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The Iranian Gulf Coast - Bandar Bushehr to Bandar Abbas
Monday, 11 February 2008
After one month in Esfahan we’ve set our destination on the Arabian peninsula. It was already too cold in northern Iran and Turkey to go north. We had our tourist visa’s extended for a month hoping it would be enough for the journey south and the arrangements to get the ferry to the UAE. The journey south turned out to be one of escaping the winter cold of  2008.

We left Esfahan with nice sunny weather and a bit warmer than we had experienced the past few weeks. We already had several nights below zero and some wet snow. The road to Shiraz is long but with the excellent Iranian roads it took just a day. In winter times the road between Esfahan and Shiraz can be quite a journey. There’s a mountain pass in the middle taking us to a height of 2400 meters.  With winter cold, rain turns into snow here. Snow chains are very necessary to keep moving on this mountain pass.

If you get stuck in snow you need the truck starter kit every Iranian trucker has. That’s a gas burner to heat the diesel tank and the oil sump in the morning. Iranian diesel is untreated in winter times. Some mix every 100 litres of diesel with 6 litres of petrol. And if that doesn’t work there is the magic starter spray to get the thick diesel ignited. A special gas is sprayed into the air filter while starting the engine. This US product is called “instant starting fluid” made by “Radiator Specialty Company” in Los Angeles. It contains a mix of ether and n-heptane creating an extremely explosive mix.

But we got lucky, it was above freezing point during the day and we crossed the pass with clear skies. The road between Esfahan and Shiraz is nearly all highway. Only a few sections are 2 lanes and under construction to become highway too. Availability of diesel is no problem – we could fill our 600 litre tank to the max for just a few dollars.

We planned to park at the historical site of Persepolis, but due to the reconstruction of the road the “Persepolis” road signs were gone. So we ended up in Shiraz instead. Coming from Shiraz the signs were there and we could make our entrance in very busy Marvdasht during high time shopping hours. This town has the entrance to the “Takht-é Jamshid” or the Throne of Jamshid – the local name for Persepolis aka the city of Persians.

The parking of Persepolis is at the end of the access road to the site. Its huge and deserted – although it seems like that at first glance. In fact the parking is highly popular place. To learn how to drive, just to cruise the area and have a look at lone travellers with a truck and a white dog. We can imagine the scenery at the parking during summer nights – stuffed with young Iranians in cars. To meet and greet and get away from the daily hassles of life. Not a place to expect a quiet night – a better place for a quiet night might be the ITTC campsite on the same road.

And our imagination turned out to be true – at 3:30am the police came to wake us and tell us that we parked at “a very very bad place”. They wanted us to park at the police station a few Km down the road. After a short discussion we insisted to stay till dawn they left suddenly without a word.

The next day we spend a few hours at Persepolis. Although it rained a little, it’s an impressive statement of ancient Persian history. Entrance fee is just 5000 Rials (€ 0,36 or 0,50 US$!!) which is dirt cheap for such a huge and well maintained site. The museum inside charges extra but unfortunately it was closed due to no electricity.

In Shiraz we parked at the ITTC Tourist campsite. Great place to park but not cheap. It’s 5 US$ per person (and charged as such) a night including electricity and water – but they provide an excellent hot shower with well maintained European style sanitary. Don’t get fooled by security of this campsite – other travellers lost a laptop and other electronic stuff at this place. The campsite is at the far end of the compound and well out of sight of the security guards. The campsite area is easily accessible from the outside - just a jump over a wall for any wrong doers. We found a heap of used syringes in a corner of the place – so go figure who hides out here. Anyhow, this place is without doubt way more secure than any European campsite near a big tourist site similar to Persepolis.

After a few days of Shiraz with a little snow and night frost we left this mountain city for the shortest ride to the coast – Bandar Bushehr. We expected more snow and severe cold. A ride through more cold mountains straight to Bandar Abbas wasn’t what we were waiting for. After a quick stop at the Iran Kohdro diesel workshop to check the valve timing of our truck we left for the mountains – south west of Shiraz.

The road from Shiraz goes up steep for many Km’s. Lots of trucks take this road too for the shipping port of Bandar Bushehr This road has some dramatic mountain scenery – worth the ride – a must see. We saw it in a 15 cm layer of snow, a great sight. After several hours we reached the warmer regions of Iran – the winter cold of the past weeks was suddenly gone. We were beyond the reach of icy cold weather. Later we learned that we left Esfahan just in time. Esfahan was already crippled in a thick layer of snow and extreme cold for many days.

We arrived late in Bandar Bushehr after we got stuck during lunchtime with a big rock pressed between our rear tire and rim (We drive on 4 rear wheels, 2 are spare). We had to remove the rear wheel to get the rock out. And it was just a 10 second detour from the road! That night we parked at the gates of a special economic zone and left the next day at 5:30am.

The gulf coast of Iran is one of mountains, desert and beach in mild weather similar to spring. Many small villages and less women on the streets. Also lots of young men cruising around on motorcycles – it felt a bit like Baluchistan - Pakistan. The arid landscape and small communities where nothing much happens other than trucks and cars passing by. And then suddenly… foreigners with a white dog in a strange truck. That’s cruising heaven – and you have to take a look on your motorcycle. A little like India again.

Still in winter clothes we rode along the coast experiencing the sudden climate change in our journey. Near Bandar Assaluye we past a huge and very modern oil and gas plant – the industrial wealth of Iran. For many Km’s the only thing we saw was industrial activity and huge burners blowing of gas. Have a look with Google earth at  N27°31'39.93" -  E52°33'24.14".  At the end of the day we reached Bandar Lange and parked at a nice beach area with parking space, playground and a few food stalls. We had a very quiet night at the beach.

We reached Bandar Abbas after a long detour due to road construction work. Luckily the detour took us past a gas bottle station and filled both our bottles for a few dollars - enough for the coming 5 months. In Bandar Abbas we parked at Hotel Homa – that is the parking space for the workers at the Hotel. A great place to safely park our truck.

Bandar Abbas is a strange city – it doesn’t really feel like Iran. More somewhere between Iran and Pakistan. Not many foreigners come here, we were stared at like we came from mars. And women didn’t wear all black – there are tribal influences here, women dressed in light flowerily clothes who looked more like Africans than Arabs or Iranians. A nice change after the black hijabs of the rest of Iran.

And it’s smugglers heaven here for sure. We saw lots of brand new shopping malls and lots more in the making filled with western goods – most electronics. Investments in a new future – unstoppable and going fast. In a few years the centre of Bandar Abbas will undoubted look like one big shopping arcade.

It took us more than a week to arrange the paperwork for Indra’s import into the UAE and to arrange a ferry ticket from Bandar Abbas to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. A health certificate necessary for the import of pets into the UAE can be arranged at the Veterinary Organisation of the Ministry of Jihad – e – Agriculture (N27 11 43.5 E56 20 01.6) by Dr. R. Vahdani.  The e-Dirham card (200 AED)  for payment of the health officer in the UAE can be shipped by Aramex to Bandar Abbas through Brit Vets. Payment went through an international bank transfer to Brit Vets. The document shipment takes about 3 days, the payment takes about 2-3 days to go through. Read all about the import of pets into the UAE here.

And as we learned from another traveller who crossed the street of Hormuz with the same ferry, you can do without any of these documents – if you’re lucky. It causes a lot of hassle more in the UAE but in the end you get through – it may take a day more. Given you have your own vehicle where you can keep your pets and all the necessary vaccinations in an European pet passport. Otherwise it’s quarantine time at the airport in Dubai – not so much fun for any pet to end up there.

We crossed the street of Hormuz at the end of January 2008. You can read the details of the ferry between Bandar Abbas and Sharjah here.

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