Published: July 27th 2010July 27th 2010
Day 19 Dogubayazit to Tabriz (Thurs 22nd July)
Up at 0630 today - time to cross the border into Iran! We were supposed to depart at 0730, however our coach had managed to get stuck in the car pack (which was tiny, so not surprising!). Fortunately, despite his propensity for getting lost, our driver is actually very good and managed to get it out in just 20 minutes. So we were on our way around 0800. We stopped for pictures of Mt Ararat (where Noah apparently landed the arc - although they are not the only ones to claim they have found evidence to prove it was in a particular place) as well as seeing the campsite where the original Ozbus groups used to camp (before they started using more hostels and hotels).
It didn’t really take too long to get to the border, as we arrived there just after 0900. Fortunately the coach was permitted through the gates into the secure militarised zone, so we didn’t have to walk as far. We then had to clear out the coach completely and carry all our stuff to the Turkish exit gates, where we all got stamps and were permitted
AJ's new look
out of Turkey. He took a bit longer with a couple of the passports, including mine. He didn’t really like the fact that I had 2 Turkish visas. Still, it was only a short time til we were all through and we walked over as a group to the Iranian gates, which were less than 50m away.
Here all the girls had to put on their head scarves and pull down the sleeves of our shirts. It is law in Iran that the head must be covered, as well as elbows and ankles. The guys have to have knees and shoulders covered.
The guards at the gate checked our visas before letting us through, and fortunately our Iranian guide was on hand here to meet us and things went very smoothly. As we passed through the gates the guards asked us where we were from and Thomas got “Champions, champions!” when he said Spain and I got “Skippy!” when I said Australia. It was rather amusing and a few of the guards asked me how many piercings I had...
We had to wait inside while they processed our passports and of course put our clocks forward 1.5
State of the art bathroom facilities
hours. So it was suddenly 1130. By 1230, we had our passports back and were permitted through, except for the English, who had to have their finger prints taken again. Apparently it is the English and Japanese who have to have this done! Weird.
But by 1300 we were pulling out of border control and into Iran. It all went so much smoother than anyone was expecting - we didn’t even get searched or our luggage scanned, which is apparently common practice. I'm certainly not complaining though!
Our first stop was to change some money over, which our guide arranged for us. LJ had this same guide last time he came through and apparently he is very good. Our next stop was lunch - and we were all rather hungry by this point - breakfast seemed so long ago! We made a stop at a restaurant and most of us ate lamb kebab things with rice. Fortunately for me they seem to like to serve things rather bland and you add all the spices and sauce yourself. It was delicious food and hopefully the food will continue to be as good, although we are really expecting to get
Beautiful but very dry
a bit sick here. We have done quite well though, compared to other groups - it seems it is quite common to get sick in Eastern Turkey just because it is very different food and not quite as sanitary.
Lunch was 60 000 rials, which seems a lot when we look at the money and try to work it all out. 15 000 Rial is worth about 1 British pound. Apparently the Iranian banks charge exorbitant fees for westerners to withdraw money (up to 100euros), so we all had cash with us, either in Euros or US dollars. From the look of it, things are going to be rather cheap, even despite the fact that we will be buying a lot of water and eating in restaurants to avoid food poisoning or upset stomach.
Iran is beautiful. There are quite a few mountains, which I hadn’t actually realised. It feels a very old country and is very dry. Hot, too, which is not really helped by the clothes we have to wear. I mean, I wear jeans all the time anyway, so that doesn’t bother me, and I usually wear a hat, so the head scarf is fine
The Blue Mosque
Once upon a time it was in fact blue...
- its the long sleeves that get me most! Oh well, we have an air conditioned coach and some beautiful scenery to distract us from any discomfort caused by the excessive heat.
Our first stop in Iran is Tabriz. We arrived around 1800, with plenty of time to go for a walk before turning in. We did, of course, nearly get run over at our first road crossing! The traffic is amazing, reminds me a lot of Cairo, though not quite as bad. We did get a lot of attention, and didn’t see any other tourists at all. Stephen got a lot of attention because of his shaved head, and Lynn got quite a bit due to her red head scarf. I fit in quite well, wearing all black, except for those piercings...
People kept stopping to say hello and a few just stared without blinking at all. It feels strange to be so completely out of the ordinary. We stand out so clearly and it is obvious to everyone that we are western tourists, which is something they don’t get much of!
Got to be careful when buying things though because for some reason they miss
This is how you know you've really left Europe - Asian toilets!
a zero off the amounts. So if something costs about £4, that will be about 60 000 rial, but they will say “six thousand”. Its a little confusing but hopefully wont take long to get used to. Just add another zero on to anything they say!
Day 20 Tabriz to Zanjan (Fri 23rd July)
Another travel day today and Ali nearly didn’t get up. When I woke her and told her to get up she thought it was only 0630, but when I asked her if she put her clock forward 1.5 hours when we crossed the border, she leapt out of bed. I don’t think I’ve seen her move that fast yet!
We made a stop at the Blue Mosque before leaving Tabriz (actually, there is a blue mosque nearly everywhere! They really liked using that colour, with lapis lazuli for the colour to represent water) It had been damage in an earthquake in the 18th century and they are still restoring it. Once it is done, it will again be used as a working mosque.
Then we were on our way. The coach today is a bit like a tomb - absolutely silent. I think everyone is rather tired and there is such a huge difference between this country and what most people are accustomed to. And of course, a few people may be going through alcohol withdrawal...
A couple of the group were starting to feel rather ill, so instead of going to the Sultanamet dome today we will go tomorrow morning. So instead we headed straight to the hotel, arriving in the mid afternoon. After a bit of rest a few of the group went out for a walk. It has been emphasised to us not to head out alone here, and for the girls to have a guy with them all the time. I don’t think Stephen and Sean have ever been as popular! Richard and Aisleen go off and do their own thing, as does Thomas, so its just the 2 guys with 7 girls. Poor Norma got a bit of unwanted attention this afternoon (blond, after all) which served to emphasise the warning all too clearly. But in general though, the people are very friendly and just want an opportunity to talk to someone completely different and practice their English.
We had another “family meeting” today to discuss the trip so far, air any issues, and get the itinerary for the next week. There was a change with our flight to Pakistan so we will be spending an extra half day in Tehran, flying through the night and then the Pakistan itinerary will move backwards 1 day each place until we can catch up in Lahore by only spending 2 nights there instead of 3.