Today’s Thursday 30th July, and the objective was to crunch the 460km from Tehran to Esfahan, as part of our whirlwind tour of Esfahan – Shiraz – Yazd, whilst we wait for the Indian Embassy to consider our visa applications. I need to remind myself what day of the week it is and where I should be, as my brain was so frazzled after the Indian visa mess that I kept on screwing up hotel bookings I was making in Shiraz and Yazd (via email, as few places use websites & online forms), and then I’d send an email to correct the erroneous dates, only to send a new batch of wrong dates. Duh !!!!
Anyway, this morning we slept in til about 8:00am – we had planned an early start but we were both still weary from the visa stuff so it was up at 8, breakfast downstairs, before loading the bike in the underground car park and then scooting up the ramp into the sunshine and stopping out the front of the hotel to (a) collect Karen, (b) set off the SPOT, (c) get the GoPro running and (d) say goodbye to Sam the hotel manager as he arrived for work.
I’d used Google Maps last night to plot our route out of Tehran and down to Qom, and I’d drawn a mudmap for me and had written out navigation notes for Karen, but they all went to shit basically when the road didn’t go the way Google Maps said it would, so we played a quick game of ‘find the freeway’ before we could be assured we were heading in the right direction.
The morning traffic wasn’t too dense I think, even for Tehran, and the only people who nearly crashed into us where the ones who wanted to take our photo as they drove along, or they wanted to get our attention as they waved at us. I kid you not – the number of people who almost shave our panniers and then wave nicely at us is unbelievable 🙂
As soon as we left Tehran behind we were into the desert, albeit on a six lane highway. There were quite a few toll booths along the highway, but as bikes aren’t allowed on the highways they have no fee set to charge us by, and a wave from us and yelling out that we’re Australian is enough to have us let through.
As we approached Qom we saw what passed by an industrial complex set in the desert – Google Maps suggested yesterday that there’s an enrichment facility in Qom but GM doesn’t always get things right.
Karen spotted signs for a tourist park just out of Qom and we pulled off the highway and entered the slip road, but the servo was empty and the park desolate, so we rejoined the highway. At this stage I was keen to get fuel as we only had about 80km range left in the tank, and I was hopeful that a servo would be attached to the toll booth at Qom but I was out of luck, with a sign indicating that the next servo was 30km down the road.
At this stage I throttled back a bit as the freeway has a 120kmh limit – enforced by quite a few police radar checks – but at that speed the fuel consumption is quite high, so we cruised along at a leisurely 100kmh whilst Karen complimented me on being so precise with planning our refuelling stops.
When the Maral Setareh Rest Area (including servo) appeared 30km later I was quite pleased with myself, as we didn’t have enough fuel to make it to Kashan. An almost full tank of fuel plus refilling our 1l bottle cost less than AU$15 – I love riding in Iran!
We did a loop of the restaurant area looking for somewhere to park the bike away from attention, and I ended up riding up onto the forecourt and parking out the front. The bike attracts attention everywhere we go – often it’s just a photograph besides the bike that people want, but sometimes they try and climb onboard and that’s a definite ‘no’ – so we endeavour to park the bike where we can keep an eye on it. Beyond that, I can’t lock the tank bag and we have things in there that I don’t want to go missing, so security is always in our minds when we stop.
We ordered some food from the fast food section and were told to wait ten minutes, so I had a quick squirt in the WC and Karen had a mission in the ladies, as she needs to remove her jacket, slide out of her braces, drop her heavy & bulky riding pants and then make sure she’s lined up with the squat dunny, and then put everything back in place afterwards.
Lunch was a bit ordinary, but a chocolate ice cream cooled us down a bit before we got back on the bike and out into the 41c degree heat. We picked up the pace and cruised along at 120kmh on the highway, with just a few cars and trucks as company – though you could almost guarantee that all the vehicles around for miles would somehow jam up in a bottleneck that had cars and trucks and bikes swerving all over the road before the blockage cleared and we could ride on alone for a while before we found another bottleneck to join.
The road followed the contours of a low mountain range just on our right hand or southern side, and the earth and rolling hills were parched and devoid of any signs of life. In places it was easy to imagine that we were on the surface of the moon as all the water had been sucked out the soil, and the hot wind that whipped around us was drying us out as well, so we peeled off the highway looking for a cold drink and pulled into Natanz, a dusty sleepy village hidden in the crook of the mountain foothills.
We rode slowly along the dusty main road looking for a shop, but they all seemed closed and barred. Karen spotted an open shop with some shade outside, so we parked up on the footpath and alighted. First one guy came along the street to admire the bike – Ali – and he was soon joined by four or five others. We grabbed a few bottles of cold water – the water bottles on the panniers heat up too quickly – and drank those outside so we could watch the bike and shoo away Ali when he tried to climb on, and one of his friends who wanted to try on my gloves.
We rejoined the highway and blasted through the low mountains towards Esfahan, joining a steadily growing throng of traffic. Again I’d written out some notes for Karen, but I’d left them in the tankbag and so I had to rely on my memory – and I did a pretty good job, but near enough isn’t good enough when you’re looking for a specific hotel, and so we ended up Criss-crossing Esfahan for a fair while until we chatted to a local couple on a scooter when we stopped for a red light, and they led us to our hotel – the Safavi.
Prior to locating our hotel I’d tried to follow my memorised notes – but where the road should have been straight it went off on a tangent due to earthworks, and where it should have been two-way it was one-way and we were again forced to take a detour. At one stage I tried to take a short-cut from a back street back to the main road, and ended up riding along the footpath of a shopping area and over little bridges that divided the arcade. Karen found this particularly entertaining and extolled both my navigational prowess and ability to dodge shop mannequins on display on the footpath. Truth be told I’d been lured down the path by the sight of some small bikes parked up ahead, but s Karen pointed later they are teeny-weeny 125’s and as narrow as a push bike where as our BMW isn’t much narrower than a small car.
Once settled in our hotel and having cooled down after the long hot ride we walked back to the tree-lined street we’d ridden along before as we looked for the turn-off to our hotel, but couldn’t find anywhere to get some food, so after strolling through the brick-domed bazaar that featured nothing but ugly jewellery we walked back to our hotel. Karen asked at the desk if they served dinner at our hotel and was told “no”, but after a bit more questioning she got a “yes – dinner is served from 8:00pm onwards” so we did a bit of blogging before grabbing some dinner in the downstairs restaurant when it opened at 08:00pm.