Sunday the 13th of November was the day. Our alarm clock went off at 7:00AM to make an early start to reach the border of Turkey and Iran.
But the moment we look trough the window of our hotel all we see is a white world. The cars, the roofs the street, everything was totally white and it was still snowing. After a short sleep we could not wait anymore: despite the snow we are both really looking forward to a new adventure in Iran. When we are both looking outside we decide to go, Iran here we come!
We pack our bags and put them on our bicycles and we have a breakfast in our little restaurant. Then we cycle through the snow to a big road which leads us to the border. It stops snowing and the white world slowly disappears. Marlous is enjoying her hair blowing in the wind one more time. In Iran she has to cover her hair and this will be odd for her. Normally you can see Mount Ararat from this road, but today we can’t. Our view is a white yard, a white sky and a herd of sheep. It feels kind of special to leave Turkey with snow. We reach the border soon and before we know it we are standing in front of a big gate where we can’t continue cycling. Marlous takes her newly bought scarf and starts a ritual she will have to do everyday now in Iran.
We pass one more gate and we are standing on the land of Iran. Together with our bicycles we have to go into an office. A big group of people is standing in line here, but before I know it someone takes our passports and they puts me in front of the queue. Immediately they help me and I receive the stamps, some smiles and some greetings of the waiting people behind me. We are ready to go into Iran.
The first night we spend in Maku, which is not far from the border. Here we buy some maps of Iran, which we could not find in Turkey. We meet a Dutch couple we have met before and we go out for dinner with them. Together we try the Kebab of Iran.
In four days we cycle from the border towards Tabriz. During the cycling we get to know the live and the people here in Iran. The first impressions are great. People do stop often and they offer us everything. On one day a man stopped and asked us if we wanted a cup of tea. It was a cold day so we liked a cup. After the second cup the man leaves. “What do we do with the cups?” we asked. “Just leave them here, I’ll be back.” For the rest we swap fruit for cookies and we have chicken with rice on the back of a car.
Tabriz is our first big town in Iran and a good place for a day of rest. In the middle of the town there is an old bazaar which should be worth a visit. While we are searching for a place to stay, a man approaches us and gives us a card of a cycle shop. Tourists who come to his shop will get a free cleaning treatment for the bicycles. It’s nice to know , because Marlous needs a new tyre. When we walk towards the shop a man accompanies us and he speaks a bit English. Thanks to him we find the shop and he helps us by translating our question for a new tyre into Iranian. Before we know it, the bicycle of Marlous gets a real polishing treatment by two guys. They called the boss of the shop and when he arrives we have to drink tea and he tells us that our bikes will be as new when we leave the shop. He shows us many letters and postcards of foreign customers who camr by in his shop. On one of the pictures we see Rob and Lucie. This Dutch couple left The Netherlands just a few weeks before us and we saw them before in a guestbook along the road. After three hours our bicycles look brand new again. Everything is cleaned, put in grease and checked. Paying is not an option, especially not after we brought a box of cakes and after making some pictures. The only thing the shop owner wants is a few sentences in his guestbook, some pictures, a postcard and a firm handshake. This superman can have everything!
During our trip from Tabriz to Tehran we have had some beautiful encounters. While we were looking for a cheap hotel in Mianey we were invited by an Iranese couple. Heibod, Elham and ‘mom’ see us searching and ask if they can be of any help. We explain what we are looking for and they don’t hesitate and invite us to stay at their place. First they take us to a restaurant for lunch. After this they show us their factory where they make plastic bottles. While our hosts have to arrange some things in the village we are waiting for them in the office of the factory. When everybody is ready we drive out of town to their house. At a big fence with a guard Heibod turns the car to enter their property. Heibod tells us the property belongs to his wealthy family and that they can stay here until they find their own place. Heibod and Elham lived originally in Tehran and since a short while they are living in the house to start the factory. We are treated like very imported guests from the beginning and they try to make us feel at home straight away. Then the carpet changes into a luxurious dining table with delicious food. We have to try everything in front of us. After this we have dinner as well.
The nice thing about staying with Heibod, Elham and mom (the mother of Elham) is talking about culture, religion and politics. This gives us a better picture about Iran and the way of living. While mom is very traditionally with her chador, Elham is a modern lady who prefers to live in a more modern world. Mom tells us she feels very safe when she wears her black chador. The next morning they ask us to stay longer, but we like to continue to Tehran. Our time with this family has been very special. Mom tells us she prayed for us and Elham and Heibod give us a list with Telephone numbers and addresses in case we need it.
Untill Qazvin the scenery is beautiful. We cycle through mountains and reach the 1900 meters altitude. The valleys are great with the rivers and we are passed by a bike rider. The Irish Sam stops for a chat and thinks we are mad by cycling all the way. When we tell him that we are on the road for 6 months and heading for Australia he takes a picture of us , shakes our hands and continues his trip to Australia.
After Qazvin the scenery becomes a bit boring. The road is flat, wide and busy. With all the trucks there isn’t much to see and we have to be careful. We thought Friday would be a good day to enter Tehran, because it’s the holy day in Iran. We were hoping to avoid the millions of cars getting in and out of the city on a normal working day. Still there are many cars on the road when we ride into the capital but it goes smoothly. When we cycle in the center we are surrounded by military and trucks. We stop to see what’s happening and watch people standing on the trucks, mourning, crying, hitting themselves. It makes us feel strange and there’s no one to tell us what it’s all about. We think it is a memorial day for the lost and disappeared soldiers. We choose some quiet streets in search for a hotel.
In Tehran it’s time to visit some embassies to arrange visas for Pakistan and India. Other travellers told us it could be pretty hard to gain a visa for Pakistan. There are many travellers rejected and the wait could get very long. So we are prepared for a week of waiting, visiting the embassies, being kind and being patient. First we have to find the Dutch Embassy for our letters of Recommendation. This seems to be very difficult because the Embassy has moved. A friendly, good English speaking man helps us to find out where we have to go. He arranges a cab for us and he gives instructions to he driver. When we enter the new building we are greeted by the Dutch queen on the wall. Marlous puts her scarf away for some time and we buy the letters we need. These are two expensive papers with some political words which have to give us the chance to enter Pakistan.
We arrive to late at the Pakistan office to finish our application. So we fill in the papers and have to come back the next day. The next morning we are being helped very friendly and after some time of waiting we are told to call the next morning to hear if we are welcome in Pakistan. We drive to the Indian office and receive another number we have to call the next day. When we call the Pakistan office he next morning they tell us to come back for the visas. In three days time we arranged the Pakistan visa without any problems. Beautiful! Our visa for India expires on the first of April, which means we will enter Nepal on that day. From that time we will reach the Noble House in two weeks time to start our voluntary work there.
During our time in Tehran we explored the city by foot, we visited a palace and some museums. We have decided to stay in Iran for three weeks. We do like the country but we regret the fact that it is a bit tense. We are both keen on our freedom and to treat other people easy. Here it’s often hard to make a joke and to get on easy with others. Marlous misses her own choice in wearing what she wants with the scarf. In Turkey we had to withdraw cash because it isn’t possible in Iran to pay by credit card. This is because of the political situation with the USA, which is not very handy for us. Until now we don’t have any problems with money but we can’t stay for months, which is fine with us.
Tomorrow we go cycling again. We have seen enough city for the moment and are looking forward to paddling. Just go with the flow! We will do a 150 km in one day to Qom. And after Qom we will continue to Esfahan, which is known as ‘the city’ of Iran. Here we want to stay for a couple of days before we go to the dessert. So tomorrow: adieu noise, adieu smog, adieu people and adieu beautiful crazy city where we will return. Adieu!
Dogubuyazit (Turkey) – Maku (Iran): 59km
Maku – Qarah-Ziya’Oddin: 87km
Qarah-Ziya’Oddin – Marand: 114km
Marand – Tabriz: 76km
Tabriz – Bostan Abbad: 66km
Bostan Abbad – Mianey: 116km
Mianey – Zanjan: 145km
Zanjan – Abhar: 98km
Abhar – Qazvin: 94km
Qazvin – Karaj: 113km
Karaj – Tehran: 48km