Iran, here we are! I’ve been dreaming about you. I was both really excited and quite nervous at the same time to finally meet you. How would it be, to enter yet such a new and different world? Would we be able to adapt to the strict codes of behavior and way of clothing. I have to admit that I was a little afraid of getting stoned when I accidentally touched another man. And how would political instability and Trumps’ magniloquence influence our journey? As it appeared, there was no need to fear, we weren’t sentenced to death nor was I caught by the moral police for flashing a little too much of my ankle. No need to fear at all. Iran and it’s people have amazed us limitless.
Out of the endless flat emptiness from Azerbaijan we already saw Iran rise from far. Mountains. The border was clearly geographically determined. We expected some hassle, it would be the first country in which we had to use our Carnet de Passage. It appeared that getting out of Azerbaijan was already quite some work. I had to drive back to redo the photo of the Tenere 3 times, my luggage was closely inspected by a dog, and when we nearly went out the gate we discovered Ruben had no exit stamp yet. But we received cake and tea, so everything was just fine. Getting in to Iran. It was all extra exciting because there used to be a ban for motorcycles over 250cc. This was officially lifted just a few weeks before but we read that some of the authorities were not aware of that yet. Luckily, there was no problem at all. As soon as we went through the gate, two soldiers happily received us and asked to see our luggage. An x-ray wouldn’t have done a better job. Everything was taken out. Our saw was inspected and with a warning look put back again. My pepper spray was found, and when I had to admit it was meant for some annoying persons’ eyes, the guy glanced at his colleague, who wasn’t looking and quickly stuffed it back. I don’t believe they would have found the Hebrew inscriptions on a part of my ring, but I’m glad it adorns my mom’s finger now. When they were nearly done he took out my wallet, inspected the photos and took out all my passes. Opening the last part he found something truly dangerous. He took the small white rocket shaped wrapped piece of something between his fingers. What on earth would this be?! This was a task for two, and jointly they inspected it closely. I couldn’t help but chuckle. How was I going to explain what I needed that for, to two people that barely mastered any English and in a country where it probably was not much appreciated to make vulgar gestures. But after a little while they understood and he nearly dropped it. It was my tampon. A little ashamed he stuffed it back and I was allowed to take it with me. The further border crossing took a while, but went smooth. People were extremely friendly and helpful, as it would be in the whole of Iran. Filling in the Carnet took long, but worked. When asking around for an insurance people looked at us weird. But you have a Carnet the passage, no need for insurance! Well, we’d see about that. It wasn’t long after that the gates to Iran truly opened up for us.
The kickoff in this country had some rough edges though. On a journey like the one we are making I believe it is quite impossible to be prepared for everything, to know everything there is to know about all the areas we visit. Regardless of how much preparation you took. At some point, you just have to dive in, go for it. And so we did. We expected to be prepared for the end of the world with all our money safely available on our MasterCards, Visa, American Express and Meastros. Not realizing that the bans restricting Iran would also restrict us. For many years already not a single foreign card is accepted here. Money cannot be transferred from and to the country, and something like Western Union therefore is simply non-existing. At the first try to get some cash from an ATM a small voice in my head said that maybe this isn’t possible at all. But I ignored it gratefully. Our tanks were still filled with some benzine and our pannier with food and water. We’d be fine for a while without money. So off we went, to find a lovely spot as perfect introduction to this amazing country. On softly curved hills, overseeing the wide and mountainous area with here and there a small village, lighting up like candles at night, we had the pleasure to set up our house just for this night.
Yet when we continued to our first big city, Ardabil, the not getting any more money started to work on my nerves. So did the murderous traffic, but I’ll come back to that later. We figured that no bank was able to do anything with any of our cards. We even went to the head offices, but without much luck. When asking for advice on the ever-present internet people told us to go to carpet sellers, exchange offices, jewelers, and so we did, but nothing helped us further. Our last option was large hotels, and there, due to an immensely friendly employee and her colleague who, just like Ruben, owned bitcoin, our asses were saved. What do I have to do without Ruben by my side… We also ordered a Mah Card, a debit card designed for tourists on which you can put money with your…. credit card! Yeah! That got delivered faster than expected, the day after our payment we had mail in our hotel. Thank god. With only the €150 emergency money hidden in our bikes we found it a little too exciting to rush our way through Iran. It is one thing to be homeless, also being penniless feels very uncomfortable, I can tell. So a little piece of advice for when you intent to visit Iran (which you should!) and would like to keep your heart going on for some extra years: bring cash 💰💰, loads of it!
Since the benzine is ridiculously cheap, less than €0,10 per liter (Cas you were quite accurate with your donation run for €2 to fill up our tanks!), and our visa allow us to stay for 30 days we decided to wander around a bit. We sticked to the north-east part (called South Azerbaijan, according to locals) for a while. Visiting another salt lake did sound like a proper plan. So we did, and while the sky painted itself by Rubens favorite color, sunset-orange, we put up our tent. Not after Ruben got its bike stuck in the sand, of course. Well, even he has his flaws, and luckily the KTM is light enough to pull it out ourselves. The night had more for us in mind.. When we’d been asleep for quite a few hours I was woken up by Ruben nervously moving around. And by the wind, that was howling, pulling and pushing our tent in all possible stretches. I discovered I felt stuff in my ears, in my hair, my sleeping bag, on my face. It was super fine sand, and with every gust of wind more of it came rushing through our tent mesh. I thought it was a very good idea to go back to sleep. Something I tend to think more often when it’s the middle of the night, regardless of the circumstances. Ruben, however, was convinced we had to do something. And as more sand arrived and more of our tent pegs were pulled out I started to believe he was right. We decided we had to leave, in the pitch dark, 2:00 at night. We covered our faces with cloths, opened our eyes just the bare minimum to peak through, to avoid all the sand coming into it. Quickly we packed everything. All the sand would be a worry for later. Putting up our helmets was something we should have done earlier, what a relief. Under the stars we found our way to the next city, Urmia. In Urmia we discovered that either night guards of hotels are too lazy to take in new guests or all hotels were really full. I still don’t know which one it was. We could get one suite for way too much money and one hotel said that a room would be available from 10.00 that morning. 6 long hours of waiting wasn’t very appealing. So we went to all 20 other hotels we could find, to discover what I said before. Waiting it was.
Iran is fascinating, in every imaginable way. We discovered many of the bazaars of the cities. Walking through them enchants all the senses. The smell of all the herbs, the soft touch of the carpets looking like real life pictures, the beautiful people, covered up women, and their eyes in all shades of green, brown and amber. It is remarkable that while the country has an image of inequality between men and women, I felt respected, safe, even when I was on my own, and even more so than back home. No unwanted eyes resting on my body, no vulgar whispering or denigrating whistling. Only short curious peaks, and people who wanted to help in every possible way. The people of Iran aren’t only beautiful, they are famous for their sense of hospitality. So we experienced, innumerable times. Once we found a spot on a free picnic/camping area and we were immediately invited for tea. After we set up our tent we went over, to be received like kings (we had to sit on the only 2 chairs, and received basically everything they had available) by a large group of cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. They came together every second week, to play games, drink tea, dance their local dance, eat fruit and talk. I think it is inspiring to see what role family plays here, and felt kind of ashamed that I, if even, see all my cousins, uncles and aunts only once a year, on New Year’s Day. How did we stray so far from the people that form our roots? What are the results of a society in which we are so isolated? Says the girl who intends to move to the other side of the world, I know… Let’s say, I just hope to learn as much as I can from all these lessons.
There is only one thing the Iranians mutually seem to not like about themselves. It is their noses. I think I do not exaggerate when I say that we’ve seen at least a hundred people with white bandages on their noses. Apparently they are famous for their nose surgery, we’ve even been told that people just put some bandage on their nose to pretend like they’ve had the surgery done. Wow.
There is one single thing I simply hate about the country. It’s traffic. My poor helmet hadn’t had to absorb so much swearing before. Though honestly, even that is fascinating. We, for the first time this trip, ran into a new group-mode of transportation. A scooter. You can put complete families on them, you know. Or three guys, that apparently don’t find that any reduction on their masculine image. Big, I’d nearly say real, motorbikes don’t exist here, or only for the rich few who can buy someone in the government off. Scooters up to 250cc, are all over the place, literally. They behave like maniacs, racing through the lines of cars, passing on all possible (and impossible) sides, while calling, rearranging their bags, holding their chickens, etc. And since big bikes don’t exist, cars behave towards us like they behave towards scooters. Like we’re non-existing. Cars are also interesting. There are some blue kind of pick-up cars here, mostly used instead of trucks. You can stuff cows on them, nearly a hundred sheep, bales of hey or bags of goods up to 7m high. I was often quite scared to overtake those things, as I only expected them to tumble over in the first curve they made. But some general rules. A two lane way is of course at least a three lane way, preferably four. Because why shouldn’t you use the emergency lane and the space in between those big two lanes?! If the lanes are marked at all, surely. The most used sense when entering or exiting a (high) way is the one of luck, eyes are not that important. Roundabouts, well they are real places of suicide. Imagine no road markings, no rules of who goes first, everyone driving and calling/eating, and use the lane as I explained. I felt so relieved when we finally were able to obtain an insurance in Tabriz. Especially since we know that you are put behind bars when you’re involved in an accident and have no insurance, at least until they figure out who’s fault it was.
But despite the traffic we love the country. So much that we even decided that 30 days wouldn’t be enough. We figured a visa extension is possible, for only €2. To buy ourselves a little more time to discover it all, have a little less feeling of rush. So off we went, from our couchsurf address in Isfahan, through the crazy traffic (in a cab this time, we prefer not to risk our bikes and lives too much, as we haven’t been avoiding large cities like Tehran for no reason) to the immigration police. After I got some beautiful photos of my egg-shaped head with scarf we dived into the chaos of an Iranian official instance. Luckily some officer picked us out of a line quickly, to guide us to the correct counter. Ruben handed over his passport and visa, the guy barely glanced at it and shouted out: but mister, you have time! Indeed, we have two weeks left, and we read about the unwritten rules that visa are only extended when they expire in a few days. We tried to explain that traveling by motorbike isn’t a fast way of traveling, and that we didn’t want to risk it to hang around for too long and not get it extended, nor did we want to extend it at the border, since there is no use in that. He kind of understood, but his over-stressed manager with a 100 demanding people in front of his desk didn’t. Denied. Regardless of our formal and informal objections. So our time in Iran is determined. We’ll leave in less than two weeks, to cross to Pakistan, where the first 800km we will be guided by an obligatory police escort. But you know what, that guy was right. We have time, we do have all the time in the world, to go and explore all this beauty. And just how lucky does that make us ❤️