Back in Greece and the EU for an afternoon and Henry thought it would be fine to drive straight through an open barrier…which is usually ok, but not when it’s a border crossing that we hadn’t been waved through (although we had had our passports checked so it should have been fine!)… we suddenly came to a halt when being shouted and waved down by a policeman. That wasn’t our only encounter with the police in Greece, Henry was flagged down by 3 police officers seemingly for speeding slightly but turned out it was just a random breathalyser test (which he passed with flying colours!).
We had lovely Greek salad for lunch in a cafe in a small town then after a wrong turn to an animal testing facility we were on to Thessaloniki and Turkey, we were given strange looks so backed out slowly. A bit of poor navigation from Henry caused a half hour delay but did mean we could fill up on oil and petrol which was fortunate as there were no petrol stations for about 200 miles! Making good time we hoped to make Istanbul by nightfall ready to pick Will up from the airport and start the Rally for proper. However, the Greek border guards had different plans. We arrived at a shift change (or that was the official line anyway) and sat in a queue for about 2 hours, although probably not the longest border delay we’ll encounter.
Then there was a wait on the Turkish side, first on a bridge with armed guards, then a check point and finally another checkpoint while we bought car insurance all the while being eaten alive by the millions of mosquitos that wait to prey on unsuspecting travellers. Because of this delay we realised we weren’t going to make it to Istanbul as it was already gone 11pm so we stopped at a roadside hotel where no one spoke a word of English but it was surprisingly nice. Lexi attracted a crowd of interested people but that’s becoming fairly standard now.
Friday meant just one thing and that was the arrival of Will! The first 200km took about 2 hours but when we hit Istanbul suburbs then the next 50km or so another 2 hours, our first taste of the infamous Istanbul traffic, driving in this city is not recommended! But we made it in time to meet Will off the plane, there are no photos of our reuniting as the police had the watchful eyes on us again, we must just look suspicious. The traffic hadn’t finished with us though and it took about 4 hours to just get out of the city, which wasn’t very comfortable in the heat, maybe with hindsight we should have made Will use the public transport to meet us out of the city centre.
The above 30 degree heat and constant stop starting, with heater turned on full to stop the overheating, made for sweaty work so much so Henry’s back had completely soaked the seat. A little present for Will who took the wheel for the first time of the Rally. We decided that Ankara would probably have traffic as bad as Istanbul so the northern route seemed like a better idea.
As most of our time is spent on the road, you must wonder how we spend our time, while we are close to exhausting our music collection we have quite a collection of audio books. But our ongoing game since entering Turkey is spot the mosque, it is surprising how something so small call lead to ours of fun.
Driving from Erzincan to Erzurum that we’d been previously told was slow going, but with barely another car in sight and on smooth new roads we were making great time. That was until we heard a terrible noise. A puncture. Rear drivers side was completely flat so we suspected a nail or similar. Pulled over on the hard shoulder on a hill we were forced to completely empty the boot to get to the jack, tyre iron and spare wheel. It turned out the valve on the tyre was bust and so on with spare!
Officially the first breakdown, even though being a minor one! At mile 3169, so expect a treat if you guessed the mileage, but as you read the next blog you will see that this was not the only breakdown we had.
Although we had tyre repair kits and inflators (thanks John we’re sure that we’ll be using them soon!) we knew there were plenty of mechanics on the road so thought we’d try there first. This turned out to be a great idea because after a bit of sign language and within about 5 minutes they had repaired it completely and for only 10 lira (about £3). ‘On the road again’ and on for a nice leisurely lunch in Erzurum, the highest major settlement in Turkey at about 2,000 metres above sea level. Turns out that during Ramadan all restaurants are shut (after 3 days in Turkey we really should have figured this out!) so we instead had a stroll around town then popped into a shop to get bread and cheese for a picnic out of town. And you laughed at our table and chairs!!
Owing to Iranian entry requirements we had arranged to meet a group of 10 other teams in Doğubayazit, the last Turkish settlement before Iran, which was in the shadow of Mount Ararat, supposedly the mountain where Noah’s Arc landed.
On the way to the campsite we passed another Rally team, a pair of Norwegian fellows in a Beatle, and we stopped for a bit and exchanged stories from the first week. Seems that they had encountered the same Turkish traffic as we had, as did many of the other teams we later ran into. Doğubayazit was more than a little interesting with cars, people and kids pushing large carts loaded with fruit weaving about the road. The roads themselves took a turn for the worse and potholes and bumps testing Lexi’s already creaking suspension. She held up well though and only bottomed out once but no damage was done! When we got to the campsite we met up with the other teams that would become part of the Iran convoy and the night was mainly spent getting to know each other.
Onto Iran! We woke up nice and early (5am) in order to make it to the border by 8am Iran time (they are 1.5 hours ahead of Turkey, 3.5 hours in front of UK) and convoyed out of town. After passing by a 10km long queue of trucks (no exaggeration!) we knew that this wasn’t going to be a speedy crossing.
After about 2 hours we were let out of Turkey and entered the entry border for Iran. Henry and Lexi got separated from Ash and Will as he is the registered owner and was made to wait with 5 other cars in a fenced in enclosure for over an hour while the border guards seemed to just sit and watch. But finally they were let through and reunited with the Ash, Will and the other teams, about 20 in all.
It was now about midday and we had to sit in a car park in the blistering sun for hours while our paperwork was checked and checked and checked again. To pass the time Will went to haggle with the black-market traders to get the best deal for our USD ($450 = 11,000,000 Rials). We did pretty well out of it! There were no cafes or restaurants at the border so ate a lot of pistachios, sunflower seeds, crisps and biscuits from the small shop there. The owner of the shop seemed to like Henry and filled a bag full of snacks then refused to accept more than about 20,000 Rials (about 50p).
Our guide Sholeh, which translates as Flame – cool name! – (we needed a guide due to more Iranian bureaucracy), had arrived and it was really interesting hear her talk about how Iran has changed over the last 50 or so years. We remained in this purgatory for hours, we were so thankful to get out the sun with a breeze running through the car when they finally let us into their mysterious country.