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Curries and Coppers

Peshawar, Pakistan

sunny 40 °C
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After an arduous journey through the Baluchistan Desert, we are staying three nights in Peshawar. Pakistan has been a major culture shock. Iran, we now realise, is far more Westernised than Pakistan. The change was apparent immediately as we crossed the border. On the Iranian side there is a lagre, air-conditioned complex; the Pakistani side has a collection of huts. While Iranian men wear shirts and trousers, a long tunic is the norm here. Quetta (our first destination after the border) and Peshawar are frantic cities. Motor rickshaws and pick-up trucks fill the streets, while pedestrians fight for space with street sellers. Open drains are common here - the stench and pollution is unbelievable. However, the energy of the city is exciting and the rickshaws offer a cheap white-knuckle ride. What passes for a main road here is barely two lanes wide and always bumpy. When a road is being repaired, they simply lay some gravel alongside to remove the traffic. A big contrast to the well-maintained motorways of Iran.

So far in Pakistan, we have been escorted continuously by the police. A pick-up truck with four or five (well-armed) men drives in front of us, and sometimes one behind as well. This operation is beautifully well organised. As we cross each local boundary, our escort peels off and is replaced by a waiting vehicle. The truck just keeps driving. We appreciate that this is being done for our benefit, but it is having a serious effect on our journey. The police insisted that we drive from Quetta to Peshawar in two days - we did not arrive until midnight last night. The problem is that each patrol simply wants to get us out of their area of responsibility as quickly as possible. We hope that the level of security will ease as we move away from the border areas that are preceived as dangerous. This police attention is in complete contrast to Iran, where the escort to the border we expected was not considered necessary. We have not seen any other Westeners in either Quetta or Peshawar, so the nervousness of the police is perhaps understandable. The local people often warn us about the dangers of this area (stay in groups, do not go out at night) but so far we have not felt threatened at any time.

Enough about security. The people of Pakistan are endlessly curious about us - almost everyone says hello and asks where we are from. It can get slightly annoying when you just want to walk down the street. In fact, walking has become quite an effort. The temperature has been around 40 degrees since we reached Quetta. A day on the truck is like sitting in front of a hair drier, while nights are close and sticky. Pakistan does have important advantages over Iran - cold beers are available again (discreetly) and the change in cuisine is welcome. While Iran has excellent kebabs, there is almost nothing else, and we found that our kebab tolerance had been well exceeded after two weeks. Pakistan is curry land - I never appreciated how much "Indian" food comes from Pakistan (balti, jalfrezi, biryani and more). Next we head for the Khyber Pass.

Posted by ChrisEvans 05:29 Archived in Pakistan Comments (1)

Iran

Esfahan, Iran

Thanks to the terrible internet facilities of Eastern Turkey, I have got a lot to catch up on. While Western Turkey is similar to Europe, and certainly more developed than Romania or Bulgaria, the East is completely different. While Ankara has Starbucks and Laura Ashley, Dogubayazit has mud-brick houses and tanks in the street (to discourage Kurdish separatists). We were on a detour to Ankara to obtain visas for Pakistan, which took three days to arrange. While Ankara is a pleasant city and would be great to live in, it has nothing to offer tourists. So it was with great relief that we were finally able to resume our itinerary.

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Iran has surprised and amazed all of us. The people have been friendly and hospitable, and are always keen to talk to visitors. After visiting the Babak Fort we descended towards the Caspian Sea. This is a highly fertile area which produces rice and tea. I was certainly not expecting to see paddy fields in Iran. The terraced village of Masouleh was our next destination. This is very popular with Iranian tourists, but we were the only foreigners there. We became an attraction ourselves, with lots of Iranians wanting to talk to us and take pictures. It is amazing to meet people who have never spoken to a European before. Most want to talk about football, family or our lives back home. Iranians are also very interested in how their country is perceived from the outside.

We are now in the city of Esfahan in the desert. This city has a wonderful atmosphere and it is easy to spend the day wandering around the bazar and the square. This was a key stop on the Silk Road and has numerous bridges and caravan sites from this time. There are also plenty of teahouses and restaurants to keep us busy.

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Posted by ChrisEvans 08:21 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Second Continent

Oludeniz, Turkey

After the fairly rapid transit through Europe, we are now in Asia. Romania and Bulgaria were like stepping back in time compared to the more developed parts of Eastern Europe. We often drove past horse and carts, and many people still work the fields by hand. Both countries are hugely proud to be in the EU; the blue flag can be seen on every public building. In Romania especially, EU-funded infrastructure projects are becoming a common sight.

Arriving at the Turkish border, we all obtained labels for our passports fairly easily. The truck was much more of a problem. They have a new computer system to record details of tourist buses which cross the border regularly. We are not in the system (of course), so we ended up waiting 7 hours while the border officials tried to get permission for us. They seemed quite keen to get rid of us, as we were playing football and frisbee in their car park. We really need our luck with borders to improve; the hard ones are still to come.

Istanbul is a bustling and exciting city. We spent three nights at a small hotel quite near the centre. The owner was keen to warn us about the dangers of the area, but we saw nothing to worry us. My highlight was visiting the Turkish baths. We entered the steam room with nothing more than a small towel, ready to be scoured and massaged by large Turkish men. It was a very relaxing afternoon and left me the cleanest I have been for a long time. While in Istanbul we were able to collect our Iranian visas from the consulate, so we are definately going to Iran. However, we have yet to obtain visas for Pakistan. We may have to leave the coast and drive to Ankarra for these.

After Istanbul we went to the Gallipoli peninsular for the ANZAC day events. We were astonished by the thousands of people who attended and the degree of organisation. Greenbelters will understand that the wristbands, generators, stewards and video screens made for a familiar feeling. The dawn service was solemn and quite moving, but us Brits felt somewhat out of place. Various other overland trucks were at ANZAC Cove, so we could compare The Beast to their more modest vehicles.

We took the ferry from the peninsular to the Asian side of Turkey and headed South along the coast. The tourist season is just about to start, so the resorts are quite and the sea is still rather chilly.

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Posted by ChrisEvans 10:44 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Under Way!

Brasov, Romania.


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So at last we are under way and the mad rush across Europe is mostly done. This is country number eight, and it is getting a bit confusing. Our standard pattern has been driving for one or two days, then spending two nights in each city. This first update is coming from a small city called Brasov, which sits at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in the province of Transylvania. This our third day in Romania, tomorrow we head for Bran Castle (alleged connections to Dracula).

After driving quickly through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, we reached the Czech Republic. Quickly is a relative term, as our cruising speed is about 45mph. This is fine on the twisting mountain roads of Eastern Europe, but was rather embarassing on the Autobahns. The truck certainly makes an impressive sight and we are getting used to all eyes being on us as we drive around. The truck has a Dutch number plate (ex Dutch army) so quite a few people assume we are Dutch.

Our first proper destination was Prague, which is a very attractive city to walk around. Easter weekend was very busy, with the Easter Market being held in the main square. I climbed the tower at the end of the Charles bridge, which has a fine view of bridge and the city. At the presidential palace it is possible to walk in the main gate (past the sentries and flagpoles) and explore the complex, which includes a huge Gothic cathedral.

Entering the Czech Republic we encountered our first border problem. The road we were aiming for was closed, so we took a detour through the mountains to another crossing. We were told that this was a car crossing only and we had to turn around. As we drove on to the Czech side of the border to turn around, the top of the truck broke a piece off the sign showing the name of the crossing. The German border guards then held us at the border and called the Czech police (as the sign was on the Czech side). We were sat at the border for 2 hours while the police investigated. It turned out that although the warning sign said 4.5m clearance, the border sign was 3.8m high (our truck is 4.05m). So Ian (our driver) was held to be blameless for the damage. The Czech police then allowed us to enter at this crossing after all, mainly because they seemed irritated with the Germans for wasting their time. We were even given a police escort to the nearest town.

Vienna was next, a brief return to Western Europe (and Western prices). I went to a coffee house which Mozart is reputed to have frequented. It was an excellent place to sit back and relax, with delicious Sachertorte and waiters wearing black tie. This was by far the hottest day so far, around 30 degrees.

Budapest is a much more spread out city, so after lots of walking we were eager to stop at a cafe for the goulash. This was my first night on cooking duty; the four of us produced a well received chicken curry, so the group may well be getting curry every eight days.

On our first night in Romania, we camped on the outskirts of a village. One of the locals was insistent that we all came to his house after dinner. They laid out a huge spread of food and drink, and we got a tour of the farm buildings. Home produced schnapps was flowing freely and was ferociously strong. This amazing hospitality was completely unexpected, especially as they spoke almost no English.

Posted by ChrisEvans 01:28 Archived in Romania Comments (1)

The Route

This is the proposed route that we'll be taking to Australia. The truck will be shipped from Singapore to Darwin, apart from that it's driving all the way. I plan to visit Borneo while the truck is at sea and then fly to Darwin. The route might change once we are under way, either for political reasons, or just to take in a different area of interest. Click the + to zoom in and drag the map to see a different area.

I've been trying to think, before setting off, what my highlights will be. At the moment I am especially looking forward to the Himalayas, diving in Thailand and the Outback. I'm sure that I will change my mind a few times before the end.

Posted by ChrisEvans 08:32 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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