Iran is big. Really, really big. Bigger than the UK, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France and Switzerland put together. Three times the size of France and one fifth the size of the US. Get the picture? It's big.
We left Lake Van and headed North through the Kurdish mountains to the border town of Dogubayazit. Both the weather and scenery was beautiful - although the temperature dropped and we did have a small rain shower crossing one of the higer summits just to remind us of home. More village kids hurled bits of roadside furniture at us with a worrying improvements in accuracy. One semi-professional female shot putter of at least 6 years old lobbed what can only be described as an extinction level event meteorite at Adrian's front wheel - forcing him to slow down for at least the second time that day. Strangely, after they had finished lobbing building materials at whoever was leading at the time, they quite often waved at the second bike. Adrian developed the tactic of serving violently at the kids as they ran towards the road, which seemed to terrify them and delight them in equal measure and elicited more waves than boulders.
We passed the hundreds of petrol stations selling smuggled Iranian fuel that surround Dogubayazit and headed for Murat Camping - this is the traditional staging point for overlanders crossing the border into and out of Iran. Halfway up a mountain, for £1.20 a night you get the most incredible views and the opportunity to share a beer or two with other travelling folk. After listening to music from a traditional kuridsh duo over dinner (complete with Korg synthesiser), we picked up some useful info. from a French couple who had just spent a month touring Iran. We decided to stay one more night before crossing into Iran and killed a day looking around the town and exploring the mountains - but not the Pacha's Palace (which we were too tight fisted to pay to enter). That evening proved interesting as we planned how to improve the world with an East German guy called Henrik and a Kiwi chap named Kev. Henrik seemed to be concerned about how the world was being affected by capitalism and the media whilst Adrian and I just wanted to fit air filters to all the lorries so that we didn't have to breathe so much black smoke. As we headed off to the border the next day, we passed an enormous Turkish army exercise taking place along the main road. There was a seriously large amount of tanks and other hardware which we would love to have photographed for you, but....
The queue of lorries waiting to get into Iran was four and a half miles long - apparently taking 5 days to get through. The drivers were all camped out along the road in the baking heat, patiently waiting their turn whilst eating water melons. Fortunately, we tourists went straight to the head of the queue where we visited a total of 5 different offices in 2 hours before we could official 'leave' Turkey. Only to discover that the man who stood at the gate had gone too lunch - so we baked in the midday sun for another half hour with a couple of chaps from Azerbajaan. As we rolled the bikes into Iran, I was relieved of my 'nice' pen by the gate man and then we were welcomed to Iran with a smile and a handshake. The entry paperwork took only an hour and the friendly disposition of the officials was in marked contrast to the surly nature of the Turkish. The all important carnet documents were checked, stamped and we weren't hassled, questioned or searched in any way.
Shortly after leaving the Iranian border town of Bazergan we lost the signs to our stopover destination - Tabriz. As we stopped to ask directions from a chap who turned out to be the english teacher at the local english centre, we watched a car gracefully clip the kerb and turn completely turtle. We think that the unfortunate driver who stood staring at the wreck of his Hillman Hunter had been previously staring at Adrian and I in his mirror when he should have been watching the road. Talking of Hillman Hunters, this country must have been sold the entire production facility for Hunter and Avengers as the place is full of them. Not just one or two but 99% of all vehicles are Hunters and the remaining 1% Avengers. And in that god-awful original light blue, cream or mustard green. All of them flat out, everywhere and loaded with smiling, beeping and waving Iranians. Everybody waves at us, beeps at us, calls at us, wants to know how we're doing, where we're from and wishes us welcome to Iran. It's astonishing that the overtaking lorry drivers coming the other way that force us into the gutter, flash their headlights and wave cheerily as they do so. Hotel staff want to photograph us, and us to photograph them. People even come and knock on the door of our hotel room and ask us sign their book of foreign visitors.
Feeling like beings from another planet, we rode into Tarbriz and to the Hotel Mouramid where the staff helped us park the bikes in the marble floored lobby and then lent us enough Ryalls to buy dinner - as we hadn't changed any money yet. We ate very well that night for a total of $6 and after the meal were approached by two generations of English teachers, also out for a meal, who generously offered us any help that we might need during our short stay in Tabriz. This is one friendly country, but we have been warned to take care during the later desert phase of our trip...
On the Friday, after changing some money on the black market with the help of the chap from the Tourist Information office, we over-ambitiously headed for the town of Hamadan. But boy was it hot by the time we set off. In the heavy traffic, it was difficult to keep up any kind of pace and when we reached a stretch of nice, clear motorway, we were stopped almost immediately by the police. They politely informed us that bikes weren't permitted on the motorway but realised that there was no way off it until we had reached our destination. So they just disappeared at high speed and left us to it. In the end we gave up the ghost and pulled into a brand new motel some 150 miles short of our destination.
We set off early the next morning to avoid the midday heat and easily covered the remaining distance to Hamadan by lunch time. But we had screwed up as there still wasn't time to visit the spectacular underground lakes of Ali Sadr. This meant that we would have to kill the afternoon in Hamadan, visit the lakes the next morning which wouldn't leave enough time to cover the 300 miles to our next stop of Esfahan. Problems, problems, problems.
We are keeping tabs on the world service re. the political situation and may be meeting up with three other guys on bikes in Iran if we feel the need for more security when we reach Pakistan.
And by the way, it cost $5 for over 60 litres of fuel.Posted by Sean Kelly at September 30, 2002 07:51 PM GMT
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