Two New Zealanders, one motorcycle, seven days
Written and photographed by Rick Coleman
January 8, 2004
Nothing can prepare you for the nagging anxiety that pervades your
body as you approach the Iranian border for the first time. Images
of persecuted women, American hostages, and an old 'Ayatollah is
a meanie' badge from my school days, swirled around in my mind
in an endless stream of negativity towards the people of Persia.
The reality was something else.
Two months earlier, as a leatherclad
dispatch rider, I pushed open the heavy wooden door of the Iranian
Consulate in London, under
the watchful eye of the man in the bullet proof glass enclosure,
with the video monitors.
I stood nervously in the subdued hush,
clutching a handful of papers and passports, to lodge a visa
application. I approached the counter, painfully aware of my
handed over the forms to the upright and bearded gentleman
behind the counter. Flicking sternly through the papers, he came
my New Zealand passport.
"Kiwi!" he exclaimed. "Anchor Butter,
good butter. And your lamb, very fine lamb sir. Where you from?
couldn't believe my ears, and was soon discussing beautiful mountains
and lush green grass, rather than religious preferences or politics.
However, my English partner was not so joyfully
received. Salman Rushdie (an unfortunate last name I felt) had
had lunch with the
then Prime Minister John Major. A 5 day transit/tourist visa for
British citizens had immediately risen from £25, to £500.
A grim development when attempting to co-ordinate an overland journey
from England to India on a shoestring. Three weeks later, and a
week before our scheduled departure, the fee was dropped back to £25
again, a little closer to the £4 charged to a 'kiwi'.
Visas, and Carnet de Passage in hand, we now approached
the Turkish/Iran border through the Kurdish strife torn region
Turkey, butterflies fluttering.
Saskia, with the dodgy English passport, had bought
a cheap, full length, rubberised Russian overcoat to satisfy the
and had a selection of headscarves. I purchased a white collared,
long sleeve shirt and tied my long hair back tight.
From the Turkish side of the border we could see bikers at the
Iranian kiosk. Three Italians on two big trail bikes, a Suzuki
DR800 Big, and a couple, on a Yamaha 750 Super Tenere. Our 83 BMW
R100, heavily laden and covered already in a continents worth of
crud and road grime, looked a little cumbersome parked beside them.
Able to share the confusion of paperwork as a group,
helped the border formalities no end, and it was all over in
a couple of
hours. Iranians in the queue were extremely helpful and informative,
telling us the right order to approach the small windows, and
on one occasion ordering back the crowd for us to go first.
authorities perused the papers, Saskia quickly got talking
to some local women, covered head to toe in black chadors, who
out loud at the thick overcoat in the 30 degree heat. Already
in Shoshoni jeans, under a long skirt, leather jacket, and
the old helmet over the head scarf trick. It was a bit over the
and we immediately gave away the obviously extreme attire.
In our two week crossing of the enormous country
we were never harassed about our dress. Saskia's long skirt almost
ground, her long sleeved top wasn't tucked in, so none of her
alluring curves were showing and always a headscarf. Always.
First village we came across, we braved our first
petrol station. Unfortunately, before we'd seen a bank, to purchase
and the little station didn't take Visacard. Luckily our new found
companions, the Italians had plenty and offered to lend us some.
As Mario walked back from the payment office he said "I'll
cover it guys, you owe me one." Three tankfuls of high octane
came to 90 cents American. We took turns, shouting each other tankfuls
of gas over the next two weeks and several thousand miles, as we
tackled the mammoth task of crossing Iran together.
The 7 days
allocated by the visa to transit the country is limiting, and
tends to keep overlanders on the straight and narrow route, in
to complete it in time. Luckily visa extensions were just a matter
of popping into the Police Department of Alien Affairs, and showing
off our culturally correct attire and beaming smiles, and paying
the obligatory stamp fee.
Tehran is a big ugly sprawling city containing
almost 20% of the entire population of Iran, surrounded by slums
and filth that contain
as many dangerous characters as any other city of her size. 'Knife
pullers' [chaaghoo-kesh] as they were known locally.
We gave her a wide berth and headed directly for the splendour
Esfahan has the greatest concentration of Islamic
monuments in Iran, and the most glorious manifestations of Persian
art and architecture. Not to be missed is the Friday Prayer in
Imam square. A square in the centre of the city surrounded by
four of the most magnificent buildings in the world, the Sheik
Mosque, the Ali Qapu Palace, Masjed-e Imam (Imam Mosque) and
the great portal of the Qaisariyeh Bazaar. Thousands of locals
and pray towards the southern end of the square every Friday
evening, facing Mecca, and the architectural masterpiece of the
with it's exceptional blue tile works and inlays, a majestic
dome entrance and elegant minarets.
After prayer, the family groups assemble extravagant
picnics on rugs with portable gas stoves. Women prepare food, men
and smoke tobacco through hubbly-bubbly water pipes, while children
run and play amongst the crowd, or take turns to play table tennis
on the permanently placed concrete tables lining the centre of
the square. It's a scene as beautiful and pure as the cover of
a Jehovah Witness magazine, after the imminent destruction of
Strolling through this serene environment, a large
family, enjoying their picnic, beckons us to join them for food
and drink. A young
girl runs up behind us and places a small bouquet of flowers
in my hand.
Tea was made and we shared the blanket with the
eight children, of which the two eldest daughters spoke excellent
father was a local teacher and surprisingly spoke little English,
but his wife continually stacked his water pipe with fresh coals
and tobacco. He took long deliberate draws through the slender
and colourful hose, and his broad smile would break out into
bellows of laughter.
With Iran's links to world terrorist organisations
and their well known hatred of 'the great Satan', people often
forget the real
Iranians. Persian hospitality is second to none, the people are
warm and friendly and genuinely interested in the foreign traveller,
especially those from clean green New Zealand. Although this
is perhaps principally because they don't see very many tourists
all these days.
When considering Iran's description of America as
the great Satan, it's easy to forget that the Americans had a huge
the country for many years during the Shah's reign. They encouraged
the Kennedy Peace Corps, a sort of exchange student scheme to
promote and encourage the English language. Today English is widely
and often with a surprising American accent.
We left the oasis of Esfahan, and steamed across
the wide open expanse of Iran's southern desert. The asphalt roads
and wide, stretching as far as the eye can see across vast plains
between treeless mountain ranges, whose colours constantly changed
during the course of the day. Pools of black oil, swamp the ditches,
from trucks performing cheap roadside oil changes to beat the
effects of heat induced degradation.
Kerman, a city in Iran's poorest region, at an altitude
of 1800 metres, is a relatively cooler place. But not on the streets.
city had three choices of accommodation, a $200 a night American
style hotel, one budget hotel and several bug riddled $1 a night
pits for males only. One glimpse of the blood splattered walls
was enough to discount them. But alas the budget hotel was full,
and the flash one, well out of our meagre budget. While making
an already difficult decision, a huge crowd of onlookers gathered
round the disoriented bikers. It began to get dark.
A young boy, well spoken, complete with American
accent started making conversation with us in front of the ever
He wanted to practice his English and invited us to stay at his
parents house. A timely invitation as the Iranian police pulled
up in a couple of big 4x4's. The police began trying to disperse
the huge crowd, an officer asked for our passports and inquired
about our accommodation. The boy was looking a bit concerned.
"You people, follow us to the station. Boy,
come with us."
We were escorted in a convoy of jeeps to a walled
and fortified compound, asked to leave the bike outside, ordered
to enter and
the iron gate shut firmly behind us. The officer holding our
passports disappeared down a dimly lit corridor. The boy was lead
office and the door shut behind them. 45 nervous minutes later
the man with the passports finally returned, fetching the boy
from the office. Letters were presented for us all to sign, forbidding
us to take up the boys offer of hospitality. Passports back in
safe hands, we were slipped back out into the dark and empty
Funnily, in the same dilemma we were in two hours previous, only
now it was pitch black as well.
"Bugger this place, let's just get the hell
out of here."
We rode out of the city lights onto the vast plains.
Melon stalls lined the busy highway, and we pulled into a deserted
cover of darkness we lay dry palm fronds over the bike, careful
to cover the reflectors, and curled up under the bike in the
dust. Mice scurried under our sleeping bags and rug. Fleas and
trucks meant very little sleep. Up before the sun, we blasted
across the empty plain, sitting on 100mph for over an hour, attempting
to blow away the nightmare.
By 11 o'clock the temperature, according to the
thermometer around Saskia's neck was over 42 degrees Celsius. We
took shelter in a
shady restaurant for an early omelette lunch.
Getting ready to leave, Saskia noticed her sunglasses
were missing from the table. We gave chase to two Iranians seen
the parched thorny scrub out the back of the brown mud brick
building. Their tracks were lost and on returning to the table,
arguing with staff. We made it clear we were patient people,
and weren't leaving without them. The building was thoroughly searched
over and over. Toilets were searched. A waiter returned from
three, his arm coated up to his elbow with muck, glasses in the
other hand, having fished them out of the squat style long drop
To this day she remains unsure of which cubicle
she had actually visited.
Zehedan, a city in the far south-east, is the gateway
to Pakistan, and the frontier border town of Mirjaveh. Thorough
take place, with particular attention being paid to carpets and
rugs. Abruptly, the smooth world class motorways of Iran, turns
to 60 kms of corrugated desert track 50 metres wide and subject
to sand drifts, trucks, buses and brand new Toyota hilux's, full
of turbans, weapons and the occasional camel.
In the Pakistani immigration office, the officer
casts his gaze towards the European women present.
"You can remove your headgear madams; you
are in Pakistan now. Welcome."
Just who is this bloke???
Rick Coleman spent seven years roaming the globe on a motorcycle travelling through over 32 countries on 4 continents. A New Zealander, he worked as a motorcycle courier and in consular services in London to fund, feed and fuel his travel bug.
Since his return home to New Zealand he has written and had published articles about his previous travels, and rural life in the top of the South Island, where he and his partner Saskia now live in Mapua, near Nelson.
Since 1998 he has been writing HTML and designing
websites. He has built-up a substantial portfolio of
small to medium sized websites. Motorcycles are slowly being replaced
with sail boats as preferred recreation, and he dabbles in broadcasting,
hosted a weekly world music programme on New Zealand community
access radio for over five years.
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