Ok so it’s been a few days since our last post and our first day in Iran could not possibly be any different from the highs of Pakistani hospitality. In Quetta we linked up with Greg and Emma, an Australian couple on an extended honeymoon, which was fortunate for us given what was to come. We departed Pakistan in the same manner in which we arrived – with a warm invitation to tea with the immigration officer. Here is the sequence of events after we got off our 16 hour bus ride from Quetta:
9 am: We cross the border into Iran where the disinterested immigration officer stamps our passports, but refuses to give them back to us until the police arrive. Apparently we need an armed escort to see us safely onto our bus to Bam. Inconvenient but if that’s how it has to be then ok.
9:40am: Our escort finally arrives. He won’t let us take the cheap local bus to the nearest town of Zahedan as having foreigners on the bus apparently delays it at checkpoints. Instead, he forces us into an overpriced taxi with 4 of us in the back seat headed for Zahedan.
10:40am: Having sped through three checkpoints where the officials were obviously too busy searching the locals off the bus to be interested in the four foreigners, we arrive in Zahedan and are taken to what appears to be a police station waiting room. Our passports are unceremoniously taken from us and placed in a locked draw and we are ordered to SIT! No response to our request to be taken to the bus terminal for a bus to Bam.
10:40 – 12:30: It’s funny how quickly things turned nasty. It’s been over 20 hours since we left our hotel in Quetta and we’re getting pretty hungry. No one speaks any English and our attempts to use the phrasebook to communicate in Farsi are met with jeers. No one tells us anything – not where we are, why we are being held or when we can leave. There are no attempts to communicate with us in sign language, few smiles, not even an offer of tea. Sometime within the three hours we spend being ignored or jeered at by the numerous Iranian Police, our waiting room turns into a cell.
12:30pm: After repeatedly and unsuccessfully demanding my passport, I finally reach into the temporarily-unlocked drawer and retrieve it myself. For some reason the police don’t take this lightly and after a brief struggle they try to explain that they need it to record some details. While I am loathe to allow the hard-fought passport out of my hands, I try to be cooperative and show them the details page. When the policeman then snatches my passport back and locks it away again smiling gleefully, I get a tad angry. Casting around for some valuable leverage, I notice a pile of Australian passports sitting in a neat pile on a desk nearby (why? No idea. Maybe there are more poor Aussies being held somewhere nearby…). I grab a fist full of them. Keeping the gaggle of enraged police officers at bay I demand my passport back. As they try (unsuccessfully) to prise the passports out of my clenched hands, Nuala jumps into action and shows some of the other policemen the phrase “my passport has been stolen” in the phrasebook, pointing at the policemen struggling with me to make it quite clear WHO has stolen our passports. They finally realise that we are more trouble than we are worth and return my passport. I have won a battle but the war is only just starting.
12:40pm:We borrow a passerby’s cellphone and try calling the Australian and New Zealand embassies. The NZ embassy is totally useless as no one answers even the ‘emergency number’ whereas the Australian embassy has an automated message system dispensing immigration application information. If anyone from MFAT is reading this, thanks for nothing.
1:30pm: Finally we’ve had enough of being held captive by the Iranian police force. We pick up our bags and try to walk out. At this point, the policemen point their machine guns at us and start laughing. While we don’t really think they would actually shoot us, the notion that we were somehow being protected from kidnapping by the Baluchi drug smugglers who roam the surrounding desert was farcical. This final scene with the machine guns makes us all really angry and someone finally tells us that the police will take us to the bus terminal in 30 mins.
2:00pm: A police car does arrive a few minutes later and they again demand our passports. Naturally we refuse and this incurs the now-usual yelling in Farsi which we duly ignore.
2:15pm: We are dropped, not at the bus station, but outside another police-station. This time we are not even given access to the inside and are told to sit on the street and wait. The sight of busses on the horizon does, however, give us hope that we might yet make it on to a bus today.
2:30pm: After being ignored/jeered at for a while, we get some response – that it will be another 2 hours before another police escort comes to drive us to the station, some 300m away. By now I’m really in no mood for this and decide to simply leave, shrugging off the attempts of two police officers to hold me back and the now-standard threatening with the machine gun. I walk a hundred metres before daring to look back, to see that Nuala too has escaped and is following me.
2:40pm: We’ve made it the 300m to the bus terminal (naturally dodging Baluchi drug-smugglers and kidnappers every step of the way) and booked us a bus out of Hell and heading to Bam! Nuala waits for the bus while I return to the police station to get my bag as well as Greg and Emma.
2:45pm: More tussling, more threats with the machine gun, no matter, we sense that escape is near. We soon board a super awesome luxury bus and are finally almost out of the clutches of the incompetent Zahedan police. It is now 7 hours after we crossed the border, a trip that should have taken no more than 90 mins.
3:00pm – 9:00pm: The trip to Bam is relatively uneventful except for the 40 minute stop in the middle of the desert where customs officials nearly take our bus apart searching for smuggled goods. We arrive safely and are greeted cheerfully by the lovely Akbar who runs the newly reconstructed guesthouse we’re staying at. In retrospect, we’re actually grateful that the badness of the Iranian police is matched only by their incompetence – after all, we were able to steal back our passports, escape from them and get on the bus we always wanted. We went to bed safe and warm, sorely missing Pakistan and praying in thanksgiving for our deliverance from the worst travel day of my life…..…so far…