Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Saga of Sharjah and the Clever Rhyme at Bandar Abbas

This one's a long one... Just detailing getting the bikes from the UAE to Iran. It's a long annoying process which I'd recommend for anyone who's bored.

There's no photos on this either, they're all over at Facebook in this album here. It was the only thing I could reliably upload photos too from Iran. Everything else is blocked or too slow to access. The story starts back in Sharjah at the Golden Beach Motel...

We were told to drop off the bikes at the port early because there was some overtime for workers involved if we did it late. So After breakfast at the hotel we go to drop the bikes off at the port. The port was only 1km away from the hotel so it was quick to get there and back. We ride over to the main gate and show them the paperwork and after some discussion we're let in and we head to building number 6. No one is about but we can see the ferry behind it so we go look and park the bikes to try and find someone. Another guy walks over and after some dumb discussion were following his car over to the opposite side of building six. Now more discussion ans we're off again to where we were before. Still no one here, more discussion and the guy we were following makes a phone call. And then we're back over to the office where he took us on the other side of building six. I can see where this day is going.

We park the bikes and go in to get some paperwork sorted. There was a very sweary happy Indian guy from Mumbai in the office that helped us out a bit. After it was all done we kept the keys and went back to the hotel to waste time before immigration.

The next thing we were told by the ticket office was to be at the port at 2pm where we'd go through immigration, then put our bikes on the ferry and then we'd be away! How it actually went down was very different.

We departed the hotel just before 2pm and headed to the terminal and find a bunch of people gathered around the "Port Khalid Passenger Departure" building as it is clearly signed. We get through the door and everyone is just looking at us oddly. One of the people at the desk points at us and then another speaks up and tells us this is a secure port and that we can't come in there. So I show him my ticket and he says to go out of the departure building and in though the main gate (or so we understand from his instructions). So we walk to the main Gate and we're called over by security. We show them the ticket and then they point is back to the departure building. So we go back again get inside again and Drew asks the guard where we should be but they keep pointing back outside to the main gate. Eventually after some frustrated loud talking were shown to the waiting room next to the departure building. In here the room seems naturally divided into males and females for some reason. Wait number one of the day to see if this is the correct area.

After a while Drew gets bored and walks off to find someone to help. He comes back saying were in the wrong area an he has a guy with him and we head off over to the main gate again. This time we get into the office and we start asking where we are supposed to be and they point over to the waiting room again. We ask where immigration is and then they say its in the waiting room, but then they offer up another location for immigration. This introduces all types of confusion and eventually we settle on being back at the customs building at 5pm because that's when they're supposed to open. We get a taxi back to the hotel to use the phone and call the agent and to use more internets.

We call up the agent and he can't hear properly but he tells us to be back at the port where his person will find us after we clear immigration so we can load the bikes. He also said that immigration will be open in another 10 minutes at most.

We give it half an hour before heading back. Once we get back to the “Port Khalid Departure Building” and they again direct us back to the waiting room. We stick around and ask some other official looking people but they say to go back to the waiting waiting room too. After an hour of waiting a door finally opens on the other side of the room and everyone rushes towards it. We wait it out, boat isn't suppose to leave before 9pm and that's 4 hours away at this point. Once we get up to the door we show passports and he says “boarding card? I get my ticket out and show him and then he says “No no boarding card!”. Well that's confusing. One of the helpful Iranians sees our confusion and explains whats going on. He takes us over to the “Port Khalid Passenger Departure” building where there is a small office in the corner issuing boarding cards.... Yup, the building we've been in three times before and each time they told us to go to the waiting room had something in that we needed to do.

If you think that airports are horrible inefficient places you should try going through a sea port once.

We go back into the waiting room but find the door to immigration has just closed and it will be another 15 minute wait. We picked a spot to sit and then some old lady in a burka comes over and tells us to move so her family can sit there in the mostly vacated waiting room... We move and I loudly exclaim that I was sorry for sitting in her spot but the sarcasm went unnoticed (by her, everyone else in the room looked suitably dumbfounded by her actions). We sit somewhere else and get talking to a guy next to us. He helps us through the rest of the process and guides us through improper hand signals in Iran after some questions (thumbs up, some people will take offence. 'ok' hand very very bad, much like Brazil I hear).

Once in immigration its another wait and then a stamp and then we're loaded into a bus to travel the 100 meters to the boat. We're deposited outside the boat and then we ask someone what happens with the bikes. No real answer but we go off in turns to get the bikes from where we parked them earlier in the day (about half way to the immigration office) and ride them over to wait.

Someone who seems like they're running this loading of BMW's and Mercedes onto the ship directs us to park just near the entrance. We tie them down and move them as close as possible to the edge and then it's upstairs to find a relatively empty passenger cabin. We each take a set of three chairs and get comfortable for the long night ahead. They're still loading cars and trucks on the decks below so its a long time before we actually set off.

While still in the port food was served at around 7pm. The boat didn't actually depart until 930pm. We'd been sitting on a boat that hasn't moved for 2 hours, did they load all the passengers first for some kind of efficiency reason? This is going to be a long journey. Someone told me it will get to Iran tomorrow at 8am.

The lights go off around 11pm, and I manage to get a couple of hours sleep with the help of earplugs. The three seats I have to myself are very uncomfortable no matter which way I try and sit/lie on them. The lights come back on at 4am for food, unsure if it was for everyone or just for those fasting during Ramadan, some people seemed to go get food, others didn't, I opted to wait until 9am to get food where I was told I had apparently not wanted to have breakfast when asked earlier (news to me).

At 11am we are finally docked in Iran. And good too because I'm bored of everything on my laptop and phone and what they can do without Internet. We take the bikes off the ship to the front of the immigration building closest to the berth. I take in only what I had on the ship with me, the rest of my belongings stayed with the bike (important later...). We then sit inside patiently to see what happens and how fast the queue is moving (slow).

Once we get up we're the last in line. While I'm there a guy comes over from his office and starts talking to me. He started asking me why I am here, where am I going, for how long. I thought he was just a taxi driver or tour guide because I'm used to this line of questioning from India. He asks where I am from so I say "Australia", but I think with the accent and his, he misinterpreted this as "Israel", which would be very bad indeed. He repeats what I thought was “Australian?” a few times and each time I said yes, but each time I guess I said yes to “Israeli?”. There's a bit of discussion about and he goes through my passport and after a bit of confusion he can finally see Australian written all over my passport. Looks like I was just mistaken for the enemy in immigration.

Once through immigration we had to head to a small office and sit outside it because we had vehicles. We'd been following a father and son from Germany who are driving a car back home from Qatar, but at this point they had disappeared, they were a handy guide on where to go next. After half an hour of waiting outside this small office some official looking person calls us over, who then hands us over to a less official looking person who we walk right through customs with, and then follow outside to a port office building next door where we pick up a bill of lading copy (already holding onto the originals). Now we have to go to the shippers office outside the port area to get some more paperwork and then come back to clear the bike through customs. Sounded simple! (And if it was the story probably would have ended here).

We head out the gate and find a taxi and then ask the driver if he accepts us dollars, sounds like he says yes and shows us the rudest way possible to show two with your fingers. We jump in and for some reason we've passed Team Germany and they jump in too. Once the taxi stops we try to pay on US$'s but this is met with blank stares. None of us have local currency, but the driver eventually accepts 20 Dhirams from Team Germany.

Inside the this building its rather straight forward: ask for office, go there and ask again where the office is, go there and ask again, arrive at office. We get some more papers, then its downstairs to a copy room, then over to another room to wait for more paperwork. And wait we did. More than an hour passes and I use the free time to exchange some currency (500us$ = 6150000 rails, at the very bad bank rate. At money changers on the street you can get almost double that). And then I run out of things to do because I used my phone to death the night before when I couldn't sleep.

After the hour ticks over and we get our little slips of paper back in Farsi and we all get a dodgy taxi back to the port again. This time we have the local currency and it costs 50000rials. We ask around for customs again and no one can find them in the building. Failing to find anyone here we go over to the office that told us to go to the shippers and no one here really knows what's going on either. Eventually the same guy who told us to go to the shippers comes out and he looks at the documentation and says its the wrong one. But then he runs off before we can ask what exactly we need. He also mentions customs being closed for the day, but tells us to go to the shipping office and get this new paperwork (whatever it's called). We start walking for a taxi and then the guy appears in a car beside us gives us a high speed lesson in Iranian driving to the shipping office. We ask what about the bikes and he tells us we can get them at 8am tomorrow... Well that's not the best. Because we thought it was a five minute process to get the bikes out we left a lot of our crap on the bikes, stuff that will probably be damaged in the sun all day, and things like a change of clothes (I'd been wearing the same clothes for 4 days). He kicks us out and then he flies off at high speed.

At the shippers office theres lots of paper flying around but no one is telling us what is going on. I've zoned out because of hunger and no sleep and stopped following people around so closely. Inside one of the offices Team Germany has left, then Drew has left, and then when someone else is talking about paperwork I happen to get one of the slips out which someone else spots and takes me over to the bank, where I find Drew again. We end up having to pay some fee that no one seems to be able to explain to us. It's only $5ish, but we're still in the dark as to what's going on. Then it's back in to another office to get some more documentation. Team Germany leaves the office early to see if they can get hold of customs and get out of here (they were only planning a two day drive through Iran into Turkey). We wait for our documents to be completed and then go outside to try find a taxi during the 2pm peak hour rush of Ramadan.

There's a lot of discussion in the taxi as to where we are going and the price the driver wants to charge but eventually with the aid of the Persian-Farsi app on my phone I'm able to communicate the distance and the amount it should cost, which he agrees with (6000 is what we were told, totally ripped off twice in taxis so far). Once at the port however we try to give him a 10000 rial note for change, but he said no and pointed to the 100000 note. Well it turns out he was talking in Tomans (I think that's the word) which is the local name for 10Rials. Most people will quote prices to you in Tomans, so we've learned. This journey had cost 60000Rials.

Inside the main port building it's all rather dark but we run into the guy who took us over to the port offices and we get him to call a friend of his who can translate for us and then we get that person to talk to security who reluctantly lets us through the building out the door to the bikes so we can get a few things that might not survive in the sun and secure the bikes for there overnight stay. Looks like the bikes will have to wait another day.

We get another taxi and tell him to head to Hotel Amin which was a decent sounding place according to the LP (but who can trust it really). We spot Team Germany walking out of the port so we get the taxi driver to stop and ask them what happened. They said they have given up and will try get it out tomorrow. Team Germany jumps in the taxi and we all head to the hotel for the night.

The evening is spent gaining lost sleep and eating local foods (which seems to be pizza or burgers) and a quick walk around our first Iranian city. It's still hot here. The erratic driving and general condition of the place reminds me of Malaysia or the Eastern European places I've seen on TV, just with added heat. On the walk we heard some scream and then turned around to see a guy shoving and pushing a female driver who may have just hit him or his wife. Not to sure what happened but I considered it unwise to be a foreigner (possibly Israeli looking) staring at what was going on there. From up the street we could see a large crowd gathering but it was all gone when we came back.

The next morning after a quick breakfast we met up with Team Germany, checked out of the hotel, and then headed out to the port again to try get the paperwork completed. Once at the port we went into the big building first to look for customs, no one seemed to know what we were looking for. Outside we were directed to the correct customs building that was covered in scaffolding and had “DOWN WITH THE U.S.A.” posters above the doorway. Inside this anti-US office you'll find them using lots of software from a very large US company. Mixed messages here.

Team Germany starts off the process and someone goes through the documents. After about ten minutes the customs officer gathers all the documents together to tell Team Germany there is a problem with one of the forms. It turns out that in the rush following Team Germany yesterday there was one bit of documentation missing for our bikes. Assuming the worst voices get raised immediately. I leave Drew to it for a bit as it is probably unwise to be yelling at a customs agent while looking vaguely Israeli.

The bit that was missing was a “Release from Warehouse” document which we were able to get form the port office next door. However the bikes were never in a warehouse, they were pushed off the boat and left directly in front of the passenger terminal. You could also see them from the port office but they were having none of it.

Armed with this new bit of paper we marched back into customs and started the long wait to get the carnets stamped. Team Germany were away after about an hour but we seemed to be there a lot longer. I went over to the desk once Team Germany collected their documentation and stood there to make sure other people stopped interrupting him. After he was done I raised my hands in celebration and he said “Welcome to Iran”. But then he asked me to go to the opposite side of this waiting area to another desk. This time they wrote all the details in a large book for some reason. They handed all the paperwork back and then he said “Welcome to Iran” and I thought we were actually done now! But I was wrong. He told me to go to one office, and then to another, then we were done. I asked him to write the names on a bit of paper so I could show people where I need to be.

We headed out and found the first office, which was meant to be a gate pass office we think (still not sure, no one explained). Inside we handed the documentation to someone and then waited a very very long time for them to finish processing others documentation and get to ours. In this time Team Germany had appeared again and they were armed with a helper. They got in and out while we were waiting. Once ours was processed we got a new bit of paper with a bar code on it, however once drew got his I mentioned that they both had the same number under the bar code, well this caused more confusion between them and after another long wait we had two separate bar codes. We were then to proceed to the second place on the note we were given earlier where we were told it would be the last step to getting our bikes! Hooray!

Inside the port office we dumped all the documentation on the desk and they picked out the bits they wanted. They did whatever they did for about half an hour and called us over. This time we had to pay a fee for loading and unloading of the bike. Well, that was curious. We loaded it on to the boat, and we also unloaded it and parked them were they remained overnight. We argued over this but it's a standard port charge and in the end it was only $8ish for each bike. We took this paperwork and asked them to let us out to the bikes. But nope, apparently there was another office to go visit and they told us to go back out to the gate pass office to get another stamp on the documents. We argued again that we'd already been out there and they had given us stamps. Through all this arguing we'd managed to gain our own helper from within this office. The helper had managed to acquire a driver which made walking the short distances a lot easier. He took us back out to the gate pass office and in there was some discussion and I can't remember if there was any paperwork changing hands.

After the gate pass office for the second time it was back to the car and over to the entry side of the port where we had to go through security, they saw us white guys in the back (one looking partially Israeli) and we turned around. Now we had to get security passes.

In the security pass office the passports were handed over but then a copy of them was needed. The helper ran off to do this (also astounded a the processes required here and he works in it). He came back armed with passports and copies and we had our security pass written out and then it was in to the secure area to another hidden office. There was a lot of documentation being done here and then we were told we had to get the bikes weighed which is what the bar coded papers were for. We finally get our hands on the bikes and ride over to the weigh station where the helper is waiting. Drew rides up on the platform and waits. And waits. Then the helper comes out and asks for passports. Then we wait some more. And some more. And then finally the helper comes out and says we have to pay 50000rials for both bikes, after mine wasn't even weighed. Who knows what that was for.

We head back to the hidden warehouse office and the paperwork is done over a long period of time while I rearrange all my gear, some of which I'd been carrying around all day after checking out, the rest had been strapped to the bike.

We're finally told all the documentation is done and we're free to go! Drew heads off towards the gate and I'm just a little bit behind but I'm following the helper in another car. We get to the security gate and the helper gets out hands over some paper and points to us then we're good to go!

Then we get closer to the gate pass office and the helper gets out again. We follow him over and then we go inside. The helper is moving between two rooms and arguing with people. But after some discussions in the office the helper finally comes over says we're free to go! Hooray! The bikes are free! I thank him for his help and told him we would never be able to do this by ourselves. I start putting on all my gear and then he runs out and tells us
that actually we're not free and there's one more thing to do.

So now apparently there is a problem with the paperwork or the computer system or something. All that I could get out of him was that somehow the computer system was expecting three bikes. Perhaps it was because of the bar code problem all the way back in the morning where I noticed we got the same numbers.

At this point it's after 2pm, so if they need any other offices they'll be gone and whatever stuff up this is might mean we would have to come back the next day to sort it out.

But after another half hour and more discussions we're free to go again! I'm starting to suspect that when each of these people says “welcome to Iran” they're doing it sarcastically. Outside we again thank the helper for his help. One of the people in the office comes out and security at the gate happens to call over to him about us, I assume he tells them to let us through it's all complete and good. So we get on the bikes and head out but then security tells us to stop and go into their office. ARGH.

Again the gate pass office guy says something to security and we're away, actually outside the port! Hooray! For real this time! We head over to get petrol and then it's back to the hotel because it's too late and too hot to go anywhere now.

Welcome to Iran.

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