More Trouble/ Tehran
After our major engine failure in the desert, and having exhausted all local options for repair, our only alternative is to get ourselves and the vehicle to Tehran.
This is easier said than done. The distance is about 350km; there are no tow trucks in the countryside (the truck that took us the 30km from the breakdown site to the nearest town is a brick lorry).
The mechanics at Dāmghān have a solution. It involves driving around the local industrial estate where men are pottering with their vehicles (many trucks in Iran are owned by their drivers), asking around for someone wanting a job to Tehran.
A truck and driver are found, a price agreed. The campervan is towed to a local site where a new motorway is being constructed, complete with excavations. One of them is roughly the height of a lorry bed. The truck backs up to the ledge. After a bit of shuffling around, the campervan is successfully pushed onto the lorry.
After another night’s stay with another hospitable family (who are visibly bemused: after the sandstorm we are dirty, with no spare clothes – it is too cold to look around the cupboards in the campervan, and all our things are covered in dust anyway) we get our lift to Tehran, arriving at 10pm, in time for the ending of the lorry curfew.
Our friend in Tehran has organised for a tow truck (they have them in the capital) to rendezvous with us. The campervan is lifted off the truck, onto the tow truck, and towed to our friend’s place.
There’s quite a lot to deal with.
1. Finding a mechanic who is familiar with diesel engines – cars and vans here run on petrol.
2. Organising spare parts – see above.
3. Our visas are almost expired and have already been extended once. We know of no one who has successfully obtained a second extension.
4. There are strict customs regulations regarding driving foreign vehicles here. The issuing authority of our Carnet de Passage, the German automobile club, helpfully advises us that on no account must we overstay our visa, and for us to leave the country without our vehicle is also out of the question. The fines are astronomical.
5. We are out of cash. One of the effects of the embargoes on Iran is that foreign bank cards don’t work. Visitors must bring cash for the duration of the stay. By rights we would have left the country by now. Ordinarily one might have organised a money transfer via Dubai for a large fee. Right now, however, Israel has threatened air strikes, the local currency is on a nosedive, and the government has stopped any and all international money traffic. It is impossible to transfer money in.
6. The big one: dear readers, I am pregnant, at this point about 13 weeks. In the middle of everything, I have some rather serious bleeding. An emergency scan reveals that the foetus is ok, but I am ordered to bed; no travelling.
It is like a web of problems: it seems that this time we really are in trouble. Still, the saying that the person with twelve problems sleeps easier than the person with one problem rings somehow rather true.
And one by one, with the help of our good friends in Tehran, every problem is solved. We find a mechanic who has worked for Volkswagen in Turkey. We find an importer of car parts. It will take three weeks to carry out the repair, including obtaining parts.
We hear about an Iranian with an import/ export business and in need of foreign currency. We make contact and agree the transfer amount, time scale and exchange rate. We send funds from the UK to a bank account in Holland. Someone else sends Rials to someone in Tehran who brings the cash to us. The exchange involves numerous parties; it is done on trust. Having spent two months in Iran, we are not unduly worried, but even if we were, there is no alternative.
I obtain a doctor’s note regarding my increased risk of miscarriage and orders of rest. With this in hand, Simon goes to the Tourism Police to ask for another visa extension. It takes three visits; the authority is at first disinclined to give us more than a week, which would be useless. We need three or four weeks.
On the day of the third visit we are nervous: if we don’t get an extension today, we will have to get a tow to Turkey right away. Trouble is, we don’t know whether we will be permitted to enter Turkey. The last time we had to cross the Turkish border with a broken engine (yes, incredibly, there was a time, about a million years ago last summer), it was insisted upon that the vehicle was driven over the border. That time it was just about possible; this time – no chance.
Simon returns with a three week extension: enough time exactly, with no room for error.