The kindness of strangers — and the sense of community

I’m proud to say that I’ve made it into Iran safely, having been chased by rabid dogs, held up at numerous military checkpoints and nearly flattened by huge trucks bearing down on me while I tried to stay upright in a blizzard. The thought of having ridden there all the way from the UK in 11 days is hard to fathom. One thing’s for sure though: I couldn’t have done it without the support of the adventure biking community, who have made things happen for me in a way I never could have alone.

Let me explain. When you’re away from home and every day is another step into the unknown, you have to put your faith in others and trust that they have your best interests at heart. These chance encounters with complete strangers can make a massive difference to how you experience life on the road and in my case, it has got me into this ‘closed’ Islamic Republic right on schedule.

With Burak and Chai in Istanbul

Every step of the way, there have been kind, helpful, caring people who have guided me over more than 5,000 kilometres across distant lands and cultures and continue to look out for my safety. Since leaving Bulgaria there was English teacher Sam who put me up for the night in Istanbul and left me the keys to her apartment while she went to work. Then fellow GS rider Burak rode out in the rain to treat me to breakfast at his local BMW Motorrad dealer, before taking me to his friend’s tyre shop for the new rubber I badly needed for the crossing into Asia and beyond.

Then there was Tankut, several hundred kilometres away in Ankara, who contacted me after Juvena (a round-the-world scooter-riding Singaporean I’d met in Serbia) had passed on my details. Tankut threw open his doors when I arrived late at night in another snowstorm, made me dinner and treated me to shots of Raiki at his ‘adventure travellers’ lounge bar while he worked out a safe route for me through one of the most dodgy parts of his country.

With professor of chemistry Ersil in Mardin in the south of Turkey

Recent terrorist attacks on police by the PKK separatists had made a lot of people nervous and I’d been advised to change my original route and border crossing. Tankut explored several road options before calling a friend some 1000kms distant and arranging for me to stay there the following night. It was a long, hard ride that started at 5.30am and finished 13 hours later, but Ersil (a professor of chemistry at the university in Mardin) was just as welcoming — as was his wife and delightful daughter.

We worked on the bike together as I’d had a warning light come on and needed to check a few things, but Ersil went even further than that. He picked up his mechanic friend who came over to the apartment garage and spent a couple of hours helping me out. Then, the following morning, we were invited to his garage to do a few final safety checks and top up some of the fluids. They wouldn’t take any money off me, and insisted I drank tea with them instead. Truly fantastic people.

Help and hot chai at Hassan’s garage in Mardin

Ersil suggested I try to ride to a city called Van the following day (the closest safe place to the border) where he arranged some accommodation for me at the local university campus. Heavy snowfall across the mountains made it a butt-clenching, nerve-wracking trip, and it was pure luck rather than any skill on my part that I didn’t crash the bike. Trucks and cars were turning back, but I had nowhere to turn back to, so just kept going.

Finding the out-of-town campus was extremely tricky in the blizzard conditions — until two more fantastic people came to my rescue. One was a security guard, who invited me into his hut for hot tea, insisting that I sit my drenched self down on his bench while he drew me a map of how to get to the campus. The other was an academic who himself had got caught out during a training run in the snow. He flagged me down and asked if he could be of assistance. When I told him where I was trying to go, he said I’d never get past the university security guards on the bike, so he then ran 4km back to the campus with me following behind just so that he could get me to my destination safely.

Going nowhere fast with everything frozen in the town of Van, including ignition, brakes and wheels.

And last, but not least, there was the brother of Mustafa, a connection to Tankut some 1,500 km away, who’d been warned I was coming and would be struggling with the treacherous weather conditions. Indeed, when I heard his brother was trying to get through security with a vehicle to help me, I was trying to defrost my ignition and break the ice that had frozen the calipers, pads and wheels solid. He rolled up with a beaten old Ford Transit flat-bed truck and we found a way to get the bike on the back without ramps (it involved riding down some steps where the truck had reversed as close as possible). Then we tied the bike down and he drove me all the way to the border, where the Turkish police helped me drag the bike off the truck onto a raised pile of rocks and onto some stacked pallets to get it onto the ground. I felt guilty rushing off immediately I had the bike on the ground and not drinking the tea they wanted to share with me, but I knew the border was closing and that I’d be shafted if I didn’t make it into Iran before it shut.

Wasn’t expecting to find so much snow in the south-eastern Turkey

A helpful local ‘fixer’ got the gates reopened (they already had the chains positioned and padlocks ready to be snapped shut) ushered me through and somehow had the authority to take me upstairs to a distant office where a surly official reluctantly extinguished his cigarette to do the necessary paperwork for my exit from the Turkish side. Thankfully, everyone was ready for going home, so they didn’t check anything in much detail and I was soon handed over to the Iranians, where another fixer (this one came at great, but necessary expense) got me past all the queues, through numerous checkpoints and straight to the head of customs security who also offered me tea while he studied every page of my passport with great interest.

So here I am, in a bustling town called Orumiyeh, having stuffed myself with kebabs and bread. My first impressions are that the Iranians are welcoming, friendly and really happy to see me arrive in their country, and on a motorcycle too. I have absolutely no idea what lies ahead, but I guess that’s the whole point of this adventure.

6 thoughts on “The kindness of strangers — and the sense of community”

  1. Hi Andy, hope you’re catching up with your running, eating, sleeping and drinking 😉

    I’ve been following your pics on social media with great interest, but it’s even better to read about them on the blog. Sometimes we all have our doubts about human nature, but in truth the very large majority of folks are “dead on” (Norn Iron phrase!).

    Take care and “keep ‘er lit” (another one!)

    Cheers

    Paul

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