22nd July 2015:
We arrived in Iran on 17 July. (Wifi has been fickle so a while between posts. )
This involved getting away from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan around 8:30 am.
Our aim was to get to the border via a petrol station to tank up on the very modestly priced fuel in Turkmenistan …. But our route out of town and up into the mountain range to the south had no fuel stops … Which surprised us. The road to the border crossing was in excellent condition and even looked a little sterilised. It wound its way up to a high point where the boarder stations are about 40km south of Ashgabat ( although the first check point was only 15 or 20 kms out of town) .
As usual getting out of the old country is straight forward. Just a few steps involved in passport control for people (about 20 Turkmenistan people seeking clearance to leave) and a check of paper work for the cars. And in this situation only a couple of trucks and one other car, and then a very short (200 m) distance to the Iranian border control point.
And to our surprise, there are signs in English along with the Farsi script.
The same queue of people seeking passport control on the Iranian side and we are encouraged to pile our passports with the others waiting. Somehow our passports are been brought forward in the pile … Yes, we jumped the queue … And we are through. Barry and Pete wander off to do the paper work sorted for the cars and I find a money changer. Always handy. And after we had done our transaction of changing US $300 he asked if my friends want to change $$$. I say yes … As he leads me through the official area where Barry and Pete have gone and we find them after a maze of up and down stairs. And while the Carnets – the car passports – are checked and paper work filled out and another set of money exchange happens.
This was all so informal I was surprised … And then a fairly modest check of the cars and we are away down the hill into the village ….BUT … One more check point where two very pleasant check point control men are concerned that our little piece of paper they need has only one stamp on it . They try phoning the border control but no one is answering so one of the guys jumps in with Pete and they drive back up the hill and find the right person to stamp the paper … And we are free to set of on our Iranian adventure.
While this was all happening there had been about 100 photos by locals of us and the cars and a ceremonial signing of the cars.
We drive another 100 or so metres and stop in the village of Bajgiran for a cool drink …and remember that it is the last day of Ramadan. More hellos and amazement at the cars . Then we drive through the rest of the mountain range and are amazed at the rock formations, which include significant folded fault lines and craggy outcrops. It is always striking how different the country changes and in this case it’s has changed at the border.
Eventually we make it to the town on the highway of Quchan, where after a little struggle to locate a petrol station we fill up and are on our way to our target destination of Bojnord a couple hundred km along the road towards Sari . There we are to meet up with Mostafa ( my Iranian contact through CUSP at Curtin Uni – he had helped us get the visas ) and Tom ( my son) who has flown into join us.
After finding a hotel and we share our last 500ml bottle of beer which we had forgotten was in the car fridge . We are quite proud of our days achievement of getting into Iran …. And all along the way we had been welcomed by people in passing cars …. “Where are you from?” … “Welcome to Iran!”
And this is special time in Iran …. The end of Ramadan and the commencement of the celebration of Eide Feiter; so it is holiday time. And just a few days ago an agreement was reached on the long running nuclear issues and the embargo are to be lifted after 19 years. So we sense a little optimism after 19 years of sanctions.
About 4 pm Saturday we meet up with our host Mostafa in Sari and the drive on to Boboslar on the shores of the of the Caspian Sea. Tom arrived from Istanbul a day or so earlier. He had been picked up from Tehran airport and driven to meet Mostafa .
Our accommodation is an old 2 bed room villa in a University complex , on the beach. It is quite and out of the way and very few people, as it is University break. Perfect for our needs.
We spend Sunday morning cleaning out the cars and wash out all the storage containers and seek to get the last few weeks of dust out of the cars. The oil gets changed and we do a little site seeing with Mostafa who is treating us with generosity and warm hospitality. He takes us out for meals and helps plan the remainder of our journey across Iran.
We experience a significant storm on the shores of the Caspian. The waves are wiped up into 1 m or more wind swell. And as the wind dies down we get to witness little Caspian waves peel off … It looks better in the photos than in real life, but it was probably better than some of the times I have been surfing in Perth. Although the water is a muddy colour from the dark sand and inflow of fresh water from all the rain.
On Monday I give a talk at the university as my return favour for all the help that Mostafa has provided us. About 20 people, staff members and masters students. My talk about water sensitive urban design is warmly received in a country where there is increasing concerns about water due to changing weather patterns.
In the afternoon we get a chance for a body surf in the declining swell. The water is warm, a little muddy and not very salty because of the outflow of the rivers.
Our other little highlight of our time in Baboslar was one evening at the Pizza shop we sit down to eat and log into the wifi and from the table next door comes : “Are you guys from Aussie?” … In a Aussie accent !!!
It turned out that the young couple on the table next door are Iran Australians , visiting Iran to adopt twins before returning to Australia later in the year. They live in Miranda in Sydney, right near where we lived ( and Pete lived ) when we were living in Sydney a few years back. A really lovely young couple and we shared email and phone numbers. And they offered their help if we needed it while in Iran. Amazing how these little intersections ( connections might be a better word) in people’s lives happen .
The pizza shop becomes our source of wifi as all other options or places didn’t seem to work. Importantly Barry and I need our Turkish visa ( Tom’s is multi entry ) and for some good reason , Pete who is travelling on NZ passport does not need one. ???? This is achieved via the pizza shops wonderful wifi.
Tuesday 21 July we do a mega days drive …from Baboslar to Astara ..about 500 plus km along the coast of the Caspian sea. The road is good, but it’s like driving through almost one continuous town ( not quite ). You get a head of steam up to 90km and another town. The whole coast is one long set of settlements. Many of the dwellings are second homes, but it is also clear that like lots of places around the world people just want to live by the sea side.
As we drive along the coast we travel through rich agricultural land ( between the towns) … Rice, fruit, melons, grapes etc )
We find a hotel on the outskirts of Astara , which is actually a border town with Azerbaijan to the north. The first border town we have approached where we don’t want to cross. In the morning we head west up through the mountains and Iranian plateau, a vast area of rolling hills, dotted with higher peaks, pasture land and wheat crops. Quite arid looking and not too many trees.
And another highlight emerges. We driving around a ring road of Ardabil and Barry spies a 504 ( like Pete’s car) ….,and jumps for joy. We have not seen any of these on the road so far. So here we are on controlled accesses road … 3 or 4 lanes wide with hectic mid morning traffic and pull over. And create traffic chaos, especially when some other cars stop and decide to join the fray. This includes a bloody great road roller. Collectively we restrict the traffic to 2 lanes and bank traffic up as a crowd of people emerge from nearby businesses …. Pete and Barry chat as best as possible to the owner of the very well preserved 504 which is a few years older than Pete’s Leckie.
It is mayhem and after the signing of the cars and a million photos later we are back on the road. !!! Heading for Tabriz !!!
We make it to Tabriz…. And after a struggle through traffic we find our hotel. … More on Iran later …. But let me say we have been welcomed with warmth and generosity. For example we stop for one of our roadside lunches out of the Engel fridge and our supplies and end up being photographed and cars signed and then given a massive basket of fruit !!!
One of the car gets signed by young guy with good English …. He writes : “Iranian people love all the people of the world”. This sums up our experience to date.