Three days to travel 20 meters

 

Firstly, I should say that as I am writing this I have actually already reached Sweden. Not to worry though, the whole trip will be covered here on the blog (I am aware that the fact that I am back home safe and sound may be a little bit of a spoiler but hopefully the remaining blog posts will still be sufficiently exciting). At the end of my last post I was just about to leave Pakistan for Iran, so that is where we will pick the story back up today.

Day 104 – Becoming a “minor diplomatic incident”: After waking up early in Nokkundi and having some delicious Pakistani breakfast (naan and fried egg) we set off for the border town of Taftan. A couple of hours later we were there and slowly but surely worked our way through the necessary customs paperwork until I was finally ready to head to the actual border crossing a little bit before 11am. After the mandatory selfies with various people at the border checkpoint it was time to roll through the Pakistani border gate, a couple of meters of no man’s land and into Iran.

Taking a photo with my crew in Pakistan at the Pakistan-Iran border
IMG_1941

You will remember from previous blog posts that I finally decided to get my visa on arrival at the border rather than waiting forever at an Iranian embassy, so I was mentally prepared for a little bit of hassle on the Iranian side. And indeed there was. A teeny tiny bit of hassle. First I sailed through a military checkpoint and document check for the bike without any problem. Then I got to the immigration check point, confidently handed over my passport and invitation letter from my Iranian friend in Tehran (thanks Arash for all the help!).

Now here is where the teeny tiny bit of hassle arose.

  • Border officer: You don’t have valid visa.
  • Me: I can get visa on arrival with a Swedish passport and invitation letter.
  • Border officer: No.
  • Me: Yes, last time I visited Iran I did exactly that.
  • Border officer: No.
  • Me: Yes, if you look on this page in my passport you can see the visa from that time.
  • Border officer: No.

Half way through this very stimulating dialogue a different official who spoke much better English came up to try and sort out the problem. Turned out they do not have “visa issuing facilities” (basically, they don’t have a printer) at the Pakistani border. A little bit of conversation in Persian ensued and then they very firmly asked me to leave and more or less tried to push me back into Pakistan. At this point Hamid, a very nice Iranian tourist guide had joined the fray to try and help me out. Granted, he had limited success in that endeavour, but I at least managed to grab his phone number.

  • Border officer: You need to go back! Then get visa at the Iran consulate in Quetta.
  • Me: But they have stamped me out already, and my Pakistani visa was only single entry.
  • Border officer: Not our problem.

And so I came rolling back into Pakistan, half an hour after I had left in the first place. Awkwardly waving and going “hello, remember me? I changed my mind, I want to stay with you guys”. Now luckily Pakistanis are the friendliest, so I was immediately shown to the office of the boss of the border station and given some tea. Said boss then asked me to just wait for a while whilst he made some phone calls to try and figure out what to do with this Swedish person who was stuck in the middle of the desert between Iran and Pakistan with a valid visa to neither country.

About 45 minutes later, Mohsin (my guide) and his crew came back, some more phone calls were made and eventually it was decided that I could indeed come back in to Pakistan by them just cancelling the exit stamp out of my passport. Since the Iranians had told me I could get a visa at the consulate in Quetta, we decided to leave the motorbike with Pakistani customs at the border and go the 10 or so hours back to Quetta by car. Now going back took a long time since none of the police and military checkpoints along the way had been notified in advance (which they had been of me coming the other way the day before), so each checkpoint took more like 20-40 minutes compared to 3-5 minutes when we came the other way.

Everything can be solved if you just have the right stamp for it
IMG_1952

But eventually we made it back to Quetta around midnight, and I checked back in to the same hotel I had stayed in a couple of days earlier. Only this time I was sharing the room with the body guard I had kindly been lent by the local Assistant Commissioner (basically one of the highest ranking government officials in the province) to enable us to travel back to Quetta despite not having an escort vehicle.

Sharing a room with my police escort bodyguard (I’m in the right bunk)
IMG_1946

Day 105 – coming up with a work-around: Obviously, our very first order of business was to head to the Iranian consulate and try and get me a visa. I explain the situation and hand my passport to one of the embassy staff and then Mohsin and I take a seat and wait while they figure things out.

  • Mohsin: Hopefully this works, but if it doesn’t, the other option would be for you to fly into Iran
  • Me: Yeah, I thought about that as well, but do you think we could arrange to get the bike across?
  • Mohsin: Shouldn’t be a problem, I know the people at the border customs office very well, they can help bring it across
  • Me: That’s great, if it comes to that I can check with this Iranian guy at the border who gave me his number

A few minutes later the embassy guy who took my passport came back: “Yes sir, it is no problem for you to get a visa here. You just need to fill out these forms and then wait 20 days”… So flying it was.

A couple of hours of googling and flight booking later everything was set. I was to leave Quetta that same evening around 6pm and make my way to the Iranian side of that very same border over the course of the next 36 hours or so.

  1. Domestic flight Quetta-Karachi
  2. International flight Karachi-Dubai
  3. International flight Dubai-Tehran
  4. Domestic flight Tehran-Zahedan
  5. Car/Taxi Zahedan-Border post

Very smooth, not the least bit complicated or expensive…
border crossing

Day 106 – arriving in Iran and mostly just sleeping: After spending the night completing points 1 to 3 on the list I landed in Tehran around 8am in the morning and got a visa in about five minutes, no issues whatsoever.

At least I managed to get a glass of wine at the airport in DubaiIMG_1953

But seeing as I had spent the preceding 9 hours suffering through a one hour flight, two hour stop-over, another two hour flight, another two hour stop-over followed by yet another two hour flight I hadn’t exactly slept much. And since my flight from Tehran to Zahedan wasn’t until late afternoon I checked in to the airport hotel in Tehran to grab a few hours of sleep (thanks again Arash for organising, life saving!). I finally arrived late in the evening to Zahedan where Hamid (the guy I met at the border the first time around) met me and we arranged to go out to the border the following morning.

Day 107 – reunited with my bike: I met up with my new found friend Hamid early morning and after a mere two hour drive through the desert we made it to the very same border crossing I had been about 72 hours before. Only this time I was already on the Iranian side but my bike was still on the Pakistani side.

Hence, our first order of business was explaining to various border officials that we intended to get my bike across from Pakistan without me actually crossing any borders myself. This triggered several iterations of “I have to speak to my boss” and judging by how long that took it probably continued until there were no more bosses left to speak to. To my great relief it was decided that they would indeed allow this to happen.

A couple of phone calls with the guy helping me on the Pakistani side later, I gave the key to an Iranian border guard who ran over to the border wall itself and handed it over to his Pakistani counterpart on the other side. Then followed some nervous waiting for about 10 minutes until the very same border guard came rolling across the border, at which point I was allowed to finally reunite with my bike. The relief!

Paperwork for the bike was really smooth (in fairness, they did have a practice run just three days before) and I was very soon through the formalities and good to go. Or so I thought. Because this region suffers from some criminality also on the Iranian side, a police escort had to be arranged before I could leave the border facility. I am pretty sure that was not necessary at the time of my research into Iran, but I didn’t have any choice so I kindly waited an hour or two for my police escort to arrive so I could start my journey through Iran.

The ride through the Baluchistan province (it’s called Baluchistan on both the Iranian and Pakistani side) ended up being very similar what it was in Pakistan, with mainly desert and police escorts swapping with each other every half hour or so as we passed into a different police district. The police officers in Iran were just as polite and friendly as in Pakistan, but also just as slow…

The plan was to get to a town called Bam before dark, which would take me all the way through the Baluchistan province and mean that I would no longer need a police escort. But because we were making such slow progress the sun started setting when we were still some 200km away from Bam. Consequently, all of a sudden the front escort car pulled over and stopped next to a walled compound. Then the one police officer in my escort who spoke a little bit of English explained that it is too dangerous to drive in the dark and that it would be best if I slept with them in this army base.

Hanging out with some of the police officers and army recruits at the base
IMG_1976

Said and done. As we were all (me and maybe 5-6 police officers) gathered in an office doing some paperwork I decided to check what the food situation was like. Unfortunately they English speaking guy had left at this point.

  • Me: I’m really hungry, do you have any food here?
  • Officer #1: Huh?
  • Me (combined with gestures): Hungry. Food. Eating.
  • Officer #2: … no?
  • Me (still with the gestures): Nom nom nom nom
  • Officer #1: … heh?
  • Me: Ehm… kebab?
  • Everyone (laughing): KEEEEEBAAAAB!! YES MISTER!

Half an hour later a nice chicken kebab was delivered to me as I was sitting in the courtyard half reading and half watching a very exciting volleyball game between the police and army team stationed on the base. After completely annihilating that kebab I was given the prayer room to myself for the night and went to bed.

My very luxurious room for the night
IMG_1970

Seeing as this was a really long post I will stop here and do the rest of Iran in a separate post. Until next time!

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