The night bus was comfortable but warm, and with very frequent stops at police checkpoints. I think we were pulled over at every stop, probably because we the foreigners were on board as other busses would breeze past. Never mind, we made it to Zahedan in the end.
Arriving in Zahedan at 5am we decided to stay in the city for the day, find a hotel room and make sure we were ready for the border crossing into Pakistan. We had heard all sorts of horror stories about Taftan, the border town on the Pakistan side. Money being hard to get, the bus tickets being scalped all sorts of stuff making us a bit nervous about crossing the border.
From Zahedan the border is another 80km but though we hadn’t crossed any border yet we were definitely in a new region. We were in Balochistan, a region that extends over the border of Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan. A lot of the people here wore the Shalwar-Chemise, sported big moustaches and had darker skin than the Iranians we had seen before.
After much searching we at last found a cheap hotel willing to take us, a lot of the accommodation won’t accept foreign guests. They won’t straight up tell you, just direct you to another place and they’ll send you to another place until there’s nowhere left.
We found somewhere eventually and crashed, resting after the night bus. We spent the rest of the day getting ready to cross the border, checking the bus times the exchange rate all that good stuff.
The next day the hotel wouldn’t let us leave until the police arrived to escort us. This was the start of our troubles. We had hoped to get going early, cross the border in the morning and be out of Taftan before dark. The police were late. When they arrived, they led us on a series of seemingly random excursions across town, from the station to a roundabout, back to the station, back to the roundabout. We just wanted to get to the bus station where we could hire a truck to take us to the border.
The police really were clueless. After wasting about two and a half hours they finally listed to us and took us to the bus station, or so we thought, they thought we had said post station and took us to the post office.
This prompteda bit of irate gesturing from us which eventually got them to understand what we wanted, and took us to a roundabout where all the taxis hung out. There was one van there that could take all the bikes, driven by a portly old haji (one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, you can tell by the white hat). He didn’t really want to drive us but the police strong armed him and our money convinced him and soon we were loaded up and driving out of the city.
Or so we thought, we actually drove to another police station where we waited for an hour for whatever reason until the escort was ready to drive with us out of the city. This was a bit annoying but we waited and eventually got going, it was still bore noon, the border was open until 4.
Finally we started driving, we left the city got on the main road to Pakistan and stopped at the first police checkpoint. The escort pulled in and parked and said we had to wait. So we waited. One hour, two hours, there hours…we had no idea what was going on. Nobody could communicate, we called up people we had met throughout the trip in Iran to translate for us but the connection was so bad we could barely get through.
At about two o’clock the escort and the haji driver started saying what we thought meant go back to Zahedan and try tomorrow. There was no way we could do that, the last day we could enter Pakistan tomorrow. Luckily the military escort from the border we had been waiting all this time (four hours in the end) for decided to show up right then. We piled the bikes in their van as the haji driver wasn’t coming with us past the checkpoint (don’t know what we paid him for then) and we were finally, at last, mercifully on the road to Pakistan.
We didn’t make it to the border in the end though. We had to stop a couple more times at other checkpoints along the way. At the end, outside the final checkpoint the guards told us the border was now closed and to go to Mirjaveh. We argued with them to let us camp in their grounds first and then to let us camp outside their grounds but nothing, we had to go stay at the hotel in Mirjaveh.
Mirjaveh is a small town near the border. We were hoping the hotel would let us camp in the garden but of course not, they wanted the money and after arguing for a bit we had to pay for a room. At this stage we were hungry and tired and we didn’t have much spirit left.
The next morning we left with a fresh vigour ready to get to Pakistan. We had to make it today, it was the final day our Pakistan visa would be valid. First step was to get our passports back, which we did by walking down to the police station down the street and making a fuss back in the hotel and in the end the police organised the escort and the hotel gave us our passport. Next we loaded up the bikes and started cycling to the border on our own. The police wanted us to wait but after our experience yesterday we knew that was a loosing game.
At the first checkpoint we had to stop, as we had presumed, but now we were in the road at least and not waiting around in the hotel. Once again we were waiting for the army escort to arrive, but unlike yesterday we kept badgering the checkpoint guards until we were sure it was on the way. Ten minutes later it arrived and thirty minutes after that we were at the border.
It had been quite the ordeal getting here but now were leaving Iran, and just in time too. Apart from the last few days the stay in Iran had been fantastic, and amazing, eye opening journey through a land diverse in history and rich in culture where everyone was welcoming and trying hard to shake off the bad image their country had.
On account of the flat tyres two days ago and the light theft debacle yesterday we had a lot of ground to cover today. 130km or around that, if we wanted to get to Kerman tonight.
In the morning the riding was hard since we had a headwind the whole time. It seems to get particularly windy in the desert quite frequently. Although there wasn’t much in the way of scenery to distract us we did find something to break up the desert riding.
Camels! We’ve seen camels before, but not roaming around the desert on their own. It’s one of those ‘we cycled here’ moments, seeing them just existing in their natural habitat. Finn has been talking about getting a photo with a camel pretty much since we left so we pulled off the road and chased the camels around for a bit trying to photo them.
It took a while to photo the camels, they weren’t that eager to hang around. But, persistence paid off and we road away happy in the end. 30 km of featureless desert followed this, but like an oasis the town of Kabootarkan appeared over the horizon.
In addition to lunch, what made Kabootarkan special was that the town was famous for its ice cream. The main road was lined with ice cream shops, it was all soft serve rose water flavoured ice cream and refreshing as anything. Not only that, but while waiting in Kabootarkan the wind shifted and we now had a tailwind blowing us to Kerman! Everything was looking up.
We flew along after lunch with the wind at our backs. Still had about 70 km to cover, but with the wind and the ground flat it wouldn’t be long before we reached the city. It always seems that a tailwind puts whatever scenery your riding through in a better light, and what to me before was a boring, featureless waste seemed now beautiful expanse of rock and sand, almost another planet, glowing in the evening sun.
It was dark by the time we arrived at Kerman. We were heading straight for the bus station with no plans to stay in the city that long. Missing the turn off for the station took us a bit further towards the centre than we would have liked but it worked out in the end. We stopped outside a bike shop to have a look in, I still needed a new chain.
Low and behold, not only did they stock Shimano components but a whole array of other bike parts and accessories. Turns out it was the main Shimano reseller in Iran here in Kerman which we learned after speaking to the owner Nima for some time. I got my chain and Richie a new front rack and panniers and we were away.
The bike shop was on the north side of Shariati Street, between the big roundabout and the interchange with Ferdowsi Boulevard, it’s called Puegot and Raleigh Cycles.
Nima gave us directions to the bus station and we made it there with time to spare, the night bus to Zahedan wouldn’t leave for another hour and half. To kill time we went to get something to eat and ended up waiting so long for it we were barely finished by the time the bus arrived and we were whisked away to load up our bikes.
We were taking the bus for two reasons, first we and been told that East of Kerman to the border is ‘dangerous’. I’m not entirely sure how dangerous it really is although the area is technically part of the golden crescent. The more definitive reason though, was that we were running out of time to get into Pakistan. With only three more days of validly to enter there was no way we could make it by cycling.
With everything packed up we got on the bus. This was the last day of cycling in Iran. If everything goes smoothly we should in Pakistan in the next few days.
So we had to make it to Kerman as quickly as possible because the validity of our Pakistan visa was running out. The last day the visa would be valid for entry was the 4th of February. Once we got to Zahedan we should be ok because we could get to the border in a couple of bourse on a bus.
But we were still hundreds of kilometres from Zahaden and so were going to take a bus from Kerman to Zahedan too. We weren’t running out of time running out of time at an alarming rate, but we had to be aware of it.
Not much to say about the cycling today, Infact I don’t think I took a photo most of the day.
But something interesting did happen today. At lunch in a town called Ahmad Abad we met another cyclist! It was an older French guy coming the opposite direction. He had been riding for a couple of months around the Arabian peninsula and had just gone over the Persian gulf into Iran a couple of weeks ago. We joined him on his side of the road for lunch, sharing stories and talking about bike touring, it was great it had been ages since we had met a cyclists.
When we got back to the bikes though, something was wrong. Finns very powerful and pretty valuable front lights had been snapped off and stolen. What to do? Well it was a small enough town so we figured someone knew where it was and could get it back, it was just a question of who and how.
There was a police station 100 m down the road, Finn went over to tell them. Well, they were pretty useless in the end. After been dragged back to the bike, and the dragged to where the bike had been and shown the people who had seen it and told to ask them where it was (by Finn, through gestures) nothing was accomplished.
Meanwhile, all this ruckus had drawn a crowd. Shortly after Finn came back with the police a very out of place white SUV pulled up to the kerb where we were standing and four guys that were all too well dressed in this town got out and tried to ask us some questions, but they didn’t speak any English. What we could tell was that these were the guys who could actually do something, not the useless policeman.
Eventually one of the SUV guys got out a phone and called someone who spoke English and I tired to explain the problem, that my friends light was taken, that he wanted it back etc. after a couple of tries they got it and telling us to wait there piled into the SUV and sped off.
Almost as soon as they left the town English teacher showed up to interpret what was going on and by now a sizeable crowd had gathered. We moved from the side of the road to the police station where the was a parking area with more space.
We hung around for about 20 minutes and then the white SUV came back with another car following it. One of the well dressed guys got and, lo and behold, held up Finns light.
‘Who are those guys?’ We asked our interpreter.
‘Oh, they are the secret police.’
I’m not entirely sure what secret police means, if it’s KGB or Mafia but either way they got the light back. Some kid had pulled it off, as we had guessed and they had bought him and his dad in. They asked if we wanted compensation. Of course not, we were just happy to have the light.
A friend of the interpreter fixed the wiring of light back to the Dynamo and an hour later we were away. Ali (the interpreter) gave us two big bags of pistachios (the local crop) and implored us not to think poorly of their town because of this. He translated messages from many of the onlookers to this effect and we told them all that of course we don’t. They seemed happy to hear it.
So after all that it was getting late and would be dark within the hour. We cycled to within 10km of Rafsanjan and pulled off into the pistachio fields to camp in another dried up pond.
We were sort of slow to get going today. In the morning we sat around, threw rocks and generally put off cycling for a good hour and a half. It wasn’t like we were facing any adverse conditions today, in fact it was going to be just like yesterday. But perhaps that was exactly the problem.
When we finally did get going it was a lovely sunny ride in the wide open desert. Although there were to be more delays in our future. At camp last night we had been commenting on how long it had been since any of us got a flat tyre. Well, today I got one and Finn got one too, and then another one and at the end of the day Richie got a flat too so of course having to change all those delayed us again.
So we really didn’t make a lot of distance today, I think by the time we stopped we had only covered a bit over 60km. But it was ok, we still had time to reach Kerman in the next two days.
By the evening we had reached Anar and the land was being cultivated! This area is the pistachio capital of Iran and for miles and miles around the ground was being used to grow pistachios!
In fact so numerous were the pistachio farms that for the first time in a long time, it was kind of hard to find somewhere to camp. We turned off the main road and cycled for a good ten minutes before we found somewhere to set up, a dried up pond bed next to a dirt road.
A lot of desert separates us from the next town of Kerman. A lot of flat dusty riding in our future. But though some cycle tourers find the desert riding to be a bit of a drag I guess being from Ireland the being in such a large, flat, dry, isolated place is completely new to us, so it’s kind of exciting in a way.
It also means that there isn’t so much to write about given that the days are generally long and flat through the same terrain as the day before and the day before that. The dessert out here was quite rocky and dusty with a couple of scrub plants here and there and rocky hills off about 15 kilometres either side of the road.
We rode from the campsite outside Yazd up a short hill and then along the flat where we would spend pretty much the rest of the day. We would break up the day with a couple of stops just for a chat to eat if there was somewhere to get food but by and large it was uneventful.
I think in general we were cycling uphill today but it was so so gradual it was hardly noticeable at all. The only way you could really tell was how close the hills on the horizon were. At one point they were a ways off and then at the end of the day we passed through some of them and the on the other side the desert continued again.
Right before camp we had the fortune to pass a big rest stop area where we bought dinner and breakfast and loaded up on water. We found a little dug out hole in the sand off away from the road where we camped tonight, the hole keeping is our of the incessant wind.
Yazd is a great place to spend a couple of days. The old town is fantastically preserved, a great example of an old desert settlement with the mud plaster buildings, narrow alleys and tall badgir (wind towers for ventilation).
There are also some nice mosques but we didn’t visit any of them, at this stage we has a bit of mosque fatigue.
We spent one full day in Yazd. I was looking for a bike shop to get a new chain but there was really nowhere available even though we rode out to the edge of town. We did find an old man grease-black fingers in an ancient hole in the wall repair shop who trued Finns wheel though.
We went and looked around the Persian garden in Yazd. After seeing a garden in Shiraz, Esfhahan, Yazd and Kerman I think the Kerman garden is the nicest. Certainly the best kept, perhaps winter is the best time to visit a lot of these places. We ended up running into another Irish guy in the garden, a trinity student on Erasmus to Istanbul. It’s always refreshing to talk to someone from Ireland somewhere like Iran where westerns are rare and Irish even rarer, it’s like a refreshing glass of water.
The next day after spending the morning repairing gear and the bikes we started out to Kerman on what would be our final leg of cycling in Iran. We made it only a little bit out of the city and camped on a wide field of small, compact stones. It was a it weird, it seemed like an old asphalt road, except huge and naturally forming. Very strange.