Reaching Quetta and enjoying a good rest was my objective after all the rough roads from Lahore, but I was under no illusion there’d be plenty more to come, not to mention the heat, desert sand and an element of danger. Real or perceived, I didn’t know. Despite the hotel being pretty basic, I managed to get my laundry done and clean Effie & I up a little. Any enthusiasm I had for sightseeing soon evaporated with sight of open sewers all over town.
Before heading to Quetta, my friend Omar had suggested avoiding the hills but I needed a change of scenery and took the road up through the Bolan Pass with great views of the desert mudbrick houses at 1,850 metres. It was a struggle in places but well worth the ride with winds & extreme heat then cold. despite 5 broken spokes and much needed maintenance after travelling for two days without brakes. At the hotel I met up with Hayashi, a young guy riding a 110 Honda to Europe. Yashi was hoping to put his bike on a bus heading to Iran but after some discussion with transport officials it was decided he’d go the next day with me. Having a riding companion for a few days would make a nice change. I was really looking forward to a good meal but was told that because the cook was Christian and it was Easter, no meals were being prepared. Not what I was expecting given this was a mainly Muslim country, but there you go. As tempting as the thought of barbecued lamb at a local restaurant seemed, it wasn’t enough to entice me outdoors and I made do with what I could scrounge.
I had an inkling it was going to be more difficult from Quetta onwards and geared myself up for the mandatory police escorts from there to the border. Things though went from the sublime to the ridiculous when the police escort changed 6 times within 18 kms! I hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come! While waiting for one change at a toll plaza I made an adjustment to the magneto after experiencing a loss of power. I suggested Yashi ride on ahead so I wouldn’t slow him down but the police turned him back. Despite strong winds on the way to Nushki we’d managed 150 kms for the day. Absolutely buggered yet again, Yoshi & I snuck into a truck stop thinking we’d give the police the slip. But they discovered where we were and made us leave, insisting it wasn’t safe to spend the night in a dhaba.
We slogged on for another 30 kms and finally asked where the police post was, only to be told we’d passed it 20 kms back! That’s what happens when the escort leads from behind! By the time we got back to the police post and settled for the night we’d covered 200kms – far too much for Effie and for me. One consolation was that I had only one broken spoke to replace this time when I did my usual service. Early the next morning we headed off towards Dalbandin.
We knew the road for the first 20kms wasn’t bad given we’d already been over it twice, but as luck would have it, it soon deteriorated. With the tyres at 45 psi and no suspension it didn’t make for a good ride and there seemed to be no getting used to the horrendous conditions. The 174 kms to Nok Kundi proved to be the worst ride yet. Hayashi took a spill in the deep sand covering the road. I’m not sure how I managed to keep the FN upright, just luck most likely, but it was a constant struggle. We were told the road to Kuh-i-Taftan was going to be good, but I had to wonder. Compared to what? Only one highlight of the day and that was to have a wash at the end of the day. Water is brought into the police posts by train once a month so it’s pretty scarce everywhere. As if the day’s ride wasn’t bad enough we were hit by a sandstorm during the night. It blew inside the building and literally covered the bike.
We left Keeyi-Dailil police post with only 60 kms to go to Taftan and reached the border at 10am. It felt good to be here at last. With no semblance of order and a good deal of jostling for position on the Pakistani side, the paperwork somehow finally got cleared. It was nice to enjoy a more orderly procedure in the air-conditioned office on the Iranian side and see a real loo! A European rider was heading in the opposite direction – the first I’d seen since leaving Nepal a few months before. Customs were organized and everything went smoothly and by 1pm we were given the thumbs up.
The officials insisted they escort us all the way to Bam and wanted to ride on Yashi’s bike, but after an emphatic refusal they commandeered a local vehicle, much to the owner’s dismay. Just two kms later the police stopped us – Yashi’s paperwork wasn’t in order. He’d changed his number plate in Pakistan for a regional one to try to blend in with the locals, without realizing that this would cause a problem that it now didn’t match his carnet. He finally got that sorted then 4 kms on we had another longer wait at an army post. There was the usual language barrier, but I got the feeling they were waiting for a donation, so we acted completely unaware. Finally we set off again, did another 4 kms and the whole process was repeated. We were beginning to become exasperated. It was also disconcerting to have soldiers put our passports in their pockets and head off. This was something I never got used to and it always caused me to feel vulnerable.
Enough was enough and we insisted we weren’t going to continue riding this way. So the police commandeered a pickup and loaded the two bikes on the back. The driver covered the next 30 kms at breakneck speed, in excess of 100kms an hour with Yashi and I on the back trying to keep the bikes from toppling over. I could understand the annoyance of the locals who had better things to do than play taxi driver to foreigners at the whim of officials. I got the sense though that they had little choice but to comply. It was pretty frustrating for us not being able to ride the bikes ourselves but with nowhere to stay in the area we had to keep moving.
At Zahedan we came to a standstill outside the police post. We waited 15 mins then they took us 200 metres to another police post which was opposite a hotel. We went through a laborious paper shuffle then were finally free to go to our room. It was such a relief to have a hot meal of chicken and rice, a real shower at last and some privacy. Food and drink had been hard to come by since Quetta. Petrol too was hard to find as most of the trucks run on diesel. Gas is sold on a quota system so it meant finding someone we could negotiate with. Police & pump attendants sometimes clashed about giving us fuel. Fortunately I was carrying a spare 10 litres of fuel on one long stretch and it got me through. Oil was even more difficult to locate. Called something like ‘Roran’ it was sold in shops amongst other goods but there were no signs indicating where. At one stage I was forced to use the miniscule amount of oil in the two tiny oil cans on my tank bags. Just these few drops got me through.
Iranian hospitality began with being given a can of refreshing peach juice with chunks of peach inside. And later that evening in Zahedan we were invited to the home of Jalil, one of the customs officers we’d met. His generosity and good command of English made for a very pleasant evening. Jalil told us that one of the soldiers misunderstood the instruction to escort two ‘tourists’. He was terrified and sweating all the way because he thought Yoshi & I were two ‘terrorists’! Funny how one’s perspective of others can be coloured by the language we use to describe them!
With little to be seen in Zahedan we headed off next morning and it wasn’t until 50 kms before Bam that we found fuel. Here at last our passports were returned to us and our escorts deemed it safe enough to travel unescorted. Horray! The last week had been harder than I’d imagined. We’d ridden through a severe sandstorm with sand biting our faces and threatening to blow us off the road several times. During the night the sand blew into the building, entering every crevass in the bike, including the carburettor and this needed a good clean out in the morning. My belt has been shortened another notch due to lack of food. All we had one day was what I managed to hijack from the hotel breakfast table. But it wasn’t all bad. Sleeping on the floor of the last police post we were woken at 9pm with a dish of chicken and rice – a meal we accepted with grateful thanks.
From here-on in I expect the days will be easier. The hardest part is over and I’m looking forward to enjoying all Iran has to offer. I now have the freedom to stop every 50 kms and give the bike a rest. Even on good roads this journey is a big ask for a bike of this vintage. I’m amazed at how resilient Effie has proved to be. Alot has happened to me too, more than I can put on these pages. One incident that comes to mind is when Yashi & I caused a bit of a kerfuffle by picking up our passports off a hotel desk and leaving under our own steam. Next thing we knew police were chasing us, sirens going and officers pulled us to the side of the road a tad upset. Ah well, when all else fails, just smile and say sorry – it works every time .