- About Nick
- People helping the expedition
- Expenses breakdown
- Truck and equipment (Sept. 16)
Posted on August 22nd, 2010 Nicolas 24 comments
In Tehran, I meet with people at shipping companies in an effort to get a deal sending my truck to India. At first, it seems like a good deal when I learn that the ocean freight amounts to only US$100 from Bandar Abbas to Mumbai. Unfortunately, Iran is a complicated country, and there are a lot of stamps and papers involved in every step when it comes to import or export. At the end of the day, it will cost me at least US$700 to be out of the port, plus a substantial sum to pay in India as well.
It’s expensive, but there are no other options. And I have the money. Exactly the right amount in fact, in U.S. dollars. But the problem is that I don’t have a lot more than that, and I have to cross the entire country again.
One would think I just have to go to the bank to get a bit more and make it out of the country OK. Well, things are not that simple in Iran. As everyone knows, the country is under international sanctions because of its nuclear program. That means that countries like the United States or France cannot do any trade with Iran. That also means bank accounts from these countries can’t be accessed once you are in the forbidden land.
Knowing that, I got a lot of cash in Dubai, but I didn’t think it would cost me that much to get out of Iran. I felt that the US$1,000 I was taking with me was a comfortable amount, given that the country was pretty cheap. But now I will have a difficult time to make it out.
I had to leave Tehran – an expensive city on Iranian standards – right now, and go south to ship the truck as soon as possible. A boat was set to leave port on Aug. 25 and I had to have my container on it.
I left the city on Monday, and slept in a gas station 200 miles south of Tehran. It was quite noisy there, and difficult to find sleep. Few hours after, the police woke me up to check who I was, and more important, who I was sleeping with (nobody…). I left early morning and later arrived in Yazd, one of the oldest living cities on earth, inhabited since at least 7,000 years.
There, I found a place I could stay at for cheap. The Silk Road Hotel (highly recommended) lets its guests sleep on the roof or on beds in the courtyard for few dollars. At this point I am surviving eating the canned food I have in my truck, kept for emergencies like this one. For the first time in Iran, I meet some tourists – mostly Europeans – in Yazd. I stay there two days, relaxing and visiting the old city. Everything here is built with sun-dried mud bricks, and the city is brown, as the desert surrounding it.
One striking detail is the presence of “badgirs” on the roof of many buildings. “Badgirs” are some kind of wind-catchers, ancient A/C designed to catch the slightest breeze, separate the hot and cold air, and send the latest in the house, or water reservoir.
Two days later, I continued my trip south. I slept at the same gas station where I stopped when I was coming up, and people there recognize me. It is my luck to be short of cash in a country where people are so welcoming. As soon as I stop somewhere, people bring you food and drinks. They are happy to see tourists, and they show it. Once, on the highway out of Tehran, the workers even refused my money to pay the toll.
When I arrive in Bandar Abbas, I am back at sea level and the heat is intense. It is Friday, and everything is closed at the port, but I drive around to figure out the places I have to go the following day. I ask the police if there is a location where I could camp, but they can’t think of anywhere. Eventually, they speak to the owner of a hotel who agrees to bring the price of the room down 75% for me. When the receptionist sees me counting my money, she even gives me US$ 5 to have diner at the hotel this night.
I think it was good that I was at the hotel, because I could not have survived the heat of the following days. I was supposed to be in and out of the city, stuffing my container on the Saturday. As of Sunday night, I am still not finished with it. I had to take an agent to help me out with the paperwork, and that will cost me some money as well. With the shipping agency, I was able to negotiate a partial payment here, and the rest in India, which freed some cash for lodging and food. The boat departure has been pushed back to the 27th (and probably later…). I hope to be in a flight from Shiraz, Iran to New Delhi, India – which I can pay online through a UAE company – on Tuesday.
I would like to visit Delhi and travel by train to Mumbai, where I should be able to get my car in something like ten days. But we will see. For now I am in survival mode, trying to escape from Iran.
Posted on August 13th, 2010 Nicolas 37 comments
An hour after I leave Shiraz, I arrive on the Persepolis site. It is late in the day, so I just camp for a small fee on the parking lot, in front of the police station. It is quite windy, and I have to use ropes to secure the tent fabric tight so I don’t have the flapping noise all night long. In the morning I fold the tent and walk to the site. It is early when I penetrate the gates of Persepolis, and there are not much people.
Persepolis is the symbol of the Achemenid Empire which started in the 7th century BC. It is the most famous masterpiece of the Near Eastern civilizations. The ancient city was lost for hundreds of years, covered by sand, and only in the 30’s excavations have started. As usual in Iran, the site and its museum are very cheap to visit, at US$ 0.50. In fact what is expensive in Iran is the lodging; otherwise it is the perfect destination for the budget traveler.
I spend a little bit more than two hours strolling through the site and go back to the truck for the long drive to Esfahan.
Esfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in the Eastern world, is the country third largest populated place. It is more complicated to navigate than Shiraz where I went everywhere by foot.
In fact, I decide to spend two nights there, in another touristic complex (US$10) with a vague soviet feel. I leave the car at the campsite and explore the city by bus. Transportation is cheap here also, and you never pay more than few cents to take the bus or, in Tehran, the subway.
I first visit the Hakim Mosque, the oldest in the city, as I follow the Lonely Planet walking tour, one of my favorite features in the guide.
Then I enter the Bazar-e Bozorg where vendors sell carpet, household items, spice, jewelry and fake brand-name clothing. It is a thousand-year old labyrinth with mosques, banks, gardens and many alleys.
One of them leads me to the Jameh Mosque dating from the 11th century. The central ablution fountain in the courtyard was designed to imitate the Kaaba in Mecca.
I continue to walk through the alleys. Such covered markets are great as you are protected from the heat of the day by the arcades. Around noon I venture out for a quick visit to the bird market where friendly vendors show me some species and we compare the names of the bird in Farsi and English languages.
I also visit the Mausoleum of Harun Vilayet which features impressive mosaics of Khomeini and Khamenei.
Back in the bazaar, I try to find a place to eat. Most of the eating options in Iran are kababs. Those are served with rice, bread and tomatoes. Cooked over charcoal, this food is relatively healthy.
Everybody here drink “dugh” which is sour milk and yogurt mixed with water. It is very refreshing and kind of similar with the drinking yogurt you can find in the U.S., without sugar.
I stop for lunch in a traditional restaurant close to the Imam Square, where parties sit on day bed and can try Iran specialties.
Afterward I go visit the Imam Mosque and its two turquoise minarets, another fine example of the astonishing mosques you find in Iran. It is also on Imam Square, the second largest square in the world. By then I begin to be tired but find the energy to visit the Al Qapu Palace from which I can get a good view of the square.
Before going back to the campsite after this heavy day of walking, I go get a glimpse at the Si-o-Seh bridge crossing the Zayandeh River. There’s a teahouse at the end of the bridge where people relax and hide from the sun.
I go back “home” to take some well deserved rest. I continue to watch the “long way round” television series, and get more excited about crossing Siberia. I decide that I will go straight to the Russian Embassy when I arrive in Tehran and see if it is possible to get a visa quickly.
After one more day of driving, I enter the crazy traffic of Tehran. At nightfall, I accept that it is no place to camp, and find the Khayyam hotel, a bit too expensive to my taste (US$18), but with a parking lot, which is rare in the city. It will be my base for few days as I will be working on paperwork and visiting the city. The Ramadan begins the following day, and it will be more convenient to be at the hotel, since you can’t drink, eat or smoke in the street during the day. I think the most difficult is to not be able to drink water, especially when you have to run everywhere under a fierce sun to get things done.
It is an impossible city to navigate and a challenge to find places. The first day I go to the Russian Embassy to find it close. I spend hours trying to locate the Kazakhstan Embassy and decide to go the following day. I get some work done on my car as the hotel is located in an area where I can find a lot of things usually difficult to get. I lubricate my chassis in the hope it will eradicate a thumping noise I get each time I stop the car. Check and top transfer case oil and change sparking plugs. The following day I am back on the visas quest. The Russians have bad news for me. It would take more than two weeks to get the visa. Plus one week for Kazakhstan and five days for Turkmenistan. My Iranian visa is not long enough, and anyway I need to keep moving.
I have to find another way. Finally at the end of the afternoon, I find out there may be a container boat leaving Bandar Abbas for Mumbai, India at the end of next week. I have to check back with Maersk, the maritime company on Sunday. That would means I would backtrack 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the port I arrived at, and stuff the truck in a container. If there is no cabin available in the boat – which is likely – I will take the ferry back to Dubai and fly to Mumbai. The cost of shipping – all included – should be around US$800. The ferry will cost me another $100 and the flight $150. Sailing time for the container boat is four days. Now I am kind of sad to not cross Siberia. But this is the deal. I have to keep moving east.