Danger in Daliban Pakistan

Escape from Daliban

15th February - Dalbandin to Padag - distance - ascent 180m - av speed - current position 28,37N 65,07E 

The campsite in Dalbandin customs house

After a dusty night in our secure customs house we were eager to get back on the road. We hadn't slept well disturbed by howling dogs, rutting donkeys and a night watchman that shone his torch in our faces every hour. We were about to depart but our anxious escort held us back due to a demonstration on the street outside. It soon materialised that the locals were protesting about the lack of water. This south western corner of Pakistan ( Baluchistan ) appears relatively forgotten by the government. The towns do not have mains electricity or water hence the aggravated mood of the locals. We delayed our departure by a couple of hours warned that it was too dangerous to venture onto the main street. Nic in his role as chief coach quickly organised a much needed team cricket practice. When we eventually set off it was only to travel about four hundred metres before finding our way blocked by burning tyres across the road and a rather excited crowd. They surged towards us waving their arms frantically. In hindsight we decided that they were probably being friendly but by then we were back in our compound having another brew. Then we realised we had forgotten Dickie, left in the heat of the action amid parched protestors with a van roof loaded with mineral water. Another hour and we were off this time taking no risks and circumventing the town on the bypass. Urdu for bypass by the way appears to be the same as in Persian – wait for it …… ‘ring road'! 

It was probably our hottest day yet but we made quick time into yet another headwind. With every km the scenery became progressively more stunning. If we thought we had been through deserts already we were sadly mistaken. Rolling golden sand dunes provided for a spectacular back drop and camels sauntered by at regular intervals. The road narrowed to a single track and in places even this had been encroached on by drifting sand. We made our breaks short as there was little respite from the hot sun. At one tiny village Pauline leant her services to the locals helping to draw up water from their 50m deep well. Then much to Jamie's delight he was accosted by a man claiming to be the Pakistani football captain. We decided he was likely to be the first of many, similar to the numerous Iranian cycling champions we have met en route! Nevertheless they seemed happy entertaining each other for a few minutes while we ate Pauline's homemade Jammy Dodgers. 

Cycling the Baluchistan desert

Dickie and Ro cycled with us all day alternating legs every 20km. The mountain draws closer everyday and as they are both aiming for the North Col they are keen to fine tune their endurance ready for the big push. After our late start a late finish was inevitable but we also managed some late afternoon footage of camel trains crossing the main road. We are now safely harboured in a Border Guards camp of commandos in a tiny desert outpost. Home for the night is a disused garage with a concrete floor. As I write Sarah is knocking up a crumble and Ro and Pauline a special risotto with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi'. I don't know what that means Sarah has just asked……. 

The bandits of Southern Iran

Bandit Country! 

8th February - Nosratabad to Zahedan - distance 111km - ascent 280m - average speed 23km/hr - current position 29,30N 60,50E

We are now approaching the final leg of our journey in Iran and doing it in some style. This south-eastern area of the country is far from safe for independent travelers, so we have had the precaution of a police escort for the last two days and today was no exception. Keen for an early start we were up at 5am and were on the road just over an hour later. After a chilly first few km, we enjoyed the sunrise above the mountains, our first while cycling, and were soon warming up. Our escort chopped and changed during the day as relays of police vehicles and soldiers kept pace with us. They were all friendly and keen to do their best to guard our safety. It has rather restricted our normal flexibility as the van also has to drive at 20km/h (our normal cycling pace) to stay with the escort. Ro managed this very patiently and still managed to take some film whenever possible, while Dickie took to the bike for the first 70km. Jamie filmed for the cyclists today nipping ahead wherever possible to grab some footage. Thanks to our prompt start we arrived in Zahedan early, having covered a hilly 100km by lunchtime. Pauline even cheekily surfed the Mercedes police car for the last 5km. Foreigners are still a bit of a novelty here and we attracted quite a crowd while searching for a hotel. Eventually we opted somewhere decent after knocking 60% off the initial price, and are now enclosed in relative luxury. Much to Sarah's delight we even have an ice cream bar in the lobby! All a well deserved reward after the efforts of the last few days and weeks. No sooner had we arrived than Dickie and Nic headed for the police station to begin the long paperwork process for exiting the country tomorrow. 

Zahedan town is basically the last in south-eastern Iran, and is set amongst a stunning backdrop of parched desert and distant mountains. We are now only 90km away from the border with Pakistan, and Afghanistan lies barely 30km to the north. Many of the security concerns we have encountered stem from our location. There is a steady influx of Afghan refugees and Pakistani immigrants passing illegally through the area seeking the greater wealth and stability that Iran has to offer. Immediately on leaving Bam three days ago we certainly felt that we were entering a relatively wild and untamed region. However, what is reassuring is how efficiently we have been monitored and looked after. Nevertheless it is certainly the most 'sensitive' area of our journey and we are all anxious to move on. Tomorrow we should enter Pakistan, the fifth country on our expedition and another step closer to achieving our goal. The team is performing superbly and I cannot praise their efforts highly enough. Cycling through Iran alone is a major challenge. In less than a month we have crossed a country three times the size of France, enduring freezing conditions, illness and all the challenges that an alien culture can bring. Being over halfway is another major psychological boost and we are even starting to think about the delights of Kathmandu and the mountain itself. However there is still a long way to go and we need your support as much as ever. On behalf of the team I would like to thank all those who keep us entertained with their regular emails and updates from home. Also those who have become official supporters and are thereby helping us directly to complete our journey and support the charities we are raising money for. Visiting Bam showed us the value of the work MERLIN has completed. Do have a look at our charities pages for more information. There are people working there for little reward but who are making an enormous difference to people's lives. Remember that the proud residents of Bam lost everything in a matter of seconds and that legacy will remain with them for years. Apart from the obvious good work that charities undertake, the local population were stunned by the generosity and attention of Westerners, and that we should care for their welfare at all. Bam is recovering slowly but northern Pakistan is currently enduring far worse. In the aftermath of the earthquake there a few months ago, their population who had far less to begin with, is suffering terribly in a harsh winter.

Please help to spread the word of what we are trying to achieve and many thanks for your continued support. 

Surfing in Iran

Surf's Up!

1st February - Mehriz to Anar - distance 119km - ascent 9m - av speed 23.6km/h - current position 30,50N 55,10E.

Spending a night in a kebab house wasn't such a good idea after all. In a desperate attempt to get an early night we were all in our bags by 11pm but the kebab shop owners had different ideas and proceeded to shout, sing, and hold farting competitions in celebration of our presence until well past one in the morning. Sarah not 'being amused' had to be restrained from going down to 'sort them out'. Lucky for them! We thought revenge would be sweet first thing as most Iranians are not early risers. However they were at it again before 6am. Feeling a little the worse for wear we hit the road in glorious sunshine and headed out into the desert. Our steady progress was short lived as a ferocious cross wind hit us and slowed our progress to about 15km/h at times. There are only two solutions in this situation - go slow and accept it will be a long tedious day or look for a 'truck surf' to aid the progress. Normally this is the domain of Nic and Jamie but today a lorry going at a steady 50km/h appeared right on cue. After a few seconds of manic pedalling I was in the slip stream and my average speed increased three fold. Jamie did his best to hitch a ride but with a desperate cry of "I can't keep up....!" he was gone. Once again youth gives way to experience in these situations!! 

An early lunch stop of Ro's delicious rice salad allowed the wind to subside a little and the afternoon brought better conditions. Pauline sped off feeling very liberated before realising she had left her rucsac at the previous stop. This was nothing to Jamie's predicament of being caught short without any toilet paper in the middle of the desert. How he coped we have no idea but I'm sure he can reveal more in his blog tomorrow. A small town en route presented the chance to see a spectacular new mosque being built.Once we were through the 80km mark the wind did an 'about turn' and we had to change our tune as it became our best friend again, pushing us all the way into the small town of Anar, our stop for the night. This time there was no desperate search for a bed with Ro already having located a small hotel on the outskirts of town. Jamie and Nic made a quick foray into town to change some dollars but ended up joining an 'English evening class' of fourteen year old girls. They were gone for some time...... 

Esfehan Iran

Blowing a gasket!

26th January - Meymeh to Esfehan - distance 105km - descent 100m - av speed 20km/hr- current position 32,40N 51,35E 

After the tough conditions yesterday it was a relief to see that it wasn't raining at least. We were ready pretty quickly still being in light order without the support team and after a quick breakfast hit the road. All our climbing yesterday paid dividends and the first 50km passed quickly thanks to a gentle downhill gradient. Despite the favourable conditions Nic and Jamie still felt the need to surf a lorry for 14km, hitting speeds in excess of 65kph and nearly catching up Dom in the process! The mountains on either side grew steadily more jagged and impressive as we sped along. Somewhere en route we must have passed Iran's growing nuclear facility, much in the headlines, which lies just north of the city. After about 80km Dickie and Ro caught us in the newly repaired van having left Esfehan to come and meet us. All looked good until they pulled up and once again the van was billowing steam and water despite the newly fitted gasket. Much to their dismay they had to return to the garage and leave us to find our own way into the city. 

We are now well used to the urban sprawl that surrounds any city in the Middle East. A seemingly endless stretch of repair shops and hardware stores interspersed with kebab restaurants and teahouses guide you into the centre of every town. Esfehan though has a slightly different atmosphere that is hard to qualify. Famed for its ‘cosmopolitan' feel it was immediately evident in the wide tree lined streets. The road outside our hotel could pass for any city in Europe, complete with cycle lanes and wide pavements and most unusually litter bins, a definite first. Modern shops selling everything from flat screen TVs and mobile phones, even a ski equipment shop next door, are all packed and doing steady business. Eager to explore, a short walk from our hotel took me to the Emam Khomeni Square. This is reputed to rival St Marks Sq. in Venice. Not having been I can't make a comparison but it was visually stunning. Over 500m in length and originally used as a polo field the palaces and buildings around it were completed in the 17th century. The most stunning is the Shah mosque, the dome of which is covered in intricate blue tiles which change hue according to the light conditions. The entrance portal alone is over 30m high and only on close inspection could you appreciate the level of detail. The fountains in the centre of the square were magnificent and spotlessly clean while horse drawn carriages are lined up to do tours of the square. Despite this I didn't spot a single tourist, such is our collective ignorance of this as a destination. If ever there was a day to prove that you have to judge a country for yourself and not by media reports then this was it. 

The welcome and generosity we have been exposed to remains totally unchecked. After the van broke down outside a shop yesterday, the owner not only arranged for a mechanic to come out, but then took both Dickie and Ro out to lunch while it was being repaired before putting them up for the night and taking them back to the garage this morning. Even then they were presented with gifts from the mechanic and garage owner. The price of fitting a new head gasket? Absolutely nothing and despite it still playing up they have taken it back in and are working on it into the night.

Blowing a gasket in Iran

19th January - Bostanabad to Miyaneh - distance 107km - descent 600m - av speed 25km/hr - current position 47,45E 37,25N

A few pre-conceived ideas of Iran have been shattered in the last few days. My understanding was that we would be cycling along hot dusty desert roads. However, another night where the temperature plummeted below minus 20 has made the conditions pretty demanding. The worse victim of course has been the van (yes the same van that is formerly known as Martha). Unable to handle the freezing temperatures and out of desperation we decided to run the engine all night so that we wouldn't have problems this morning. This may seem like an extravagance but in Iran it costs about 8000 rials or 70p to fill the tank from empty! The plan worked and with the van ticking over nicely we packed quickly and hit the road. We were by now desperate to leave the town of Bostanabad, reputedly the coldest in place in Iran and our home for the last four nights. We were rapidly becoming permanent residents in our little hotel by the roadside. Such was Pauline's frustration, that last night even saw her help the locals wash up in the kitchen after dinner. 

Martha suffering in -20C conditions

Martha suffering in -20C conditions

Our pace was gentle with Sarah still feeling fragile and running on empty after three days of next to no food. We climbed gently for the first 20km, the hill helping to warm us in the sub-zero conditions. Mt. Sahand (3710m) looked immense in the background and gave the scenery a Himalyan feel. Water bottles froze within a few minutes of setting off and we all suffered with cold extremities - Jamie has employed a new use for his Buff glove (S) to protect one particular extremity that he obviously cherishes. We stopped briefly to drink from the flask of tea and team chocolate that Nic was carrying. We then began the long awaited descent that we had been relishing having heard that the next 140km could be gently downhill. By 60km the van had caught us up and we enjoyed a 'Dickie and Ro pasta special'. No sooner had Ro cooked and she was on the bike with us for the afternoon leg. 

Car wreckage is a regular sight in Iran

Car wreckage is a regular sight in Iran

Iranian roads are superbly made with gentle gradients and usually a generous hard shoulder. For descents the slope is perfect allowing us to reach a steady speed of about 32kmh (20mph) with ease. Of more dubious quality is the standard of Iranian driving. Truck drivers seem to enjoy a modern day version of medieval jousting, waiting to the last possible moment to swerve out of the way, while smaller vehicles are left to their peril. Overtaking into oncoming traffic is the norm, Iranians convinced that a two lane highway is more than sufficient for several vehicles to travel side by side. We hugged the edge of the road and dashed through a succession of tunnels with the scenery getting more dramatic with every turn. We followed a river valley down through rocky crags on either side while snow covered peaks dominated the horizon all the way into Miyaneh our destination. Dickie had located our cheapest hotel to date, simple but cheerful and less than £10 for all of us. Overall it has been one of out best days yet and certainly the most scenic. Conditions have warmed a little and thankfully the roads are at least clear of snow. Due to our delay we've decided to give Tehran a miss by heading to the south of the city over the next few days. Our next major stop will be in the ancient city of Esfahan in about 8 days time. You may be interested to know that over 250 people are following our progress daily on the web and we hope this will increase still further over the coming weeks. Furthermore many of you have contributed online through our supporters page. Thanks for being with us every step of the way!

Post from Middle Earth

11th January - Dogubayazit - distance 0km - ascent 0m - av speed 0km/hr - current position 44,05E 39,35N

A frustrating day all round as we find ourselves stranded in the middle of bird flu territory. Several children have recently died here after playing with chicken carcasses. Dickie and Ro have gone ahead to check out the border with Iran while the cyclists have had to endure another enforced rest day. News from the front is not good. The $1500 deposit we placed for the vehicle on entering Turkey is now due to be returned. Rather conveniently the banks are now shut for a week due to a religious festival so if we enter Iran we will forego our deposit. All very annoying but such is the frustration of travelling in this area. Dickie and Ro are rapidly becoming expert hagglers in cross border negotiations!

Keen to make the most of the day the cycling team took a taxi up to a local palace above the town of Dogubayazit where we are staying. The views over the surrounding town were stunning and hauntingly beautiful. Mt Ararat (where Noah supposedly alighted) soars above us at over 5000m in height and some 20km away. In the foreground are the turrets and walls of the Ishak Pasha Palace, familiar from the back of our 100 lira bank notes. We find ourselves at the centre of the ancient world here, perfectly poised between west and east and before us a landscape that recalls Middle Earth or Narnia. This area has been conquered by the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines and Armenians before being swallowed by the Ottoman empire. We know this is the crux of the journey in so many ways. 

Days off are usually very welcome but after losing a couple to bad weather we are itching to get back on the road. Today has been spent in a mixture of coffee shops and internet cafes and as I write Nic and Jamie have gone to the barbers for a shave while Pauline films the event. Sarah has busied herself updating the site from internet cafes - no easy task without our normal computers and software. (geek!) I have spent most of the day on the phone receivýng updates from the border and growing increasingly despondent! Not long till we're back on the road though and hopefully into Iran. We've all been looking forward to this phase of the expedition immensely and the weather should also improve as we start to head south and finally be free of border crossings for a whole month. We've had some brilliant support over the last week and some contributions through the supporter's page. All helps to keep us on the road...! 

Leaving Batman in Turkey

Heading for the hills 

4th January - Batman to Baykan - distance 95km - ascent 270m - av speed 21km/hr - current position 41,50E 38,10N

After the delights of massages in our luxury hotel another late start was perhaps inevitable. Not helped by Dom of course who nipped off to see another dodgy Turkish mechanic who could fix a rear spoke. Such is the price of pushing a machine to the limits!! He did a first class job and straightened the wheel into the bargain. All for the grand sum of about £1.50! We headed out of Batman in thick Gotham City like mist. The first 25km were pretty grim along a busy main road without the benefit of good visibility. Nic and Jamie were even faster than usual with their renewed No.1 'Lance Armstrong' like haircuts. (Such is the pressure to keep up with Dom they have resorted to extreme measures!) Sarah took a bit of a tumble after a brief disagreement with a tractor but bounced back quickly and roared off into the distance.

At midday the traffic seemed to ease and the sun broke through the mist to reveal a stunning landscape. We stopped in a hillside village for lunch although Dickie and Ro were still behind us. Pauline and Sarah headed off to a local house where they were promptly offered a lunch of eggs, bread and strong home made goats cheese. The family in question wouldn't take any payment and it speaks volumes of the hospitality we have been offered here in Turkey. Nic and Dom stayed at the roadside and they finally managed to fix the elusive slow puncture that had been nagging Dom for a couple of days. A tiny sliver of metal the culprit. As soon as Martha arrived Ro quickly produced her usual lunchtime array of treats. Dickie preferred to take on 20 local school children single handedly to a game of rugby. Dickie won of course but then they didn't know the rules. The scenery after lunch became more dramatic by the mile. For those who have been to Utah it was uncannily similar. Rolling sand dunes and small gorges on each side of the road gave way to snow covered peaks on the horizon. 

The last hour before sunset as usual was the most stunning with the mountains turning pink in the distance and the mist starting to collect in the valleys and hollows on either side of the road. This was the scenery that we had all come for and after long stretches of desert it was much overdue. The only catch is the hilly terrain which has slowed our progress dramatically, but such is the price of being in the mountains. The day finished in the dark winding our way through a narrow gorge. Nic led the way battling a fierce headwind before we found Dickie and Ro with the tent pitched and Corona beers on ice. This is our first night camping for a few days but it's long overdue after being in hotels since crossing from Syria. We will be at least another week in Turkey as we head east towards the border with Iran. 

Do continue to follow our progress and again a plea for our readers to spread the word of what we are trying to achieve and why. We heard recently of a £5000 donation through our expedition to support SOS Children's Villages in Pakistan. This kind of support makes a real difference to peoples lives and is a huge morale boost to ourselves. When the going gets tough its quite timely to have a reminder that what we're doing really is making a difference. Many thanks for your continued support.

Post from Palmyra

Winkler here we come!

28th December - Palmyra to the middle of nowhere - distance 112km- descent 24m - av speed 25.6km/hr - current position - 39,25E 34,50N

After arriving at our genuine oasis in the desert it was always going to be hard to leave the delights of Palmyra. It had been a welcome respite from the hardships of the long road. After a late start trying to get the solar panel to work we were on the road for about 10am, much later than usual.

Our tailwind seems to have deserted us, nevertheless we made steady progress settling into our routine of 25km legs. These take about an hour and the system seems to work well. Everyone cycles at their own pace but we usually arrive within a few minutes of each other. The monotony of the desert is not nearly as demanding as we thought it might be. Our pace is such that the horizon is constantly changing and the hills and scarps on either side of the road are particularly stunning in late afternoon light. Despite the scenery most of the team members have now reached for their ipods. All except me of course who left his on the kitchen table at home where I wouldn't forget it! Thankfully Nic took pity on me for the last two legs and leant me his high intensity workout mix.

To break the day we came off the road into a small town to find a drink. After stopping at a cafe in the centre of town we were besieged by a crowd of children. Tourists were clearly a novelty here and so Pauline and Jamie took charge teaching them songs and magic tricks. We escaped back to the main road chased by a growing crowd down the main street increasingly unsure if they were actually being friendly. A few km down the road we were caught by Dickie and Ro who had been doing a major shop back in Palmyra. Sarah needed some urgent medical attention after impaling herself on a rusty pole at the side of the road - say no more.... Another half hour into the wind and we pulled up behind a rocky crag at the side of the road where we've made ourselves a very homely camp. The generator is on powering our Remoska cooker for roasted vegetables later after beers and G and Ts. It's a hard life!

We're now a week into our cycling and finally we're settling into some kind of routine. Dickie and Ro are doing a fantastic job of supporting us and trying to feed us enough food. Despite this we're already losing weight as its simply impossible to consume enough calories for the exercise we're doing. Nevertheless the whole team are performing superbly and we're working together seamlessly. The days are packed with cycling, making camp and then of course updating the website. We've had some excellent feedback from those following our progress. Please do pass on the details of what we're doing by email to those in your address book. We're trying to raise a significant amount for charity of course and the more support and interest we have the better. Feel free to add a link direct to the website.

We heard yesterday that a German cyclist Gerry Winkler is attempting the same journey as us. He is some weeks ahead of us and will be on the South side of the mountain at the same time as we are on the North. We wish him well of course despite the bizarre coincidence that he is following the very route that has been posted on our site for the last year! This is not an easy journey to complete especially if you're on your own. We of course have the support of each other and cycling as a team of 5 is much easier. Nevertheless the pressure is on. England 5 - Germany 1, ring any bells! Place your bets..... 

Dead Sea departure

We're off!!

21st December - Dead Sea to Amman - distance 78km - ascent 1270m - av speed 11.2km/hr

At last we are off! After a 6 o'clock start and breakfast of pitta bread and cheese (not my idea of an ideal breakfast!), we drove south with a taxi packed full of people and bikes. The journey was spectacular as we descended over 1000m from Amman down to the Dead Sea. After a few pictures we enjoyed a swim in the very salty water (Sarah dipped her tongue in to check!). Dickie and Ro headed off in search of a vehicle to purchase (more on this soon) leaving the rest of the team to face the climb back to Amman under beautiful blue skies.

A few km after starting we turned off the highway onto a quieter road which wound up through the mountains (we ended up doing just under 2000m of climbing today). The scenery was incredible and the road relatively traffic free. We climbed steadily for about 4 hours past Mount Nebo (where Moses looked out over the promised land) to the town of Madaba up on the plateau; Nic making mincemeat of even the steepest sections of the road. Lunch consisted of fizzy drinks and swiss rolls though perhaps not enough to sate Jamie's appetite. Refuelled we headed on to Amman even enjoying a police escort through some of the trickier sections of Madaba.

We have been really impressed by the welcome of everyone we've met on route. However, we did experience the traditional 'welcome' of stone throwing at cyclists by Jordanian children - Pauline was hit on the foot but didn't suffer any injury thankfully.