AN IRANIAN ADVENTURE

The families make their way through Iran experiencing some unbelievable diesel prices and turtle-hatching magic
HAVING MADE their way through Europe – becoming part of a Kurdish music video along the way – the two couples, four children and two Defenders of Adventure Family arrive safely in Iran to continue their adventure of a lifetime... ON ARRIVAL at the border post to Iran it was pouring with rain. We soon found out that the Turkish insurance had expired two days previously and we were already a bit anxious about this crossing, so having to deal with this problem just made matters worse. This was to be financially painful, $150 less in our budgets for Iran and we already had only a limited amount of cash, as you cannot use ATMs anywhere in the country. A little poorer we passed through the gate where we were met with surprising enthusiasm. “You and your family are one week late for the New Year celebration.” Stamp! “I am sure you will enjoy Iran

by Richard Poskitt
Top left: Lunch on the beach on Kish Island. Main picture: A view from the Towers of Silence in Yazd. Inset: A welcoming sign in Tabriz.

and you are very welcome.” Stamp! “You don’t have any whisky in those jerrycans do you?” We were in Iran. That was easy and not what we had expected. First stop was the Elgoli Park in Tabriz, a place we were told you could camp with Iranians. This is very true; Iranians are master picnickers and campers. The women generally stayed inside the tent and shouted out translations to their husbands in conversation with us; Milan and I, that is.

picnics and friends for life

Even after midnight, they arrived with the family to have food and a water pipe; it is a social gathering and very nice to be a part of. Many Iranians gathered around our Land Rovers to see how we lived and to probe for our opinions on their country. Tabriz was to be a quick stopover for a few days to get our insurance sorted and to get a feel

for the country. Getting around was not a real problem; all signs are in both Farsi and English and the roads are surprisingly good... but the traffic is not; it was not uncommon to have oncoming traffic on your side, and the city driving took some getting used to. In fact, it does flow; you just need to figure out how fast and in what direction. We camped only one night in Elgoli Park and, after being ripped off by a kind Iranian with a friend who owned a hotel, we landed in a cheap central hotel where we bumped into a Greek man and his Japanese wife, Kosta and Chi, who asked if they could get a lift to Tehran. We had no problem with this, Kosta had travelled extensively all over the world for the past 27 years so it was very interesting for us to hear his stories and get tips on places we were to visit soon. This lift was extended for the entire

length of our stay in Iran and we became very close friends with this special couple and I think we always will be. Before we headed on we needed to fill up, which turned out to be quite a procedure. After finding a fuel station with diesel the queue

Tehran is a city none of us wanted to spend time in. Our mission for Tehran, however, was to get our Indian visa. We planned to bypass Pakistan by boat and Tehran was also a place we were to find out how to do this. We camped by the holy shrine

Top left: Camping in front of Yazd Mosque. Top right: The turtle guards on Kish Island. Inset: Where are we exactly?

We knew that the fuel costs were cheap, but not this crazy – $1.50 for 100 litres. In another place we swapped a Bic pen for 300 litres of diesel.
was fun and long. The truck drivers just pushed us to the front. We knew that the cost was cheap, but not this crazy – $1.50 for 100 litres. In another place we filled up we swapped a Bic pen for 300 litres of diesel and once it was even free. This was driver’s heaven. We stopped to quickly visit Zanjan and to see the building with the highest brick dome in the world and then we went on to Tehran. of Khomeini on the southern side of town where other overlanders had stayed. It was pleasant enough and very popular, with good communications to the city centre. Our first try at the Indian embassy proved to be a little frustrating as we were told that because we were with our own vehicles we could not get a visa. I butted in and said that we were filming and writing for a number of magazines about our life on the road as two families.

This helped and we had to have an interview the following day with the consul. After three days, back and forth with the embassy, we had to wait for the decision whether we could go. We decided to carry on travelling and went off towards Esfahan. We had a stop off in Kashan first to see the beautiful garden there and some of the traditional houses. Kashan was our real first taste of Iranian hospitality. Kosta and Chi met a family and stayed with them – the following day the family invited all of us to move into their house and stay for a few days. This was wonderful; we discussed many aspect of life in Iran and discussed our similarities and differences in religion – a large part of daily life in Iran. The Iranian hospitality is incomparable with anywhere we have ever been and we were going to experience it many times during our three months.

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But we had to move on and so we headed for Esfahãn. This city was supposed to be the jewel of Iran and we were looking forward to it. Esfahãn is the city of beautiful bridges and parks, it spreads out from the river and is very modern. We camped in Bagadir Park and on the first night we met other overlanders from Greece who are travelling around the world in a Discovery 3. When we all set up camp we were very much the highlight of the park; people asked us many questions and offered us tea and home-made biscuits. The Greek couple were going to stay for a few days but we decided that we should meet up again at Bam to cross the bandit road to Quetta together in a week’s time. Since we had met other travellers that said it was fine, we had decided to drive through Pakistan after all.

Top left: A gathering of Land Rovers in Esfahãn. Top right: Queuing at the fuel station. Main: Returning from a swim on Kish. Inset: Kashan Fin Garden.

We still had to wait for our Indian visa and now we had to sort out the Pakistani visa too. We called the embassies and discovered that we would get the Indian visa and that we did not all have to go back to Tehran to get the Pakistani one. Great! Milan and I booked ourselves on the train to Tehran the same night and planned on a maximum of two days there before we came back.

just follow the donkey

The train system was reliable and very comfortable; we arrived in Tehran at 5am and joined a man we met in our carriage for morning coffee and a walk to the centre of town. First stop was the Indian Embassy and, after waiting a while, we met with the consul who said that we had arrived during a diplomatic spin and our filming was nothing to require special paperwork for. Our

visas were ready that same day. This done we went off to the Pakistani Embassy where were told, quite simply, that if we were all not there we could not possibly have an interview. Irritated beyond belief we bought a flight ticket back to Esfahãn and travelled back, all eight of us, to Tehran. This really was the last city in the world I thought I would be going to three times. We met a few more overlanders in a Land Rover and they suggested that, due to weather and the fact there was no privacy at all in India, we should take the kids to Africa instead. They had travelled through Africa for eight months and loved it. We toyed with the idea but let it go because we were looking forward to South East Asia. We would, however, have a lot of shipping to sort out to get there. Back in Tehran we received our Pakistani visas and decided to give the Land Rovers a service

and do a bit of shopping before we went to Yazd, the next planned visit. Yazd has to be my favourite place in Iran; it has a sense of simplicity about it and everything comes to life after 7pm. Here we camped outside of the popular Silk Road Hotel. We met many backpackers and other overlanders and had a good time discussing places we were planning to go and have been. We were also informed about the weather and nightmares of shipping in India and the idea of changing our route popped up again. Still not discouraged, the very next day we heard that a bomb had gone off in central Islamabad. Were we really going the right way? We still had a bit to see in Iran so we decided that we would keep an eye on what was going on in Pakistan. And so, after extending our visa, we headed for the coast. We stopped off in a village to ask

where we could camp. Pia came on the radio and said: “It’s not a problem, just follow the man on the donkey”. We camped just one night on this man’s land where the conversation was truly sign language. It was magic. This village was very close to a small town called Firus Abad. Here you will find almost every other car to be a Series Land Rover. It was incredible – they were all running with bits added here and there and were looking in pretty good shape considering their age.

Top left: The man on the donkey. Top right: Curious girls gather around Pia and the kids. Inset: A Series Land Rover not in the best of shape.

an ancient city

There were, not surprisingly, a number of Land Rover workshops here. This is also the town where we discovered a small leak on the 110’s main fuel tank, made by a lodged stone between the cradle and the tank. Since it was not urgent and the mud seemed to hold the diesel in OK, we thought

we would fix it later. Kosta suggested that we should not drive past Persepolis without seeing it. We had not originally planned to visit Persepolis but we are glad we did; if there is only one reason to visit Iran this is truly it. It is a well-preserved, ancient city which was a hub for the Zoroastrian Empire. The city was lost to the world for centuries until an excavation in the 30s revealed its marvels of sculpture to the world. The kids had a chance to run around and we were able to camp near the guard house for free. Further towards the coast we drove through one of the most beautiful deserts I have ever seen. It was getting hotter and, not having an air conditioner in the 110, Lina, I and our kids were beginning to suffer; the air outside was like the air from a hair-dryer. Just to top it off, by the coast the humidity was high and it

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was going to be sticky from now on. We camped on the beach, not far from the town where the boat was to take us to Kish Island. Kish is a small island off the coast of Iran. It is a free zone, meaning you can arrive and stay here for 15 days without the need of an Iranian visa. It is, however, not the place for overlanders. In fact we believe we were the first to ever come here with a foreign vehicle. To get there we took a ferry boat which was $100 per car. This gave us the luxury of parking in the heat and humidity for six hours while they loaded it. The accommodation was nonexistent, so finding a place in the car to sleep was difficult – at least for me, so the bonnet of the 110 was where I had a good few hours sleep. After we arrived we went through the usual border crossing routines, even though we were still in Iran. Eventually we were let onto the island. We had to go to an office to gain permission to use the international beach camp – the only

Top left: Laying eggs. Top right: The Iranian camping park. Main: Turtle beach on Kish Island. Below, clockwise from top left: Tightly packed on the boat; Tuvalie cooking; The first light for a baby turtle.

beach, we were told, where men and women could swim together. We then found out that this had been closed for four years. So, swimming was no longer to be a family affair because Pia and Lina would be restricted to the womenonly beach. There is, however, a very good reason for visiting Kish Island; the turtles. This has got to be one of the few places in the world where hawksbill and greenback turtles come to the shore to lay their eggs.

a sting in the tail

We had the privilege to meet a woman who manages the environmental guards protecting the beaches for the turtles. We ended up staying with the guards for three weeks and saw a number of turtles come to the beach to dig and lay their eggs. In fact, we had them lay their eggs in our hands. The reason we stayed a little longer than planned was because the first of the nests were ready to hatch and we didn’t want to miss it.

So we stayed – and not one but five nests hatched. One nest was broken so we had one night, until 3am, running up and down the beach picking up lost baby turtles and releasing them in the ocean. It was an experience we will never forget, but it was a real pity that the kids did not see most of it due to the action being very late at night/early morning – when they were sound asleep. After one of these nights we set up our blanket for breakfast just under the shade of the car. A moment later a scream came from Oliver and everyone rushed over to see what the problem was. It was not the normal scream. He had stood on a scorpion that had crept out from under the blanket. The guards got him and Lina and put them in the pick up while I found the documents and the satellite phone. Off to the hospital. In my haste and shock I had picked up only half of the documents we might have needed but, most importantly, I did not grab my shirt. On arrival at the hospital

I was not allowed in and, in fact, not allowed on the premises at all topless. I could not believe it. Lina and Oliver came out soon after and said that the scorpion sting was not fatal and he would be all right after the anti-venom vaccination. Hoping that this was to be the last trip to hospital, Milan soon got an infection in his eye. He had had a few problems with this on the journey but now he was in real pain and could not see. The doctor said that he should rest but the humidity camping was not helping. It was time to get back onto the mainland. In the meantime, the situation in Pakistan was not getting any better; another bomb went off in Islamabad. We had heard from the radio and other travellers that the monsoon was longer and harder than expected with temperatures reaching over 50ºC in Delhi and very heavy rain in the south. It was not the right place to go with the kids so we decided that we would make alternative plans. After another boat trip our next

stop was Shiraz, the city we just passed by on our way to the coast and we still did not really have time to enjoy it. Our trip back north through Iran was fairly quick with a stop off in Yazd to drop off Kosta and Chi and do another service on the cars. The 110 had to have a propshaft knuckle joint replaced, along with the snorkel having to be refitted. The labour was very cheap and, while we were fixing other bits to the cars, I noticed another Land Rover outside.

Top left: Camping with local interest. Top right: One of Esfahãn’s beautiful bridges. Inset: The Land Rover that is not quite a Land Rover.

slight change of plans

At closer inspection it was not actually a Land Rover but an Iranian copy. Everything looked the same outside but it had an interior from a Mitsubishi. It also had an after-market air conditioner fitted, so I asked the owner where he got it from – being Iranian, he kindly took us there. All cool now, with our new Iranian air-conditioner fitted for less than €400. Suddenly I remembered the leak on the fuel tank and asked if they knew anywhere that could fix this – they did and took me there. The

following morning the 110 was in for a new, custom-designed, 45-litre extra tank and a temporary fix on the main tank, all for €100. By now we had only a limited time left on our last visa extension to leave and, due to the Pakistan situation, the police could not guarantee our safety to the border and through to Quetta. On our last night in Yazd we all sat down to have a serious chat about the trip and where it was going – it was suggested that we should drive to South Africa instead. Lina and I had spent many years growing up in East Africa and loved it. We shared stories of what it was like to see the animals in the wild and how the people were very friendly. Also, it would really be nice to see some old friends. It would, of course, be the more sensible adventure for the children with less hassle. So, it was set; we were off to Africa and our spirits were high from the exciting twist in our trip. Happy with our new destination we headed for the Turkish border and onwards to Africa. LRM

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