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Getting to know Iran
Sunday, 12 November 2006
After the traffic congestion ordeal in Tehran we fled south looking for another Mercedes Benz dealer to stock up with spare parts and some engine service. The old Saveh road from Tehran is packed with industrial activity. We had two Benz truck dealers on our official dealer  list and we found none of them – but we are getting used to ‘the not finding’ Benz dealers. It might just be a part of road life in Iran. But when you least expect it – what you are looking for finds you.
After the ‘not finding of Mercedes Benz’ we found the brand new Imam Khomeini airport with lots of Lufthansa planes parked on the terminal. Indeed very conveniently located outside the traffic chaos of Tehran – in fact for the first time traveller to Iran a real treat. Everything new and shiny just like home! Welcome to Iran.

With lots of nice parking spots for our truck near the new airport we thought lets not spend the night in jail by parking unauthorised near this Iranian novelty. So we found our place to spend the night at a carpark next to the highway to Qom. Pretty quiet unexpectedly, with police protection and diesel within reach. Heaven compared to Karaj metro station the days before.

The next day we reached Kashan by a 4 lane highway, a small town with just 120.000 people according to the Lonely planet of 2001. As promised in this guidebook we found the Sayyeh Hotel at the spot it should be found. However – unfortunately the road was closed due to mourning for the death of a very important Ayatollah that same day. Stared at by police and military protecting the closed road in a spot where it was also forbidden for trucks. Being in this situation in the Netherlands we would have instantly earned us a steep fine and what more.

Mush mush kila, no problem in Iran. We could continue and squeezed our bulky truck through the narrow gate of the hotel. In the process vandalising the black mourning shrouds and tearing the picture of the unfortunate Ayatollah with our truck antenna’s.
What a welcome! Hello here we are, how are you? Anyhow – we could park behind the Hotel for ‘just’ US$ 10 a night with running water and electricity. And a small space for Indra to play, pee and seriously fertilise the area.

Kashan is indeed a nice city to spend a few days. The bazaar is just round the corner and several restaurants in the area. Even during the Ramadan combined with the mourning for the Ayatollah, it’s still worth a stroll around town in the morning and evening. We stayed two days stocking up supplies, get connected to the internet and get some real good sleep.

The road to Esfahan took us through desert like landscapes. Again we drove on a 4 lane highway with a real emergency lane and phone boots in case of a car breakdown. On this near empty highway the police checked our speed with laser handguns so many times, the frontside of our truck was getting hot from the many laserbeams. We saw several Iranians getting plastered with speed tickets. We just got flagged down one time. Just to see our truck and our white faces.

Coming closer to Esfahan felt like a Tehran deja-vue. Dense chaotic traffic again! We reached Tehran round 11am to allow time to extensively ‘not find’ the Benz truck dealer. After asking a few truckers, the Scania truck dealer, Bank Melli and a lone military guard we finally succeeded in finding Saraffan – the official Mercedes Benz agent in Esfahan. The 40 year old company is located on the Amirkabir avenue, the former Tehran road. (as known by Mercedes Benz International) It’s located in the middle of the car and truckparts heaven. It’s like a bazaar – you’ll find many shops only for rims, gearboxes, axles you name it, it’s there.

The welcome at Saraffan was refreshing – instant and very friendly service. In 30 minutes mechanics where working on our truck to check valves, air compressor and dieseljets. We also planned this stop to get some redundancy in truck parts. By changing essential (still working) parts on our truck with new ones we kept the existing ones as spare. Truck parts are pretty cheap in Iran and the availability is pretty good for Benz, Scania, Volvo, IFA and Renault trucks.

Mercedes Benz Saraffan is well equipped and has a very clean terrain with a nice garden and lots of space. Mr Saraffan allowed us to stay on the guarded terrain for 2 days – an excellent place to camp with a very happy Indra. Located 12 Km north of  Emam Khomeini Square it’s a good base to explore Esfahan and to stock up with truck parts.

On Friday morning we explored Esfahan. Walking the famous Emam Khomeini Square on a quiet Friday morning was simply impressive. The Emam Mosque was open for free while in preparations for the Friday prayer. Amazing fine artwork all over the place and very very quiet. With most of the shops closed we could walk around without any salesmen hunting for customers.  From the Emam Khomeini square we walked to the well known Si-o-seh bridge over the Zayandeh river. A magic moment, actually being here was something we have been waiting for for many years.

The road to Yazd was again highway. Now crossing a 2400 meter mountain pass in the desert with a very gradual ascent and decent. Going up felt like there was something wrong with the truck but the ascent meter showed a real +20 meters/min at 80 Km/hr.

We reached Yazd just before sunset of course at the busiest time of the day. As usual trucks where not allowed and we got send away by police only once. Taking a different route the 2nd time we found the Silk Road Hotel near the Jameh Mosque and parked at the empty space in front of the Hotel. Not a usual sight for the locals seeing a truck in this place.

Silk Road Hotel is a gem with a superb nice open-air inside square/garden which reminds us of the tea gardens in Damascus and the building style in Sana’a. Very well done and good food for a reasonable price. The Silk Road Internet Café nearby has an ADSL connection which allowed us to upload a few pics and download our mail. Although the Internet is filtered quite extensively in Iran, most of the websites we value still worked. Surprisingly the Dutch provider XS4ALL worked in Kashan but was blocked here.

Exploring the Yazd Bazaar, eating out at the Silk Road Hotel made our stay in Yazd a real pleasure. To our surprise the Silk Road Hotel is managed as a joint venture by Bas (from the Netherlands) and Ali (Iranian). They also got more plans to expand their business outside Yazd, so keep an eye out on their website: www.silkroadhotel.ir

After 3 days we left Yazd for Kerman. Again a 4 lane road through desert with lots of trucks. It seems to be the trade route with Bandar Abas, after this exit the road got a lot more quiet. We stopped at after Rafsanjan between the Pistache fields for lunch. We got several visitors – including a big group of Afghans working in the fields. We left with a big bag of fresh Pistache nuts, a gift from the Afghans.

Kerman looks pretty clean and modern. Again we tried to look for the Mercedes Benz dealer of course not finding it – is Tehran road so hard to find? Anyhow we abandoned our search and found the Akhavan Hotel instead. We parked at the back of the Hotel with water, electricity and a nice area for Indra to play.
In Kerman we decided to extend our visa – with 8 days left – we headed for the Foreign office which was located on a new location as shown on the free map available at the Hotel. After an hour we left the foreign office with the application form and the usual bank deposit exercise of 100.000 Rials p.p.

On the way to the bank we looked around in the Bazaar. Quite nice and surprisingly busy for a Ramadan day. After the deposit at the Meli bank we found an internet café with an unusual fast Internet connection. The Alpha Internet café, south east from the Gharani square is located on the top floor of a normal apartment building. With airco and a lot of terminals squeezed in every room of this former apartment we could upload some pics and do the last stuff before Pakistan.

Later that day we talked a bit with the manager of Hotel Akhavan. As heard several times before during our stay in Iran, the tourist industry has taken a hard blow the past years. As a comparison, Rotel tours, the company with the red overland Benz trucks (das rollende Hotel) had 17 visits at the Akhavan Hotel in the best year. This year it’s only 1 coach. In good times about 100.000 foreign tourist visited Iran, now it’s round and about 20.000. It’s not hard to imagine how hard it is to run an middle class tourist Hotel under these circumstances.

With the ongoing nuclear dispute, the PKK bombs in Turkey, unstable Iraq, the continuous struggle in Afghanistan and the unrest in Pakistan it’s hard to picture ‘good times’ for the tourist industry in this region in the near future.

Now after 3 weeks of Iran – we feel we’ve only touched the surface of life in Iran.
Compared to other Middle-East countries Iran has its own distinct identity which to us has not changed over the past 6 years. If it wasn’t for the trade embargo’s we can picture Iran to be a very modern Asian / Middle-East state – a country with people who are more than willing to work hard and build good relations with neighbouring countries.
Moreover individual determination to do so is unmistakeably there, what’s left is the window of opportunity and time.

Did we get to know Iran for a bit ? We can’t really say, as with every country it takes considerable time and several visits to get a reliable feel of what goes on in Iran. For what we’ve seen it’s a country with many different faces. And the one it has in the worldwide media? Maybe needless to say – The people of Iran really deserve a whole lot better.

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