I received a friendly welcome from the Iranian border guards and was directed towards immigration and customs. They took my paperwork and told me to sit and wait. 2 hours later I was free to go. Well, free to go with an escort. They weren’t over just yet. Baluchistan is a troublesome area in the region and it runs across both Pakistan and Iran. I wasn’t going to escape my escorts until somewhere after Bam. I hoped that I would make it that far on the same day. I was obviously dreaming as I only made it as far as Zahedan before I became popular tourist attraction number 1 with the police and army, while they decided what to do with me. Eventually they took me to the Kavir hotel where I was told I had to spend the night before I could leave with an escort in the morning.
The next morning I was up and ready to go early. My escort wasn’t. I then began the long process of being passed from escort to escort, as I tried to get out of town. Finally after 2 hours and multiple escorts we where on our way out of Zahedan. That was when disaster struck. As if by some Machiavellian grand design my gearbox failed, just as I drove up to the last check point. The engine was running but there was no joy from any of the gears. Oh shit!! I instantly thought about the automatic transmission fluid levels. The ones that I’d been topping up right from the start of the journey. A quick check showed the oil levels below what they should have been so I added a litre of oil and tried the gears again. To my great relief they worked again. Phew!!
So after a short delay we were back on the road, well for another 200 metres at least, before they failed again. Ah crap!! This time there was no resolving the situation. I was stuck. Fortunately the police escort was a ready made tow truck, capable of taking me to find a mechanic. Initial checks were no use so it was off to the Toyota mechanics to see if they could do anything. Once again the all to familiar sight of a workshop full of mechanics dropping tools and descending on Boris to investigate played out before my eyes. They got started straight away but after a while with no progress they said, come back tomorrow. Oh joy!! It was back to Hotel Kavir to check back in.
My run of bad luck, in the worst region of the journey was continuing. How long would I be stuck in Zahedan I wondered? What would have to be done to fix Boris? Could he be fixed? My worst nightmare had come about. A major mechanical failure, and in one of the worst possible places.
As I reflected on the situation that I night I had the sinking feeling that I was partially to blame. I’d gotten slack, missed a vital health check and now I didn’t have a working gearbox. All while stuck in a country where I had no contacts in Zahedan, no english speaking people about to help me, no working cell phone to call anybody, no working internet to make arrangements, no idea what need to be done to fix Boris and no way to withdraw extra cash if it was required (Iran doesn’t accept foreign bankcards).
The icing on the cake was that I was stuck in the worst city in Iran for a foreigner, due to the security issues. It was a disaster and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get myself out of this one.
Starting fresh the next day I got down to business. With sign language and mix of pigeon farsi and english I asked the Toyota guys to try and solve the problem. The word was it could take 7-10 days. Based on that information I made the decision to get out of Zahedan and go see some of the country while I waited. It was risky, as not being around to supervise often leads to nothing or the wrong things happening. However there was very little I could accomplish here in Zahedan so I decided to head for Kerman.
Kerman was a day trip by bus. I arrived late the following afternoon, and made my way to the Jalal guest house. Here I was able to connect to the internet finally, and set about finding a solution for my dilemma. I was quickly chatting to contacts in Tehran, parts suppliers in the UK and overland vehicle forums in an effort to find the right sort of help. Anybody that has been to Iran has experienced first hand how helpful the people are, and it was no different for me. I was getting offers from everybody to help me out of my quandary. The guesthouse host Mr Jalal helped me get a sim card sorted and acted as an interpreter with Toyota Zahedan. In a stroke of good luck I found out that a good London friend’s brother-in-law lived in Tehran and had offered to help out. Shahram was able to start sourcing mechanic options in Tehran, along with freight options to get to Tehran from Zahedan. On the internet a HUBB forum member put me in touch with the Iran Toyota Landruiser club and another gave me the number of a parts dealer in Tehran. I wasn’t lacking in people willing to help. I just need to find the right people.
When I found out that nothing was happening to the car in Zahedan (due to the so called expert not returning as planned) I decided that I need to be on the ground to get things moving. Unfortunately I made a (probably) rash call of asking get them to investigate the gearbox for faults, in the misguided hope they could solve the problem. Several days later and after no further progress I would finally realise that I needed to get to Tehran. While the Toyota guys did their best, they failed to find the fault while taking another three or four days to reach this conclusion. In an impressive gesture, they wouldn’t accept any money for the work they had done on Boris. Thanks guys.
While all of this was happening I was slowly going insane. I was stuck in a hotel that I couldn’t leave without an escort, that sometimes wouldn’t show up. The internet rarely worked and the TV had no english channels. It didn’t take long for me to run out of films to watch and books to read. I was tired, tetchy, frustrated and getting annoyed very easily.
There were a few bright spots however and they all related to the people I met. On the bus to Kerman I met Behrouz and we got chatting. He offered his services in Zahedan if I needed help. I finally had an english speaking contact which I was able to put to great use when I returned to Zahedan. Not only did Behrouz come to the Toyota mechanics several times to help translate, he also invited me around to his house for dinner with his mother and sister. It was the highlight of my stay. And when Behrouz couldn’t help, I’d been introduced to Kazem (via Shahnam at the Toyota Land Crusier club) which lead to him and Mr Soroush helping me one night. They then passed me on to Alex and Mahmood who picked up the batten to help as well. Everybody was super helpful and they even took me to the Sheesha den next to the hotel one evening to relax and chat. Muhammad Ali even drove me around town secretly without an escort one evening, when the police escort failed to turn up. They were all part of the group I came to refer to as the special group called ‘The 6 Disciples of Boris’ as they all went above and beyond the call of duty to help me out. Thanks guys!!
It was also fascinating to be in Iran when the announcement of a new agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions was reached, and a potential relaxation of sanctions against Iran was about to begin. I hope it works. A number of the locals don’t think the government, and more specially the Islamic religious regime have changed their approach internally. Only time will tell. What I couldn’t help noticing was that the day after the US and Iran decided they could work together for the first time in 30 years, Boris and his gearbox (after 20 years) decided they could not. The irony was not lost on me.
When the word finally came back from the Toyota mechanics that they couldn’t get the gearbox to work I told then to put it back together so I could go to Tehran. I made arrangements for a freight truck to come with a lift to pick Boris up and take him to Tehran. We had a 30-35 hour journey ahead of us.
In the middle of all this, confusion and miscommunication reigned supreme. I’d had the usual nightmare getting to the garage and I finally snapped when they wanted to swap escorts 500 metres from the Toyota centre. Toys came flying out of the pram as I told them all what I thought of them, which wasn’t the most helpful thing to do. When I was harangued by an undercover police officer for filming out of Mahmood’s truck as we drove through the bazaar, I told him to sod off, and said no I won’t show you my camera footage. This resulted in another trip to the police station to fill out a report (which we had to sign and fingerprint) just to be told, that I was under no circumstances, to film police or military sites. No shit sherlock!! Poor Mahmood had to join me as well, just because he was helping me out.
Then the Toyota guys didn’t get the message that I’d delayed departure yet another day so they could completely reassemble the gearbox. So when I arrived to pick up the truck it was still in pieces and leaking oil everywhere whenever we moved the truck. Oh joy!! Then the freight truck driver turned up. He had an old truck with no lift and immediately set about asking for more cash to arrange the loading of Boris onboard. Fat chance buddy!! Well, two hours later and a trip to what looked like the local tip to find a loading ramp, we were onboard and ready to depart. It would have been quicker but the six policemen were so busy protecting me that they declined the opportunity to help us out.
At 2.30pm we were finally on our way out of Zahedan with our Police escort in tow, while Boris’ oil was leaking out all over the back of the truck and his security alarm keeping going off. It took us three hours to travel 140kms, eight hours to travel 320km to Bam and thirteen hours to reach Kerman 500kms away, where our escorts finally left us in peace. By the time we reach Rafsanjan it was 5.30am. The driver and I were shattered. At this rate it was going to take three days to reach Tehran.
All I could think about was how were we going to get Boris off the truck once we reached Tehran? what was our destination in Tehran? and who was going to actually fix him? They were all mysteries to me. The only positive about the day was that, eleven days after arriving in Zahedan I was finally leaving, and I was finally free of the police escorts that had followed me everywhere for the last 3 weeks!!
The driver and I spent the the following day from 9.30am to 2am the next day, on the road. It was brutally slow going. The views across the landscape as we passed through the desert region and past the city of Yazd did make for a pleasant change of scenery though.
On the morning of the third day we rose at 6.30am and got back on the road, with just the section from Qom to Tehran left in front of us. Very quickly though we were retracing our steps as we were thrown off the main highway for being a truck. The slow winding old road took us up into the hills before Tehran and introduced us to the first snow of the year. Right on schedule the coldest, wettest, snowed covered day had arrived to welcome us into Tehran. Zero visibility and freezing temperatures. Just what we needed.
Meanwhile Shahram was ready and waiting to meet us, wherever that point was. The only problem was Shahnam (from the Toyota Land Crusier club) was the one who had made the arrangements for the Toyota mechanics, and he had disappeared. His phone was off and he wasn’t returning any messages or calls. To add insult to injury, the already grumpy driver snuck back onto the highway (of his own accord) and promptly got a 1,000,000 rials ($34) fine. He waved the ticket at me mumbling in Farsi, words I didn’t understand but the message was clear. He thought that I should pay it.
48 hours after leaving Zahedan we rolled into the outskirts of Tehran. We’d finally made it, which was great. Now I just wished I knew where we were meant to be going…