We made it! After over 10 hours of waiting we were all finally allowed into Iran. There were surprisingly few questions or searches, the guard was mainly interested in the fold out picnic table.
Our western view of Iran couldn’t be more wrong (mainly due to how the media portrays this part of the world in such a negative light). The people, cities and landscapes here were simply amazing, something the three of us can all agree on, as you will start to see in this post.
Our first experience in the country minutes after entering was when we got swamped by taxi drivers and one tried to ‘steal’ Ash’s sunglasses, not too sure why, as they weren’t designer or anything, but just some cheap ones. Like all the other people we’ve meet, they were very intrigued and wanted to hear about the rally, it was nice how genuinely friendly they were. Little did we know that this was just the start of the Iranians and their friendly ways!
But eventually we did make it on the road (again) and were headed to Tabriz. The convoy we spoke of instantly broke up as some teams were still faffing around after being let through but as were all heading to the same campsite it didn’t really matter. Due to the massive amount of time spent at the border we had to have a night drive to Tabriz which was ‘fun’ in the crazy traffic. There was a slight “uh oh” moment when we missed a storm drain and there was an almighty crash. Thankfully the only damage was a dent to the oil sump which further confirmed that we need a sump guard.
The campsite we had been directed to turned out to be a big central park in the city where hundreds, if not thousands, of locals were staying overnight in tents celebrating Eid. But this was pretty cool as there were food stalls and loads of activity, i.e. lots of “Welcome to Iran, where are you from?” from strangers including a pair of military fellows. Realising that there was very little chance of finding the other teams in the park we set up camp with high winds blowing then popped up to the 5* hotel to see if we could grab some Wi-Fi (they had no rooms as it was Eid). Coincidently most of the other teams in the convoy had just arrived at the hotel so we told them about the mini-festival in the park and where we’d set up camp.
Sholeh, our guide, told us the mountain route to the Caspian Sea would take 12hours and motorway would be 6hours. Not wanting to push Lexi too hard we chose motorway but soon got bored with this and made a snap decision to take an alternative mountain route which would re-join the main road and cut out about 200km. The mountains proved to be absolutely beautiful and had a great view of the valleys and peaks. When we stopped at the topmost peak to get a few photos and take a breather a car pulled up and a family of 4 got out and started chatting to us. After a few minutes they left and got back in their car. Suddenly 6 other car loads of Iranians, all related to the first people, swung into the car park and in seconds we were swamped by dozens of people all welcoming us to Iran and generally just being the usual extremely friendly and happy Iranians.
Down the mountain the brakes got a little bit hot and melted the hub cap off…oops…but gave us the opportunity to have lunch with a view and enjoy some melon given to us by some Iranians who also had to let their brakes cool down. Pamir highway here we come!
Traffic jams in Iran were always a lot of laughs – seemingly every car wanted to wave at us and say “Welcome, where are you from? My friend!” We also saw ‘Iranian Tom Seppings’ which was most amusing (a friend of Henry’s and Will from school). We were probably quite delirious from the heat and were thankful when we made it to the campsite and nearby restaurant with fish fresh from the Caspian Sea.
When we woke up we discovered that all the other teams had arrived in the night, ranging between 1am and 5am, and decided that this would be a good time to get a sump guard fitted as Sholeh would be able to help translate and we’d also seen about 100 mechanics on the way into town.
Spent the morning having a seriously great time with the mechanic and his friends, none of whom spoke more than about 20 words of English. Not that that stopped the fun though. One of the younger mechanics, must have been 15 years old even carried out Sapand for us, which is a burning of dried herbs and creating this scented smoke to kill viruses.
After a few hours we caught up with 2 other teams (Team Doris and Micro Management) – they’d spent a leisurely lunch on the beach while we were in the mechanics – and we had a tremendous time weaving in and out of traffic driving the ‘Iranian way’ with them, basically like a lunatic, swerving from lane to lane with no indication and creating multiple new lanes in between lanes. We were even passing the GoPro between cars getting some great footage (video to come don’t worry!)
The people here were so fascinated by us, one family even forced us off the road to stop under a bridge on the motorway to have a photo taken with them.
We decided to stop in the last beach town on the Caspian coastline (using walkie talkies from Doris) and make camp there.
We had a fun evening with them and a group of Iranian youth’s (who gave us bread, chicken and whiskey – who would have thought that the first alcoholic drink on the Rally would be had in Iran!?!)
We took a morning swim with Team Doris and Micra Management in the Caspian. The sea was incredibly calm and almost the same colour as the sky making it all a bit disorientating. Women and men swim in different sections and you walk down a long pier to get to the swimming section. They also had a pontoon to jump off of and Will was ‘gracefully’ doing front flips, sadly no pictures as the camera memory card was full, rooky mistake.
After leaving the Caspian see and the arid landscapes, we soon got distracted by a sign for a waterfall, before we knew it were driving in the hills and under a very green canopy of trees.
Our last night in Iran, was anything but uneventful, the clutch over the course of the day had been getting stiffer and stiffer. As we entered the boarder town of Quichen, the clutch was at the point where we were unable to change gears easily and the clutch wouldn’t disengaged, it made driving and weaving challenging as you can imagine, there were a lot of car horns beeping at us.
The night was drawing in and there were no hotels in the city, the hotel we did fins, was closed and as we later found out has been under construction for the last 19 years. We parked up and wondered the streets, we were very lucky as an English speaking Iranian student, Sirus found us and welcomed us into his family home.
He was great, we parked the car in the courtyard and Will using the Hayes manual for some guidance tightened some bolts and temporarily got the clutch working again. We will be trying to find another garage once crossing the border.
The next morning we woke up early in preparation to spend another day trying to cross a border.