John Clark’s Shiraz to Islamabad Review
Day 116 Shiraz, Iran to Shiraz city outskirts, Iran – 24km
This morning we had an extra person at breakfast as Katareh decided to come to our hotel at 7.30am to join us. However after three days of painful attempts at conversation Daniel disappeared back up to his room the quickest and then before I knew I was left alone with her. She wasted no time by quizzing me on the way Daniel feels towards her. I played the ‘I’m not too sure’ card but after asking and asking I just said ‘yeah I think he likes you’.
This probably wasn’t the best idea as while we were making our way down the road she called out to Daniel and then ran after us in what seemed like slow motion. Perhaps to create the mood she asked to have a moment with Daniel so Mick, Aaron and I obliged. We walked a little further and then looked back on the most awkward of body languages I’ve ever seen and I just couldn’t wait to hear what she had said. After a short while they walked their separate ways and once Daniel joined us he told us that she said ‘I love you’, Daniel replied ‘thanks’. How sweet.
After all the excitement we pressed on to the Department of Alien Affairs where we all had our tourist visas extended. We were lucky as it was the last day left on our visas, any later and we would have been faced with a fine and perhaps a trip back to Tehran to re-apply. Aaron had a moment of panic as he had no spare pages left in his passport but thankfully the customs official broke protocol and squeezed the extension on a half-filled page.
We made our way back to the hotel where we met up with Shireen and Yuta for another quick goodbye and then Tim came across to see us before we headed off.
When we were all together we received an email from the Hyatt Hotel in Dubai who had kindly responded to our email with the offer of free accommodation during our stay in Dubai. We all got pumped up as we checked out photos of the five star hotel providing plenty of motivation for us to get on the road and begin heading south to the port town of Bandar Abbass.
We rode through the centre of town, Aaron missing the turn off after only 200 metres on the road, but made it 24km into the outskirts of Shiraz where we ate and camped at a castle themed restaurant.
Day 117 Shiraz city outskirts, Iran to Karghi, Iran – 97km
After a fairly slack effort the day earlier we said we’d work hard today to make up some ground. We were doing great too, managing to smash out 70kms in about 3 hours but then Daniel hit puncture trouble and then not long after so did I. These stoppages took up a lot of time and before long it was far too hot to ride.
We came across an abandoned building that provided lots of shade and also had a natural spring close by that we took turns in laying under. Once the temperature dropped we played a game of cricket and once we were playing with a ball it wasn’t long before loads of local children arrived looking on curiously at what we were doing.
Aaron and Daniel headed off on the motorbike to sort out dinner and while they were gone I played football with the children, a sport they were more familiar with. The children, along with most Iranians we’ve met, were only too quick to remind me about the world cup qualifier when Iran knocked the Socceroos out of the France 1998 World Cup by scoring two away goals at the MCG. They also all love Mark Bosnich and Harry Kewell.
While we ate we set ourselves the target of reaching Bandar Abbass one day earlier which would result in an extra day in Dubai. This would mean 480kms in 3 days. We then set up camp and got no sleep!
Day 118 Karghi, Iran to Bonaruyen, Iran – 156km
With the thought of reaching Bander Abbass and catching the ferry to Dubai one day earlier we were up at 5am and on the road by 5.45am. This was an incredible effort as none of us got any sleep due to the masses of people that visited the mosque that was close by and the bunch of kids that played football near our tents until 3am!
With our sore heads and tired eyes or what could be considered our first legitimate hangover in the last month we managed to ride 70kms by 9.30am, but then we lost 45 minutes; Mick decided he’d have a session on the bike. He only has a few days left of riding and Diane – his wife – is expecting some weight loss results by the time he returns home. Daniel swapped with him like usual and zoomed straight off and past the turn off to Lar – the town we had been aiming for since leaving Shiraz. We waited for him in the shade of a road sign as the temperature began to creep into the forties and then after 45 minutes he finally showed up.We pressed on with the thought of the five star Hyatt on our minds and after 50kms began to climb a steep ascent which thankfully at the summit had a road side store, or more accurately a bunch of kids selling water, soft drinks and milk out the back of a beat up ute. We all re-hydrated and filled our drink bottles which we had all emptied well before the climb.
Hot, de-hydrated and tired we had managed 125kms, the temperature 48 degrees and the sun burning down on us as we pushed through the hot head winds – it felt like there was a hair dryer blowing straight into my face.
Finally on the horizon of the nothingness a town slowly became visible and after 30kms we finally reached the turn off to the town which was another 5kms away. We decided to send Mick in on the motorbike to check it out first and the three of us sat in the shade of a bus stop.
While waiting, all of us de-hydrated and all of us out of water a kind local pulled over and gave each of us an ice-cold bottle of water each. Then only minutes later another local that had stopped to chat with us, Abuza, invited us to his house in town where we could relax for the afternoon. We took up his offer and made our way to his home in the town of Bonaruyeh.
Bonaruyeh was a tiny town in the middle of nowhere! It had one high street with mud brick homes surrounding it. Abuza drove us around the small, dusty town and showed us an incredible 2000+ year old wall that had children playing on top of it and adults riding over lower eroded parts on motorbikes!
We all laid in his air-conditioned lounge room – which like most Iranian houses was a large room with no chairs or couches rather handmade carpets and loads of pillows – and fell asleep. When we all woke up we decided that we wouldn’t do an evening ride and asked Abuza if we could stay the night. Instead he moved us to his friend’s brand new home where we all had a great night sleep.
Day 119 Bonaruyeh, Iran to Houmoud, Iran – 151kms
After a much better night sleep we were on the road by 5.45am although we had hardly any water, each of us with only one drink bottle full. First we sent Mick ahead but he didn’t find anything, he just let us know about a hill climb that was ahead! So he rode back to Bonaruyeh where he waited for stores to open and then he would catch us back up. Ironically we came across water after 50kms just as Mick caught us back up.
With no punctures and plenty of water everything was going great as we passed through Lar. Mick pulled into town to pick up some things for lunch while the three of us rode ahead. Mick joined us just as we hit a massively steep hill climb 20kms out of Lar. The road snaked its way over the mountain, a passenger in a passing truck threw water all over us and then nearing the top a small scorpion quickly scurry across the road in front of me.
We carried on until 11.30am and then it was time to get out of the heat. With nothing else in sight I asked the guards at a highway check point if we could sit in their hut for a while. They had no problems with this and in the hut there was air-conditioning and a bed! It was a perfect place to escape the heat for a few hours and despite the hundreds of flies that joined us we all managed to get a little bit of sleep. Before we headed off I decided to make a coffee to wake me up and with no kettle in the hut I used some water that I had left on my bike in the sun which was at perfect drinking temperature.
We rode a further 30kms from the hut and into the town of Houmoud. This town was even smaller to the night previous and only had one general store, gravel roads and again mud brick houses. We were so confident in Iranian generosity and hospitality that our plan was to just wait at the general store until someone offered us a place to stay. Sure enough after just 15 minutes a guy in his mid-twenties, Mohammed, offered us his lounge room so we made our way there.
Day 120 Houmoud, Iran to Bandar Abbass, Iran – 26kms (Bike) 139kms (Ute)
With 165kms to cover to reach Bandar Abbass and to achieve our goal we were up at 5am once again but things didn’t go to plan. I found my rear tyre dead flat and without any repaired tubes left between the three of us we spent 30 minutes repairing tubes before we took off.
Then after only 2kms, the time already 6.30am, Daniel got a puncture. It was not a great start, plus there was a strong head wind too.
Albeit we pushed on, we all wanted to achieve our goal, but then I got another puncture and while I was repairing it Daniel’s other tyre went flat. It was hopeless. We had only ridden 18kms, we had spent 3 hours on the road. The temperature was already in the high thirties. Due to the heat and lack of shade we were sweating up a storm while fixing the tubes and worst of all the glue wouldn’t set properly due to the heat. So every time we fixed the puncture it would just go flat moments after pumping the tube up!
With no new or repaired tubes and with us being unable to repair the punctures we had no choice but to throw in the towel and call on the locals for a hand. Without waiting too long a ute pulled over to our rescue. We all jumped in and caught up on some sleep during the 139km air-conditioned drive to Bandar Abbass, Iran’s largest port town.
Mick rode the motorbike into town and met up with us at the ferry terminal. We investigated tickets for the ferry to the UAE and unfortunately the one leaving that evening was only for cargo so we had to wait until the next day.
According to the Lonely Planet Bandar Abbass doesn’t have much to offer and after giving it a go myself I would have to agree. We checked into a hotel which to our delight had a movie channel in English – a first for Iran – and that’s where we stayed for the rest of the day.
Mick managed to sell his motorbike for $300 to a local which he was stoked with. It also paid for our ferry tickets and gave us some extra cash for dinner!
Day 121 Day off in Bandar Abbass, Iran
Our last day in Iran was very uneventful. We basically laid around the hotel all day until 5.30pm when we rode the 5kms to the ferry terminal. With some time to kill once we arrived we pulled out Uno only to be told off by a police officer moments later, it was a great way to cap off our time in Iran – If you’re having fun you’re probably breaking the law.
With no Uno we sat and reminisced on our time in the strict Islamic state. We had our highs and lows in Iran. Our timing was poor as the temperatures were very hot and with lack of opportunity we constantly ran low with water and food plus our trip coincided with Ramadan. The highs were memorable; the invitations into people’s homes, the visits to some incredible ancient archaeological sites and being the only tourist there and despite what we were faced with we always managed to have a laugh together especially when we were approached by an Iranian man displaying their three traits; no concept of personal space, pointless questions – Are you a tourist? Is that a bike? – and continuing to speak in Farsi – louder and louder – when we only speak English. Best of all we met some great people; Jafar in Tabriz, Shireen and her family in Kashan, the truck driver that almost fell asleep at the wheel and many more that lent us a helping hand or just came up to say hello.
The ferry that was scheduled to leave at 8pm began to board at 8.45pm after lengthy and chaotic custom and baggage checks. Once on board we were shown to our seats in the men’s area, the middle section was for families the other for single women.
We were then served dinner – roast chicken and rice – which was surprisingly delicious and then at about 10pm the boat finally set sail. After we were on the way all the passengers began spreading out over the empty seats, I found three empty seats together and fell asleep straight away.
Day 122 Arrived in Shajar, UAE and day off in Dubai, UAE
A loud PA announcement in Farsi woke me from a surprisingly uninterrupted sleep as the ferry docked at Sharjah, UAE. The trip took 9 and ½ hours, quicker than expected however despite docking at 7.30am we didn’t disembark until 9am and then it wasn’t until 10.30am that we finally exited customs and entered our 15th country for the trip.
We packed the bikes into three taxis and excitedly jumped in and made our way to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where we’ll spend three nights. Upon arrival we were all blow away by the quality of the hotel. The décor, contemporary designs and the cleanliness was exquisite, however it was the customer service that was most impressive something that Iran definitely lacked in its hotels.
The five star hotel offered everything including tennis courts, two pools, gym, spa and even a pitch and putt course (unfortunately closed for maintenance) and we didn’t waste any time in using all the facilities. The day was spent relaxing at the hotel and enjoying our first beers in about one month.
Day 123 Day off in Dubai, UAE
Due to all of our 5am starts our body clocks didn’t allow us a long sleep in so Daniel, Tim and I hit the gym and had a workout followed by a quick swim before heading to the most incredible breakfast buffet.
The breakfast which normally costs $40 per person, equivalent to our daily budget for the last two weeks of Iran for four people, was awesome. There was everything; bacon, eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, pastries – plus much more! We made the most of it too by sitting in the restaurant for about 2 and ½ hours.
After the feast we decided that while in Dubai we had to play a round of golf so we headed to the famous Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. As you could imagine the course was immaculate, with lots of water and sand traps which made it a challenging round. The clubs we were provided were brand new Pings and our golf buggies were equipped with a GPS system that provided information for each hole making club selection a breeze.
We played teams – Daniel and I versus Mick and Aaron – on the 18th Daniel snatched the victory for us after a 150 metre approach shot that stopped inches from the hole after ricocheting off rocks that made up a water feature 30 metres right of the green. The members who sat at the club house were gob smacked either by the shot or Daniel’s wild and exaggerated celebrations neither of which has been witnessed before at the club.
We enjoyed a few pints in the classy club house after the sweaty round before making our way to the world’s largest shopping mall, The Dubai Mall. With none of us really keen on shopping the majority of our visited was spent in the enormous food court, however we did see most of what the mall offered, including a full size ice rink, an aquarium and even an indoor theme park!
With tired bodies we returned to the hotel to have a rest before heading down to The Carpenters bar for a few beers. Unfortunately though there wasn’t much nightlife so we ended up having a fairly early night.
Day 124 Day off in Dubai, UAE
We all started the day off with another feast and then headed out to the Wild Wadi Water Park. During my last visit to Dubai I had visited the park and had an absolute ball so I wanted the others to see it for themselves. Unfortunately due to the Eid public holidays we were greeted at the park with a monstrous line that wasn’t moving. So instead we headed to the Emirates Mall for lunch and to check out Ski Dubai.
It was only a three minute taxi ride to the mall but that was long enough for Tim to lose his wallet out of his pocket and onto the back seat and only realise once we were well inside the mall, the taxi long gone.
We all hurried back to the taxi drop off point but had no luck tracking down the taxi. Fortunately the only card he would have to cancel was his Travelex debit card and generally that’s stress free as they provide you with an emergency card should you lose the other so you can still access your cash. Tim however thought it was sensible to leave both of the cards in the one wallet! His insurance company is being kept busy at the moment.
As we made our way back to the hotel we noticed a few cricket games being played on a patch of vacant land opposite our hotel so Daniel and I went across and joined in. After a few overs I began to realise that there was more going on than just cricket as what seemed like thousands of Pakistani men kept on arriving to the area and sat or stood in a large circle about 30 metres away, however there was nothing in the middle.
I asked one of the blokes that we were playing with what was going on and he explained that the traditional Pakistani Kushti Wrestling was about to take place. I joined the circle of enthusiasts and before long two blokes in their underwear were going at each other – similar to roman wrestling – in the middle. After about two minutes the smaller pehalwan (wrestler) was twisted to the deck and as his back was pressed flat against the rocky surface the fight was over his opponent declared the winner. The crowd went berserk and the winning pehalwan made his way round the circle to collect money off the spectators.
It was a great experience to see the traditional sport and it also got me very excited for our Pakistan leg as the blokes were great for a chat and I had no problems facing their bowling.
Day 125 Day off in Dubai, UAE
Today was extremely lazy. We simply made the most of the hotel as we would be leaving it that night.
We also took our bikes apart – in the lobby – and packed them away into boxes for our flight to Islamabad. We left the hotel at 10pm to catch our late flight. Our next country just around the corner!
Day 126 Arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan and Day off
We landed in Islamabad at 7.30am and were kindly collected at the airport by Eric, a driver that works for Marzio and Anne, the couple who will host us while in Pakistan. It was a first for me to walk into arrivals and see my name being held up by somebody. Strangely enough on our flight was a group of 13 Dutch cyclists who were making a two week ride from Islamabad into northern India.
My first impressions of Pakistan where different to what I had been expecting; we drove on great roads past big houses and on the roadsides were clean manicured gardens and lawns. The relatively new city, designed with Canberra as inspiration was certainly a contrast to other towns we’ll visit as there was hardly any other traffic on the road, I was expecting chaos similar to what we came across in Iran. On the twenty minute drive to Marzio and Anne’s home we passed through about six police check points and every home had an armed guard out the front, some with massive machine guns ready to fire if needed.
Marzio and Anne work for the Australian government and will be based in Islamabad for three years. Marzio has a senior position and due to this had been given a ridiculously big house to live in – it was fantastic! A three story house with rooms they’ve never entered, two lounge rooms, air-conditioning, internet, badminton court and loads of DVDs! Best of all they had a couple of staff, Samuel their chef was worked off his fit from the moment we arrived and the cleaner got straight onto our washing of which there was a lot.
We spent the day relaxing and sleeping as we were all exhausted after the long night. In the evening we headed over to the Coolabah club, a social club for Australians living in Pakistan, where Samuel cooked up a delicious BBQ and we met other Australians working in Islamabad. We felt completely at home as we relax under eucalyptus trees, played some cricket while others had a swim.
Day 127 Day off in Islamabad, Pakistan
I woke up at 1pm obviously more tired than I thought and then with the others just kicked back in their comfortable home until 7pm when we headed out for dinner.
We ate at a restaurant called Khiva which sat behind tall walls with barbed wire running along the top and as we entered we were welcomed by the armed guards on the door. The food was delicious, a flavour overload after the bland food in Iran. After dinner we headed to the British club for a party. The club was situated inside the British Embassy compound and we had to go through strict security checks before entering. It was our first proper night out for a long time and we all had a great time meeting people from loads of other embassies and also had a lot of fun chatting with Marzio’s colleague, Luke who is from Newcastle, Australia.
Day 128 Day off in Islamabad, Pakistan
I really struggled today after too many 80 pence (British currency) Heinekens at the party. It wasn’t until 5pm where I gathered myself to leave the couch. Once up and about Mick, Aaron and I joined Marzio on a trip down to a local cricket academy where we played a small scratch match with some local kids. One of the boys, aged around 9, was a gun bowling a few of us out. Although when he was batting I accidently bowled one a bit short and the ball kicked up and hit him in the chin, luckily no serious damage was caused.
While we were getting put through our paces on the picturesque cricket ground Daniel and Tim visited a family Daniel had been put in contact with through one of his contacts in California. Turns out the person they visited was a Pakistani rapper who is currently number one on the charts and most recently teamed up with Exhibit for his next big hit.
In the evening Samuel cooked up a massive feast of different Pakistani dishes although I unfortunately couldn’t stomach too much.
Day 129 Day off in Islamabad, Pakistan
Another lazy day – well for Daniel, Mick and I anyway. Daniel and I got some work done on the website while Mick enjoyed a movie marathon. Aaron and Tim had to wake early and head down to the embassy, Aaron to arrange a new passport as he has impressively filled every page on his current one and Tim to arrange his Indian visa.
In the afternoon we headed down to the cricket academy again for a heated net session and then returned home for another great dinner. After dinner a handful of federal police from other nations visited and it was interesting too chat them about their work and experiences in Pakistan.
Our stay with Marzio and Anne has been fantastic, a well needed break from riding and it was the perfect place to have it. They were very welcoming and generous and we all felt extremely comfortable the whole time. We all really appreciate it, thank you.