After months of anticipation and fretting over visas we’re finally in Iran! The border crossing went much more smoothly and quickly than we expected. No prying questions or searching customs inspections, just a polite official who welcomed us to the country under a huge portrait of the holy leader, filled out all our forms for us and waved us through. On the way out we lingered for a couple minutes in front of the Iranian duty free shop. It was perhaps the most bizarre one we’ve ever seen. No alcohol or cigarettes here; just a collection of blankets, saucepans and vaccuum cleaners. A mere half an hour after we first entered the Turkish side we were cruising down our first hill in Iran to the frontier town of Bazargan. The winter air is icy this far north and we had tears in our eyes from the wind as we cycled along on slippery roads.
The cold convinced us that we’d been right to opt for a bus from Gaziantep to the town of Dogubayazit and then for a van to take us to the border, stopping first at a few tourist attractions. The İshak Paşa Palace was a highlight of our day and one of the best things we’ve seen in Turkey with its ornate decor and stunning location. We were also enthralled by the world’s second-largest meteor crater, right on the Turkey-Iran border. Unfortunately the weather was too cloudy for us to get any view of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark is supposed to have landed.
Once in Bazargan we were swarmed by money changers who happily took our remaining Turkish lira and swapped them for Iranian notes at a much better rate than we were able to get in Dogubayazit. We’d heard the money changers at the border were sharks but we found some fish with sharper teeth well inside Turkey and our blind faith in the rate they offered ended up costing us a reasonable chunk of the $100 we handed over to them. No matter. These are the lessons you learn on the road.
Now we’re resting in a well heated hotel room, trying to prepare ourselves for what will no doubt be a freezing 20km ride to Maku tomorrow. From there we’ll be able to catch a bus to Tabriz, where we’ll spend a couple days getting new rims and chains for our bikes, tracking down maps and seeing the famous souk before hitching another lift onward to warmer climates. If the weather cooperates we’ll start cycling again from Tehran or Qom.
All this bus travel should give us time to brush up on our Farsi. We keep on slipping back into the Arabic we’d started to get an handle on in Syria and our tongues and minds are further confused by the Kurdish population here, who seem determined to teach us how to count in their language as well as Farsi. One language is plenty for the moment!