Day 12: Lake Hazar to Van
Early start to the day after breakfast in the hotel adjacent to our camping ground. No casualties these past two days, no incidents of any kind except that the police have stopped all the riders at the edge of the industrial town of Ergani on route to Van. I've texted one the riders, Major Oliphant to see if they need my assistance as I rode past without being stopped.
Often the road is industrial and harsh, the countryside a wasteland, the air polluted by smoke and diesel fumes, the traffic massive, blunt and unforgiving, until you see the smiles of the truck drivers and how they offer you a friendly wave. Soon, the stopped riders rode past, the policeman having been overwhelmed by the paperwork he forced the group to produce. As the went by, waving, it was obvious that a trip like this is greater than the sum of its particular parts - at a simple level it's a holiday, a truce between working and living - the complex version is as a catalyst for massive change in one’s life. Yet that change must be wanted. Some people don't want change and are happy with they have. As someone once said, “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
By the outskirts of Silvan the weather was dry. It had turned bland for a while and matched the granite hills undulating against a faceless sky. When you stop at yet another gas station, all you hear is the sound of tyres rolling hard on rough Tarmac, a wind lazily riffling through the tops of adjacent barley.
Suddenly looking behind, the Superman from Solihull was nowhere to be seen when Peter our support driver caught up with me later and said that one if Grennan's panniers had fallen off and that he was on his hands and knees looking for it. Meanwhile up the road a truck lost its load of scrap metal and chucked it across both carriageways whereby Keith rode over a broken sink and two bits if exhaust, so hitting the deck and puncturing both tyres. He did look sorry for himself and stood by the Armco in shock. Meanwhile 5 miles up the road the Major - Mr Oliphant - hit a patch of oil in the rain and also threw himself down the inside lane of a not very busy dual carriageway in the mountains. Breaking his handlebars it looked like a critical moment and there we stood, humming our own short tunes in our respective heads, wondering what to do next. "Well, bung it on the back of the truck mate," I said, "there's always space for more. It was a Triumph anyway and nice bikes like that need looking after. Meanwhile up the road, well, the sun came out and the violent electric storm moved to the east of Kurdistan, which depending on your political persuasion, is where we are, we think.
Lake Van was as beautiful as the people here are friendly. A wide four lane highway winds around the lake shore whilst a rainbow polarises through a sodden sky. The lake itself collects sudden gusts of breeze to ripple the surface whilst faraway, mountains begin to conceal a setting sun. Rain falls heavily and the roads are a flood with brown water flowing into drains. The hotel is found easily and an hour after I arrive Peter turns up with the two bikes on the trailer. For some reason I am exhausted and after dinner go to bed.
Day 13: Van to Urmia (Iran)
The route wound through the mountains and snow sat on the peaks, streaks of dirty white like crystal tears.
The Turkish border was a delightful shambles, the customs portacabin overshadowed by an unfinished new build still held upright with wooden scaffold. A long line of trucks wait with their patient drivers on both lanes of the narrow exit making it impossible for us to physically leave. There is no Wi-Fi, the computer is not working so riders' names are telephoned through to another room whose computer presumably doesn't work. Then we funnel through buses and trucks to an area which looks like Sparkbrook in Birmingham on a bad day. The construction will one day radically transform what is presently a scruffy heap of moved earth and reinforced steel but everything is done with a smile.
After an hour and a half we're through. The Iranians wave us through as if to annoy the Turks.
Andy from somewhere in the West Midlands, the man who never stops talking, claims that Robert being so thin, with a body of a man half his age is already digesting his organs. "You see, he's only got 12% fat and I've got maybe 40% so I'm absorbing it and am still digestin' a steak dinner." This trip is full of big personalities; you need one to survive it.
The next minute the touts turned up to sell us rials after which I sat quietly in the five o'clock sun, which was soft and soothing. Exhausted rain clouds look wan and lonely as they float benignly.
We have a 'fixer' called Hossein who takes each of us to a hall where we are finger printed. The Carnets are stamped as are the passports. Outside the sun has just set but the clouds are not yet coloured by the end of the day as more trucks come alongside to park.
Day 15: Saggaz to Kashan
The next morning we rode medium hard towards Sanandaj. Andy the Brummie shot off ahead and found himself with the Dawsons, Scotty the Pipe and Andy Stoddart. This Andy, unlike the other one, a health and safety officer for the water board, was on a learning curve of epic proportions - not motorcycling, but at the complete lack of safety applications evident anywhere. Travelling in places like this is like putting your hand in a mousetrap and pulling out just as the mouse tries to get the cheese. Balance and proportion is everything, that and pace.
Sanandaj was large and Andy was trying to buy a stove on account oh his being lost when one his panniers fell off in Turkey. It was a random loss and his passport was stored in the one still attached to the bike. On paper the man owned 14 properties and was a millionaire, made more so due to the fact there were 30 000 rials to the dollar and you only needed $33 and a bit to be able to feel cocky about how much it expands your worth. We all regrouped for an early lunch whereby several riders were unhappy, more tired, it’s like this. The way people group around you or stare by the crowdful is something women seem better equipped to handle.
The main roads across Iran funnel everybody on the move across the country. Diesel fumes cloak it with pathogens and engines and the sound of tyres pulling heavy loads can be heard from miles away. It's a filthy channel of grossness and is where we spend most of our day. Iran appears different to other Middle Eastern countries I have visited in being less finished. Development is taking place but it’s slow.
Day 16: Kashan to Toudesck
Was it Ptolemy who directed his scribes to draw the first map. This was followed by a pantheon of explorers and cartographers who refined the process. Aided by the compass, for the navigational efficaciousness of overland travellers and then mariners, assisted by the sextant, which when aligned with star constellations could get a ship to home port at night. Now, various companies including Garmin developed a machine which when programmed would by computer graphics give precise instructions how to pilot your motorcycle to its destination...except it often didn't. In Iran programmable navigational aids do not normally have access to the correct mapping information other than maybe pirated copies. So, leaving the city of Kashan, Andy Grennan went the wrong way up a motorway slip way and Mac followed Roland on a route that was 80% plus degrees the wrong direction from where we needed to go. Everyone followed someone, all of whom we're following their pirated software and nobody was on the right course highlighted during the morning briefing, except me. And infuriatingly everyone got to the destination of the Jameh Mosque in Na’in 15 minutes before Mac, Roland and myself. So much for being so right and getting there last.
"But Nick," Roland came up to me having courageously attempted the impossible - input waypoints into a dodgy programme - we should go this way next, the sat-nav is showing us it’s that way, and he pointed."
"Roland," I said, holding the hand of an elderly chap having asked the way, "this is a human and this technique has worked for thousands of years, all you have to do is ask.”
Day 17: Toudeshk to Yadz
The route along highway 71 took us across the desert in temperatures of 35 degrees centigrade. On the west side of the road a series of steelworks populated the landscape, skyscraper size chimney stacks pumping out green and grey gases in much the same way it does in steel land anywhere. Intermittently you ride through puddles of hot air, immersing you in sudden gushes of heat. The traffic remains impressively thick with battered wagons carrying rods of steel presumably for construction. As you enter a city, the traffic changes to taxis and recycled French saloon imports and people on motorcycles that sound like washing machines. We continue.