Chapter 5 – Axis of Evil?

Turkey – Syria – Iran

This year Turkey is suffering from a greatly reduced number of tourists; something everyone is putting down to the bad publicity surrounding ‘Bird Flu’. As a result of this we were offered a good price for a ‘Blue Cruise’ (Three days & four nights on a Turkish Gulet, sailing from Fethiye to Olympos). We decided to base our decision on the sea water temperature and so rode over to Oludinez for a spot of swimming. The water was chuffin’ freezing and the majority of holidaymakers were clustered around the pools of their beachside hotels. All the menus were in English with ‘Full English Breakfast’ served all day and prices in Sterling (30% higher than in neighbouring Fethiye)

Having decided to skip the cruise we packed up and rode the 70miles to Kas where we spent a day Sea Kayaking. The Kayaking company wanted to shoot some ‘rescue’ video footage so Danny and I volunteered to roll our Kayak over and be rescued and then to rescue an overturned guide. Fortunately the water was a little warmer than it was in Oludinez.

The coast road along this part of Turkey is very reminiscent of Croatia’s Dalmation coast and we had it to ourselves as we headed for Cappadocia. The stretch to Antalya was great them came a boring bit of dual carriageway to Manavgat  where we turned inland through the mountains to Konya and the flatlands that led up to Cappadocia. We rode 437miles that day and took a room in an old Greek House in Guzelyurt.

Before moving on to Goreme we had to fill the bikes up. We’d managed a respectable 550 miles on the previous tank of juice but a GB£41 bill for filling a motorcycle takes some swallowing!

Gunyalp Pension

Goreme

In the Pension in Goreme we met Christophe, a Swiss cyclist. He was sitting with a Finnish girl who was staying in the dorm with us, as Danny joined them for breakfast he had that ‘RESCUE ME’ look about him – she could talk bollocks for Finland.

Anyway, Christophe was an Osteopath from Diablerets on a three week cycling trip, and a top bloke. There was something about him that set him apart from other travellers. There was more to him than the push bike and neckerchief and when he mentioned mountaineering everything fell into place. Anyone who has ever met a mountaineer will know there is something ‘different’ about them. Quiet but confident, slightly eccentric but barking mad.  He had spent 1998-2001 cycling around the world and we were able to gain a lot from his experience.

After breakfast, Danny adjusted the position of his rack so that Christophe could get on the back and the three of us visited an empty Zelve where we spent the day climbing amongst the rock caves.

Goreme - Cappadocia

Goreme-Antakya

We left Goreme early in order to get to Antakya in time to sort accommodation, eat and find somewhere to watch the Champions League final (by now you’ll know Danny’s an Arsenal fan so I won’t mention it again). Apart from some rain the 310 miles was a pleasant ride. As we pulled up for lunch so Danny’s clutch cable broke a few more strands. It had been deteriorating for a few weeks but we’d decided to get as many miles out of it as possible. Later in the day he had to nurse his bike through the traffic into Antakya. On the way I had my nearest miss of the journey. As per usual, as you pass the city limit signs, every driver turns into a potential killer. Cruising into town in a line of traffic a Mercedes ‘E’ class passed me on the inside. With no space in front of me to move into, he attempted to push me out of my lane but with nowhere to go other than into the concrete central reservation I managed to give him a good kick just before he made contact with my pannier (with legs like mine you’ll appreciate how close he was!). He seemed genuinely shocked, as though he was totally unaware of my presence. As he pulled over to check the damage I regained control of my tankslapper. Over the Autocom Danny said I’d left a nice boot scuff mark down his motor – I was just glad not to have been sandwiched against the central reservation.

That evening we replaced Danny’s clutch cable on the street outside our hotel.

Various onlookers came and went before the arrival of Guvenc, a 5th year medical student studying to become an Abdominal Surgeon. He bought us delicious fruit smoothies before his cousin, Mustapha, a PE teacher arrived along with another round of smoothies. Somehow the clutch adjuster became jammed but having being wound in by hand we couldn’t understand why.  In trying to free it we broke it. Luckily for us it’s a fairly generic part and Guvenc & Mustapha jumped in their car and set off to the local bike shop to get us one. Guvenc owns an Africa Twin and couldn’t wait to get his hands dirty on his return. We were cutting out the old one and re-tapping the thread when Guvenc muscled his way in. You could tell he was a job and finish man – I guess leaving someone opened up on an operating table is not an option! After all of this we decided to go out for dinner. Despite the street being full of restaurants they drove us out of town to a restaurant way out of our price range. After all their help we couldn’t say anything and chose to bite the bullet. Soon the table was full of ‘Mezze’; the Arab version of Tapas along with salad, breads, water and beer. We had a great evening and were the last to leave. When the bill came they refused to take a penny from us insisting that we were there guests. What a couple of blokes.

Guvenc - Top Bloke

SYRIA

It was only 70 miles to Aleppo but that didn’t stop the journey taking all day. We passed a ridiculously long line of stationery trucks on the way to the border. After passing 100 we stopped to take a photo and got chatting to one of the drivers. Apparently the border had been closed for 20 days and he expected to spend another 4 – 5 days in the queue before reaching the border!

At the check point we were approached by an ‘official’ who took our papers into the office and got them processed quickly. When he brought them back he wanted ‘Backsheesh’ a payment for his service. It transpired that ‘Yes, I work here’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘officially’ – Lesson learnt. We told him he wasn’t getting any money as he had deceived us by saying that he worked there. Around the next corner chaos prevailed. Two lanes split into nine and there were trucks scattered everywhere. I went off to the police checkpoint whilst Danny guarded the bikes. Once again I was approached in a similar way and so I explained that I wasn’t going to pay any money and that he either worked here officially or he didn’t. He assured me that he did and we jumped the queue of bus passengers before heading off to Vehicle control (the bikes are stamped into our passports and have to be stamped out separately) which was followed by customs. This guy knew the system well and said that if we were quick we could get through before the border closed for lunch (2hrs!). Once again it transpired that he didn’t ‘officially’ work there and the subject of money came up. It was 1155 and suddenly everything became manic. Truck drivers ran to their caps, engines were fired up, horns were blown and gridlock ensued. The ‘Fixer’ had done us a good turn by getting us sorted before lunch and so we gave him a few Lira and with the help of the truck drivers, picked our way through the trucks to Customs (again) and on to the final police check.

Approaching the Syrian side of the border little did we know that we had just negotiated the easy bit!

We were told the process was Passport Control, Customs Office then the Customs lane. This was not strictly true – that would have been far too easy.

At passport control we were passed from window to window until eventually we were the only ones there (and nobody spoke English). Eventually we were seen at two separate windows. In front of the guy I dealt with was a picture of him (employee of the month kind of thing – or so I thought) during the process of checking my visa and stamping my visa I was charged US$20. As we walked away I asked Danny if he had been charged – he had not. I had been turned over by the passport control officer and what’s more his picture was everywhere. The picture wasn’t of him but of the President – his absolute double! From here we refused the help of several more ‘Fixers’ and went to the Customs office where they either couldn’t (though more likely wouldn’t) speak English and indicated for us to deal with the ‘Fixers’ who had followed us there. A big sign gave instructions in English but although the words were English the sentences made no sense whatsoever and so we had no choice but to go with a ‘fixer’. First we went to the bank/exchange office where we handed over US$35 to change into Syrian pounds. $25 for insurance and $10 for customs (receipt provided – we were learning fast!) Next was the insurance office, then we went to the Customs lane to get our Carnet de Passage’s (A temporary importation document secured against a bond deposited in the UK and financed with an insurance policy) stamped. On returning to the Customs office they wanted US$2 from each of us just to tear the relevant counterfoil from the Carnet! We flatly refused and in the ensuing row we said we were happy to pay if they provided us with a receipt. Suddenly they understood English and threw our Carnets back at us!

With our paperwork completed we were free to pass through the Customs lane and onto the final police check. Here everyone was very friendly and we soon rode onto Aleppo – 3hrs after arriving at the border. Little did we know at that time that a ‘mere’ three hours to cross a border would be a walk in the park…

Aleppo

The Syrians proved to be incredibly friendly people. Everywhere we went people wanted to say ‘Welcome to Syria’, others wanted to walk with us just for a chat. Coming from Turkey we were waiting for the usual ‘would you like to buy carpet’ but it never came. This was very refreshing but took some getting used to.

We shared a four bed dorm with Cajsa (from Sweden) and Suska (who you already know). Evenings in Aleppo were a very friendly affair with the parks full of families and friends picnicking late into the night. The four of us ate together for the next few evenings and with the city having such a safe feeling about it we spent hours wandering around. The one thing we couldn’t get used to however was seeing the blokes walking around arm in arm or holding hands.

Hama

We set off for Hama (famous for it’s waterwheels) with Suska in tow and took in the Dead City of Serjilla along the way.  In the empty car park of a deserted (barring the custodian and his kids) we met the most wonderful, polite, friendly, well behaved kids who made us a pot of tea and kept filling our glasses until it was empty.

One of Hama's many waterwheels

Syria was the only country we hadn’t bought a map for before leaving home. Relying on the tourist map we’d been given proved to be very hit & miss as a lot of roads existed on the ground that weren’t on the map, those that were weren’t laid out in the same way they were drawn and to top it all many of the village names were spelt differently! We came to rely heavily on a compass direction from our GPS for finding our way around.

What weren’t helping were all the pictures of the President all over the place. Every time we rode past one I’d get ‘Here, there’s that bloke who owes you 20 bucks’ through the intercom.

The following day we rode approx 70 miles to Krak des Chevalliers. Wanting to keep the speed down and avoid the highways we rode across country once again relying on a compass direction. Hyped attractions generally fail to live up to your expectations but Krak not only lived up to, but truly exceeded them. A remarkable feat of engineering that we easily lost 5 hours exploring. We ate in a nearby restaurant overlooking the castle run by the first (and probably last) ‘camp’ Arab we had ever met. He was exceedingly helpful and produced the most gourmet meal of the trip. At the final count the three of us had 21 plates on the table! Memories of Slovenia came flooding back of Danny emerging from our hotel in Bovec proclaiming the concierge to be ‘a little light on his feet’.

The World's best Castle?

Time was getting on and in order to get back to Hama in daylight we had to use the highway. Danny was very low on fuel and as we changed highways to head north so he disappeared from my view. Without all of our luggage we had no intercom and so presuming he had run out of fuel I set off to find some. The next exit was miles away and I turned off into Homs to find fuel and toured a suburb unsuccessfully before heading for the city centre. Still there was no sign of any fuel and so I asked a bike cop. He gave me directions but a mere 500yds from where he was standing the road was closed – so much for local knowledge! I gesticulated to two guys on a bike that I needed fuel and they indicated for me to follow them. Straight down the closed and unsurfaced road (by now it was dark), around a truck and crane erecting Palm trees, between a JCB and the truck it was loading finally arriving at the end of the road where a trench barred our progress. Jumping off their bike they lifted up the high kerb and into the deep sand of the un-surfaced pavement. The pillion returned to help me with my bike and soon we were at the fuel station. I gave them my thanks, filled up and set off to find Danny. He wasn’t where I had last seen him and it was then that I realised he probably hadn’t run out of fuel but that his rear brake had seized on (again). The ride back to Hama in the dark was one I’d rather forget but luckily Danny had made it back after letting his brake cool down and filling up with fuel further north.

Damascus

Suska’s knowledge of Damascus was a great help and she quickly directed us to the part of town where we quickly found a cheap hotel with a courtyard where we could safely park the bikes (even if we did have to take the courtyard doors off their hinges to get them in!)

The heat in Damascus knocked us out. 36 deg in the shade and no breeze made for three cold showers a day. We found a cracking pirate DVD shop in the old town and picked up a few films for a pound each. During he hottest park of the day we would return to our room, crank the ceiling fan up to max and watch a film before venturing out again later in the evening. Although we could make the room ‘comfortable’ we never managed to get the temperature below 30 even in the middle of the night. We took advantage of the courtyard to do some routine maintenance on the bikes and soon it was time not only to leave Damascus but to say goodbye to Suska.

A Muslim wife?

From Damascus we had a v.hot, flat, straight, lousy ride to Palmyra. The only entertainment along the way was a signpost stating ‘IRAQ 152Km’.

We spent two nights in Palmyra where we bumped into Martin, an Argentinean guy we’d met at Serjilla. We may bump into him again as he will be in the Indian Himalaya at the same time as us.

Close enough for us!

Across the Syrian Desert back to Turkey

We were on the road before 0700 to try and avoid the worst of the heat. We used a ‘local’ road, indicated by a dotted line on the map. The surface varied from good to bad to ‘what surface’ and we stopped to take some photos en-route. Unfortunately the moving shots turned out very poorly.

Nearing the border we filled up with fuel. At 30p per litre it was ¼ of what we were paying in Turkey and a full tank (39litres) would see us almost to Iran.

We arrived at the border just as it closed for lunch and the guards invited us in to share their lunch. Twelve of us stood around the boss’s desk tucking in to mezze. Having missed breakfast we were still eating after everyone else had finished. Afterwards they made tea and we fell asleep until the border reopened at 1400. We soon learnt that this is the smallest vehicle border crossing between Syria and Turkey and our experience here couldn’t have been more different to our previous crossing.

Across the Syrian Desert

Sanliurfa – Dogubayazit via Nemrut Dagi

Having spent the night in Sanliurfa we made another early start to give ourselves time to visit Nemrut Dagi (the stone heads of Greek gods you may have seen pictures of) turning off the main road we entered a beautiful valley lined with rhododendrons that lead to the foot of the mountain. Passing through the park entrance the road soon turned to dirt track and some of the steepest hairpin bends of the trip. This eventually emerged onto a cobbled rode that led to the summit a further 4 miles away. The cobbles shook us to bits and at the summit I noticed one of my rack/subframe bolts missing which I replaced before visiting the heads. This is the highest mountain for miles around and we had it all to ourselves.

Within 50yds of commencing our decent I felt the bolt fall out again and had to limp all the way back to the tarmac surface. We entered the park from the west but wanted to leave from the east. I needed to find some shade to fix my bike again but before finding any we arrived at the next village only to find the road had been dug up and there was no way through. One of the workers said we would be able to get through in 1hr – maybe. Whilst we waited I fixed my rack. After an hour there was still no sign of getting through. The only alternative seemed to be a 3hr detour back the way we’d come. Not wanting to burn up or tanks of cheap fuel unnecessarily we started clearing a path for ourselves. By moving some of the rocks we could clear a path between the strip of spoil and the drop into the stream. We managed to push Danny’s bike through somewhat precariously which seemed to make the workers realise we were serious about making progress and spurred them into life. They quickly backfilled enough of the trench to ride past and we were on our way. Soon after however, the road came to an abrupt end disappearing into a lake! Luckily having his towel to hand, Danny managed an all too brief 10 minute swim with some local kids before the ferry arrived.

We found eastern Turkey far more beautiful then the west. Had we known this would be the case we would have spent less time in the west and more time here.

The main route through Diyarbakir and on to Lake Van was lined with Turkish soldiers. 250,000 of them have recently been deployed here as part of the governments ongoing differences with the Kurds to the south of this road.

After picking up some bread and water we turned off the main road and headed north until we found a dirt track leading out of sight of the road. Here we strung a length of para cord between the bikes on which to hang our mosquito nets and spent a night under the stars. With such little light pollution from the ground it was possible to see the Milky Way. Fantastic.

Camping rough in Turkey

The following morning we set out on another fantastic days riding which was only tainted by the continuing problem with my rack/subframe bolt. There was a lot of road re-building going on which meant for mile after mile of rough potholed gravel roads through the mountains. I’d replaced the missing bolt before setting out this morning but it didn’t last long and the extra pressure on the opposite side soon sheared that bolt of as well. I’d now used up all the correct size spare bolts I had and would have to wait until we arrived in Dogubayazit until I could make a proper repair so I rode the next 200 miles as steadily as possible.

At over 50 miles long, at an altitude of 1600m and with a backdrop of snow capped volcanoes, Lake Van was not only a magnificent sight but the cool breeze was a welcome relief after the heat of the lowlands. At the head of Lake Van we turned north. Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of scenery mother nature has to offer she shows you something else. The road had been cut through a lava field. A volcano dominated the horizon and we could see the full width of the lava flow from summit to roadside and beyond. After passing through a few army checkpoints we commenced our decent to Dogubayazit which brought our first views of Mt.Ararat where many believe Noah’s Ark came to rest. At well over 5000m it dominates the landscape for miles around.

Nicknamed ‘Dog biscuit’ by western travellers struggling to pronounce Dogubayazit it initially gave the feel of a typical frontier town (Iran is 20 miles away) but after just a few hours we came to get a feel for the place and it’s friendly locals. We found a kind of ‘Motor Factors’ place and I managed to buy (several) spare bolts for my rack/subframe only this time I bought them extra long so I could fit a nyloc nut on the back of them.

The following morning after pushing our bikes outside (we’d parked them in the hotel lobby overnight) we went to the post office to collect Danny’s ‘Post Restante’. Only one of the two expected parcels had arrived (thanks Jez) but we had to sit down and drink tea with the staff. From here we went to a shop for toiletries. Here we drank tea with the owner who also went out to buy us breakfast buns. I fixed my bike in the street outside the hotel but discovered a damaged fuel pipe, caused by the dropping subframe, was causing a leak. I returned to the motor factors where I managed to buy a jubilee clip and copper sealing washers which would allow me to cut back the damaged pipe and remake the connection. This however was not a job I fancied doing in the street and would have to wait for somewhere more suitable. Late afternoon we returned to the Post Office to check on Danny’s second parcel. It hadn’t arrived but we drank more tea with the staff. From here we went in search of WD40. We eventually found something similar and guess what? Yep, we drank tea with the shop owner!

Lake Van

Turkish border fiasco

We got up at 0600 not knowing how long it would take to cross the border into Iran. After loading the bikes we spent the last of our Turkish Lira on breakfast and water and rode to the border where we arrived at 0830. The usual ‘yes I work here’ welcoming committee greeted us but this time the scam was different. There was no charge for helping us but we slowly deduced that he was a money changer and by gaining our trust would readily change money with him before leaving. After getting our passports stamped at passport control we proceeded to customs where they couldn’t find us on their system. After an hour or so we realised that the passport control had entered our motorcycle registration numbers incorrectly. They had entered RO O4 instead of RO 0(zero)4. Unbelievably they could not correct this. At one point there were eight people crowded around the computer all taking it in turns to try and fix it but it was a definite case of ‘computer says no’. At this point a retired Frenchman arrived driving his 340,000Km old Nissan Patrol from India back to France. He took one look at our ‘fixer’ and recognising him instantly, tore him off a strip before explaining he’d ripped him off for 100% when he’d exchanged money with him on his way to India 6 months previously. Of course, the ‘fixer’ claimed mistaken identity but the Frenchman was steadfast in his condemnation. After another hour or so we were invited to drink tea and a guy who spoke English explained that the computer system was new – one week old in fact – and nobody knew how to fix it when something out of the ordinary went wrong (ring any bells!?). They had to get permission and instruction from Ankara in order to resolve the problem! This took an incredible 5hrs! During this time the Frenchman reappeared. It turned out he couldn’t leave because the computer had crashed!

The Iranian side of the border was a far more efficient affair. Despite the extra procedures involved in processing our Carnet de Passages, exchanging money at the bank and visiting the (seemingly) compulsory tourist office the whole process took less than 2 hrs.

IRAN- ‘Axis of evil? – make that ‘axis of the world’s friendliest people!’

With the time now 1530 it was too late to follow our original plan of riding to Tabriz and so we stopped in Maku where once again we parked our bikes in the hotel lobby. The following morning we rode the 340 miles to Zanjan. We were eating lunch in a roadside café when a guy walked in and introduced himself as the local Mayor He spoke a little English and joined us for a cup of tea. When we went to leave we were informed that our bill had been taken care of.

In Zanjan we struggled to find a cheap hotel but were bailed out when Reza arrived on the scene and offered to help. He took us to a cheap hotel in the centre of town where we were mobbed. The initial crowd quickly tripled in size as others arrived to see what was going on. Danny managed to get a photo before it became manic and we disappeared from one another’s view.

Zanjan

Reza returned later to take us for dinner and a tour of the city and would accept no payment insisting that tonight we were his guests. The hotel night watchman wanted 20,000Rials to keep an eye on the bikes and on Reza’s advice we begrudgingly paid. Just as we got into bed Reza returned with two of his brother-in-law’s and so we sat up chatting and drinking tea for another hour or so.

Adam & Reza

A surreal day

In the morning there was no sign of the night watchman and one of the indicators had been snapped off my bike. Demanding our 20,000Rials back from the hotel owner he just shrugged saying ‘no English’ with a smirk on his face I was dying to wipe off. He knew exactly what we were saying but what could we do?

This was the beginning of a surreal day. Ten miles south of Zanjan we turned north east and headed across the mountains to the Caspian Sea. Once again the cooler air of the mountains was a joy to ride in and the stunning scenery made for a great ride. Sadly this feeling didn’t last for long. During the two days we’d spent in Iran we’d seen enough crazy driving to last us a lifetime. We’d stopped at a viewing point on the outside of a hairpin bend when a small car (KIA Pride) drove past with two wheels in the dirt, narrowly avoiding the Armco barrier. Following it down the mountain it was clear the driver was distracted by something for it was rarely on the right side of the road and negotiated blind hairpins on the wrong side of the road. Not wanting to get caught up in someone else’s accident we overtook it. Several corners later we exited a left hand hairpin. Looking ahead we saw three stationery cars on the opposite side of the road just around the next corner. Thinking the one in front had broken down we slowed down expecting oncoming traffic to overtake them on our side of the road. With that, the car we’d recently overtaken landed in the road 30 yds in front of us. It had driven off the mountainside and was smashed to pieces. The three stationery cars had obviously seen what was happening before us and as the KIA landed so one of the other drivers ran up the mountainside and picked up a screaming 5/6 year old girl who had been throw through one of the windows. As we parked the bikes more cars arrived and as people ran to the rescue so one of them indicated that all was in hand and there was no need of our help. The passenger was in a bad way. Given the remoteness of the location I think her chances were slim; there was no sign of the driver. Feeling like voyeurs we coasted past and continued on our way in sombre moods. It would have been a great ride but it was hard to overcome the sight of a family wiped out right under our noses.

Gilvan, the next village, was some 25miles away. Here we were stopped at the police checkpoint where they indicated for us to park up inside the police station. They took our passports and mentioned the accident. Did they think us witnesses or contributors? After a while they made us tea. At this point we decided they must think us potential witnesses but they seemed to be waiting for something. Was it statements from those still on the mountain, or an English translator? We weren’t sure. Soon after we were ushered into the ‘chiefs’ office where we spoke to the Head of Criminal Police and the Head of Traffic Police.  The traffic policeman spoke reasonable English and soon we were free to leave. Still none the wiser as to exactly why we’d been held.

At the coastal town of Chalus the traffic came to a standstill. There was supposed to be two lanes in each direction but soon there were five lanes trying to go west (our direction) with nothing able to travel east gridlock ensued. We were stuck in the middle with no respite from the sun (it was 35 in the shade). We spoke to and shook hands with many people in the traffic jam, all welcoming us to Iran. Danny even got given fruit by a Spurs fan who had a Tottenham scarf and Union Jacks spread across the dashboard of his replica Hillman Hunter (though he couldn’t bring himself to shake his hand!) Two hours of this was as much as we could take. When we eventually got through we splashed out on a hotel with air con. We cranked it up to its max and led there unable to move. We’d sweated right through our BMW riding suits. They wouldn’t have been wetter had we thrown them in the swimming pool.

Tehran

The ride along a gorge, over a 2900m mountain pass and on through a second gorge to Tehran should have been spectacular but was spoilt in part by heavy holiday traffic but mostly by dangerous driving way beyond the comprehension of your average western driver. Words cannot begin to describe what we witnessed and even video footage would be declared ‘rigged’. Albania was a walk in the park by comparison. There, every tenth driver was dangerous. Here it was every third. Drivers would overtake stationery traffic on the blind gorge roads, overtake four in a row (at double the speed of everything else) around blind corners down the mountain roads. We could not begin to comprehend what goes through their minds; especially with yesterday still fresh in our memories. There is absolutely no consideration for human life whatsoever as is demonstrated by the 24,000 fatalities every year.

BMW Iran and the ‘incredible’ Mr Houshang

During the preparation for this trip I had come across the e-mail address for Hamid, the workshop manager of BMW Iran. I had contacted him back in January enquiring about the feeling amongst the people of Iran given the current political situation. He replied saying ‘I am glad to hear you want to come to Iran. People are people and politics are politics. You will be made very welcome. Please come and visit us when you come.’ So we did.

They could not have been more hospitable. We were introduced to everybody and made to feel part of the family before being offered the full use of their workshop facilities. Then they arranged for us to meet Mr Houshang, whos large apartment we would come to share for the next seven days. Habib (Hamid’s father) led the way to Mr Houshangs’ on a 100cc bike. All along the route policemen would step out to shake his hand and at one point a bike cop attempted a conversation whilst circling a particularly busy roundabout. Later on we learnt he had been Irans pioneering BMW mechanic back in 1972 and was very well known and respected around the country. The driving in Tehran was crazy. Whilst not quite as aggressive as Istanbul there seemed to be no rules. Motorbikes would use the pavement, cross pedestrian crossings and ignore red lights. Lane discipline was unheard of. The number of lanes is determined by the width of the road divided by the number of vehicles that can fit across it. Being a pedestrian was even more perilous. Nobody would give way to a pedestrian and so they would take their chances crossing the road lane by lane. Approaching the city on the motorway a car used the hard shoulder to overtake everyone. Travelling at approx 70mph he narrowly avoided a hitchhiker stood next to the Armaco (yes people stop on the motorway to pick up hitchers) and cut back to the outside lane. With that a pedestrian appeared, stood on the white line in the middle of a five lane motorway with complete faith in everyone driving to avoid him! He was so relaxed he was on the phone!! Before reaching Mr Houshangs’ we also saw two accidents, a punch-up and I got hit by a car! No damage to me though I think his bonnet got modified.

Mr Houshang goes to bed at nine and gets up to run 15-20km at 0300 every morning except Friday when he gets up at 0400 to hike for eight hours in the Alborz mountains north of the city. A fighter pilot and champion marathon runner in his day he now spends his spare time writing about the environment. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he’s over 70 years old!

When it comes to hospitality Mr Houshang is the epitome of the word. We instantly felt like we’d known him for years. His picture gallery and album were full of photos of foreign travellers (many on motorcycles) who have experienced his generosity and he talked with passion about each and every one of them.

Mr Houshang

We spent the next two days in the workshop servicing the bikes in preparation for what we expect to be the most arduous of our outbound journey – Northern Pakistan and Ladakh (India). At lunchtime we would eat in the staff canteen where ‘Mr Manchester’ would serve up a meal big enough to last us all day.

The rear brakes on both the bikes had seized on several times during the journey and we had both ridden for several days with then disconnected.  We had diagnosed the fault as corroded (and therefore sticking) master cylinders and were awaiting a reply from Danny’s sister regarding availability and delivery from Motorworks in Yorkshire. We were puzzled when Hamid suggested they may have them as spares (bikes over 700cc are banned in Iran) but it transpired they are the same as used on the RT series supplied to the traffic police. Needing only to swap the plungers, they bolted straight on. Result!

Friday is the Islamic Sunday and everything is closed. We’d agreed to go to the mountains with Mr Houshang before he told us he would get us up at 0430. We protested that there was only one 4.30 in the day but he wasn’t having any of it. We soon learnt why. The intensity of the sun was like nothing we’d ever experienced. As the sweat trickled down my back I looked at my watch to discover it was only 0700! Returning at 1500 the backs of my hands were burnt red.

The following day we returned to the workshop. They close at 1300 on Thursdays and we’d missed the chance to get a photo with them. Mr Burkhardt rounded everyone up and we were able to take the photo you see below.

BMW Iran

We owe a big ‘Thank You’  to Mr Nouriani (company owner), Mr Alexander Burkhardt (Aftersales Manager) and Hamid Kian Pisheh (Workshop Manager) for not only their invaluable help but their warm welcome and hospitality.


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barstool
8 years ago

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