Just a quick update – sorry for no posts but thought it was best not to whilst in Iran so a few will follow in the next few days. We are now in Dubai after making a decision not to travel through Pakistan, which we will explain in a later post.
Friday 21 June – A little nervous about the day ahead we woke at 05.00am to thunderstorms and rain, by the time we got out of bed we thought they were clearing, but a huge grey cloud was lingering.
Before we left, we used the last opportunity to draw cash as no ATM’s between here and India. Just across from the ATM there is a house on fire with billowing black smoke rising from the roof, no-one seems to care and just go about their business likes it’s an everyday occurrence, which it probably is in this town.
The ride to the border is less than 50km but its chucking it down and large cracks of thunder bolt though the black skies. Not too short of the border we pass two dead cows sprawled across the road that had just been hit by a car. The entire front bonnet had been ripped off from the impact but the driver seemed ok. It was quite disturbing to ride though the blood pouring from the animals, but a stark reminder of the hazards. I doubt we’d fair so well if we hit a cow.
At the border gate we were met by two very unofficial guys not in uniform directed us. Turkish side was quick, firstly we were stamped out, then the bike at a separate booth. The Iran gates were initially closed, so we were waiting in the rain. A Kurdish man crossing the border who spoke English offered us a seat in his transit van and subsequently became our translator. Telling us what documents were required, answering the Iranian officials questions directed to us and showing us on where to go.
At the gates a military man was searching cars, I was not looking forward to opening the boxes and unpacking, especially in the rain but he just looked at our passports and checked for visa and directed us on – no search needed.
Sorting out the papers on the Iranian side took forever. We ran around to alot of different officials getting photocopies, passports checked, stamped & carnet filled in, all the time never really knowing what was going on. During this we’d already been asked twice if we needed currency from two fixers.
A mini Italian look-a-like got involved at one point and we get taken back to the carnet official. They say our visa is only valid for 4 more days, although we were clearly told we had until the 25 June to enter and from the date of entry we had 20 days to stay in Iran. Seriously consider turning back at this stage, as there is no UK consulate in Iran and we’d never make it across in 4 days.
Another lady crossing the border assists in translation and suggests if we have dollar no problem – bribe the officials. We mime handcuffs suggesting its illegal and we can get arrested. The crowd that has formed, including customers officials, think its hilarious and say ‘no, no, no problem’ They suggest we go to the passport office in Tabriz to extend, so we will.
Next hurdle was to sort insurance 1km down the road. After 20 minutes Paul emerged but with no insurance, he headed back to customs official to ask about visa with a fixer. Meanwhile, i wait with the insurance guys. Firstly, i’m brought tea, then they start laying the table for lunch. The elderly man brought out some bread and what i thought was butter but was actually soft cheese then indicated for me to help myself, i said thankyou and shook my head, but he was insistent i ate.
When Paul returned I was tucking in, it wasn’t the news we hoped for, the 2nd opinion was we’d have to go the passport office and pay to extend, ridiculous money has now been spent to be in this country. The insurance guys then brought out shakshuka – a tomato and egg dish which was delicious, every time we stopped eating, the old man gestured we keep eating. We’re conscious of the time though, it’s now 1hr30 ahead of turkey and we spent 2 hours at the border and we still have 300km to drive to Tabriz.
All in all the border crossing from Turkey to Iran was fairly hassle free, with the exception of the misinterpretation of our visa. It’s just alot of processes and offices for stamps. The “fixers” were not too aggressive, i got asked to prove i had the currency that was as far as it went, and we appreciated their English as the officials only speak Turkish or Farsi. We even got more for our money than expected from an Arnold Schwarzenegger look a like who greeted us with a ‘welcome to my country’
First petrol stop in Iran cost less than £3 for half a tank. The towns have not improved from Dogubeyazit , the buildings look like something out of a spaghetti western as they’re square in shape but really dilapidated and there are speed bumps everywhere. Mix those with insane driving where no rules apply and it doesn’t make for the most relaxing drive.
As the smallest vehicle on the road we are continuously sandwiched by cars/lorries fighting for a gap to get ahead. On numerous occasions we’re run off the road, which wouldn’t be to bad if the hard should wasn’t occupied by a car undertaking. Road markings might as well not exist as they are not abided by and 2 two lanes means four lanes of traffic will be created. Paul’s hazard perception needs to be exaggerated by a million 100% to drive here. We were expecting it to be fairly bad as it has the 3rd highest RTA death rate in the world and to back this up we have seen 3 accidents already.
The saving grace of the crazy driving is the people, everyone beeps, waves, shouts hello and pulls alongside to ask where we’re from – our response is now Ireland to avoid any awkward moments. Everyone loves the Irish plus a street in Terhan was changed from Winston Churchill St to Bobby Sands St in honour and support of the IRA’s battle for freedom from the UK.
The horrid little towns make the first impressions of Iran abit glum, but soon we drive though the lush green snow capped mountains again. After a short while the snow retreated and the landscape changed quite dramatically to become dominated by maroon, green and soft grey slanted sediment rock faces. The thunderstorms and rain however is relentless today, and we hope for clear skies when we descend. The landscape flattens on the approach to Tabriz, but now soaking wet though and 19.00 in the evening we are keen to find somewhere to stay in this huge city. On the outskirts people are picnicking/camping by the side of the road everywhere even though weather is atrocious.
Once in the centre we couldn’t find a hotel after an hour, so pulled over to a group of giggling 20 something’s to ask for directions. Originally no-one speaks English and they can’t understand what I’m trying to say in Farsi. A girls gets dropped off next to us and they get her to translate, she offers to take us to a hotel if we wait an hour but it was 20.00 already and starting to get dark, plus we’re soaking wet and have the shivers so keen to get somewhere so we set off on our own with brief directions.
After another hour passes and no hotel in sight we pulled over again and this time a man pulled up beside us said ‘hotel?’ then gestured we follow him and he led us directly to one, waved and drove off. He wanted nothing, just pure kindness.
The first hotel is full and its my first encounter with trying to get the price. At first i’m ignored and only when Paul comes in do they acknowledge my question. We try ‘Hotel Iran’ next door. Not great, costs $26, has a shared bathroom and on seeing our passports they become less friendly. As we’re unloading, a cyclist pulls up. He’s Iranian is riding back to Tehran after a two month tour around the country.
By the time we unloaded it was 10.00 at night and completely knackered so didn’t even want to go and explore the UNESCO listed Bazaar we’d hoped to see. It’s now gone through both our minds about what the hell are we doing in Iran and it’s a tense time. Especially considering the extra stress the uncertainty surrounding the visa is creating. All the doom stories rattle in our minds about British citizens being arbitrarily detained by Iranian authorities, sometimes for months with no access to consular support. Maybe the dead cow was a sign this morning. It’s not been a great day all in all. Iran was the place i was looking forward to the most so i’m holding out for tomorrow.