Astara (Iran), 16.05.2013
We made it into Iran! And people are great here. But let’s go one by one.
We left Baku way too late. The tyre pick up at the Land Rover service center developed into a 2,5h affair, then we had to cross town twice to pick up a shipment at UPS and get back to the motorway. Before leaving we bought some kebabs and then finally hit the road only at 14:00, a delay with consequences for the day and hopefully not for the next ones. It took us a little less then 5h to the border, after the first hour of motorway the road gets bad, construction and police controls mixed with tractors, busses and trucks do the rest.
Driving around Baku is exhausting but we actually saw many parts of the city. And since traffic moves really slow and we’re constantly looking for road signs all eyes are on the streets, buildings and the people. The clash with the countryside was enormous. Once we left town the road leads through a completely flat land. There is nothing, desert, occasional water holes or salt lakes. And all kinds of masts, mostly electricity, we’re not sure how many are obsolete. In the outskirts of Baku residential complexes are built, gated communities with a view on the Caspian Sea (and an occasional offshore drilling platform). After that comes nothing, for hours.
We raced as much as possible to reach the border on time, since we had to leave Azerbaijan today (remember the border staff’s generosity at the entrance into the country), and tomorrow is Friday and in Iran most activities shut down, incl. the border we were told. And since we used all our flexibility days and have a hard deadline to respect to enter Turkmenistan we’re kind of running against a clock. It is very stressful honestly, we really hope that what we see in Turkmenistan is worth the huge constraints this country puts on our time planning.
At the border things went quite smooth. The Azeris took more time then the Iranians actually, and there was no waiting. Few checks, we’re clearly tourists, and everybody at the Iranian border was very friendly, welcoming us to their country, trying to help us through a bureaucratic process that needs to be respected. And then came the bad news: we need to pay something to a bank, that was closed already. So the car stayed at the customs office while we headed for a hotel in this border town, accompaigned by one of the border guys in his car as he left work. We lost half a day, since we wanted to continue towards Tabriz. Tomorrow evening we should be in Tehran if we want to see places further south, like Isfahan, and we have no idea about Iranian roads and at what speed you can actually advance here. Not good at all.
The hotel is actually better then what we expected and at USD 30 very healthy for our budget. We asked in the hotel if we could change some dollars into Rials, the local currency, and were told to sit and wait, somebody would come. In the meanwhile some men entered, sat down in the lobby and started talking to us, all very friendly. A waiter brought tea for everybody. We must admit that we entered this country with a range of fears and prejudices. LP also writes about this, Iran seems to us in the western world like a place full of Taliban and religious fanatics. We haven’t met any of those yet, but a lot of well educated and friendly people. Compared to the former soviet countries they have a more elegant, fine touch, in the way they speak, dress, welcome you. Helena is terrorised of the fear of wearing a wrong headscarf or clothing. But women on the streets dress quite relaxed, nobody said a word about our dress code.
Then after a while a man came into the lobby and then to us. He gave us 1.7m Rials for USD 50, very suspicious since the official rate according to xe.com/ucc is almost a third of this. We took it and went into town to look for food. We walked several blocks in various directions, finding jewellers, clothes, sweets, nuts, hairdressers, travel agencies, meat, construction material… But no restaurant. As we headed back for the hotel we ran into a “grill with tables and chairs” place, where we had, well, grilled meat, grilled tomatoes, salad, ayran and zam zam (local coke). We paid 200.000 Rials and are not sure if it was a rip off or a fair price. According to the official rate it is quite expensive, according to what we got for our dollars it’s cheap. But how it compares to the usual prices around here we’ll have to find out in the following days.
Trip data (Day/Total)
– Km driven: 347/11.808
– Hrs driving: approx 5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 8,8/9,4