IRANIAN EPISODES PART I - “WELCOME TO IRAN”
Shortly after our arrival in Iran it became clear that a single short blog entry will by far not be sufficient to cover our adventures in this vast country full of welcoming and warm hearted people. The following describes some of our experiences, shorter or longer in more or less chronological order - of course always in the eye of the beholder, which is me (Ulf) in that case. I have to admit t!hat some episodes might have a different touch when told by Berna ;-). Enough talking...!
Episode 1 - Iranian petrol stations!
We crossed into Iran with very little fuel still left from Macedonia. No wonder considering the fuel prices in Turkey we had no intention to fill-up there. We heard stories about a diesel tax for tourists in Iran or the famous diesel card that you have to buy as a foreigner at the border for horrendous amounts. Nothing of that happened, the border crossing was smooth and friendly (I got a welcome cake before they looked at our papers) although sometimes confusing and we still have some papers we can not really make sense of. We also heard of petrol stations with long queues and no diesel, so needless to say that we were a little tense on the first few kilometres without petrol station. Berna already experienced what it means when one of our tanks runs empty and I had no intention to try that with the second one too. I picked a shortcut via Shot - place hard to find as on the small roads road signs tend to be in Arabic letters only - and to our surprise we see a petrol station. We pull in in front of a pump (which luckily is diesel) and try to find someone to help me. The obligatory “Welcome to Iran” was followed by some shouting to a local truck driver to get out of his truck and give us his card. Using paper and pencil we agreed on the amount and while Rouletout was filled up for 5000 Rial / litre (which is about 12 Euro cent and twice the price locals pay) by the helpful truck driver a crowd formed around us to find out more about the strange couple and the dog. A few friendly handshakes and farewells and we were - filled-up - on the road to T!abriz.!
Episode 2 - Our first encounter with the traffic police!
On day 2 in Iran we arrived in Tabriz, with about 1.5 million inhabitants the biggest town in the north. For those who are used to traffic and driving in Rome, Tirana or Istanbul - this is child-stuff. Iranian drivers can easily make 5 lanes out of 3, turn 90 degrees right in front of you at 60 km/h and ignore any basic traffic rule. It also seems to be forbidden to use indicators so abrupt stopping right in the middle of the street to buy something, pulling out of virtual parking lots without looking or crossing a 4 lane road full of traffic are completely normal. On top of that you shouldn’t be surprised if someone comes your way on a multi lane one-way road, he is probably just taking a shortcut home. And don’t turn on your lights unless it is completely dark, it will most likely confuse the other drivers. The good thing however is that all that happens without any sign of aggressivity and that the abundant traffic police seems to be a spectator; The 24’000 road deaths a year are the price to pay for this freedom on the road (no need to mention that I like driving here!!). So back to Tabriz: experiencing this traffic for the first time we were desperately looking for a parking lot for Rouletout in the city center (which is by the way off limits for trucks and buses). Seeing a traffic police man I pull down the window and ask for parking. The friendly police man stops the traffic on the lanes left of me, walks over to me and tells me to follow him. He also stops the traffic on the 4 lanes crossing in front of me and guides us to the corner of the crossing where he chases a taxi and a private car in front of a Stopping forbidden sign and tells us to park Rouletout here. I ask cautiously but he insists, if we stay just a few hours this place is perfectly ok. Where are you from a!nd “Welcome to Iran” and we are heading into the city and the historical bazaar. !
Episode 3 - Discovering Baraghan, a new climbing spot near Teheran!
One thing we learned on our trip is that even with good information we can easily spend a day to find a new climbing area. It wasn’t that much different with Baraghan, we had GPS-coordiantes but no good map (yes, there are places where even Google does not provide the information you need) so we crossed through Karaj, a major town just west of Teheran and started to drive up the mountains towards our waypoint. As it was getting dark we decided to stop at a flat spot and continue in the morning. After having crossed a village on really narrow roads and arriving at some dead ends we finally found the right path with the help of some villagers. We saw a cliff on the other side of the steep mountain valley and decided to explore it. We walked down, crossed the river and found a really nice climbing spot with a lot of potential and currently about 15 to 20 routes. While we scouted the different levels of the cliff Berna spotted a white pick-up truck next to Rouletout with 2 or 3 men. They obviously looked at Rouletout and tried to draw attention using their horn. As we had found the climbing spot we decided to walk back to Rouletout and get ready for climbing. While we hiked up towards the road gun shots were fired. Berna decided to walk slower and as I arrived on the road 2 men came towards me. They claimed to be police and asked for the passports. One of them showed me his ID (which was all Arabic) and when he learned that we were tourists once again we were “Welcome to Iran”. They took pictures of our passports and seemed so happy that we came to visit their country that they hugged and kissed me. We had to take pictures with them in front of their pick-up (with nice golden and black flags) and Rouletout and before they left they offered us snacks and vegetables. We stayed there for 3 nights much to the curiosity of the passing villagers who regularly stopped, asked a few questions and welcomed us to their area. On day 3 two of the villager cars stopped to bring us fresh bred and wish us all the best on our journey which led us to Iran’s metropolis, Teheran with more than 15 million inhabitants.