To get to the Iranian border from Kapan, there are 2 options, we choose for the one that takes us across Meghri pass. The road is quiet and a lot of fun. But at over 2500m it is also rather chilly. It gets warmer with every 100m we descend on the other side though and by the time we arrive at the border it has gotten pretty hot.
We are very excited about the border crossing, Iran is one of the countries we are looking forward to most. That and the additional paperwork required by the Carnet de Passage for the motorbikes adds to our excitement. It turns out though that getting out of Armenia is a lot more hassle than getting into Iran. We are sent from one desk to another and another and yet another and back to the first and every time more Drams are added on the paperwork we receive. The total is to be paid at the bank desk down the hall. After payment it goes back to the first desk. They all take their time and seem in no hurry to let us out of the country. All of this even before the bikes and luggage are checked. Then another paperwork check and the passports are stamped followed by one more stop to prove that we have jumped through all the hoops we are supposed to and after 1,5 hours we are finally waived on to the Iranian side.
Despite our fears the process at Iranian customs is quite smooth. Even with the extra paperwork for the Carnets they are faster than the Armenians. Our first (of many) “Welcome to Iran” is not from an official though, but from an Iraqi girl who’s backpacking to Georgia. All of the paperwork and checks are rather straightforward and contrary to the Armenian side, no payments are expected. Pretty soon we are ready to enter the country.
Sofie had already bought the compulsory hijab scarf in Turkey and she was given a dress long enough to comply with Iranian rules by Magali in Tbilisi. The prime example of haute couture was lovingly given the name “sac a patate”. But she makes it look good on her bike. A privilege that Iranian women are not allowed to enjoy. Riding a motorcycle or even a bicycle is strictly forbidden to women in the Islamic Republic of Iran, except as a passenger.
Our goal for the evening is Tabriz, where we have agreed to meet with Hette and Mirjam. We pick a road through the mountains rather than the detour via the highway. But not before exchanging our last Drams for Rials and doing some grocery shopping. We also stock up on water and indulge on an ice cream. Even though no one around speaks English, the people we meet are very interested and want to know where we’re from, where we’re going and how we like Iran so far. Many more “welcome to Iran” follow.
The road we chose through the mountains does not let down. The views are amazing and this part of Iran at least is a lot greener than we had expected.
There’s a free and secured camp site with all amenities in a park in Tabriz and that’s where we’re supposed to meet up with our Dutch friends. The GPS takes us directly to the right spot, but the introduction to Iranian traffic is interesting to say the least. The chaos is even bigger than in Georgia. When we arrive at the park Hette comes to welcome us. Mirjam and he had arrived only 30 minutes before us. They met up in Dogubeyazit, Turkey and crossed the border together this morning.
After setting up our tents and taking a shower, we head into the city in search of a traditional restaurant to get a taste of all that Iranian food we had heard so many good things about. The food is good and less expensive than it seems with the big piles of Rials we were given in exchange for what was a rather humble amount of Drams.
We agree on a route through the mountains for the next few days. We will ride together for a few days, until Mirjam and Hette continue towards Tehran to visit a friend of Mirjam’s and we will turns south towards Esfahan. We hope to wild camp somewhere in the mountains so in the morning we buy everything we need for lunch and dinner and set off from Tabriz. With the by now usual interruptions from inquisitive locals who want to say hello and welcome us to the country.
The ride is pleasant and we enjoy both the views and the roads. Like many Iranians we came across we look for a nice picknick spot to have lunch.
There is little traffic in the mountains and we see only few people. The villages we pass are rather small, but the landscapes are impressive.
When we get to Heshadjin, we take the opportunity to fuel up and buy some water before we start looking for a nice secluded camp site in the mountains. While we are paying for the fuel an Iranian family in a car stops and invites us for tea. It isn’t even 5PM, so we decide to take them up on the offer. Daughter Elham speaks pretty good English, but her mother and father only speak Farsi. No problem though, with some goodwill from both sides and a lot of gesticulation we have all kinds of interesting conversation. We also get to meet grandma, who is extremely excited to receive us. Another guy from the village shows up as well. We had seen him also at the gas station and he speaks good English. He claims to be family but he doesn’t look like it. His comments and questions are rather forward, but our hosts don’t seem to want to send him away, so we try to ignore his least polite remarks. The entire family is super friendly and besides cookies and ice cream we are also treated to big bowls of fruit.
They offer to go and have tea at a nearby river. We don’t mind so we agree. Turns out the river is a half hour car ride away. It is a nice place though and we get to see some parts of the local villages we would have otherwise missed. A nice spot for tea is soon found, but first everyone joins in to pick mulberries from the trees around our spot. Some of them we eat while picking, others are served with the tea after, but most go in a big bowl to be taken home. We drink our tea in one of the orchards and after sunset we return to the family home to relax some more.
Hette and Elham share a similar taste in music and they exchange their mp3 collections. We are having so much fun that time flies by. Elham’s cousin Saeede also joins us and the family invites us to stay for dinner. During the delicious dinner with many Iranian specialties, mattresses are prepared in the guest room. It looks like we will be spending the night with this lovely family.
The next morning, we are treated to a huge breakfast with some delicious mulberry specialties made by grandma. And then it’s the big farewell by the entire family. With the obligatory photoshoot of course!
We still need an Iranian simcard for our phones to be able to communicate with the family at home, so Elham and Saeede join us to the local internet/phone shop for some sim cards. Arranging sim cards turns out to be less straightforward and we spend over an hour in and around the shop. School’s out and both the boys and girls gather round to have a look at these strange martians that have landed from outerspace.
Around 11AM we are finally on our way, each with an Iranian sim card in our phones that are supposedly to work within an hour or so. Elham, Saeede and Mommy escort us out of town and then we’re off. The road takes us further into the mountains with even some nice gravel stretches.
We stop at a kebab place in one of the bigger towns to have a late lunch. The place is run by a small family and while dad is preparing our food, mummy takes good care of us with drinks. Their little girl is a bit shy and keeps watch from behind the door. By the time we leave though, she’s lost the shyness and waves us goodbye.
We haven’t even been in the country for 24 hours and already Iran and especially Iranian people have taken us into their hearts and visa versa. We had been prepared a little bit, but we had never expected to experience this!