Leaving Tehran is easier than expected. The traffic is not so bad and this early in the morning the heat is still bearable. We drop off the key to Saeed’s appartment at Azadeh’s dad and then we’re off! Glad to be on the road again.
We decided to take the shortest and safest route so on to the highway. We definitely don’t like highways but now it seems the safest option.
The ride itself is pretty uneventful, like highways always are, but still we get into a bit of a fright every time the motorbike makes a strange noise or when we think it makes a strange noise.
Somewhere between Qazvin and Tabriz we are stopped by the police. They pull us over saying that we were speeding. Bullshit, of course, and they know it. So when that doesn’t work, they say that we are not allowed on these highways because they are dangerous and instead of an empty toll road we should take the busy parallel alternative. Technically they are right on that one, as motorcycles are not allowed on the highways. But that rule was implemented with the 250cc maximum for Iranian motorbikes in mind. We pretend not to understand what they mean and reply that all roads are dangerous. That’s why we wear protective gear, right? Plus, we survived Tehran by night, so we think we can manage these highways. After about 10 minutes they get tired of the game and let us go with a smile.
The best events of the day are the meetings we have on the road though. First encounter is with Ersin, on his way from Turkey to Nepal on a charity ride for autism. He already has his Iranian escort in the form of 2 young guys who have invited him to their home in Tehran so we let him continue and enjoy his ride.
The plan was to reach Tabriz today and camp in the park again. We have just put up our tent, when a cyclist arrives. Retho is Swiss and arrived here partly by hitchhiking since he has some problems with his rear wheel. He plans to stay a few days to get the wheel fixed, with the help of a local cyclist.
While we are all hanging out in front of our tent another cyclist shows up. We have a brief chat with Felipe from Mexico and then leave the 2 cyclists to exchange tips and stories.
The next morning a couple from the Netherlands in a 4×4 bus shows up. They had some mechanical issues as well in Iran and spent a week in a workshop to get it fixed. It almost seems like mechanical trouble is following us around.
We get going again hoping to reach the border with Armenia at a reasonable hour. We already know that the Armenians take their time to get things sorted. Along the way there is still plenty opportunity to take some snaps and to have a little rest.
When we reach the first gate at the Iranian side of the border, the guy inside doesn’t seem to be very sure what to do with us. At first he does not want to let us pass, despite me showing him all the paperwork we have. Then, after talking to another guy, he suddenly changes his mind and lets us through.
First we go to the customs office to have our carnets closed. It is still Ramadan and everyone is taking things very slowly. We have to sit and wait for a while before one of the officials starts on our paperwork. It doesn’t take long for him to do the work though and the only further delay we have with the carnets is the time it takes to have some copies made in the room next door.
When we exit the customs building a couple on 2 Tenere motorbikes pulls up. They are Sarah and her husband Michi from Switzerland. We exchange some tips and they tell us where we can have the last of our Rials exchanged into Armenian Drams. Sofie offers Sarah the dress she received herself from Magali and so the Sisterhood of the Travelling Dress is founded. Sarah promises to gift the dress to someone else if she meets another woman entering Iran at the other side.
On to the next stop. Here they tell us there is a problem with our information in their system. They don’t speak English very well and it is totally unclear what the problem is. In the end one of the guys takes a car and drives to the very first gate we passed. Apparently the guy over there failed to enter some of our information in the system before letting us through. It all gets sorted though and we continue to what we believe is the last stop, getting stamped out of the country ourselves. But apparently that does not happen at the gate we expect it to and we are sent to a different building to get our stamps. They process us pretty quickly with the usual questions about where we come from, what our job is and how we liked Iran.
With our passports stamped we are let out of the country and cross the bridge into Armenia. The border guard still recognises us from last time and after some small-talk he lets us go without further checks. The hard part is still to come though. We go through the whole process again of having our identities checked and passports stamped. The luggage check consists of nothing more than us explaining what we are carrying in which bag. The heat is clearly keeping the guards from doing some actual work.
After that it goes on to the customs and brokers to get our bike imported into Armenia. The process still has a lot of steps, but the girls that are here now work a lot faster than the ones we had when leaving the country. We pay the normal fee at the bank and get going again. But we have one more stop to make for insurance. This time we are better informed and negotiate a much more reasonable price with 2 coca colas included.
By the time we get going, it’s already 4PM so we aim for Kapan and the hotel we stayed last time around. The next day, we want to have some fun after 2 long days riding so we decide to give Tatev another go. Last time we missed the last round trip on the cable cart by about 15 minutes, this time it turns out that they are closed on Mondays. Bummer! We’ll have to ride up there instead, which isn’t really all that bad since it’s a nice long gravel trail up.
We arrive just before lunch time and have a nice long look around. We also meet the owner of the V-Strom that is keeping out motorbikes company in the parking lot. Martin from Slovenia is on a 3 week round trip. From here he will return back home.
We take every opportunity from now on to burn candles for good luck!
On the way back we run into some cyclists from Spain. Ina and Amba are travelling through Armenia for 2 weeks and it turns out Ina studied in our home town Leuven for a year with the Erasmus exchange program. The world is really small these days.
Our destination today is Sandra’s campsite and swimming pool. Iran really does strange things with you. Normally, hanging out at swimming pools is our worst nightmare. Seems like an utter waste of time when there is so much more out there to explore. But 2 weeks of bike-related stress and being constantly overloaded by Iranian hospitality have left us drained and in need of some peace and quiet.
On the way over we finally get a nice view on Mount Ararat as well.
Sandra was already expecting us and we get our old spot back, next to the pool. 2 days of well deserved peace and quiet!
While we are relaxing a Russian couple from Rostov Na Donu arrives with their twin sons. Like us the first time we walked through the gate at Sandra’s camp site their eyeballs nearly fall out with surprise at the first look on this little oasis. After 2 days though we’ve had enough of the club med vibe and saddle up again. From here we should be able to reach Tbilisi easily in 1 day. Sofie has already arranged for an apartment through AirBNB.