Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Bike, a Tent and a Spoon: Across the Straits of Hormoz from Bandar Abbas to Dubai

Paranoid, I rode to Bandar Abbas ferry port about 2 pm for the 9 pm sailing. This gave me time to fix the recurring front wheel puncture, or so I thought...

As I was updating my diary in the terminal building, the Iranian cyclist I'd met in Bandar Abbas the day before came up, and he had an Italian backpacker in tow. Later, we were joined by Marek, a German cyclist whom I already knew of, as he'd stayed at Mohammad's homestay in Toodeshk a day or two before me. We compared bikes, and came quickly to the conclusion that Marek's kit was much heavier than mine - as his kit included a guitar, a noseflute, a recorder and a sock puppet, all on a bike able to accommodate his 6'5"frame, this probably isn't surprising. I felt positively lightweight.

Marek also mentioned a Swiss cyclist, Yannik, who had caught the previous week's ferry. I'd spent the morning in the hotel reading blogs and journals from other cyclists' journeys around India and Central Asia, trying to plan the next stage of my journey, and here I was with two other cyclists, and a week behind another, all going to India. It's a blessing to follow such well-trodden paths and have so many fellow travellers with whom to share times and stories and tips, but it's also slightly bruising to my ego to be reminded that I'm not a pioneer venturing into the unknown. But I can't be blasé about it - part of every day is reducing the huge scale of the journey into ordinariness and manageable bites, and I'm still struck so often by the wonder of it all, such as when I awoke before dawn on the ferry and saw the full moon over the water, the fourth full moon of my trip, and the perfect sun emerged over the horizon. I don't think I'll ever be able to take it for granted and refer to "the circuit", though it does feel a bit like that sometimes, as I've discovered when I started riding and meeting other cyclists. But to me, it's all still new, especially as I'm the first in my family and circle of friends to do it, unless you count my dad's mate Walter, who packed in his job after he came back from serving in World War II and went off to tour Europe, setting off with nothing but a bike, a tent and a spoon.

sunrise on the Persian Gulf

on the ferry from Bandar Abbas to Sharjah

On the ferry, Marek brought out his guitar, and as Mousa was carrying a flute, they made beautiful music together, to the amusement (not to say bemusement) of the other passengers. I laid myself out on one of the benches on the open deck and drifted to sleep, awaking just before dawn.

Immigration in Sharjah was a combination of entertainment and tedium and bewildering administration. We disembarked at about 9 am local time, and everyone on the boat was shepherded into an eye test for some reason, at least the Iranians were: they weren't interested in mine or Marek's eyes. We then waited...and waited, for about two hours, until the two most disinterested government officials I've seen outside of Darlo Jobcentre showed up, looking the worse for wear. They did manage to check a few passports, inbetween calling and texting on their mobile phones, and I mean phones plural, the guy was taking two calls at once with a phone to each ear.

They worked for about half an hour, then left the building, muttering something about the system. Marek said they'd probably gone for their dinner. I told him he should use his computer skills to fix it, but he opined that the problem was probably in the chair, not the computer. We prepared ourselves for a long wait - the security guards wouldn't let anyone leave.

A bus turned up to take us to an alternative immigration office in Sharjah, which was pleasing in a way, as we had an impromptu tour of Sharjah port, and got a look at the dhow boats, which I and Giorgio were hoping to catch to book a passage to India. Stampy stamp with the passports (though the styaff looked no happier in this environment), then back to the port for the most cursory baggage checks imaginable, then we were free, free, after a mere five or six hours. My puncture repair hadn't taken, so my front tyre had to be periodically pumped back up.

I'd read somewhere on the internet that the journey into Dubai was impossible to cycle, but we managed OK, following the coastline and the quieter roads rather than the 7-lane megahighway. Mousa seemed a bit taken aback by the whole thing - I think it was his first time outside Iran. To be honest, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed myself by the shift from conservative, down-at-heel Iran to glittering Dubai.

Moussa and Marek cycling through Sharjah

We went to a Subway, of all places, and guided Mousa through the complexities of ordering. I'm hardly an expert - I've been in Subway three or four times, and one of those was when they had a mega-deal of 99p sandwiches so we went from work and bought about a million, annoying everyone else in the shop. I really just want a sandwich, not a choice of four different types of bread.

Anyway, since Moussa only had worthless rials we bought his sandwich, then went to find a mall where he could change them and Marek and I could find sim cards. I also had a task of my own to perform - we needed to find alcohol to celebrate leaving behind Iran and prohibition.

So an Englishman, an Iranian and a German walked into a bar, and the barman said "is this some kind of joke?".

Ice cold in Arabia

It wasn't the world's greatest beer, but it still went down smoothly, so well in fact that I had another to make sure the first wasn't lonely. Cheers!

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