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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 06.06.2017

Tropical temperatures combined with a workshed marathon race

The Shahdad Desert Camp is located 20 kilometers outside the city of Shahdad and was the last place which was still inhabited by live creatures. The desert of Lut is the hottest spot on Earth reaching peak temperatures of 70°C. We were positive and hoped for lower temperatures as we were traveling in springtime. It hadn't been Leander if he hadn't wanted to dare fate and drive into the desert with his truck – if not for a long distance so at least for some kilometers. He hadn't had time to prepare for such a tour for time reasons.
Neither at home nor here on the trip was there any time to do so either. We just released some air from the tyres to have a better grip in the sand. However, as our compressor didn't work to our complete satisfaction we didn't release too much. With the laptop on my knees to help navigating we turned into the desert and dared the adventure of desert. Just ahead of us we could see a truly bizarre landscape. Sandy rocks which had been pressed together by the wind characterised the landscape. We carefully had to look for a good route for the truck as we didn't want him to get stuck there. We weren't able to make out any animals, green areas, cactuses. Nothing.

All we could see was sand and dust. Very carefully and full of respect did Leander steer our old truck Akela through the desert, meter by meter until it happened! We got stuck in the sand. No movement in any direction was possible – and this happened after only about 8 kilometers. “Wonderful”! Leander and I got out of the driving cabin and checked the situation from the outside. We soon came to the conclusion that we had to do some digging. The thermometer had reached its maximum and so we knew we had more than 50°C! Hot wind hit our faces and the clothes we used to protect our bodies weren't able to keep the sand off and we felt as if we were being sandblasted. Is there anything more tempting than such a moment?
We tried to dig out the tyres as well as we could, yet it seemed like a fight against windmills. Each attempt to get Akela out of the sand made him move deeper into it. The wind grew stronger and turned into a real sandstorm. Clouds darkened the sky, we saw lightening in the distance and could feel the first drops falling. Could this be true? Did it really start to rain in the middle of the desert where there usually is NO RAIN? Leander's mood darkened as much as the sky did and he made us understand to speed up as much as we could to get out of this horrible place and situation by freeing the truck. Should there really be rainfall soon then the sand would turn into mud and this would not really make it easier for us to get out of there.

We released more air from the tyres, and started digging again as well as we could. However, we did that for no good. Akela wouldn't move just one millimeter. At times the storm was so strong that we went inside Akela for protection. Our last and only chance to get out of there seemed to be the sand plates which we luckily had brought along. We had to be successful making use of them. I'd really had enough of digging and trying to get Akela out and would have liked to make off in the distance, yet grinned and bore it and helped as well as I could again.
Once more did we free Akela's tyres from the sand, Leander took place behind the steering wheel, put a gear in, accelerated and then – one two three – Akela was free! Yehaaa – the tyres had found grip on the sand plates! Thank God, after digging in the Iranian heat for three hours we had managed to get him out of the sand. Happy and extremely relieved we hugged each other, went to Lennox into the living cabin to spill the news, which he only commented with,”Finally, I had become quite bored in here!” Good to know that children are really worried about you when you are fighting for everybody's lives outside.

After this dangerous incident we really had enough of 'adventures in the desert' and very cautiously turned around and as if handling raw eggs steered Akela all the way back, yet this time without any unwanted occurences. I wanted to move on, but this did not apply to Leander as he still wanted to see more of it. We parked Akela just a few meters off the road and stayed there for the night. The desert Lut offered a lot of great views, landscapes,...for Leander to take pictures. At times we felt as if we had landed on the moon as this is what the landscape looked like at times. The lads Leander and Lennox took the Motocross off the rear rack and drove around in the desert, but easier said than done.
Riding a motorbike in the desert looks far easier than it really is. When temperatures had fallen at sunset, they chucked wood and stacked it to make a nice campfire. Camera, Drone, GoPro...everything that we had taken along with us and that was able to record something was in use. We always had to bear in mind that we had to earn money while traveling as well. Our sponsors expected to get travel accounts, pictures, videoclips,... All of these had to be produced first, then edited to reach satisfactory results and this means hard work.

Contrary to the predominant opinion we do have to earn money while being away as we couldn't live a lush life off nothing but mere air and love. Yet we had done enough on that day. When Lennox was fast asleep we relaxed next to the campfire and talked until late at night. We absorbed the silence of the desert and enjoyed each minute of these rather seldom moments of cosy togetherness.

After these two eventful days in Dasht-e Lut we left this hot area and drove back to Kerman where we stayed in the backyard of the hotel Akhavan for one night once more. Maybe the stench we emitted was faster there than we were, because the receptionist offered us to take a shower in one of the hotel rooms and we gladly accepted this kind offer. Sand, mud and dirt ran off us in small streams into the drain.
Even though applying soap on the bodies and shampoo into the hair various times, we still felt not quite clean yet. Akela needed serious cleaning as well and so we tidied him and prepared him for the long upcoming drive. We had to go to Mashad, a town just before the Turkmen border, to get our Turkmen transit visa there.

This meant nearly 800 kilometers through the seemingly endless desert. When turning in we made the big mistake of not setting an alarm clock and as we desparately needed to catch up sleep we woke up as late as 10 o'clock the next morning. Consequently we would have to spend the heat at lunchtime in the truck. Why ever we haven't learned from former errors and stupidities nobody knows. We had got used to stopping fairly often to fill up the engine coolant to prevent Akela from overheating. We rested 300 kilometers after Kerman, 100 km off the last village. When we wanted to drive on something really bad happened.
But what was it that had made the loud metallic sound when starting the engine and caused Akela to move like a goatish donkey? We had no idea what had happened because up to the stop the engine had been running very smoothly. There was no chance of driving on without looking for the problem first. Leander feared it might be a damage in the gear box but can such a damage occur within just a few minutes? Maybe a passing lorry and its driver would be able to assist and help us and so we tried to stop one.

After some time one lorry driver stopped and as he wasn't able to speak English we showed him the problem by starting the engine and starting to drive. He rolled his eyes and lay down under the truck, constantly murmuring “problem – problem”. Well this was as much as we had known already. We had a lorry break down at the peripheral area of the desert in the middle of nowhere. Bloody hell! This cannot be true! The truck driver offered to pull Akela to the nearest workshed claiming that no mechanic would be willing to come into the desert.
But after just few meters he stopped, got out of his vehicle and pointed at a road sign which said “Hey, I am a mechanic – if you have a vehicle break down here, give me a call.” Irony of fate.

After nearly an hour and driving 100 km the mechanic rolled in and made a first on-sight inspection. Something was wrong with our transfer gear box and as the mechanic wasn't able to fix it on the spot we had no other choice than to follow him to his garage which, as you've just read, was 100 kilometers away.
We moved at snail's pace and Akela's emissions looked as if we were amid a forest fire until we finally reached the little village of Ravar, where the mechanic's garage was. In low spirits and discouraged, Leander and I did what Lennox had already done hours before us and lay down. We seemed to be dogged by bad luck in Iran. As far as Turkey, our truck had been working perfectly and without making any troubles, but since we had arrived in Iran fate had turned. Half of our time here we spent at worksheds, garages or at mechanics.

When Akela had a problem we first always had to look for a mechanic, then explain roughly what the problem was and the like. Not being able to speak the native language made matters worse. All of these problems cost a lot of our precious free time which was already rationed for getting visa, doing research, planning our route,... . In the end, however, we always had to be extremely grateful when we received help. Punctually at 7:30 in the morning, Ruhola, the mechanic, started his work. He quickly diagnosed the damage: we had a serious transfer gearbox damage. So Leander had been right. Flipping hell! It was beyond repair and we never found out the reason why it got damaged. It was a fact, however, that we had to find a new transfer gearbox, which was the next problem. For the next months we were also looking for a 911 Mercedes Benz in Austria as we assumed that these old truck models would be available here in Iran, the curved bonnet paradise. Well, yes, they were available for Iranian models, but none of them fitted our model. The difference between these two models is a simple one: The Iranian model uses a German engine, yet the rest is made in Iran.
They didn't know our transfer box either. Our truck was bit by bit, screw by screw only German. Consequently, we couldn't get hold of the wanted spare parts or at least only with great difficulty. However, we were lucky this time as Ruhola somehow by asking various people, managed to find a matching gearbox, yet it wasn't a mechanical but a pneumatic one. Consequently, more adjustments had to be made to activate the four-wheel drive and the small gears by Ruhola. Leander and he could pick up these parts at a Mercedes shop in Kerman the next morning. How Ruhola had managed to get hold of this desired spare part? No idea, but a glimmer of hope emerged in us. On the other hand we were also considering to stop our tour completely and to take the truck back to Austria to have it accurately checked through and repaired. But who was supposed to do that and where? Austrian mechanics worked in a similar way as the Iranian ones yet charged ten times as much. And how should we pay for all these repairs? Too many repairs had already put too big demands on our budget anyway. We went through ups and downs, yet had to stay positive.

The next day the gear box was supposed to be available and this is when we wanted to see what to do. In the early afternoon Ruhola and Leander returned from Kerman. A soon as they had got out of the car they started repairs and within a few hours the new gear box was mounted. The two of them used methods which would have made Austrian mechanics grin in disbelief. Some blocks of wood and a car-jack were in use and in no time the 150 kg new gear box was screwed at its correct position. Everything was mounted where it ought to be and seemed to work. Leander was so satisfied with the mechanic's work that he asked him to do further repairs and tasks such as changing the oil, for example. We weren't allowed to do anything. Unluckily, our mechanic poured the oil into the wrong mouth and wouldn't listen to Leander's protest.
Ruhola tried to make Leander understand that he perfectly knew what he was doing. Let's hope so, by goodness! Anybody able to change a gear box without using any proper technical devices should know where to fill up the oil, shouldn't they? Yet starting the engine after adding the motor oil brought the next disaster. It was a fact that putting the oil into the wrong mouth nearly caused a complete damage of the engine! Anybody who would like to know more details about this issue has to get in touch with Leander. After this the engine kept as quiet as a mouse and Leander's comments were, “Great, now we can pack up and go home! Now everything is ruined!” This couldn't be true! We thought we had ended up in a really bad film.

Ruhola felt uncomfortable as well, realising what problems his mistake of putting the oil into the wrong mouth had caused. He put the engine apart into its bits and pieces and looked for help by asking “a specialist regarding engines”. The situation was comparable to an operation on the open heart. In the meantime Leander looked for help at our Austrian contact points and inquired if such a repair would make sense at all. Millions of thanks to you, Peter. Peter and Sabine also own a round bonnet truck and Peter knew at once what had to be done. Take a look at their website: www.augustderreisewagen.com

During this rather stressful time we had the assistance of Babek, a lorry driver from Esfahan, who Leander had met there and who helped us regarding translation. This time Ruhola had the requested spare part transported from Kerman to his garage by taxi so that he could carry on with the work on Akela in the meantime. He was hammering and screwing until late at night and started again early in the morning. And finally, the moment had come when Ruhola put down his tools and grumbled “tamam”. Leander instantly dashed into the driving cabin and turned the ignition key and pressed the start button. After some weird sounds and muttering and grumbling the engine started and began running smoothly.
It kept doing so and this is why we dared a short test drive which proved successful. We dearly hoped that we had overcome the worst. The new gearbox and the engine were running well, but the correct air pressure and some adaptions in the gear box still had to be done. Unluckily this was something where Ruhola wasn't able to help us at all as he had no clue about these matters. While Leander and Ruhola, covered in dirt, slaved away on Akela in the workshed, Lennox and I enjoyed the hospitality of Ruhola's wife Fatima and their daughter Asma, who both truly pampered and spoiled us, and Lennox had great fun with the three sons of Ruhola and Fatima. I utterly enjoyed accompanying Asma to her English lessons at school one day.
Lennox and I were allowed to chat about our big journey and were bombarded with questions in the end. Thank you, Asma, for taking us along, it was great fun. Thank you also to your whole family – what you did cannot be taken as granted. Even though your dad nearly destroyed our home ;-)!

I assume that Ruhola was quite relieved and happy when we were finally able to leave his workshop after five days, and we were as well. As bad news were flooding us I have nearly forgotten to tell you one of these very bad news.
While we were still weighing up whether to go home or keep travelling, feeling really good the one moment and absolutely miserable the next one, I got a call from the Turkmen embassy telling me that our transit visa applications had been denied. Had I understood everything correctly? Visa declined? Why on Earth?! I wasn't even able to ask for the reason as the caller had already put down the receiver.

Good advice was expensive. How should we be able to stick to our planned route, without crossing this very country of Turkmenistan? More than one rather dangerous route was suggested, among them too risky ones for my taste...paying a driver to take Akela through Turkmenistan, motorail train, drive around the Caspian Sea, or to cross it on a car ferry. In the end Leander actually asked some friends from the armed forces to accompany us when passing through Afghanistan. However, they only asked him whether he had his mind elsewhere ;-). We had to do quite a lot of research until we came to a conclusion which of those above mentioned options would be the best for us.
Worrying about Akela's future and well being apparently had not been enough – we were faced with yet another difficult decision. In the end we chose to take the ferry from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan) via the Caspian Sea. Consequently, instead of heading north to pick up up our transit visa in Mashad, the new route took us to the capital of Azerbaijan and caused a detour of 2000 kilometers.

Due to the passage by ferry, about which we had hardly found any information online, we lost roughly 2 weeks of precious time. This might not sound like a lot when travelling somewhere, but since we had already lost so much time due to repairs which had to be done or at embassies to get visa matters sorted out, we were running out of time and our Uzbek visa had limited validity as well! We regarded Esfahan to be a good location and possibility to have the still necessary repairs on the gear box sorted out.
Driving there was already a practical test for our dear Akela. Should he manage to get us there would be a good sign...equating the critical time spent at the intensive care unit of a hospital after a serious operation. In Esfahan we were welcomed by Babek who from then on provided advice and assistance when necessary. Hashem, which is Babek's correct name, is married to Dagmar, a Slovak woman and speaks German. It took us an entire day to find a garage which was able to adjust the four-wheel drive properly.
On the next day, I think, they also changed the oil pan gasket as Ruhola had worked a bit too carelessly and I am convinced something else was done but I have forgotten as we had so many repairs to be done that I simply couldn't remember them all. Hashem insisted on Lennox and me spending time with Dagmar and their son Benjamin while Akela was worked on at the garage.
We didn't need a second invitation to do so. I got to know Dagmar better, a woman who I instantly liked a lot. I really enjoyed her dry kind of humour and her figurative language, and once saying, for instance, that 'Iranian girls were really pretty yet had a beard like a man', made me laugh. After her time at this garage Akela was supposed to be 'in the starting blocks' again. As we were all yearning for a break we spent a unique day with Hashem and his family in the old part of Esfahan. In their company we felt like being at home.

They were helpful and hospitable and attentive yet not the Iranian exaggerated way but in a very comfortable way. It was good to be able to say 'No, thank you' without having to explain ourselves any further. Presently we can only express our gratitude by saying a big thank you in return to everything you have done for us. But, you always meet twice in life so maybe this will be in New Zealand?

Traveling via Kashan and Qom we set off on our long drive towards Azerbaijan. We had been able to apply for the visa online and consequently had them within 24 hours. In Kashwin, a small city close the Caspian seashore we stopped once more at a garage where the gasket of the transfer box were changed and the by now black gear oil was exchanged.
Not far from the border to Azerbaijan we found after weeks a nice place to stay in a forest. This is where we wanted to end our time in the Iran. It was very relaxing to stop next to a river, eating Viennese schnitzel and making a campfire afterwards. Still in Iran we thought to be on the safe side regarding repairs on Akela. In the upcoming countries such as Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan in the central Asian area we didn't want to dare looking for mechanics let alone spare parts.

Worksheds, no matter if they were small worksheds and one-man operations or big garages in back yards all looked similar in a way, also equipped with similar few tools. At times they didn't have a proper car jack to lift our weighty giant. In Iran we had an incredible amount of repairs, yet none of them were really keeping us going for a long time which made us stop once again after only few kilometers and have more fixed and repaired.
Well, in a way this was a bit like at home ;-) This fact, however, demotivated us at a great deal and didn't help our moods either. If a seal was leaking it got exchanged yet no particular attention was given to anything else which might have a problem. When the new gear box was mounted it wasn't regarded as necessary to change the oil or exchange old seals...all of this cost extra time as the repairs weren't done in one go but bit by bit and this cost a hell lot of time, nerves and fees – about twice as much as if done differently.
As everything which was possible had been replaced or exchanged or repaired on Akela, after two days we set off and drove our final kilometers on Iranian ground. The north looked completely different to us. The road led us through thousand kilometers of desert terrain and dried up valleys. Shortly before arriving at the border to Azerbaijan the landscape was green and lush and welcomed us with fertile fields. We saw ricefields next to the road and the temperatures slowly became more bearable.

We were steering towards the port city of Astara, which was located exactly on the border to Azerbaijan. After spending more than six weeks in a desert state we were looking forward to new countries and encounters. We don't want to miss out on the experiences we have made in the Iran, but they remain in our minds as something like a love - hate situation.

Comments (2)

  1. Christian
    Christian at 11.07.2017
    na das liest sich ja wie die reise des odysseus ;-)... dank für die netten berichte, die trotz aller strapazen sehr viel witz haben und eure lebensfreude ausstrahlen... und bekanntlich wächst man ja mit seinen aufgaben:-) vieles erinnert mich an meine eigenen abendteuer und was da so alles passiert ist! also aufgeben tut man einen brief... ich wünsch euch alles gute und warte auf viele schöne bilder und neu geschichten... inschallah "alles wird gut"
    DANKE
    www.mehrzeitfueruns.com
  2. Maria Zehentner
    Maria Zehentner at 13.07.2017
    Hallo Christian,
    vielen Dank für deine netten Worte. Es freut mich immer zu hören, wenn jemand meine Berichte liest. Denn die meisten machen sich nicht die Mühe und schreiben halt schnell mal auf Whatsup oder FB um zu erfahren wie es läuft. Du hast recht, aufgeben tut man einen Brief. Allerdings rasselt die Motivation schon gelegentlich in den Keller, und läßt uns kurz daran denken alles hinzuwerfen. Doch wir treffen so viele hilfsbereite und nette Menschen auf unserer Reise, und auch Kommentare wie deiner helfen ungemein, die Flinte wieder aus dem Korn zu nehmen und erneut durchzustarten. Ich hoffe, du bleibst weiter an unserer Geschichte dran.
    Viele liebe Grüße an dich
    Maria

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