The drive from Shiraz to Bandar Abbas can only really be described as 'a beast'. It was an almost 600km slog, with the weather getting steadily hotter and hotter as we progressed. Shady resting spots were in very short supply, and the sun was relentless. Despite this, the journey actually went well, and we experienced further doses of Iranian kindness. At one petrol station, the attendant refused any payment, so we left with a free tank of fuel. Even though petrol is only around 20p a litre, it was a nice bonus.
After crossing a final mountain range, we stopped for more fuel and immediately felt the rise in humidity. We had heard from many Iranians that Bandar Abbas was uncomfortably hot, but it was beyond what we had imagined. The high mountains trap the air and moisture from the Persian Gulf, and it was like being in a permanent sauna. We immediately glugged down a good dose of water, and prepared to enter the madness of the city heat.
Pouring sweat, we managed to find our host without too much trouble. Ariya was a great guy, and luckily had a friend working for a travel agency who could help us with the ferry tickets. We hopped in his car, and purchased said tickets as painlessly as possible. This stage had been so much easier than we had imagined, and Ariya's friend promised to call the next day to advise how to handle shipping the motorbike. We finished the evening off with some delicious local food for the boys (falafel for me), and went back to Ariya's lovely flat for a well deserved sleep.
Our host had to work the next day until two p.m., so he left us a key and advised us what to see and how to amuse ourselves whilst he was gone. Knowing the next day would be exhausting, and not fancying tackling the walk-in sauna that is Bandar Abbas, we instead ended up eating a very slow breakfast and chilling in the flat.
Later that evening, we met up with some of Ariya's friends. They were crazy in a good way, and so much fun. We went to a cafe which felt surreally like a bar in Europe, the only differences being that you could smoke shisha inside and that there was no alcohol to be found. We had a lot of fun, but eventually called it a night as Oli and I would have to be up early the next day.
On the day of the ferry, we rose at 6 a.m after far too little sleep, packed the bike and bid our host a sad goodbye, hoping that the paperwork would allow for us to come home between the bureaucracy and the boat departure. We were at the main shipping office for 08:00. Just for a laugh, Oli set the stopwatch on his Casio, and our paperwork odyssey began.
The first office took only 45 minutes, after which we had to hop on the bike and ride down to the port itself, around 2 km away. A word of warning, the entrance for an Iranian Naval base is right next to the port gate, and they do not look too impressed if you get it confused and try to enter the wrong one. Just saying.
The paperwork experience was a lesson in inefficiency. We traipsed from portacabin to portacabin, from building to building, getting endless stamps and collecting numerous pieces of paper. Thankfully the wheels of progress were greased considerably by Oli's Turkish speaking, and although it was a lengthy process, at least we could easily understand where to go and what was required. I mainly waited with our things, whilst Oli got the lucky task of running around. One of Ariya's friends (Mashoud) from the previous evening appeared near the end (he has a port pass and knows the system), which sped up the final stages further. Bizarrely, the process also included one payment that could only be made by Iranian debit card, which is not exactly convenient. Following this, the official work was finally finished, four hours and fourteen minutes after we had began.
Mashoud took us back to the flat for some lunch and a rest, as our instructions were to be back at the port at 5 p.m., four hours from the end of the paperwork, but still four hours from the boat's scheduled departure at 9 p.m. that evening. The boys enjoyed a spot of afternoon shisha and some traditional dancing (as you do), and all too soon it was time to head back to port.
Mashoud drove us back an unconventional way, as the beach turns into a main road at low tide. Driving around the beached fishing vessels under the setting sun was a beautifully surreal end to our Iranian adventures. As a final reminder of the difficulties people here are currently facing, Mashoud pointed out the numerous cargo ships moored offshore, stranded by the economic stranglehold of the sanctions and waiting for them to be lifted in the future. Apparently all trade pretty much goes via Dubai to circumvent some of the restrictions. Oli and I had been pondering as to who was making money from the sanctions or benefiting from them, and I guess we have our answer now.
Back at the port for 5 p.m. as advised, we then sat for almost two hours before anything happened. Happily though, we ended up meeting another British overlander, Edward, who was travelling by bicycle. Not only was he English, he had also lived in Sussex in the past and had even heard of Plumpton and frequented Lewes Bonfire, a small world indeed. The three of us ended up sticking together for the duration of the ferry experience, and very much enjoyed sharing our travel experiences so far.
After hanging about in the passenger lounge, we were eventually called forward to go through passport control. For some reason the ferry company deemed it necessary to separate men and women for this task, which made it take twice as long and seemed incredibly pointless seeing as we all sat together again on the other side. They held on to our passports for a while before handing them out again, but eventually all seemed to be sorted and we resumed waiting to board.
Eventually, we were called forward to load our motorbike. The guys in charge wanted us to put it on a wooden pallet, as out of the way as possible. I told them it was too big to fit on there, but they insisted that we try anyway. After much pushing, shoving and Oli trying not to swear, we eventually established that yes, it was too big and was not going to fit. Frustratingly they kept trying to insist on 'helping' Oli rather than letting me (as a feeble lady) get involved, not understanding that the softly softly approach is better than a big shove, and that the bike should not really be lifted by the footpeg. With this in mind I managed to explain to one of the guys that I knew what was required. We eventually got the bike safely positioned, and could then go upstairs to find Edward and chill out.
The boat was scheduled to leave port at 9 p.m., but actually did not go for another two and a half hours, with no explanation offered. With no choice other than to accept it, we kicked back, tried to ignore the loud TV showing religious programs, and relaxed. Thankfully said TV was switched off just after midnight, and we even managed to grab a few hours sleep stretched out on the benches.
We were awoken at quarter to five, as one of our fellow passengers took it upon himself to loudly sing the dawn call to prayer. Let us just say he did not have the voice of an angel, and must have missed the part in the Koran where it advises people to consider others. All chances of going back to sleep after the prayer were scuppered, with the loud TV coming back on at six. We cheered ourselves up by spending our remaining rials on chocolate and nougat, and happily munched away. After all, it is never the wrong time for chocolate.
We eventually made it to Sharjah port at around 10 a.m., and us three Brits were ushered off the boat and through to passport control. All went smoothly, and we quickly received our passport stamps before anyone else appeared. However, rather than being allowed to leave, we were told to sit and wait. 'Never mind' we thought blithely, 'They know we're here and we'll be out in no time'. How wrong we were. It turned out we had to wait for everyone from the ship to have their passports checked and stamped, before we were all released at the same time to fight through the cargo hall.
From here, we were sent to a series of offices and portacabins and experienced the second coming of the paperwork odyssey. Much like Bandar Abbas, it ended up taking over four hours. As a sliver lining however, the customs guys were absolutely lovely. Thankfully they didn't insist on checking our luggage for contraband, and kept us well supplied with tea and water during our wait.
Eventually we emerged on the other side of the port gates, officially in the U.A.E. Sweaty, exhausted, and in desperate need of showers, we were on our way and safely into the next stage of our journey.