Iran: First Impressions… (July 19th – 27th)

We had been warned by the German tourer Walter that 5km or so from the Iranian border there were kids who tried attacking him with chains. We had been also been told that it was better to arrive in the morning to miss the huge queue of traffic. We were up early but didn’t leave ‘til late. About 15km from the border 2 kids initially sat on the other side of the road approached us asking for water. We ploughed straight on through without stopping. If they genuinely needed water then they could have easily flagged down any of the many cars/trucks heading the same way. 5km from the border was the back of the queue of trucks. Probably a good thing in the end that we left late… About 20metres before I reached the back a kid, maybe 14, saw me and started motioning for me to slow down. Again I carried on straight passed without stopping. Matze meanwhile, some distance back, clocked him pick up a stone after I went past. As he approached he took evasive action at the last minute and swerved out the way. Sure enough the kid threw the stone at him and missed…

The actual passport control process was a pretty harmless process and at lot less full-on that I had anticipated. I got my passport stamped on the Turkish side (good job I did get the visa and didn’t try cycling through), then moved on to the Iranian side. I thought for a moment they were separating us and funnelling me down a special section ‘cos I had a British passport, but Matze got sent down the same section right after me. One moustachioed immigration officer, who was a proper barrel of laughs, took a quick glance at our passports and buzzed us through into the next section. There was a sign which read ‘Human Quarantine’ which I would have loved to photo but obviously it wouldn’t have been the done thing. The next immigration officer had a few more questions he wanted answering. What is your job? Who are you travelling with? What is the purpose of your visit to Iran? I had to ask him 3 times to repeat one of questions he asked ‘cos it was difficult to understand him. Had I asked him a fourth time he would surely have blown it. …So there it was nice n easy, ‘Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Iran’. We rolled down the other side of the hill, Ararat in the background…

We were told to avoid the street cash dealers for obvious reasons (how many people actually use these guys?), and use the official exchange offices of which there were supposedly 5 in a row. No sooner had we pulled up outside then we were surrounded by street cashiers and others gawping at the weirdo cycle tourists. The cash dealers started quoting us figures and flashing jumbo calculators in ours faces. Naturally we weren’t about whip out over a grand in cash between us and do a street deal, but it was a good opportunity to see what they were offering. I had the previous day’s exchange rates on my XE currency converter Ipod app and it seemed they were offering a better deal, only it had one zero missing! We tried checking what was up with this, first by making a phone call to our couchsurfing host in the Dogubayzit, then by double checking with others. Matze had heard that there were in fact two different rates in Iran but it was news to me. I tried entering one of the cash exchanges but it was in fact a taxi company. The phone card I had been given didn’t seem to work for Turkish numbers. All the other places seemed closed so what could we do? I spoke to the owner of a business who called his friend and he quoted us the same rate. Either everyone was in on the scam, or the price they were quoting us was in fact correct. Finally, we found a bank but it had just closed. A worker pointed us to a small office just next door. I stuck my head in and tried to ascertain if I could in fact change dosh there. Matze was feeling a little “jet-lagged” from the previous night switch from GMT+2 to GMT+3.5 so I sorted the biz. I spent the next 10 – 15 minutes establishing a level of trust with the workers (3 guys staring at me from across the coffee table, 1 guy behind the desk with a large safe behind him), and they establishing a level of trust in me. I then spent at least another 30minutes doing the deal and counting the money. Between us there was more than 15million Rials in notes of various denominations so you can imagine it took a while to double check it was all present and correct. I’m sure countless foreigners have been stitched by the Rial/Tumen difference. Newly made millionaires we jumped back our bikes and left the smacked-up guy who had been chatting up Matze stranded….

The first night we camped inside a half built house. A storm was brewing and it was a good idea to find additional shelter, especially seeing as Matze still didn’t have a tent. This also saved me the trouble of putting up and taking down my tent. Or so I thought. The spaghetti was near al dente when I noticed something moving on the I-beam I was sat on. I turned to the left and was greeted by a 10+ centimetre fat spider. MFa! Later on when I was just about ready to turn in for the night when this hairy fella’s big sister started charging around the floor like a lunatic. I really couldn’t face the idea of waking up with it on my face so I resolved to put up the tent…

At first glance of a topographical map of Iran you might be fooled into thinking that the road from the border to Tehran was massively hill. In reality it follows gently sloping river valleys for the most part and there was only really one noticeable climb the whole way to Tehran. There was of course a near omnipresent headwind which gradually built in ferocity during the day, peaked around the afternoon, and then calmed again in the evening. It did at times switch directions so that we had a tailwind behind us for a 40km downhill stretch which we could cover in an hour.

The Turkish are world-renowned bad drivers; they make even the Italians look good. Overtaking on a corner is a bonified national sport in Turkey. My personal favourite was the oncoming bus overtaking another at speed on a mostly blind corner and then blasting us with the horn from 1 foot away. The horn is a pretty much a homeostatic process in Turkey. Red Light? HONK! Amber? HONK HONK! Green light? HONNNNK! Paper bag in the middle of the road? HONK! Just for the sheer MFing love of it? HONNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKK ! ! ! Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t cycle all the way through Turkey… And so it was with a little trepidation that I took to the Iranian roads, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised. Drivers here have generally given an encouraging Tour de France style toots of the horn from about 30metres back, as opposed to the HONK right in your face of which the Turks are so fond. So the drivers here on the main roads are in fact massively respectful of cyclists in my experience thus far…

Naturally to every rule there is an exception and in this case the exception to the rule took the form of the driver of an orange Mack truck and his companion. I can’t say for certain what exactly happened, but one second we were cycling along no worries, and the next an orange truck overtook us as per norm on the left handside, and another tried undertaking us on the gravel track hardshoulder. Basically we formed the filling of a really bad tasting orange Mack truck sandwich. Thankfully the truck on the right slowed so we could pull over in front of it. We then stayed in the gravel path for it to pass. Like I say, I don’t really know what happened but next thing I know the guy in the passenger seat threw something at me which struck me on the back. Could have been a shoe, could have been a 500ml bottle of milk. He then shouted something aggressively out the window, to which he of course got the one fingered salute to send him on his merry way…

The types of truck here have made for a welcome change to the boring Globetrotter type trucks you see throughout Europe. Old but eye-catchingly decorated Mercedes trucks, and of course multi-coloured Mack trucks are far more common than the modern style long haulage vehicle. On the flip side these things chug out the most toxic black fumes by the hot-air balloon full. And there is often no escaping it. The worst is if one is going up a slight incline and drops down a gear just a 10 metres in front of you, and then another one comes along and does the same thing. It is not possible to hold your breath long enough before you have to inhale the fumes…

In my experience so far the people are most definitely as friendly as everyone says. They go out of their way to help you and are always super polite. We have been greeted by friendly hellos and waves from nearly everyone on the roadside as we pass…Even the dogs here are more friendly and we’ve only been given chase once or twice.

Cheer up mate

We stayed for a day in Tabriz to get on the net and to adjust to the early starts here. From 1-4 in the afternoon it is way too roasting for cycling so we decided to break up the day into two halves, with an early wake up of maybe 0530. This way we are doing between 6 and 7 hours cycling a day. In terms of total hours it’s a bit like working a 9-5…but fun!I reckon I’ve been getting through a minimum 8 litres fluid a day. In the South of Iran I heard it was up to 52°C the other day so it could be much worse…

We learned some interesting factoids from an Iranian-German fella who moved from Iran to Germany when he was 4, then back to Iran when he was 20. He had his German passport confiscated and was told he was not allowed to have dual nationality. He saidif you don’t do military service here, then it is not possible to get a driving licence, travel freely out of the country, get health insurance and you cannot get married. However, if you know the right people then you can buy the military service certificate but this can be a lengthy process…

One thing I noticed in the first few days in Iran was the near total lack of billboards polluting the cityscapes. JC Decaux clearly hasn’t got his corporate mitts in the Iranian pie. Instead of billboards you see a lot of signs and advertising painted on buildings, not that I can read any of it. One piece of advertisement we did see was for ‘Vahid Burger’, which looks suspiciously like Burger King.

'What do you mean no XL Bacon Double Cheese??'

When I walked into a burger joint back in Bulgaria, the Cyrillic alphabet threw a mega spanner in the food order works. In Iran it got worse. Not only is the alphabet in another step removed from the Latin alphabet (and backwards), but they also use a different number system. This made for an added level of difficulty on 1 or 2 occasions. I was surprised to see Coca Cola on sale here in Iran. I don’t think I managed to fully get to the bottom of it, but from what I could gather it seems to be licenced to be produced in Iran, and God knows where the profits go. Would be fascinating to see the paper trail…

Franco – Iranian relations are clearly not at all that bad for it appears that the automobile of choice is the Peugeot 405. 2 out of every 5 cars are 405s, and almost all of the cars seem 20years old or older although I am sure this will all change as I approach Tehran. ..

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s