After seeing the Pink Mosque, my guide Mehdi and I returned to El Guapo. He started up normally, I put it in reverse and started to back out of my parking space. Suddenly, the air con stopped working, which immediately caused me concern, as in past experience this has always been the first sign of a serious electrical fault.
More signs of trouble soon appeared. The alternator light came on. The tire pressure monitoring system screen went dark. Nonetheless, the vehicle was still running, so somewhat against my better judgement, we continued to our next stop, the former hammam, or bath house. I didn’t learn so until we toured this facility that Reza Pahlavi Shah ordered all the hammams in Iran closed some 85 years ago, as he considered them a sign of backwardness. This one was preserved as a museum.
I pulled into a car park and thoughtlessly turned off the ignition. I tried to start again. As I expected, nothing. Fortunately, Shiraz is Mehdi’s home town, and he knew plenty of people. A mechanic was contacted. He would meet us in an hour’s time, after we finished the bath house tour.
When we returned to the vehicle, he was waiting. Although I explained it was a waste of time, we tried jump starting the vehicle. Nothing. I dug out my multi-meter and checked both batteries. 12,6 volts from each. Not the problem. The mechanic suggested we swap out the battery and drive to a garage. Again I explained it was a waste of time, but again I was ignored. A friend of Mehdi’s would bring a fully charged battery. In the meantime, we had some lunch and then went to see the nearby castle.
Mehdi’s friend was waiting when we returned. Again I showed him that the batteries were charged. ”Try it anyway” they said. Doing so is not so easy with El Guapo, as he is outfitted with a dual battery system. First, remove the driver’s seat and open the battery compartment. Remove the terminals from both positive battery posts. Remove the terminals from the negative battery posts. Remove the two bolts that secure the batteries into place. Carefully slide out the bracket without shorting out either of the batteries. Remove the leisure battery. Slide the starter battery forward and remove it. Drop the new battery (actually, it was an ancient, filthy, acid-leaking mess, but it was fully charged) into place. Connect the terminals. Demonstrate that the vehicle still will not start. Take momentary satisfaction from the ”I told you so” moment. Then painstakingly reverse the procedure. Now you have wasted a full hour in the hot Shiraz sun, but now Mehdi is persuaded he needs to call a tow truck.
The tow truck arrived shortly and we followed it through Shiraz traffic to a garage on the outskirts of town. The mechanic there quickly confirmed what I had been saying all along — burnt out starter motor, a motor which in fact I had just had installed less than a month earlier when the previous one failed in a similar manner. Clearly some underlying problem was causing El Guapo’s starter motor’s to burn out, but I had no idea what. A vehicle electrician was summoned from another garage. They couldn’t figure out how to remove the starter motor, which is buried deep in the engine bay and not easily accessible. They insisted it would need to come out through the top, which would necessitate dismantling the diesel injection system. I knew this not to be the case, and told them to remove it from below. They couldn’t manage it, and it was getting late. I had the entire workshop manual for the vehicle on my laptop, but it was back at the hotel. We agree to return early the next morning to deal with it.
The driver and Mehdi collected me from the hotel, with laptop in hand, early the next morning. We headed back to the garage. We decided to have the vehicle towed again, this time to the electrician’s garage. Mehdi found a flat-bed, and soon we were unloading the vehicle at the other garage. No sooner did we finish, however, than Mehdi finished a phone call and told us he had found a better mechanic. El Guapo went back on the flat-bed and we all headed to the third garage.
We left El Guapo with the mechanic and headed to the Necropolis and Persepolis to do some sightseeing. The Necropolis tombs, which included Xerxes and Darius, were carved into living rock in the style of Petra. Nearby was a curious, cube-shaped stone temple of apparently unknown purpose and origin. This one was in almost perfect condition, and we saw another similar but half-ruined one the next day at Pasargad. Both were reminiscent of the Ka'aba in Mecca, and I can’t think of any similar structure — a simple stone cube -- anywhere else in the world. My fiancé would no doubt attribute all three to aliens, a theory supported by ancient, pre-Islamic legends that say that the Ka’aba is ”not of this world” and that it was build by ”angels” who came from the sky (some legends say it was the Archangel Gabriel, specifically). I cannot contribute meaningfully to this discussion other than to say it certainly had a very alien feeling about it.
Next was a sight I had been wanting to see for a very long time — Persepolis. But first we had an update from the mechanic. The starter motor was burned out, and nothing could be done to repair it. I would have to find a way to put my hands on a replacement. I had the driver pull over in the shade, and I rang my friends in the parts department at Nene Overland in the U.K. No, they did have a starter on hand. Yes, they could get one next day. Shipping to Iran? Not sure — would have to check with TNT. An email came through a few minutes later — no problem with shipping to Iran. I rang Nene again and gave them my credit card info, and I was promised it would be on its way to me the next day.
The stone carvings on the palaces at Persepolis were in amazing condition — indeed looking very recently carved; this is because for centuries they were buried in the sand until being rediscovered by and excavated under the guidance of the famous German professor and archaelogist Ernest Herzfeld in the 1930s. This had also saved the ruins from intentional destruction by the Arabs in the 8th century, who did demolish what parts of the ruins they knew about. Mehdi was quick to remind me the Arabs would not hesitate to have another go at destroying this site if given half a chance, just as they had done recently at Nineveh in Iraq.
Even before seeing the cubic temple that morning I had been put on the alert for signs of ancient aliens by my fiancé, who had informed me that Persia was a focus of alien activity in ancient times. I am generally skeptical of such theories, but was taken aback when I found a carving that appeared to show helmeted astronauts in one of the palaces (the Mirror Palace).
After our tour we headed back to the mechanic’s workshop, where we were able to observe the remains of the motor brushes for ourselves. For reasons unknown, the mechanic said he was not able to remove the starter motor without first removing the front left mudguard, which in turn could not be removed without de-installing the water pump for the shower system. Not sure why — as I said, this was my third starter motor and it had not been a problem to remove it before. He assured me he could get everything back together again, but I am skeptical. In any event, nothing to be done now except to wait for the new motor to arrive. Or for aliens to intervene somehow.
4 July 2015