Iran, we’ve arrived!

Pictures of poets, not presidents, are everywhere hereAfter 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!


  1. andrew
    3rd January 2008 at 2:42 pm #

    Road notes: Our tip of the day is not to change your money in Dogubayzit. We’d heard about bad rates at the border itself and we knew the banks in Iran would be closed today so we took heart from our good experience with blackmarket money changers in Syria and handed over $100 to one in Turkey. What we got back was rather less than the going rate, only 7,500 rials per dollar when the money changers at the border were offering 9,000 – a loss approaching 20 percent. Live and learn. The tour booked in Dogubayzit to see some of the sites in the area before being taken to the border also turned out to be overpriced for what it was (35 Turkish lira each to see the Ishak Pasa Palace, a meteor crater, a Kurdish village and a couple other sites). We were unable to see one of the sites because of the steep icy roads and the Kurdish village came with no explanation at all, just a drive down a dirt road and back again. The palace was stunning though and made our day. The border crossing was smooth and efficient. We did not have any customs inspection. In Bazargan, we checked out Hotel Hamid as it is recommended by Lonely Planet. The room was nice but their prices seem to have quadrupled in the three years since the guide was published. They now want 250,000 Rials for a double room compared with just 100,000 Rials for Hotel Jafapoor. The rooms at Hotel Jafapoor are simple but clean and the owner is very friendly.

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    Weather forecast for Teheran on 01/04/07: Next week max. -3°C during the day and -10°C at night. Actually snow-fall and 2°C. Snow until sunday, then sunny, but cold. Did you put your spikes? 🙂

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