As promised, here a second set of episodes from Iran...
Episode 4 - The broken propeller shaft
Iranian traffic was a topic in an earlier episode. No need to say that Teheran traffic is as good as it can get, especially if you try to experience it before a long weekend. As one Iranian woman told us: What do you expect from a country without pubs and alcohol, somewhere people have to go crazy. Somehow I’m back to my preferred topic, which shouldn’t be part of this episode, so let’s start again. We stayed in southern Teheran in front of the Imam Khomeini Mausoleum, a huge park / parking lot which is used by Iranians as camp site and is free for foreigners, a handshake at the entrance and exit is all that is asked for. The metro runs downtown from there, sanitary installations are good and it is also kind of a meeting place for overlanders passing through Teheran - and of course you can visit Imam Khomeini’s shrine. On day 2 of our stay in Teheran a green VW bus with German plates approached us and we met Jo and Anja arriving - full of experiences and bullet holes from Eastern Turkey - in Iran. Next day we went climbing with a local climber (by the way, this day would also merit a separate episode) and on the way we experienced relatively strong vibrations at speeds above 70 km/h. It was clear, tonight I have to check why Rouletout is communicating in strange ways with us. Back at Imam Khomeini, no way of getting under the car. Jo and Anja were invited by a local family for dinner and of course, we were invited too. A long day ended with a nice Iranian dinner. In the morning I finally found the time to check out Rouletout and it didn’t take long to identify the front propeller shaft as source of evil - one part of the cross was broken and gave the shaft room for all sorts of vibrations. No way to continue like that. We decided to go downtown, find a place with decent internet and search for a repair shop. Easier said than done. After a few minutes on the internet it was clear that we will not find a Mercedes truck repair shop that easily and I decided to call the local passenger car dealer - using the coffee shop owners mobile phone as we ran out of our Iran Cell credit. I was handed over from company to company, from person to person to end up at Govah Company, the state run after sales and service organisation of Iran Khodro Diesel (a former joint venture with Mercedes trucks still building older Mercedes truck models in Iran). The person was very helpful and promised me to send someone to the Mausoleum for tomorrow, Sunday 09:00. We confirmed all that by e-mail and we went shopping, it was clear to us that we will spend some more days in Teheran as Ashure was about to start and Monday, Tuesday will be off. Soon after that my mobile phone rang and someone asked for the location of Rouletout and if we can meet there in the next few hours instead of tomorrow. After a few additional calls we agreed to meet at 19:00 and look what can be done. We headed back from northern Teheran to the Mausoleum and arrived late to find 3 people from “Gholami Brothers” standing next to Rouletout and our broken propeller shaft lying next to it. A friendly welcome, a short discussion and we were told to follow the car to the repair shop in Karaj. We quickly talked to Jo and Anja, who by the way had major trouble with their gear box since their experiences in Eastern Turkey and it was decided by the “Gholami Brothers” that they will follow us too. Our small convoy left Imam Khomeini at around 21:00 and once again we enjoyed Teheran traffic for one and a half hours. Abolfazl drove with us, remaining sceptical of Mutlu, Said with his car in front and the VW bus behind us. No need to say that it was a challenge to stay together. On the way to the repair shop we also learned that by no means we can sleep in our cars in the shop, company policy! but that we can of course stay in Abolfazl’s apartment in Karaj. Tired and exhausted we arrived at the repair shop, parked our cars and we were carried for a late night dinner in Karaj, followed by the transfer to Abolfazl’s apartment where the four of us slept for a few hours. At 06:30 Abolfazl woke us with breakfast and we went to the repair shop. Due to the upcoming Ashure festivities it should have been just half a working day for the team, so everybody got to work right away. Anja and Berna were ordered to the finance department, where they spent their day with a bunch of Iranian women telling them stories from their lives while Jo started to dismantle his gear box and I watched my propeller shaft disappear to some other specialised repair shop. Some additional minor repairs were performed at Rouletout and soon it was time to go for lunch together. When we came back, the fixed propeller shaft had just arrived and was quickly mounted. A short test drive and at around 16:00 we were ready to go. Unfortunately Jo and Anja had more work to do and were invited to stay at Abolfazl’s summer house until after Ashure. Impressed by the speed and quality of work, overwhelmed by the tremendous hospitality and happy with our fixed propeller shaft we once again enjoyed Teheran traffic (I just ripped off one rearview mirror of a car that tried to squeeze next to me, resulting in an invite to their house by the drivers husband - his biggest concern was that Rouletout was damaged and not his wife’s car).
Episode 5 - A day in Iran
As you could read in some of the earlier episodes, Iranians did really everything to make our stay in Iran a pleasant experience and they will do almost anything to help you with any request you might have. There are simply too many nice stories to tell them all but some might give you a picture of a typical day in Iran.
On a sunny day in Teheran we went on top of Milad tower, a modern telecommunication tower, boring as everywhere in the world. While walking around on the observation deck a man approached us and asked where we are from and if we were willing to talk to his group of English students for a few minutes. We agreed and in a matter of seconds we were surrounded by 30 to 40 girls of different age listening to our short discourse about our trip and our country followed by questions. Of course we did exchange phone numbers with Josef, the teacher, and went on to explore Teheran. A few days later my phone rang and Josef asked if we have time today to meet and visit some important places in Teheran. On top of that it was Ashure, the highpoint of Moharram, with processions and other religious events. Josef picked us up in Southern Teheran and we visited a few important places with him and his wife, had nice food and got lots of insight into the life and story of Imam Hossein, the events in Kerbala and the background of Ashure.
While we were exploring the climbing area of Posht Mole near Shiraz we met Eman, a young mountaineer who kindly gave us all the required details for the climbing spot. Again we exchanged phone numbers and on the next day he passed by during his lunch break to bring us dates and check that all is ok. In the evening Eman called and invited us to stay with Rouletout in his garden that night. Next day in the morning he showed us around in Golestan and hiked with us to the waterfall before heading off to work.
Driving down on a winterly road from a remote 3000m above see level mountain pass in western Iran we find a stranded truck driver who was stuck in the snow for already two nights. He offered us tea while refusing any help before we were allowed to continue our journey towards Esfahan.
Of course there was also the police man who invited us for lunch instead of checking our papers or the girl who drove us down from Polekhab on Charus road in a crazy drive and asked here way through in Karaj to find our Rouletout again or the 2 teachers who woke us up at night in a remote valley to invite us to stay at their house.
And on our last day in Iran - we already had met Angelika and Berthold in Zahedan and were waiting for Stefan to arrive on his motorbike - we were about ready to start cooking dinner when Stefan showed up with a local Iranian who directly told us to stop preparing dinner as he will invite us all to his restaurant. Shortly thereafter he came back with 2 cars and picked us up. We drove across town to a nice restaurant and enjoyed an extraordinary Iranian dinner with way to much food and interesting discussions. After that we drove about 10km out of Zahedan to a “Sisha Temple”, a huge walled area full of tents of different sizes in which people enjoy smoking Sishas and consume food and drinks. We adored this outstanding experience in such a surprising setting in this desert border town for a few hours before we were brought back to our cars for a short night sleep as we had organised our police escort to the border for 06:00 in the morning.
Thanks to all of you and all of you not mentioned here who helped us along during our stay in Iran and made it such a pleasant experience.
Episode 6 - The other Iran
So far we have mostly talked about positive things that we experienced or observed in Iran. The hospitality and the friendliness of the people, the amazing and diverse landscape, the food, petrol prices and of course traffic ;-). Nevertheless there are a few things that don’t really fit in “our” world and that we also encountered (or heard of) during our stay in Iran. For women it is definitely wearing the chador. Fine, it is the law and it seems that the interpretation of this law is - depending on the region - more or less strict (in Teheran it sometimes looks more like a fancy accessory than a traditional scarf). Some people also expressed their gratitude that tourists such as Berna try to wear a chador correctly but if you have to go swimming fully dressed at a beautiful beach or get a less than friendly remark in a supermarket that you should close some part of your skin that miraculously appeared because your chador just moved it is really a nuisance. Worse is, that in the same conservative town (Esfahan) just a few weeks before we visited, a dozen young girls got their faces burned with acid - some of them ending up blind - by some mob because they were not adhering to the strict dress code and that, according to locals who told us the story, police is dragging their feet in identifying the members of the mob. For me as a technophile it is the limitations on the internet imposed by the Iranian firewall (and some by the US government that prohibit the use of certain technology in Iran such as the software used to create this website). Not only is access to the internet in general somewhat hard to find or the coverage with mobile data low and slow (only some areas in major towns have 3G). What makes matters worse is the fact that the Iranian firewall limits access to many pages and slows down traffic overall. Facebook is blocked (although there are ways around it and almost every young person will ask for your Facebook ID), many Western newspapers can’t be accessed and many searches and sometimes even maps and mail servers are filtered or blocked making the internet experience in Iran a real pain.