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.