Category — Iran
Day 137 (Iran/Turkmenistan): Sarakhs - some barn 33km from Mary (leaving Iran - into the stans and the land of books)
daily distance: 132km
total distance: 8439km
riding time: 8h
So I am leaving Sarakhs and thus Iran. I will have to do some more writing about my impressions of Iran at some later point. The wind is in my back, though not for long. The whole day was a wind battle and I was almost beaten into submission. It was not pretty, I am shot and don’t like the whole thing right now. But things are looking up. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.
The border is almost a no-brainer. Except for the lone immigration officer who keeps looking at my visa. Then at my passport picture. Then at me. Back where he started. He does this - I am not joking - 10 times or so. I keep smiling sort of. Then he pulls out a book with the signatures of consuls I gather and compares my extension with what he sees. Something wrong? Shouldn’t be. Frau Lotfi seemed certain. Almost at the end he sees something that satisfies him. He does the tour again a couple of times. Then I am done with him. The customs guy I can convince not to bring the bike inside and can leave without a hitch.
I cross the bridge and I am in … Turkmenistan (I will put a film about it up as well …).
What a difference. The air-conditioned buildings in Iran are replaced by baracks of Soviet lore. The windows are low and small, you have to bow much deeper. It is also a lot less formal. The first checkpoint. Book number 1. All data is being logged. I pedal some 2km and get to the actual border station. Medical exam. Book number 2. Do I have any diseases? No. Book is closed. Thank you very much. Then a long wait. I seem to be the first person today. More waiting. Then I am allowed in. I have to pay more money, $10 for entering and $3 for having those $10 exchanged. I protest a bit, but this is of course not leading anywhere. It is also silly to charge more money when you enter. Slap it onto the visa bill for crying out loud. What would have happened if I hadn’t gotten the dollars back I wonder.
Then everything is checked, forms filled out twice, the head-honcho and only he turns the key and the low hum of an x-ray machine starts going. After everything is checked again and again, I am off to the races. But wait. A woman is in charge. What? A woman? And she is not wearing a chador!!! You can actually see some body shape. For someone who has been to Iran for too long this actually is a reminder of how things normally are. Back in the normal world. In the meantime books 3 and 4 have been filled. Book 5 follows when leaving the border area. Then I am there.
It is hot now, the wind is blowing strongly in my face and I have no choice but to move on. After some 90km I am done and exhausted. It is brutally warm and I decide to take a long break. I have seen camels and Chinese train engines, bad roads and more women doing what women usually do where I am from (meaning work and regular dresses - though slightly more colorful generally speaking).
Moving on, I stop again after some 20km and am very warmly welcomed by the cafe owner. He brings soup and salad and drinks right away … I am hungry actually and he hears of no payment in the end. I insist. Instead he invites me to stay. Tempting, but I move on some more and try to cover mileage. But check out the writing on the sign on the picture below.
I end up in a barn with a farm hand. The owner has no problem with me staying and we have some dinner together (it is soup again, the same type of soup, thin and without much taste; it strikes me as being quite cheap also and the emacicated figure of the boy speaks volumes).
Will move to on to Mary tomorrow and then beyond, trying to cover the country as quickly as I can. So far, so good. Desert still to come.
August 8, 2008 1 Comment
daily distance: 65km
total distance: 8307km
riding time: 4h
I left Shuraq early, hoping that the wind would not be as strong. It worked … for the first 15 minutes or so. Soon enough, the wind was blowing in my face again. Seems to happen quite often when I leave a country. Same deal as in Turkey …
After a few long hours battling the wind I finally make it to Sarakhs where everything is pretty much the way things are in border towns. It is lively and happening … and then shuts down at 2pm. This is the last chance for internet uploading so I convince the internet cafe owner to let the upload of the pictures go ahead during the afternoon break. No problem. Great.
Kids pester me throughout the afternoon, people creep me out in a park and I eventually turn back to the internet cafe. No place to sleep yet. I spend a few hours there, many more than I wanted to and Siavash, the owner asks me where I plan to sleep tonight. I meant to go to a small hotel. He says no, invites me to his home and so off we are. The bike stays in the internet cafe and we have a good time with a bunch of his friends. Great ending to the hospitality I received so many times in Iran.
I have also been told that the police have found the second person, the guy from Esfahan. They have locked him up, he claims to have sold the money for a ridiculously small amount. The police have informed his family to bring the money by or he will stay where he is. Not sure what to make of it all, but hey …
August 7, 2008 No Comments
daily distance: 110km
total distance: 8242km
riding time: don’t ask - too long
It was a bit of an early morning … people wake up earlier here. We had breakfast, the neighbors bringing over food as they had done the previous night after feeding us all over the place to start with. It was a very moving show of appreciation with the foreigner and in their eyes filling the need to make up for the bad done to him in their town (no such need really seen from my perspective). The communal feelings certainly run much higher than they would anywhere else I have been so far.
The police was to come … but they never showed up. First it was about finding someone that could serve as my representative if the money were to turn up. It hadn’t, so I called Reza who will take care of things from now on. I am writing the money off basically. The stupidity budget is pretty much empty now though. While waiting for the police I found out that they were to escort me to the border. That was not going to happen so after some time I made my way out. Not without playing some ping-pong with Sayid and a picture with the very helpful people at the municipality of Razaviyeh.
The wind which had been coming from the right direction before had made a U-turn by the time I headed out. It was also hot. And so I biked into a ferocious wind after bidding farewell from everyone, but especially from Sayid who had made the time very much bearable.
The wind was beating me pretty good. Every time I turned, the wind turned with me - it was brutal. No fun and one of those days during which you ask yourself why you are doing this to start with. I did. More than once. Actually quite constantly.
I wasn’t sure whether to head over the pass, but made a run for it, knowing I would cut it close to reach the next town before nightfall.
The wind was still in my face on the other side and progress was slow. The landscape dramatic, it could have been great riding except for the wind and the road, which was treacherous for the most part. Broken asphalt everywhere, gliding along not an option.
Towards the end the light became a bit critical. The wind no longer a factor as it grew dark, I was able to increase speed, having to climb a few times still. Not sure where I would end up, I was flying blindly pretty much. And it was getting really dark now. A bit of a race against time. Then, it happened … for the first time in Iran a car was not overtaking, but stayed behind me, signaling me to go ahead, they would cover my rear. This was heaven, couldn’t have been better. I beat the last bit out of me and arrived in Shuraq when it was positively dark. Wow - what a day.
As soon as I arrived an old man asked whether I needed a place to sleep. I had to catch my breath, having hardly a chance to thank the car that gave me company over the last 7 or 8 km. They were off quickly, hearing none of the thanks. The old man led me to his house and we had a fun dinner. Again, slept quickly and very deep.
August 6, 2008 No Comments
As some of you may be worried, I feel that I should let you know that I am alright. I am moving on to Turkmenistan tomorrow and will not be posting for at least a week I think. No one should worry, though I will be happy to receive messages and commentary anyway.
August 6, 2008 2 Comments
daily distance: 43km
total distance: 8132km
riding time: just over 2h
This is a bit on the long side and I apologize.
This is what my wallet looks like now …
But let me start out from the beginning. I left busy Mashhad over some highways and found my way to the road to Sarakhs. It’s a pretty straight shot to get there. The first town was a bit gloomy and I quickly put it behind me. Little did I know that I would come back later in the day. The temperatures were high, the wind was coming in from the front, but all was manageable.I reached a little town by the name of Razaviyeh and deicded to put in a stop, have a bite to eat and move on. All of this would have taken 15 minutes. Got some cream cheese and moved to the bakery, which was just putting out the fresh goods. Great. The people there were friendly and welcoming, I moved my bike over. As they refused payment and I was wearing my bike shorts I put the wallet back in my handlebar pack and shot some pictures. This is one of them …
And this is when it happened. When I got back to the bike my wallet was gone. I wasn’t sure whether I had misplaced the wallet so I did a thorough search. Nothing. I had this sinking feeling. It was no longer there. All was lost. Money, cards and no way to get a hold of money here in Iran really. It’s possible, but it would not be easy. I could call some people and probably solve the problem, but this feeling of intense frustration at the situation and importantly at myself. My own stupidity, I didn’t separate the money out as I usually do as I had changed some yesterday and hadn’t thought of things.
People were milling about, I looked around for help. The bakery people needed to keep moving, they tried their best, but the language barrier. The seconds stretched into eternity. I mentioned the police, didn’t know what else to do. Rationalize the situation. Money I could somehow get a hold of. But time was of the essence too. My Iran visa had 5 days left, my Turkmen visa begins in 3 and I need all 5 days that I have on it to get through the country.
An emergency vehicle comes and the guy speaks broken English. He calls the police. Someone else comes by - Sayid - who speaks English and says that things will be alright. How can things be alright I think? Somehow I know this will turn out right, but try to rationalize in that situation. The police comes, uses their walkie-talkie antennas to shoo all the kids away and start to handle the situation. I don’t have much hope that anything will be recovered. A second English speaker comes by. He too turns out to be from the municipality. I reluctantly go with Sayid on his bike, not wanting to leave the scene of the crime. But there is nothing for me to do. The thief is long gone. So we pedal away and I am asking loudly why the !@# I made a stop here. He says again that the police will find the wallet. How much hope do I have? Exactly zero, you’re right. At the municipality they give me tea, melon, cookies and are super kind. The strategy game begins to take shape in my mind. Whom to call for what. Credit cards must be canceled if things don’t turn up fast. Then, all of a sudden, there are 10 police officials in the room. All of them barrel-chested , stern looking. One is in uniform, the others in civilian clothing. Everyone is laughing, except me. I understand little, translation is spotty. They ask no question, but work off a list that I had drawn up before. Wallet, money, cards. A little while later a kid is brought in, I recognize him from the bakery area. That may be the guy. I feel anger welling up inside me, am baffled when someone gives him melon. Good cop, bad cop? I am shown an album, not sure what I am looking for. There were tons of people around. I don’t recognize anyone. Then, they all leave. I am on my own with the municipality people. I want to check whether I didn’t leave the wallet in the bags and am told that this is not necessary. Someone has seen something, someone taking the wallet. So it was stolen. A trace at least. Hence the good mood. Mine lightens up too. One guy says: “The Game is Over.” Speaking of my trip. Everyone laughs. I don’t. It is not over!
We chat a bit more, they ask me about the languages I speak. I mention French and soon enough find myself in another building, a mile away or so. My mood has gone sour again, the kid has been held for too long, he’s not talking. Alright, so I am to talk French in all this to someone who has been living there. Great. That’s what I need. I go anyway.
The guy is pleasant, his French superb. He wants the details. I recount the events. He makes phone calls, says that some organization will provide funds for me - at least until the border he says. They feel that this is their responsibility. I say that I will manage somehow. Not sure how yet. He hears none of it. Sayid receives a call, says that we must go. They have something. Happiness … Another call. Stay where you are. The 10 police officers march into this place now. The uniform guy carries something that resembles my wallet. It is torn up … ripped pieces. What they ….? Who does this? At least sell it. Or throw it away, leaving no trace. But this is stupid. Alright, so nothing. Then a dramatic gesture by the uniform guy. He pulls out a plastic bag with my cards and the dollars. WOW! The Euros are not there and the Iranian Rials are missing. Are you sure? Yes, positive. Nothing else was found. All of this in a mixture of Farsi, French and English barrages on me.
Then, I realize that all along there has been a guy sitting on a chair, handcuffed. So this is him. A lot of shouting about the Euros. Everything is very intense, but also professional. He starts crying, pleads with the police. I am told that the dollars, the wallet and the cards were found in different places. I say that there must be a fourth place then. They agree, but they can’t find anything. They want to try though. I am unsure about my feelings towards the guy. He looks pathetic, likely a drug user, scraggy and I almost have pity with him. Everyone leaves again. We all go to the police station in the gloomy looking town. On the way I am told about a trace on the Euros. Maybe they will turn up. Cudos to the police. They were fast, very fast indeed. Have some feelings about how they did this. But am pushing this aside for the moment. The guy’s face looked fine, though I wasn’t present at all times.
The kid had seen the guy, Hadi, take the wallet. Things make more sense now. Hadi is a known criminal - it’s not the first time he has a run-in with the police. He had seen me arrive and followed me, waiting for his chance. I had given him a wide-open one.
This is what I noted down at the police station until about 2pm. I have to wait until 5pm for some reason. There is a person to whom Hadi claims to have given the money to. I have a day to play around with before having to reach the border town. The police give me lunch. The pity I had for Hadi fades quickly when I see him smile at me sardonically at the police station. He knew what he was doing and the police knows it.
I was to find out later by the uniform guy that he beat Hadi. Someone also tells me that “this is how the police does things here”. I guess I wouldn’t have my money otherwise. But I am very disturbed. Here I am, writing against torture and now I am the beneficiary of similar tactics. It bothers me majorly. The uniform guy shows me his swollen hand and expects me to be impressed. Instead I try weakly to show my misgiving about the tactics used, but the language barrier makes this very difficult without offending him entirely. Why do I care about offending him? The whole episode troubles me now and gnaws at me.
The police is shuttling me back forth because of their lack of coordination with the municipality. I end up with them in the police cruiser when one officer gets out and certainly is not working his regular duties in the part of town that houses Afghan refugees. His colleague points out that these are not humans - I don’t like him much. He is a conceited son of a gun.
Eventually I am brought back to Razaviyeh where I am to spend the night. My bike has been there all along, in the town hall. On the street we see Sayid who invites me to his house to sleep there instead of the fire station. I accept gratefully. I am completely exhausted. I am down 250 EUR, have barely enough money to reach the border with Uzbekistan now. The municipality has given me money to reach the border and for the remainder I have some dollars. Will have to make those last.
The night is an interesting one. We go to his neighbor’s place where a good number of people celebrate the birth of Imam Hossein who is another of the 11 imams and who is also a martyr, he died in Kerbala. A great deal of emotionality ensues at his story, many of the men cry (which is a a bit strange still for me and somewhat unexpected).
I am now also told that the boy had nothing to do with all of this, that the police has found Hadi on their own. They still beat him though. He is said to have given the Euros to someone from Esfahan, the police being on the lookout for him. The whole affair has been escalated and court proceedings are under way. Apparently, there is also an undercover operation going on to find the person. It all sounds a bit incredible to me. Good story, but is it true?
I am falling asleep fast in Sayid’s place, feeling secure for the first time today after all this time in the police station and uncertain about how things will move along. Thanks Sayid!!!
August 5, 2008 2 Comments