Anne-Laure,

      The route through Pakistan is costly and dangerous; recently a Norwegian Cyclist travelling with six armed guards was ambushed, all six guards were shot. The cyclist survived.

      Not somewhere I fancied visiting.

      • Anne-Laure April 28, 2014 at 11:08 am #

        Ok. I can understand not wanting to cycle through Pakistan. I would have made the same decision if I had been in your place.

  5. Natalie April 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    Hi Fraser,

    I knew you many moons ago and stumbled across your writing and your biking journey. I was hoping you would agree to me sharing some of it with the students I teach to inspire them and make them think. That and the fact your writing is brilliant and would be great to show from an English perspective.

    Either way, I wish you lots of good fortune and look forward to reading further updates.

    Natalie

    • Fraser April 21, 2014 at 9:53 am #

      Hi Natalie, How lovely to hear from you. I would be delighted for you share my writing with your students.

      More updates from India coming soon :)

      All the best,

      Fraser

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