Day 77 - Saturday 17th June - Mashhad to Gorgan

And then there were seven.

Its just under 360k from Mashhad to Herat to our east in Afghanistan. But that is not where we were headed. Our direction was nearly 600k west to Gorgan a few miles from the Caspian Sea.

It was Saturday, but the traffic was like peak hour. Coming into the city was at a stand still, probably due to the multiple traffic accidents we passed, including a car on its side, while out of town moved at a steady pace. You were constantly alert to someone changing lanes into you or just forming their own. Round-abouts were a special challenge. In AUS incoming traffic gives way to traffic on the round-about. In the Stans, disfunctionally, traffic on the round-about gives way to the entering traffic until the whole lot ends in a standstill, although this was rare due to the lack of traffic. In Iran, no one gives was. Entering traffic does not bother to slow, they just dodge and weave their way through the traffic trying to exit.

We are also dealing with motor bikes again. Not in the numbers of China, and these are the petrol variety, not electric, but they are still used to carry whole families. On one a 2 year old in pink sun glasses sat calmly in front of her father, with mother holding on from behind. The father wore the helmet, the mother a scar and the child’s hair blew in the breeze. And on another a 12month old was wedged between father and mother. I presume that she was asleep, not suffocated. 

We made it out of town and things managed to quieten down as we headed down the Toos Plain. A wide open valley hemmed in by parched mountain ranges on the northern Iran plateau. They were just starting to harvest the wheat like they had for thousands of years before. This was a major Silk Road thoroughfare as the remnants of old caravanseri bore testament. Small flocks of sheep and goats grazed on the stubble of the harvested wheat.

We stopped at a 12 century astronomical observatory in Radkan. The 25m tall tower was used by Nasar Al-Tusi to calculate the earth’s diameter and explain discrepancies between Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s theories of planetary movement. Today, the tower sits forlorn, in the middle of the wheat fields. The small, mud brick agricultural village of Radkan a kilometre away. Its hard to imagine that 800 years ago this was a major centre for the study trigonometry and astronomy.

Our departure was delayed as fuel was pouring out the carburettor overflow pipe of Burgundy. A simple removal of floats and needle and a clean fixed the issue.

The roadside villages were generally low rise with an unkept appearance. Many mud brick. Some had been demolished in a recent earthquake. Wall nuts began to appear in roadside stalls and grapes were being grown on the hillsides.

We turned off into one of the small villages a few kilometres off the highway for lunch. The mud brick village was set amongst steep rocky crags. We found a private spot for lunch. Given that we are in the middle of Ramadan in Iran we prefer to eat out of the view of the general public, especially if they are not eating or drinking for the day. We had been joined the previous evening by Mohammed and Ali, a crew from MG Iran. They were going to accompany us across the country and help with service issues.  At lunch we were also joined by a guy from the MG Car Club of Iran. He drove a new Chinese model MG6 so was keen to have a ride in an old version. David took him for a ride in Ginger.

When they had not returned after 45 minutes and failed to answer the radio, we set off in search. A few kilometres down the road we found them with accompanying police and ambulance. On their return to our lunch spot they collided head on with a local vehicle which had drifted wide on a bend. All vehicle occupants were Ok other than a few cuts and bruises. Both vehicles were write offs. The irony of this was that David was one of the most cautious of the drivers in the group.

The group was both relieved that no one was hurt, but devastated by the implications. While waiting for the tow trucks, we divided the group. One party to remain and assist, the other to head on as we were just adding to the scene and did not need to get involved in discussions with police or organise vehicle salvage.

A strong north westerly wind buffeted the cars as the road continued to climb to over 1500m. The mountains were grey and foreboding with heavy white clouds rolling over the top. Then as we descended, the few, sparse trees became a forest. We were in the provence of Golestan and the Golestan National Park. The speed limit on the descent was 60kph. We were doing around 80kph and being harassed by trucks and cars flooding past over unbroken lines on a steep twisting road. It was not a pleasant experience, especially after the lunchtime episode.

The Park opened out into a rich agricultural scene reminiscent of Europe. Treed hillsides and fields of wheat rolling across the valley floor and up the sides. Harvest was in full swing here too. Semi trailers and flocks of sheep and goats roamed the harvested fields. The semi trailers collecting the bails of hay shared that littered the fields while the flocks of sheep and goats grazed on the stubble.

As we passed through towns kids on bikes buzzed around the cars like paparazzi. One balanced on his rear wheel, others two or three up all wielding phone cameras taking vidoes as they circled the cars at speed. In cars, men with face stubble and a grapy smile, would wave. When we stopped, unlike in China when we were mobbed, everyone shyly kept their distance to take photos, as though it was forbidden. I am not sure whether its Ramadan and the starvation, or the segregation of men and women, or just that their dicks are bigger than their brains, but this is a weird place.

We arrived at our hotel at 8.00pm. As we drove in it was wet and getting dark and we were still the only cars that had headlights switched on. The street lights had been on for a few minutes. We were all tired and snappy with one another.

The second group arrived an hour later. The vehicle towed to an MG Iran yard about 12k from the hotel.