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‹ Previous (27/08/2009) MONTH Next (2009-10-26)› ‹ Previous (2009-09-19 - Pakistan) COUNTRY Next (2009-10-08 - Turkey)›
Esfahan (see on map)
Before going out of Quetta, Alex had been reading through Internet all the news about the kidnappings of the last months in Balochistan, in general for economic reasons in the case of foreigners, who are released alive normally, also although there are many kidnappings and murders of Pakistani policemen. In the face of this news, it was much easier for Alexandra agreeing to be escorted, from half way by different cars that were exchanged quickly among themselves, without us having to wait for each other in any moment. More ahead, when the area turned still more depopulated and desert-related, we also accepted, a soldier with kalashnikov in the car that we also changed efficiently about three times in different check points along the path. This efficiency in the bodyguards helped us to advance very quickly, besides, the road has improved. When we came for the first time, there was about 100 or 150 km of road without asphalt, although there was some small group of workers that was asphalting the road in an almost craft way. The surprise we had after 14 months, was that we enjoy almost the whole road in asphalt, although the surface was not too smooth. That allowed us to arrive about two hours before the setting of the sun in Nokundi, a village where we had spent the night the previous time, but they cheered us up to finish arriving up to the border and spend the night in the customs, and like this we made it.
When arriving to the customs of Taftan, we found parked two autocaravans with two families of Frenchmen with a couple of children that had just entered in Pakistan. Happy to find some new travellers we explained eachother the last anecdotes, before being invited to dine by the chief of the customs. Really, the customs between Pakistan and Iran are one of the best of the world, for one year ago we also were invited to eat at midday when we arrived. After a delicious dinner, Yunas, the one responsible for the bureaus of customs, invited me and Alexandra to take tea in his room and the following day in the morning to have breakfast. During this time he explained us that he had wife and three children that lived in Quetta, which he saw once every month or every two, when he had a week of holidays, a work and familiar situation very similar to that of many Indians and Pakistanis. As many Pakistanis, Yunas also entertained us with some conspiratorial theories, explaining for example to us that India, Iran and the United States were provoking instability in Afghanistan so that Pakistan could not prosper.
Today in the morning, we have passed the formalities of Pakistan troublefree and after waiting about thirty minutes in front of the door of the closed border (due to the change of timetable) we have entered Iran. There we have had to wait for another hour without justification and after we have passed the formalities with quite a lot of rapidity, without in the end looking for the insurance of the autocaravan (which I had printed through Internet), or inspecting the autocaravan (which we have full of products to sell), not even offering us or requiring a diesel card that costs about 300 € (as the Frenchmen explained). So, we have been able to breathe calmly in the face of these three first worries, but not to the fourth: the guards, who have provoked us a very tense day.
To go out from the border they have assigned a soldier that has come in the car with us. Alexandra was already used with the Pakistani guards and has not protested a lot. Anyway, the reason of protecting us seemed an excuse, because the soldier did not have weapon nor walkie talkie; the main reason seemed that we did not commit any illegality, if it is that we can commit one. We thought that everything would go well, but half way to Zahedan (at 80 km), the soldier has made us stop in a check point and after retaining our passports for about 15 minutes, a new soldier has been assigned to us. This same process has been repeated another time before reaching Zahedan, and finally, after having indicated to the third guard that we needed to put diesel, this has driven us to a police station in Zahedan, where our passports have been retained without giving us any explanation (nobody talked English). After an hour and a half, when we were already very annoyed with so much waiting, a car that in theory had to escort us out of Zahedan has arrived. Anyway, they did not want to return the passports, another tense discussion that i took it up to one of the big heads, assuring that the car would escort us to a gas station, that there they would return us the passports and that finally would escort us (without exchanging any word in a common language) out of Zahedan. But instead of that, they have driven us towards another police station, where our passports have been deposited while the first guard left us. In the face of this deceit, I have become annoyed as a monkey and to calm the nerves I have gone out to walk through the neighbourhood with a policeman behind that kept screaming to me all the time that i turned back. Finally, when returning, the second car that had to escort us up to the gas station has arrived, although this time we have not left until they have returned us the passports. Anyway, the second guard has been very short, up to a corner where we have had to wait the third car, that, instead of driving us towards the gas station has escorted us to a third police station, where they had to assign a fourth car to us. We both were well annoyed, and still more when they have suggested us to stay and to sleep in Zahedan ( it was midday). Before crossing the border we had the intention of reaching Kerman in the afternoon or night to meet a friend, but we started to guess that it would be impossible.
Finally, after waiting twenty minutes in the police station, during which we have been about to leave (to avoid that, the previous guards had retained our passports), the fourth car has appeared to escort us towards out of the city, but not towards some gas station. I have made him lights, I have stopped and I have next explained to them that i needed diesel to continue. The policemen have become exasperated telling me that I had to have mentioned it before to them... In any case, they have driven to the next gas station, where they did not want me to put fuel because i did not have the diesel card that in theory i had to have bought on the border. Anyway, after discussing a while, they have put us 30 litres and we have to start off again escorted out of the city.
Not too many kilometres out of Zahedan, the bodyguard has stopped next to the road to wait for the following car that has arrived in opposite direction. The fifth car has escorted us to a new check point where after a while, has started to escort us the sixth car, which, passed quite a lot of kilometres has stopped in the desert asking us to wait for the seventh car. But we, tired to wait for about 3 hours in Zahedan, have commented that we would already find the guard car through the path and we have left without waiting for the reaction of the policemen. For luck we have left, because we have not found ourselves the seventh car until after half an hour of driving, this one has escorted us to a new check point where they have asked us the passports and have assigned the eighth car to us. The eighth escort wanter to start off without returning us the passports (to prevent circulating without escort again), but we have refused clearly to continuing without the passports. For luck they have returned them to us, because to half way, the eighth car has stopped to inspect some suspicious vehicle and have lost it of sight.
Passed about fifty kilometres, and crossing a big desert, a policeman in a solitary check point has made signals of stopping. When making it, he has asked us for our passports, recommending us to take a soldier in the car because the area was dangerous. This time, Alexandra said no, but observing that they would not return us the passports if we did not accept the guard, I have had to accept in spite of the attack of hysteria of Alexandra, which was decided to Americanise with strident music the unarmed soldier. The soldier has made us stop in a new check point, where in theory they had to assign a new soldier to us, but even with the open door, I have tightened the accelerator and I have lost the control of sight behind the immensity of the desert.
From here, the stretch has been less troubled, although we have crossed with different cars of police that without stopping us have been escorting some tens of kilometres. And finally, Bam (where in theory the troubled area finished) arriving in the night, we have stopped in a small gas station where they have let us camp. Unfortunately, at midnight they have woken us up and some policemen very nicely have asked us to park in a next police control where we would be safe. We have been discussing a while, but I have finally said them: "Ok, we come, but when we arrive you will not ask us for the passports and will let us sleep immediately". They have agreed and after ten minutes we parked next to a big police control that checked with dogs all the buses, lorries and cars to control the drug dealing.
As they have explained us afterwards, it is seen that in these controls, and in other operations, they have caught many drugs traders, and the Iranian authorities are very worried that these Mafias kidnap some foreigner to ask in exchange for his life for the release of different drug dealers. Perhaps it was reasonable that the Iranian police tried to protect us and to escort us, but for sure it was not reasonable the little efficiency with which they have made it, making us waste about 4 very valuable hours that we would have used to reach Kerman and to meet our friend.
Teheran (see on map)
We reached Kerman mid-morning, but our friend (I will maintain the names in anonymity just in case) had a lot of work at his company and his nice girlfriend, immediately took us to apply for the visa extension in the office of foreign affairs because we have only 7 days visa. But unfortunately, they announced that our visa was of transit and that we could not extend it, although we could try in Esfahan. Pressed to leave because we had few days in Iran, we met with our friend in his company. And it was worth, because an Iranian friend is the most valuable thing that there is in this world. During the meeting, our friend commented us that as in the rest of the world, the Iranian economics is also in crisis. On the other hand, he also explained us that during the subsequent demonstrations after the Iranian ellections, Kerman remained quite calm, on the contrary to Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz or Tehran the was no death.
After being invited to eat with our friend, we put ourselves in the excellent Iranian roads (generally with 2 or 3 lanes) and I tightened the accelerator in depth in order to reach as soon as possible Esfahan and later Tehran. I was little worried with the price of the diesel, because this continued costing 0,01€/litre, and besides, on three occasions (along all Iran) they did not let us pay, obtaining the free fuel. However, yes that we were worried with the numerous speed controls in the roads, although the autocaravan did not run as to surpass the limits in most of the cases. On the other hand, we also had time apart from the speed to enjoy the landscape, because on this occasion the sky of Iran was much clearer, leaving in sight some images much more interesting, with wild mountains behind the desert plains.
We reached Esfahan on the following day at noon, addressing directly the office of foreign affairs where definitely they denied us the possibility to extend our visa. So, with haste we directed ourselves to the big bazaar of Esfahan (quite empty of tourists) where we were comparing prices and finally we buyed different exquisite wooden boxes that we think to resell in Europe (http://www.globetour.org/products/). We also call one more friend that we have in Esfahan, but in the end could not present himself because the appointment that he had with a girl stretched out of the account. Naturally I excused him because in no place of the world, but less in Iran, an appointment with a girl can be wasted.
After another day and a half of driving, we arrive to Tehran, the fourth day in the afternoon, where we had to meet with another good friend. Our friend had told us by telephone that she had to comment to us on something (severe) related with her husband. We were worried that something has happened during the unsuccessful post-electoral revolution, but it was in the end to be a little much more international: her husband had left her recently for another girl. Anyway, our friend is of a strong and very positive character, and the advantages of living without him, as the possibility to travel much more around the world, already started to be suggested. When asking her about the great demonstrations in Tehran, she commented us that she did not go to any, but yes her husband, who returned hit in the leg. As she explained, the government had brought many people original from rural areas, armed them with big bars of iron that were dedicated to hit anybody, but especially the women. On the other hand, our friend was worried because the heads of her company had done campaign for Mussavi and the government was now pressing them so that they sold their part of the company to the army. If that happened, it would provoke a hardening of the working norms, but the leak of international business would be much worse (the company would enter in the black list of blocked companies), she would lose the opportunity to do businesses trips to Europe.
After resting a day at the house of our friend in Tehran, on the sixth day we got back on the road to finish covering the last 900 kilometres of Iran. We have arrived today, (the seventh day) to the border, but a hundred meters before this, in a hut, a corrupt policeman has asked me if my car was diesel or gasoline, showing me a paper that supposedly the diesel cars needed for circular for Iran. Remembering that they had commented us on the diesel card that cost 300€ I have commented that the car was gasoline. But the policeman has not believed me and asked me to inspect the entry of the diesel while I pretend not to understand. Finally, the policeman has located the entry of the water in the autocaravan (fortunately, the entry of the fuel is half dissimulated with the adhesives) and asked me to open it. Showing reluctance, I have opened the opening of the water and the policeman has put the nose to sniff, but as it did not smell at all, has started to laugh confused and has been convinced that the autocaravan was not diesel. The following formalities have been very fast once on the border, although I have continued with the tremor of the legs provoked by the previous policeman. Next we have had to wait for a couple of hours for the queue of cars that entered to Turkey, coming back to this country, equally marvellous, although unlike Iran, the diesel costs 1,3€/litro.
Sanliurfa (see on map)
After spending over a year travelling through Asia, in Turkey we have felt more relaxed than ever, with a culture much closer to our countries. After shopping in Dogubayazit, which included cheese and olives, the first night we parked near the road, in sight of Mount Arat. It was long time since we did not sleep outside a town or gas station with the certainty of not being disturbed. And so it was for the first time since Tibet, that we enjoyed a fresh night and we took out the covers from the closets.
We were scheduled to arrive in Romania in mid-November to visit the family of Alexandra, and in Catalonia at the beginning of December, thus having one and a half months to enjoy the road, we started towards the south of Turkey, with the intention of visiting Anatolia or Kurdistan region and then Syria. I wanted to visit this country, because many travellers have explained its wonders, but also to pump my spine that I still dunk when the authorities forbade me the entry from Jordan. Anyway, though Alexandra said so openly, in my mind also frightened me the possibility of going to have problems to get in (well, Alexandra needed to obtain a visa in advance) or have problems once inside and have difficulty leaving the country with the motor home.
In any event, we were still far from Syria and we were captivated enough by the northern Turkey views to think about the possible difficulties ahead. We spent a couple of days around Lake Van, being invited to tea at any time by Turkish families. After two days of calm, blue lake views, some small islands and a mysterious snowy mountain in the background, we resumed our way, unhurriedly towards Mardin, a town wrapped around a hill overlooking the endless plains of Syria. Along the way we stopped at the monastery of Mor Yaqoub (without much interest) and just before entering in Mardin, in the monastery of Mor Hanany, founded shortly before AD 500. The latter monastery was for 800 years the seat of the Patriarch of the Syria Orthodox Christian religion, that the region has many other monasteries, some of them founded before the year 400 after the birth of Christ.
After a morning stroll through the narrow streets of Mardin, Syria went down to the plain (without going into Syria) and drove to Sanliurfa, a traditional city with a vast bazaar, old buildings and a large mosque next to the cave where Muslims believe that Abraham was born, the father of abrahamiques religions (Jewish, Christian and Islamic), the prophet whom God asked to sacrifice his son but an angel prevented at the last moment (perhaps betraying the will of God).
Just before arriving in Sanliurfa and take a nice walk around the old town, we spent the night in a closed gas station where they very kindly let us park. Unfortunately, at about 8 pm, a new security guard came and told us with very bad manners that we had to go, but I ignored it and in seconds I started to scream out the window to let us in peace (I had disturbed their evil ways, but on the other hand at that point we did not have Internet wifi and left). My cries should calm the guard, who left us alone all night, but early in the morning, the same guard accompanied the first guard who had given us permission to park, we were asked to leave, also in bad ways, and I also,with bad manners screamed them again to be patient and leave us an hour. But no, they took a baseball bat, and after many more screaming and threats just gone well moody.
It was this incident which caused my decision not to try to enter Syria (Alexandra had previously expressed her little desire). i was tired of problems, including small ones, and I wanted to get home to rest a while before resuming the journey and adventure into America. I counted the miles we had left to come to Catalonia, estimating about 5,000 km. I have had the feeling there were many, but looking at the mileage from Nepal (about 8000 km) I have realized that in reality we are much closer to home than I thought, especially Alexandra, who just is at 2000 km from Romania.
Mont Memrut (see on map)
After deciding not to go into Syria and start making way to Ankara, we deviate by small roads to visit the summit of Mount Nemrut, of 2134 m, one of Turkey's most mysterious tourist attractions. During the first century BC, flourished briefly the Commagene kingdom, during which one of their kings built a shrine at the tomb of the isolated mountain top. This mausoleum was composed of several large statues, one looking east and others west, which lost their heads due to earthquakes. Currently, these large stone heads of the king and various gods lie on the floor, as if it were an intriguing setting for a fantasy film or mythological. The mysticism of the place makes for the sunset and leaving, the place was crowded with tourists, but outside these times, you can also enjoy the solitude in the midst of these giants.
Ankara (see on map)
The next stop after the beautiful Mount Nemrut was Cappadocia, which we had visited the previous time. We spent a few days practically doing nothing, spending much of the day connected to the Internet, besides devoting a morning to walk through the mountains and another to meet a man from couchsurfing, Zili Kilim. Zili had lived much of his life in France, allowing you to analyze the Turkish society with a different perspective. He explained that in Turkey people are very hospitable, although sometimes it can be a problem, for example, to visit his family driving for 24 hours, friends or relatives do not take into account the fatigue and keep him awake for another 24 hours . In fact, his mother is still worried about him, he already being 40 years old, and always has to watch what was done in order not to upset the family. In any case, Zili criticized much more acute loneliness with which people live in Europe and France in particular. For example, his girlfriend refused to go for salt to a neighbour the first time he came to France and had to cook without this essential ingredient. On the other hand, in France, people pay too many taxes, limiting personal freedom, along with laws, economy ...
After spending a day at a Fiat changing the front window of the autocaravan, we got to Ankara where we wanted to change a battery that was still under warranty and meet a friend. Unfortunately we could not find the friend and the battery could not be changed instantly, having to wait six days to make all the proofs. During this wait, we passed the time while we were parked in a large shopping mall where we got wifi Internet. We acted as if it had already finished the journey, or as if after a long summer, now we had no choice but to hibernate. In any event, we were not entirely inactive, because I also spent many hours editing the diary of four years, when travelling in Europe, with an eye to possible future publication.
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