"Under House Arrest" Bam Travelogue by travelinxs
Bam Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 18 photos
As we say in England, things went completely pear-shaped. This is what happened.
A couple of days before leaving Bam we had changed a few dollars in the Sepiah Bank. Despite having more staff than customers, they had kept us waiting over an hour, were arrogant and rude and, worst of all, neglected to give me my passport back.
Realising this just before leaving, we were delayed as I had to pedal into town to retrieve it.
We missed the early morning bus to Zehadan, the last main town before the border in the center of the notorious Baluchistan border province.
A later bus got us to Zehadan thirty minutes too late to reach the border crossing in time. I began to curse those bankers in Bam. We cycled from the bus depot into the chaotic shambles of the city center and hunted for somewhere to sleep, but everywhere was ‘full’, or, more likely, didn’t want the responsibility of foreigners staying.
As we pushed the bikes through the crowds we were constantly stopped and warned to get off the streets as it wasn’t safe for us.
A young Abdul befriended us and walked for miles from one cheap hotel to another. Now it was dark and the city felt edgy and tense in a very uncomfortable way.
Abdul conceded defeat and waved down a police patrol vehicle. A policeman on foot and another on a motorbike escorted us to a cheap dive. Like all policemen here I noticed, they carried AK-47s.
The hotel that had previously been ‘full’ now suddenly had a room. We were safe for the night, but the problems had only just begun.
The next morning numerous armed police arrived and a pick-up to get us to the border, an hour-and-a-half away. The police stood around watching as I counted out the very last few Iranian rials I had to pay the pick-up driver.
Finally at the border and I went into passport control to get stamped out. They saw the visas had run out at midnight. We would have to go back to Zehadan. But we didn’t have any money left! Tough.
An hour of arguing got me nowhere. The officials summoned a police pick-up to take us back. Three times we transferred from one vehicle to another, Hagar breaking a front pannier clip somewhat predictably.
By the time we arrived back in Zehadan the Department for Aliens Affairs was closed. We found ourselves in the city’s police headquarters compound. Did we want a hotel? “No money!” I reminded them. We had an emergency stash of dollars hidden away, but I wasn’t going to admit to that. “ATM in Pakistan,” I reasoned.
We hung around for a few hours, no one sure what to do with us. They invited us in out of the cold and we sat in their dormitory and were given food.
The chief officer finally came up to us and said, “Go with escort to a hotel,” thrusting a small wad of notes into my hand.
So off we went to another of the ‘full’ hotels and were given a decrepit, cold room for the night. Just as one of the officers went to leave he thrust more notes into my hand. “For a meal.” Their kindness had me feeling guilty.
With our passports confiscated and with orders not to leave the hotel under any circumstances, we were effectively under house arrest.
The next morning our armed escort arrived with our passports to get the visas extended. As we pedaled across the city behind them my front pannier frame, now unstable with one broken clip, jammed in the tread of the tire, bringing me to a sliding halt. The force had cracked the frame. Just fantastic. The panniers were strapped to the back of a police motorbike. Then the escort changed to a car. Then back to motorbikes. By now no one really knew where they were meant to be taking us and we were abandoned at a security roadblock.
We waited for nearly two hours, though with the guards only speaking Farsi didn’t actually know what we were waiting for. Eventually, we thought ‘to hell with all this’ and just jumped on the bikes and pedaled off as fast as we could.
We found the offices we needed and appropriate counter. The forms were handed to us to complete with a list of costs and fines. I added it up. One hundred and forty dollars.
I had three choices. Firstly, I could punch the miserable sod who gave me the forms, but the security glass ruled that one out. I could strangle the guy nearest to me, but he had helped with translation, so that didn’t seem fair. I chose option three; I went outside, threw our passports and the forms across the compound and proceeded to kick the crap out of some stone steps yelling “********” at the top of my voice. Thank god for well made Iranian hiking boots.
I demanded the use of a phone to call my embassy. A completely fruitless exercise, of course, but the rant might have made me feel better. I was directed to a phone. A card phone. I didn’t have a phone card.
All I could do was sit down and think rationally. Soon the banks would close, another day would be lost and the fines would increase.
I asked security to call for a police car. I completed the forms in one branch of the Meli Bank and for some inexplicable reason had to go to another branch, 3km across the city, to pay.
Racing back, just before the offices closed, we were issued with a twenty-four hour visa extension, cello taped over so it couldn’t be altered.
We rushed to the nearest junction and after waiting a while hired a minibus to the border. It closed at 4pm, we had been told. We arrived at 3.45pm. Phew!
We off-loaded the bikes and I ran to the doors to find they were locked. It was closed! I began yelling “********” again, kicking the crap out of the stone steps as the rather frightened-looking minibus driver leapt back in and drove off at speed.
The sun was setting behind the hills of the desert, the border post eerily deserted, and we were stranded outside for the night in one of the most notoriously dangerous areas in the region for the night. “WHY WONT YOU LET US OUT?” I yelled.
But only silence.
I left Juliet to guard the gear lest a marauding band of heavily armed Taliban turned up and went in search of an empty toilet block or something to hide in. God, apparently, was feeling sorry for us. Just outside the perimeter gate stood a solitary, tiny building with ‘Hotel’ written on the side. Ten dollars got us a safe, clean room and a hot shower.
In the morning we tried again. As we were unceremoniously stamped out I reminded myself not to let the previous few days tarnish the memories I had of one of the most interesting, friendly and safest countries in the world.
Half of the Baluchistan region was now behind us without serious incident. Now to take a deep breath and enter the other half.
After two months – and a bit – we left Iran. With a single push of a pedal we crossed from the Middle East into Asia.
click here for videos: Desert Storm / Desert Riders / Christmas Eve in Yazd
END OF UPDATE.
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Written Feb 11, 2009
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