Thursday 20 June 2013 – Before we left Erzurum we made a plan of where to stash all the dollars we’ve drawn due to the inability for foreigners to use ATMs/banks in Iran and Pakistan. After a bit of research we discover the Iranian currency is extremely confusing, there is an ‘Official’ exchange rate which is less than a third of the ‘Blackmarket’ rate. In preparation for the border, where we know there are touts scouring to change dollars/euros, we worked out how much roughly we should be getting for our money as who knows what the rate will be today.
The weather was ok when we were leaving Erzurum, but still very cold. The road to Dogubeyazit is in perfect condition and climbed even higher. We passed through mountains and canyons of ragged rock formations and then green rolling hills. It’s about 2,500 metres above sea level and there is snow capped mountains in the distance, there’s a gloomy cloud hovering which we hoped would clear.
The surrounding area has now definitely become more desolate and feels further away from the civilisation we are familiar with. As we’re driving on a flat stretch two bikes over take us, one German & one Belgium. We spoke very briefly at the traffic lights and they whizz off, they’re heading to Iran too so we figured we’d probably see them in the next town.
We stopped for lunch at a petrol station in Agri, which looks like a town that lost all it’s funding after the first two buildings were finished. However next door was a fancy 4* hotel in amongst all the decrepit buildings, odd, not sure who stays there as there was nothing in the surrounding area.
We bought some chocolate cake and cay and just as we sat down to indulge, a large black jeep pulled up and two sharply dress man hopped out with a brutish style security man equivalent to the ‘Turkish Mafia’ if there is such a thing. The guy in the suit was saying ‘come, come’ indicating towards the rear of the petrol station. Paul hesitantly followed and was seated in what appeared to be the adjacent hotels staff canteen.
He was Insistent that we joined them, we tried to decline as we felt a little freaked by being bundled into a room behind a petrol station, plus the bike was out of view. It was all a bit weird and felt a little uncomfortable.
We shouldn’t have really been so hesitant and distrusting though as everyone quickly scattered to clean the table and make room for us and we were promptly served a meal of chicken drumsticks, salad and rice, a little awkward when I’m a vegetarian, so I just left it, explained and was then offered more salad. The hotel manager joined us and asked the usual questions where are we from, where are we going etc. Wondering what just happened and why they just fed two strangers, we got on our way.
The road doesn’t change much in terms of scenery, it remains cold and starts to rain. The further we drive to the border the more decrepit the housing became and the use of blue tarpaulin more common as construction material.
Once Mount Ararat was just about in view we knew we didn’t have far, it was a shame though as the weather meant the clouds were low and we couldn’t see the full scale. Dogabeyazit is an undesirable muddy border town. Lots of rubbish, stray dogs, children begging at traffic lights and scowering through the sewage tunnels. Its really a sprawling truckers stop, with articulated lorries lining the main road.
Whilst we waiting to turn at traffic lights a small huddle of children were standing by the side of the road, one little girl stood behind the boys then just before the lights changed the tiny girl took it one step further and started to walk towards the lorry and was looked like she was going to walk straight underneath – she was very close, thankfully one of the boys ran out and pulled her back.
Nothing really to see in the town so we try to learn a little Farsi in our edge of town hotel,that had pretty good views of Mount Ararat.