Monday, 25 June 2012

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 56

Day 56: Frustrated with Stupid Politics of Iranian Visa Process

June 25, 2012; Distance covered today: 0 Km; Total: 4411 Km

We woke up at 7 in the morning to go to the Iranian Conciliate to apply for a visa for Fausto. We had a lot of hope, but fausto was told that he would only be given a visa if he had applied through an agency called, “Iranian Visa” or with an invitation from Iran. I then talked to the officer in Persian to see if there is a faster and easier way. I was told to ask one of my friends or relatives in Iran to send Fausto an invitation! 

I called my friend in Iran and asked him to send Fausto an invitation. He contacted the Iranian Foreign ministry and was told that no visa is granted for a person to enter with their personal vehicle! He then called an agency specializing in organizing bike tours in Iran. They said that they would be able to apply for a visa but it would take 10 days or so. Then they said that they would try to find a fast track.
Ersurum is a very religious city

Now… on the one hand, I don’t want to leave Fausto behind and go by myself, on the other hand, I don’t have time and I have to leave for Iran in a day or two.  I finally decided to wait to hear from my friend from Iran to see what the agency can do then leave for Iran. Fausto would try applying through “Iranian Visa” website and travel for a week before the agency facilitates the visa process. If nothing works, he would have to take a bus or train to Istanbul to take a plane to India to resume his trip. We are in a limbo situation now.

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 55

Day 55: Eating and Resting in Erzurum in Turkey

June 24, 2012; Distance covered today: 0 Km; Total: 4411 Km

I woke up several times last night. The other people in the “hotel” are very inconsiderate and noisy. We woke up early in the morning and went out to have breakfast. We came back and surfed the Net. There was noting else we could do. It was Sunday today. The Iranian guy showed up again to face our neglect and cold shoulder. He said goodbye and checked out. 

We then went out and found an Alpine shop and did some shopping. In the basement of the shop, they had a climbing wall where I stretched my fingers a little bit. 
Am I too tall or what?

The rest of the day, we did nothing but resting in our “room”. The room is built for short people. I cannot stand up straight in it. We have bumped our heads into the sealing several times. Thank god it is not sharp.
At night we enjoyed watching Italy crush England in Euro 12. We should go to the Iranian conciliate to apply for a visa for Fausto.
mmm... I still like my pasta

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 54

Day 54: The Last City before Iran; From the Highest Point near Erzurum to Erzurum in Turkey

June 23, 2012; Distance covered today: 75 Km; Total: 4411 Km

Last night was what I have been hoping to be doing while traveling by bicycle—camping in the wild and enjoying the nature.

 By the time we were ready to leave it was 8 o’clock. We had only 100 meters to the top. We stopped for a photo and for the first time in Turkey, we coasted down on a good road—I mean, there was no potholes or tar on the road, so we were super fast. 
The top: 2057 m

We thought there would be another mountain to climb before Erzurum, but we were wrong. After the downhill, we rode on a flat road at about 1800 meter altitude until we arrived in Erzurum—the last important city before Iran-Turkey border. I have only 300 Km to cross the border, to enter Iran, to do the last leg but not the least leg of my journey. 
Again, invited for tea by road workers

When we arrived in Erzurum at 12 o’clock; we were hungry. We found a cozy restaurant rather away from the hustle and bustle of the center and had Sorba, rice, and some kind of stew. Then the part that I hate began—looking for accommodation. 

We had heard that there was a kind of hotel called “Teachers’ House” (in Turkish) which is very much like youth hostels. We found it, but it did not look like a hostel by any means; it looked fancy. Anyway, I went in and told the reception that my friend and I would like to stay there for a couple of nights. The reception said that there was no vacancy. I didn’t believe her. I thought she didn’t like the scruffy look of mine.

We checked some other hotels but none was good; either too expensive, or too dirty. We finally found one which was cheap and clean, but no vacancy. I don’t know why the owner didn’t want to lose customers like us, so he looked through his list trying to see if there is any way to accommodate us. Finally, he said he would have a room tomorrow if we agree to sleep in different rooms. We left, thinking we would come back tomorrow if we didn’t find anything better. 

There was an Iranian guy staying in the hotel. He said that he knew Erzurum like the palm of his hand. He walked with us and showed us some really crappy hotels where we could not even walk in for the smell and the filth. I said goodbye to him and went back to the same small hotel. We were ready to sleep in separate rooms. The owner of the hotel gave us the designated area where guests say their prayers: a very small carpeted area on the second floor. We would have no privacy but it was only for one night. We would sleep in our sleeping bags and wear our earplugs. 

So we did. We took a shower, put our clothes in the washing machine, and checked our emails since we had been in the wild for the last five days. 

Then we saw the Iranian guy again. He was an “I-know-it-all” kind of guy, but he knew nothing about anything. As soon as we would mention the name of a place, he would say that he had been there or something about the place which would be actually wrong. For example, he said that Spanish was widely spoken in Canada! When we wanted to go out for a bite, he also walked with us and showed us a couple of restaurants. I wanted to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, so I talked to him, gave him some credit for what he would say, and take his advice about which restaurant is good or bad. He recommended a restaurant where we had some really plain food. When it was time for footing the bill, I split the bill, and said that each should pay such and such amount. He asked me to pay for the food then he would pay me in the hotel. I knew where he was going but I considered the money a total loss and paid the whole amount. But after that moment, I stopped talking to him. Fausto also did the same. He stopped talking to him.  In the hotel, he came to me and reluctantly asked me how much he owed me. I said, “No worries. You could be my guest”, but in Persian culture, that’s just a complementary thing to say when someone owes you some money. And the person should pay you anyways to save his/her face.  Not to my surprise, he said thanks and put his “coins” in his pocket. Several times after that moment he asked us questions and wanted to talk to us or give us suggestions about things, but he was faced with deaf ears and ignoring faces. He then said goodnight and got lost in his room.

We sat in our corner, surfed the net, and went to sleep.
Our Corner

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 53

Day 53: Camping in Mountains; From Erzincan to the Highest Point near Erzurum in Turkey

June 22, 2012; Distance covered today: 103 Km; Total: 4336 Km

What a perfect spot we had last night: quiet, clean, cool, mosquitoless, and by a river. I was so refreshed after taking a dip in the river last night. I made pasta again, and pleased my eyes with shimmering stars.
I woke up feeling well rested, had breakfast and hit the road. We knew that we had to climb a mountain before Erzerum so were looking forward to seeing beautiful landscape.

At about ten o’clock, we were passing the omnipresent road construction where some workers shouted, “Chai, Chai”. They were inviting us to join them during their tea break. We stopped, not for the tea, but for talking to these local people. We had some tea and had a quick chat with them. 
Been invited for tea by road workers
This is how police in Turkey controls traffic. I saw a handful of them on the road. They look like a police car from the distance!

Later, we were passing a bee farm where I stopped and bought some organic honey for breakfast.
At about two o’clock, we got to a village called Askale. We got our groceries for dinner: pasta, tuna, green peas, corn, and bread. I didn’t like the village. The people were not as friendly as other places and they overcharged us for our groceries too.  When I wanted to get some petrol for my stove, the attendant was so unfriendly that I left without buying the petrol although I knew we would be in trouble for petrol later.
As we started to climb a steep road right after the village, a very strong wind touched off—high winds with uphill. At the top, there was a teahouse where we stopped for an hour and had tea. We were a little concerned when we heard that there was no gas station in the next 30 Km. We started pushing it. It was really beautiful and there were lots of nice spots for camping, but we had no petrol. Just 100 meters to the top of the mountain, I suggested Fausto to stay there in the mountains for the night. I thought we could make a fire and enjoy camping in the mountains. So we did. 
Me buying organic honey

There was a farmer there who warned us about the wild animals at night. He suggested us to take turns and stand guard! Haha. No way! We probably look scarier than the animals now. We didn’t take his advice seriously and did the business as usual: taking a shower in the creek, washing our clothes, and preparing for making dinner. The only difference this time was collecting wood, lots of wood for our bonfire. 
Looking for a spot to pitch up our tents
And being hypnotized by the dancing flames

Worshiping  the Fire
Our Spot

After the dinner, we sat close to the bonfire and laughed at the farmer who warned us of the wild animals. We could hear some howls very close, but they were only small foxes we thought.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

From Barcelona to Tehran: Day 52

Day 52: Erzincan” A City of Gorgeous Mountains; From Refahiye to Erzincan in Turkey

June 21, 2012; Distance covered today: 120 Km; Total: 4233 Km

It was 8:30 when we were on the road again. There was no wind fighting us, so the ride was very pleasant. In the town, we stopped at a shop and bought the groceries for dinner. We didn’t want to be ripped off again although it meant carrying the stuff with us all day. 
The View in the Morning

We climbed a huge mountain. The road was in a very bad condition. There wasn’t tar or oil like the other roads, but there were lots of pot holes and trucks. Right on the top, there was a restaurant. We stopped for a tea, but we ended up having a huge lunch with butter, honey, cheese, tomato and lots of tea. It was really delicious. Then it started raining. It was coming down big time. We had to wait for the rain to stop. When we had a little let up, we started the coasting. It was chilly and we had our rain jackets on. The mountains were stunningly beautiful. 
Awesome Clauds


The Mountains around Erzincan

Erzincan is a very beautiful city surrounded by tall gorgeous mountains. I was so excited to see these many beautiful mountains in one place. I thought it would be a great idea to go there just for climbing. Maybe one day…

After a stop at a shop to buy stuff for breakfast, we rushed out of the city to find a place to camp. We checked one place, but for the few seconds that we stopped to see the spot, we were attacked by blood sucking mosquitoes from all directions. We got on our bikes and ran for our lives. After another 5 Km or so, we checked another possible spot and we liked it. We pitched up our tent, took a bath in the river, cooked Spaghetti, and chatted under starry sky. 

Sunset, C lauds, and our Spot