November 08, 2009 GMT
Out of Turkey and into Iran

So where were we? Ah yes, Van. Rainy Van... so after spending 5 nights in a tent under periodic heavy rainfall (quite romantic)


while being attacked by blood-sucking insects of all kinds (not so romantic), pushing my luck by carrying 3 eggs in rainy weather at night


and in general living on the edge by ignoring the old adage that says that the combination motorcycle-rain-night is equivalent to that of Christian-Roman arena-lions, I decided I've had it and checked into Aslan Hotel in Van - this doubled my accommodation cost but slashed my exposure to insects/rain and the 50km a day I was doing from/to the campsite.

The next day I visited the not-so-glorious Van castle

Van Kalesi (Castle)

where I had ample time to contemplate how to deal with extremely cute and obviously poor children begging for money


The view of Van from the castle is quite nice - remember this lake & city are at an altitude of 1600m, so the snowy mountain behind it should be no surprise


Around the castle the landscape is quite interesting... the land around it appears to me to have been the old bottom of the lake, but what are these mosque remains doing there?


The castle was 4km away from the hotel and that day I had decided I would walk a little bit, but including some early morning exploration (read: got lost again) around Van and the walk around the castle itself, I think I did more than 10km in a single day and, well, I'm getting too old for this.

So on the verge of collapse I dragged my feet back to the hotel, where the owner was expecting me full of smiles. THE package had arrived!


So against my best efforts to screw this up (which included sending them the wrong dimensions for my pannier), the Touratech distributor in Greece (MAKAN) managed to send me a replacement lid for the one that had been ran over by a truck in Cappadocia. Feels strange to have something so... unspoiled on the bike - I feel like I'm riding a whole new bike now!

So I immediately started getting ready for Iran. I tried to take out some $$ to have in Iran, only to cringe at the sight of an ATM rebooting, uncovering that it's running on a very slow PC with Windows XP (!!) and being told by bank staff that it would take about 15 minutes for the ATM to be operational again...


I took a couple of shots of my old destroyed lid, just to have something to show to the can-fix-anything smartassess

and proceeded to leave it behind and replace it with the new sparkling lid


Quite early next morning I left Van - it was so good to be on the road again that I started riding without gloves and of course had to stop after 2 minutes and dress properly. I took the road north to Dogubayazit, which, well, got a bit interesting as it took me through passes as high as 2660m.


Luckily the trucks had opened a track with no snow and I used that for the 2-3km of snowy tarmac, after which the road descended to a warmer & drier level.

Dogubayazit is famous for being the last stop in Turkey before the Bazargan border crossing to Iran, but also for its quite magnificent Ishak Pasha Serayi


This place must have been a true oasis to protect travelers from the elements. An acropolis of sorts, an independent mini-community perched high up on the mountain, just across Mnt. Ararat.

Incidentally, here is the story of the conquest of Mnt. Ararat: (click on image & select "all sizes" above the image to read the story


After spending the night in a freezing room of Murat Camping (what do you mean "heating"?) and meeting a lovely family of 4 who has been on the road with a camper van for 5 years, I left for the border around 6:30 in the morning.


The way to the border with what might be Ararat in the background


After changing my Turkish Liras to Iranian Rials and being "helped" by various people at both borders, a procedure that took roughly 3 hours and involved uncovering incognito officials with stamps in their pockets that I needed to legally cross borders, I was in Iran!

First impressions: Who is that dude in the big picture that looks like Homeini but isn't him? Phew, the border people here are much more professional/organised/friendly than on the Turkish side and they make me feel at ease. Everything gets sorted out quickly and rather efficiently, to the point where I am again under the impression I'm receiving a special treatment for some reason.

Nobody searches me or the bike, they don't even look at it, just do the whole stamp/signature parade and you're done. With the exception of a "helper" who very annoyingly insisted I provide "bachtsis" (i.e. under-the-table money) to a guy who was holding one of the last stamps I needed (no big deal, as the amount was 20,000 IRR which would be 1,3 EUR, but still it's the principle of tourist fleecing that is annoying), everyone is quite efficient and polite.

The clock jumps 1,5 hours ahead to GMT +3:30 and all of a sudden it's noon and I'm hungry! Stop 2 km out of Bazargan for stuffed vine leaves & divine bread break. Oh, bliss...

Then ride to Tabriz in one go, with only a short "rest" (i.e. bathroom) break (hang on, is that why they call toilets "restrooms" in the States? hmmm) till I reach the quite frantic, somewhat chaotic city of Tabriz

I follow a GPS waypoint I have from the fantastic work of Ulrich, a fellow HU member. It's very calming to be in a city you know nothing about and to have a GPS waypoint that at least gives you something to start with. So, many thanks to Ulrich and everyone who contributed to this effort.

Following the dot on the GPS (while trying not to be ran over by the FRANTIC traffic) takes me to a hotel that charges 300,000 IRR for a room, by the time I work out how much money this really is I get told in a conspiratory whisper by the reception staff that there are hotels more appropriate for me and much cheaper around the corner, so I do go around the corner and find a room for 70,000 IRR:


It's simply perfect - only detail that's slightly annoying to uncover the next morning is that I find some bugs on the bed, but they all seem to have been squashed by the biggest bug there (me), so the laws of nature (survival of heaviest) have applied and all's well.

Too much happens in Tabriz to write about it now. Suffice it to say I am daily stupefied by the kindness of the people here. And I do mean every word of this last sentence.

Bye for now, got to un-glue myself from the computer and see Tabriz!

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at November 08, 2009 01:54 PM GMT

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