A late start to the day was scheduled so that the mechanical trio could scavenge parts from Ginger as there was no doubt that the car was going no further.
From the time we left the hotel it was obvious that the group was stressed. The Garmins would not calculate our destination and so we were trying to navigate blind out of the city. Our guide was in the lead, but with his and the local traffic ducking and weaving, soon the group was spread over a sizeable distance trying to navigate by radio instructions.
It seemed to go downhill from there. We were headed the same direction as the traffic for Tehran and there was lots of it driving at well above the speed limit, despite the constant threat of police radar traps. There are a multitude of issues: Driving so close to the rear of the MG I can see the sun glinting off their gold fillings when they smile, while they try to find a passage between me and the concrete barrier dividing the roadway. When passing I can feel the rush of wind from their bow wave race through my open window as I check to see if the sideview mirrors are still in place. They lane drift. This may be caused by the fact that the lanes are poorly defined, or just that it reflects that no one has bothered to repaint because they don’t get used. One of our group explained that this may be our problem, not theirs. He suggested that we give up trying to drive straight sticking to one lane, but to go with the flow of traffic from one side of the road to the other. And then there are U turns. There are no left turns off the highway, just U turns to go back to where you needed to turn. At any time the car in front may suddenly slow and maybe stop, to do a U turn while travelling in what we would consider the overtaking lane, or more frustratingly you suddenly find a car pulling out across two lanes to complete a U turn from the opposite direction. Cars merging in from the side may just stop mid stream, generally when half way across a lane, or just proceed to drift across a couple of lanes with looking. Round abouts are a combination of everything. Cars stopping mid stream, cars barging in and cars drifting out across 3 lanes without looking.
All in all it was a very intense and exhausting day. The combination of the concentration needed to try to keep a safe space around the car constantly accelerating, braking or swerving to keep out of the way of others combined with the physical effort of driving an MG and the heat of the cabin was draining on all.
In each of the various towns and villages we passed through banners displaying the portraits of young men hang from poles along the roadside. They were the martyrs from that village who died in the 1980 -87 Iraq-Iran war. There were a lot of them, somewhere like 1.5m we were told. The population of Iran at that stage was about 40m, so it had a sizeable impact on the country. The US receives most of the blame as they supported Saddam Hussein in that venture.
By the roadside, dump trucks were loaded with water melon. Smaller trucks filled with a kind of rock melon, while buckets of cherries, apricots and peaches rounded out the offering.
We pulled into a small village for lunch. I headed off to find some bread and tomatoes to go with our cheese. Generally the first question we get asked by locals is where we are from or alternatively ,are we German. By the time I reached the small store, they knew that there was a group of Australians in town. They smiled and welcomed. The tomatoes were a no problem, but the bread more of a challenge. I walked next door and found the empty baker, and then all realised I was after naan.
Around 4.00pm we turned right to head towards the Caspian Sea coast, and a lot of the traffic turned left back to Tehran. But it was still another few hours to the hotel.
The area along the Caspian is lush green. Cloud capped, forested mountains back the coastal plain. Much of the flat area is dedicated to rice growing, with irrigation channels flowing down from the mountains. The day time temperature was around 32c and the humidity high. It felt like we were back in Asia.
We pulled into Babolsar on the Caspian for afternoon tea. The sky was grey and the wind from the north was whipping up a small, brown surf along the rocky shore. Apartment blocks stood sentinel to the east and west. A man walked past and suggested the scene was beautiful. I nodded in agreement, but lacked conviction. Ramsar, our destination, was another 180k to the west.
You see very little of the Caspian from the road as buildings and shops, in various states of completion separate road from coast.
We arrive around 7.00pm at our hotel on a hill overlooking the sea. From the outside, it had seen better days. Looking at the shops in the foyer, it receives most of its business from local tourists.
We headed out for dinner to a small tea house on the grey sand beach. It had been recommended by our guide. The 4 of us were the only customers when we arrived. It was a challenge to order, but we managed to get agreement on some local trout and salad. It arrived after an hour and a half. They had to go out and buy it from the fisherman. Its freshness did not last long as they deep fried it to a crispy wafer. As you would know you can’t buy beer in Iran, but you can get a wide range of fake beer. No alcohol of course, but a wide range of fruit flavours from peach to lemon and classic. Its not a great substitute to the real thing.
We ended up in bed around 11.30 absolutely exhausted.