Thursday, 16 September 2010

Day 41 to Day 43 - Iran

Day 41 to 43 - Saturday 21st August to Monday 23rd August 2010 – Iran

It was great to wake up in a proper home, no roof tent to put down, and no-one milling around outside, checking out Barnaby in the early hours of the morning.

Many Iranians wake up and head to their local bakery for fresh bread each morning, and it tastes delicious.  We enjoyed ours with Cream, Jam one day, and with Eggs on other morning & Chai (Black Tea).

After breakfast the boys went to do "secret mens business".    Armond took Richard to his uncles shop where there was a repair garage located next door.  The hose pipe was quickly replaced after a similar hose was found and altered to fit perfectly.  Unfortunately when Barnaby was being filled with coolant, he took the opportunity to point out that another hose had also split, and this too would need to be replaced!

secret mens business discussions

2 Hose pipes replaced and Barnaby was ready to go.  Or not.  Another leak appeared.  The mechanic climbed over and under Barnaby unable to locate the leak.  Coolant wasnt coming from any of the hoses, it was coming from the Radiator itself! - a Radiator that we had only purchased last month in the UK.

The mechanics recommended a Radiator specialist nearby, and Barnaby headed there.  The radiator was removed on the street, and checked... - yes the Radiator had a leak in the watery, holdery, comparmenty thingy, hey I'm no mechanic.  All I know is that I think it was welded back together, Armond was doing all the liasing with the mechanics, and finally the leaks had ceased!

Barnaby's filters and oil were changed the following morning.  Job Done!  Barnaby is now serviced and ready for more action.

Earlier I had told the story of buying the fuel cards to Armond.  I'm not sure that Armond had actually seen a Diesel card as all cars in Iran are petrol.  One evening Armond wanted to make sure that we had adequate Diesel cards to get to the Pakistan border and we set off in his car to the Petrol Station.

Unfortunately it can be hard to track down a Petrol Station within a city centre that sells Diesel.  One Petrol Station attendant explained to Armond that the Trucks often fill up on the edges of cities and therefore there is little or no demand for Diesel.

 Rooftop view at night of Tehran from Armond and Lernik's home

The following day Barnaby out to find an elusive Diesel pump, and eventually our persistence paid off.  Armond checked all 8 Diesel cards and our fears were confirmed, they were all 100 litre Cards.  The Petrol Attendant near the border had sworn to Allah that this was a genuine 1,000 Litre Card but it turned out to be a 100 litres.  I hope Allah has a word with him about this.  At least all 8 cards were valid and had not expired.

Armond also managed to fill Barnaby with Diesel without using any of the Diesel Cards.  The price was still the same, about $3, but a $5 tip was given to the attendant to say thanks!  I'm not sure how much success I would have had on my own without a Diesel Card.

Whilst Armond & I had been busy doing important man stuff, the ladies had had a leisurely morning.  Zowi & Lernik strolled around Narmak, looking at the various shops and visiting the local park.

Lernik told Zowi that many women in Iran often fill their afternoons visiting friends and family.

The girls being social butterflies later met Lerniks Mother and Brother, and also Edwards Mother for afternoon tea.  Even though Zowi is not too familiar the delights that Coffee offers, she was tempted into enjoying a Turkish Coffee, and also was introduced to the a fruit known to us as "The Flat Peach"

 On the second evening Armond & Lernik took us to the Armenian Club in the North of Tehran.  Armond took this opportunity to demonstrate his unique skills behind the wheel.  Tehran traffic is not the easy to contend with, however "Mr Armond Schumacher" did this with great speed and agility, as he weaved his way through the evening traffic.  Armond or Schumacher? - I'm not sure which would be quickest around the roads of Tehran.

The Armenina Club was fantastic and sported many facilities.  It had a large leafy courtyard with restaurant, huge outdoor swimming pool, another pool for good measure, basket ball court, running track, football pitch, snooker hall and so much more. 

We were there in the evening to indulge in fantastic food, along with great company.  After arriving we were soon joined by Lerniks older brother, Sevan, and his wife Angeline who both seemed really nice.

There was a jug of water on the table and Zowi was the only one to have taken a glass.  Sevan suddenly pulled out a couple of bottles of water from his bag, and Zowi wondered why no-one had told her not to drink the water from the jug.

Armond explained that the water in the jug was fine to drink, Sevan had brought some "special water" for us to drink.  Alcohol is not allowed in Iran and of course we didnt have any Alcohol, but the special water went down very well.

The evening was just what we needed after many weeks on the road.  Even though there were a few language barriers, the 6 of us were laughing so much all night.  Humour is a Universal language!

the boys had no idea

The next stop of the evening was to be the Water & Fire Park, in the middle of Tehran.  Armonds choice of parking space appeared snug.  After some international mocking that we would never fit into such a small space, Schumacher accepted the challenge.  In one swift manoeuvre, the car was parked.  Perfect. Perfect, except for the fact that Schumacher was unable to open his door to leave the car and had to clamber over to the passenger seat to exit the car, much to all our amusement.

The Water & Fire Park wasnt what we expected.  It was about 11pm at night and it was packed with people.  People who were playing Badminton, Roller Blading, Walking, Talking, Picnicking, and enjoying the cooler end to the day outside.  The main attraction of the park for young and old alikeare the water fountains that sporadically shoot water out from the ground, catching out people who attempt to make it from one side to another without getting soaked.  The water fountains are surrounding by towers that erupt flames, and light the night sky brightly.

A wonderful night was had by all. 

Armond and Lernik had made us feel so welcome in their home.  Lernik has insisted that there was to be no Tarouf here, we should treat their home as our own.  This enabled us to relax and unwind so much that we considered moving in permanently!

On the final evening a wonderful BBQ with all of Lerniks family was planned.  The food was yet again out of this world, more special water appeared which was most appreciated.  It was really great to feel welcome and be apart of this family evening.  Our travels had meant that we often only dined together, to enjoy this family meal was something special to us.




Sadly, our final morning with Armond & Lernik was upon us.  Armond drew us a map that would guarantee we wouldnt get lost when trying to navigate our way out of Tehran. 

Our bags packed, it was time to leave, we joked that we could have stayed for a year with them, Lernik replied "Okay".  Tempting.  Very Tempting.

The most wonderful host family.
Lernik, Armond & Selia

 Armond came with us to the main road before jumping out of the car.  It was time for us to go.  We waved goodbye and we were back on the road, this time towards Esfahan.

An hour later and Barnaby overheated. Arrgggh! We pulled over on the side of the road and let him cool down a little.  These issues should have been left behind in Tehran!

20 minutes later and we were moving again.  42mph mean that Barnaby cruises into "Overdrive".  At this speed the engine just ticks over and doesnt need to work hard, and therefore should not overheat.  5 minutes later and Barnaby overheated again! Arrgggh!
Removing the Radiator Cap with caution we filled the Radiator in case some Coolant had escaped.  2 Litres of water in and Barnaby was still thirsty for more.  Another 2 Litres of water, and Barnaby still wants more.  It was at the start of the 3rd bottle that Barnaby announced he was full with a gargle at the top of Radiator.  Did this mean that we had another leak, or was the coolant level not topped up after the Radiator repair?
As always in Iran, a truck driver who had seen us earlier at the roadside stopped to assist.  It looked like we were OK now, but he wanted to ensure that we were OK and followed us for about 30km's to see that we were fine.  After an exchange of friendly beeps to confirm we were OK, we slowly pulled away and his Blue Truck disappeared into the distance behind us.

It was late when we finally made it into Esfahan.  The Hostel that we had marked in the Lonely Planet was full, the Hostel next door wasnt great and not cheap.  We decided to check the Hotel Totia across the road, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the price was the same as the Hostel.  The room was great, it included Breakfast and, most importantly, had secure parking.  Perfect.

Day 40 - Iran

Day 40 – Friday 20th August 2010 – Iran

Diniz is a beautiful, mountainous, skiing area some 120km outside Tehran.

 The mountain roads in Diniz are unbelievably steep.  I could not believe how steep the roads were.  Zowi could not believe how steep the roads were.  Barnaby could not believe how steep the roads were, and he panicked.

A guess its one way to meet Iranian Winter Olympic Skier, Hossien Kalhor!  Hossien kindly helped us to cool Barnaby down with a hose pipe, and then noticing that Barnaby had not been washed for a few weeks, set the hose pipe on him with Richard scrubbing Barnaby clean. He even made sure that not a spot was missed. He must have known that it would be a long time comming before the car would be this clean again.  

Hossien works as a Ski Instructor in the Winter months, but in the Summer months he sells Tea and Soup by the roadside.  As we waited for Barnaby to cool down a little more, we offered tea, which we gladly accepted, then we were offered soup which tasted delicious.

Hossien's tea shop. What a view. 

Hossien would not accept any money, either for his assistance with Barnaby, or for the food and drinks that he plied us with.  Hossien told us that we were "his friends" and that you cannot accept money from friends.

We had read in a guide book that many Iranians subscribe to something called "Tarouf".  It is a situation whereby an Iranian will refuse payment for something, or maybe offer something such as a meal or a room for free, but he doesn't actually mean what he has just said! (sometimes he may not be able to financially fulfill this offer), you then have to work out if the offer is genuine or not, often by refusing their kindness several times.  If the offer is sincere, it can be accepted on the 3rd or 4th time of asking!

Hossiens offer of not taking any money from us was sincere! 

50m higher up the mountain and Barnaby panicked again.  A hose pipe had burst and it wasn't a pretty site.  Fortunately we had stopped at another Tea seller who spent nearly 2 hours helping us fix the burst hose, even stopping other motorists to ask for spare parts!

The DIY patch did its job, and we all made it without any problems into Tehran.

Sunset over the Mountains at Diniz
There are 20 million people living in Tehran and it feels as though 19.9 million of them are all driving with 100 metres of you!  Even though it was getting towards late evening there was so much traffic, and so much chaos.
We stopped and with the help of a local guy, we purchased a local payphone card and an international calling card.  The guy translated the Farsi phone card instructions, and we were soon speaking with Edward back in England for rough directions to his Niece, Lernik, in Tehran.

Stopping at a photograph shop for some directions, 2 coffees were handed to us whilst one of the guys drew us a basic map to get into the right suburb of Tehran.  It feels odd to be made this welcome in a foreign country, a little suspicious at first, but very appreciative of the kindness shown.

We stopped a further 3 times at shops and garages to ask for directions - everyone stopped what they were doing to offer assistance.  When we called Edwards niece, Lernik, and her husband, Armond, it turned out that we were only 5 minutes away! - Not too bad!

As we waited for Lernik and Armond on the street corner, I found myself smiling at every horn that beeped in case in was them.  In Tehran that means a lot of horns, and a lot of smiles.

Lernik and Armond are a married couple with a young daughter, Selia.  They have a wonderful home that we were made to feel very comfortable in.  Even though it was getting late, we enjoyed a fantastic meal before stealing Selia's room for a good nights sleep.  Thanks Selia!

Komunitas Trooper Indonesia

Today I received an email from Ian Abu from Indonesia.  Ian Abu is part of the Trooper Indonesian Community or Komunitas Trooper Indonesia.  Over in Indonesia, Isuzu Bighorns are known as Chevrolet Troopers!

We have sent a few emails to each other since Ian Abu first introduced himself, and he has even sent some brilliant photos of his car and the Komunitas Trooper Indonesia which I hope he doesnt mind me sharing with you...

It would be great if we could detour to Indonesia to meet up with Ian Abu and everyone else at Komunitas Trooper Indonesia.  It looks like they have a whole lot of fun!

Day 39 – Iran

Day 39 – Thursday 19th August 2010 – Iran

The Caspian Museum turned out to be quite disappointing.  It was just a small room full of artefacts from various periods throughout history! 

The real attraction was actually a relatively small palace hidden away in the grounds.  A beautiful building and very oppulent inside, but would only be used once or twice a year!

   A pushmi-pullyu?

After dinner it was time to see if we could sneak a look in the Grand Palace.  There were a few windows which had their net curtains offset that offered glimpses inside, but one had an open window that Zowi had accidentally pushed open.  Should we climb in?

Of course not! - we were brought up better than that! - plus we were chicken! - but we did get a photo of the room which looks pretty tired.

As we returned to the front of the building a Security guard appeared.  The Security guard turned out to be really friendly and actually tried a few doors to help get us into the lobby, though all attempts were  unsuccesful.  A photograph of us both was taken before we all departed from the Hotel.

 And he says that I'm the snoopy one!

We enjoyed a short stroll along the Caspian Sea front before heading off towards Tehran.  It looked like Tehran was out of reach at 11pm and we arrived in a town called Chalus.  After negotiating the price of a good hotel down to 1/2 price, we were soon sound asleep.

Day 38 - Iran

Day 38 – Wednesday 18th August 2010 – Iran

We woke this morning around 7:30am to find all the trucks that were parked with us had now gone, leaving us feeling very exposed to the motorway traffic with only a clothing salesman selling his wares in the parking bay for cover. The Rooftent was quickly taken down and we drove the remaining 50km’s into Ramsar.

Ramsar was the “Shah’s Playground” back in the 1970’s and still has quite laidback feel to it, though its former glory and opulence have certainly faded since the Shah’s downfall some 30 years ago.

Adjacent to the Grand Palace / Old Hotel is the newer Hotel which appears to own both buildings. Rooms were priced at $140 USD a night, too much for our meagre budget, so unfortunately we had to politely decline, and make our exit.

Booking into the Hotel Safaryan further down the road at 400,000 Rials (approx US $40 / 30 Pounds) we were happy for a Western Toilet, Shower, Air Con, though maybe a little surprised to find a full sized freestanding fridge.

Both being sleep deprived, we showered, then slept for 6 hours before waking up feeling mighty hungry. Driving down to the beach area there were many younger Iranians, walking and talking along the beach front, all enjoying the slightly cooler end to the day.

It is quite difficult to find somewhere to eat in different country, particularly one where you are unable to decipher the Persian Script. The odd ‘Well come’ and ‘Fast Food’ appears on the signage outside, but menu’s are all written in Farsi.

There are some eating places where there are only men eating inside – are these a men’s only club? Can hungry women eat here too? – Not being sure, we moved on until a more family orientated restaurant was found and went inside.

The waiter didn’t speak any English, and our Farsi still isn’t up to scratch. The menu written in Farsi looks very confusing, but thanks to Lonely Planets “Farsi (Persian) Phrasebook”, Zowi managed to order ‘chelo kabab e kubide’ which was roasted lamb mince meat with rice, whilst I ordered ‘ghorme sabzi’ which was a stew of mixed diced meats, beans, tomato paste and vegetables, again with a plate of rice. There is always a certain degree of apprehension before the meal arrives, but both meals tasted very nice, and we were both happy with what we had chosen.

After our meal we drove to the Grand Palace, now known as the “Old Hotel”. In the mid 1970’s my father worked here as a Croupier in the Casino, and it is the reason why we have detoured off the main road to visit this town on the Caspian sea.

Unfortunately it is not now possible to enter Grand Palace, though it was possible to enjoy an evening stroll through the gardens of the Grand Palace.

Arriving back at our hotel, I asked at Reception if it was possible to go into the “Old Hotel”. “Can you speak English?” he replied! - managing to refrain from retorting with “Better than you!” we eventually received confirmation that the Grand Palace has now closed, apart from a Tea Room which opens in the evenings at the front of the building.

There is however a Museum located very close to the Grand Palace. There are no clues as to whether this is a Museum for the Grand Palace, or simply a Museum of general Iranian History which just happens to be in close proximity to the Grand Palace grounds. Hopefully we will know tomorrow...