It’s the Iran Blog Round-up! Launch Day +11 to Launch Day +14! We paid our first bribes, got handed gifts through the window by Iranians speeding alongside us on the highway, and were asked to pull over countless times for photos and dinner invitations. By far the most fun country I have ever been!
As now is tradition, video Round-up time! Oh and at the end of the blog we are also introducing a new tradition. Travel advice, where we rank countries in a Shakira index! Why Shakira’s? Just keep reading!
We entered Iran near the Bazargan border in Northwest Iran, before heading down towards the partly dried up saltflats of Lake Orumiyeh. View from a distance!
Before we entered the country, however, we were due for our first bribe. The border place was really annoying and full of fixers who were all working together with actual Border Patrol officials. When we entered Iran customs, we were adamant on not handing any of the guys that came up to us our documents. After rejecting at least five, and getting to the actual customs booth with a uniformed guy in it, he told us to give it to the guy in a button-down shirt next to him. We tried valiantly, but didn’t have a choice in the end. The uniformed and non-uniformed people (which clearly outnumbered the actual personnel there) were all close, and we’re 99% sure they’re all in it together and split the money amongst them.
Anyway, from our first booth we walked to and between at least 5 booths for a good thirty to sixty minutes – our supposed customs guy getting into the official booths and intimately conversing with the few in number uniformed personnel – before a Border Patrol official asked us for a hat. We didn’t feel like getting bribed twice so we said no to this ridiculous request. All in all we needed a ton of stamps, forms, car forms, more car forms, until we didn’t really know what was going on anymore. Some British team we met there had already been waiting for more than 4 hours (UK & US citizens need an official guide in Iran). Next thing we know we were all done, said goodbye to our button-down-shirt-wearing friend, only to be replaced by a huge bulky guy escorting us to our car and asking for twenty dollars… Let’s just say the guy probably bench presses three times my bodyweight so we decided to comply. Our first bribe on the trip, not at all as bad as another bribe we’d have to pay when we entered Turkmenistan. Cliffhanger much. Keep reading!
So yea, the border sucked. Horrible atmosphere, shady, greasy, everything you’d expect from an oldschool border. The truckers lining up to get in spanned roughly 10km (not exaggerating), and from some first-hand accounts it would usually take them two to three days to get in.
Once we got into the country itself though… a total 180. By far the most inviting, friendly, and hospitable place I have ever been. By far. Oh and did we already say that gasoline only cost 0.30 dollar per liter? It costs only 0.30 dollar per liter. This sixpack of water costs the same as six liter of gasoline. Can’t script this stuff
Since it requires quite some legal documentation to get a legal clearance to drive a foreign car in Iran (see previous blog entry of us trying to arrange it all), I guess it really is a rarity for most people to see cars without Farsi license plates. Without exaggerating, I think roughly a quarter to half of the cars that we passed or that overtook us waved at us, honked at us, with hand gestures tried to invite us for a drink, and some even gave us food and gifts through the window.
Their enthusiasm was so contagious that we couldn’t help but smile most of the time. Usually we rejected the requests for drinks/photos/whatever because if we agreed to them all, we’d probably be doing like 50km a day max. This one family was so persistent, however, that we decided to pull over. The daughter was rather direct and very much interested in our marital status and was looking intently at our hands to see if we were wearing rings, and the father was one of those jovial figures who laughed at everything his daughter did. We even took a group photo!
Oh and sorry but not sorry for the surfer hair. Just letting it fly in the desert wind. Anyway, the dad was much more happy-looking in person! (see video up top as well). At the end he invited us over for whiskey, but since we still had 200-300km to go that day, we politely declined.
Back to the story. We spent the first night in Tabriz, of which we really didn’t see much because we arrived after dark and left in the morning. We initially convoyed with some other cars before we got to Tabriz, but they were so incredibly slow that at some point we just ditched them and sped off. The cars looked good together though!
The next morning we set out for Tehran, as the cousin of my mom recently moved there for work. I guess that makes him my uncle, sort of, but not really. I have no clue what the name for that family relationship is really, feel free to jump in!
It was good to have an address in Tehran though, because it honestly was just one huge concrete jungle. I believe it has roughly 10 million inhabitants and many more in the metropolitan area, and the smog was just everywhere. The city structure itself reminded me of the typical American city: square blocks, planned out for utilitarian purposes, and A LOT of highways criss-crossing through the city itself. Even one of its most-renown squares with the huge arch was surrounded by a highway. Quick night-time picture of the thing!
No clue what it’s supposed to represent anyway, supposedly something of the shah. If that’s supposed to be him I guess he liked it when people admired his feet or legs? To each his own I guess.
Although we were a bit ambivalent about the city, we had a fantastic stay with Peter. He just moved to Tehran roughly two months before for work, and since the whole legal process was still taking quite a while, most of his furniture was either still being flown in or needed to be legally cleared first before flying in. He did have a kitchen, a hot shower, and airco… pretty much a luxury hotel by our standards anyway! He took us out to his favorite kebab place, we dined near the arch overlooking overlooking the city.
Since we were the first visitors in his new home (aside from locals/co-workers), he made sure to have a mini photoshoot with the car in the morning. We happily complied, and he loved the wheels!
The next morning we set off for just some city in between Tehran and the Turkmenistan border, as the total distance would be way too much for one day of driving. We settled for Gonbad-e-Kavus, in the Golestan province with a largely Turkmen population. Before we arrived though, we decided to do a quick detour to gaze over the Caspian Sea. By far the most ugly coastline I have ever seen, so polluted. And there even appeared to be some touristy activities there. Something I still can’t comprehend. I mean look at this
In Gonbad-e-Kavus, then. We had read beforehand that the town featured a 1000-year old 55-meter high tower, which sounded amazing in writing. Visually though, meehhh….
I’d almost make a sexual reference here but let’s keep this blog PC. If I were a king and needed a mausoleum, that’d be the last design I would ever go for. I’d prefer me some gold and marble, Turkmenistan style. But more of that in the next blog! Teasers, cliffhangers, doing my best here to make sure you guys keep coming back. If I were a Turkmen border officer this would be the time to start begging for donations, but I’m not a Turkmen border officer. Though we both do share a certain lust for power. Donations, though, you know, never hurt. Ka-ching.
Just kidding, I have way too much fun writing these anyway.
We grabbed some food next to the tower, and started talking in some broken English/Turkmen combo with the guys who ran the food place. One guy, 23 years of age, showed us a photo of his girlfriend and said he’d get married in a month, we showed some photos of our family, they explained us the town was primarily made of Turkmen that spoke Persian rather than Farsi, and in the end they didn’t allow us to pay for our food. We insisted that we wanted to pay for our sandwiches, but they were adamant. Just another sign of the unmatched hospitality I guess.
Then, out of nowhere, two guys on a motorbike, speaking English, turned up and asked if he already had a place to stay for the night. The driver was a local who had studied English translation, and he had already hosted the guy riding on the back – who was from the Czech Republic and was travelling around Iran – for the past two nights at his house.
We were invited into Masoud’s house, he introduced us to his father (who also happened to be called Abel or Abol – sorry that I’m not sure on the spelling Masoud! – one of the two, pretty cool anyway), introduced us to his friends and showed us around town. Some quick group photos!
Masoud is the one on the far left in the first picture. We slept like babies, the beds were awesome, there was airco, and he made us breakfast. What a treat. He even wrote us a message in our Ciak notebook!
The next morning we set off for the Turkmenistan border, not until we had Masoud write us a message on the car though.
I won’t spoil much of the upcoming Turkmenistan blog content, but here is just one more quick photo snippet of us stopping for gas a little bit before the border. Not a bad view right?
I bet you’re all waiting for the Turkmenistan bribe situation now? Guess what? You won’t find out until our next blog! Sorry if that’s bad taste. We can tell you we paid money for nothing really, and that the military guys outnumbered us 50 to 2. A strange situation all around, coming soon hopefully!
A new recurring feature! Since we’re now coming across countries most of you have never been or may never ever go to, we’re going to hand out travel advice! For free! Lonely Planet we’re coming for that market share! Our travel advice is indexed by 1-5 Shakira’s: 1 being the lowest score, whereas 5 means that you should go Whenever, wherever! (Get it?). We mix in some advice on the when’s (think temperature, tourism seasons etc) as well as the where’s, and we index it all with Shakira’s!
Iran? Let’s just show you the meter shall we!
We loved Iran so much that it scores the maximum of 5 Shakira’s!
Now, the odds were all against us. It was over 40 degrees all the time, we didn’t even venture south where supposedly all the cool old historical remnants are, we drove in an old Panda with no air conditioning… and we still loved every second of it. The hospitality and genuine enthusiasm by a large portion of the people we came across was nothing like I’ve ever seen before, Iranians went so far out of their way to do us favors without wanting anything in return (even if we insisted they still said no), and I have never felt as safe as a tourist.
If we could recommend something: don’t go June-August if you want do/see things during the day.. it’s really really hot (and we don’t complain that quick we like to believe). Oh and get a car with A/C, that too. And stay at least a week as opposed to our 3.5 day stay!
Be sure to check out some of the southern part (think Esfahan and the Bay area), as we heard it’s incredible! This truly is a case of go to Iran Whenever, Wherever! Shakira, take it away!
Luca & Abel