After spending possibly the worst night so far….no air-conditioning (we paid for an air-conditioned room)….no hot water……only one towel (we asked for another and were told there were none)….we were kept awake all night by a digger machine crunching up a foundation (late at night and again in the early morning)…interspaced with gunshots…dog fights….cat fights….and kids fighting in the street with lumps of wood….we took one look at the breakfast buffet and left hungry!
We took a walk down the street to find a money changer and changed some Turkish Lira into Iranian Rial ready to go to Iran. As we were leaving his shop Vince and he shook hands, I offered mine but he refused explaining he is Muslem and cannot touch me. I apologised for any offence and will now adopt a new strategy…..wait until they offer their hands first! We were on the road by around 9.00am for the 132km trip to the border at Gurbulak, then about 300km to Tabriz.
Before long we reached Doguveyazit where we stopped for lunch, though initially we found it difficult to find food. We eventually found a little place with limited offerings and we made our choices by pointing. Mine was quite tasty until I found I was eating blood vessel…suddenly I wasn’t so hungry. But Vince enjoyed his Chicken Donner. We got some bottled water from the local market and were soon on our way again, and to the North East we could see Mt Ararat. As we passed through it was interesting to see the military presence there with bases and armoured vehicles the closer we got to Gurbulak.
We had read on Horizons Unlimited of the various scams being run at the border…so we had discussed a strategy over lunch…we would only deal with officials, would always keep our paperwork in sight and would stick together…..However, no sooner did we arrive at the border (about 1.10pm) than we were basically set upon by a number of different “fixers” all offering us help and all claiming to be there officially. It was very difficult to know who the officials actually were. Vince was great at dealing with the badgering and I was able to get us through passport control and then stamped out of the country at the police post….but the jam up came with Customs and stamping our Carnet Du Passage for the ANIMAL. The customs girl kept claiming we could just go and it didn’t need stamped….but we knew that was NOT the case and that we could really be in for big money later if we didn’t get it stamped. So I dug my heels in and nicely, but assertively, told her I could not leave Turkey without it being stamped or I would be in big trouble in my country. I asked to speak to her manager/boss. She made a call and then spoke to a “fixer” who had been badgering me the whole time. He told me I needed to go with him to get the Carnet stamped …the girl nodded….so I reluctantly followed him. I thought it would just be at the last office….but he took me all the way around to the other side of the crossing….. this effectively separated me from Vince and I was getting a bit flustered by this time. The “fixer” kept badgering me about changing money and I eventually yelled at him that it was none of his business how much money I had and I just wanted my stamp. It shut him up for a while at least. I eventually got the stamp (two more levels up the hierarchy) and of course “fixer” wanted paid. We paid him 20TL for his trouble (which had not been asked for or agree to by us) and he was not happy…but Vince set him straight that that was all he was getting….go Vince!
We then had to wait for the Iranian border gate to open….they had gone to lunch apparently…..but no one explained anything to us and when I asked “customs girl” she just said she didn’t know….truth be told she was too busy playing with her phone. It took around 45 min waiting in the blistering heat (I had to wear a hijab and stay covered up) but eventually a guy in an Army uniform came to open the gate and we all went through. Vince and I were soon set about by “Blue Shirt”….an unsolicited “fixer”. I refused to give him any documents and was then approached by what we think was a “tourist officer” who came out of an office and wore a uniform….he took my documents and told me to follow him…with “Blue Shirt” in tow. This time I waited for Vince and we both went through to Passport Control. Other people (Iranians) were lining up but we were told to sit down. Vince was trying to get rid of “Blue Shirt” but he was stubborn….during our 45 minute ordeal he followed and badgered us continually. When he got nowhere with Vince he tried me….calling me “Mother”….I found it very stressful….but I was following Vince’s lead and not giving anything away. At one point, when we were at the police check, I thought we had got rid of him….but he was soon back with reinforcements…”Stripy Shirt”…who tried to convince Vince to accept help from “Blue Shirt”. He said he was a policeman….I asked if he had ID but he said no….I turned to the two police behind the desk and asked them if he was a policeman and they said yes. This made “Stripy Shirt” angry and he made it very clear to me I was not to ask them any questions in English…believe me there was a lot I would have liked to say to him (arrogant @$#%) but I held my tongue….I am just a woman and we are in Iran after all. Our plan to only deal with officials was falling apart as we couldn’t tell who was who, and it seemed that even the officials were working in with the “fixers”. We were shuffled along to another section with two men who then took our documents away….Vince and I followed, along with “Blue Shirt”, as we had agreed not to let the documents out of our sight. We then came across “Baldy” …another mate of “Blue Shirt”…..he got our documents stamped and a customs clearance form signed. Vince was told to go and move the bike and then three of them all started on me at once…”Come on Mother…….tell us….” but I refused saying “you need to talk to my husband”….it was quite intimidating. A fellow traveller told me “You need to answer their questions…he (”Baldy”) is police…part of the militia”….we were obviously pissing off the officials – unintentionally. In the end “Baldy” extorted money from Vince to “make it all go away”. He wanted 20 Euro but Vince agreed to 10 and we were on our way. At the customs clearance gate another “fixer” tried his luck….but I made it clear I needed no help and I did not want to change any money. I gave my documents to the official in the office but after signing he handed it directly to the “fixer” who took it to the gate as I followed him demanding my document back. He gave it to the gate staff and they let us through…..what an experience….welcome to Iran!
20km from the border we entered Maku, we were a bit unsure which way to go when we came to a roundabout so we pulled over, three or four Iranian drivers stopped to ask if we needed help. One in particular insisted we follow him and he lead us to the main road to Tabriz and even drew us a little map (see pic). People were so nice and helpful.
It was a long ride to Tabriz and getting dark as we arrived. Along the way many motorists tooted horns, rolled down windows and “welcomed” us to Iran etc…..the people here are really so friendly. One young couple, Majed and Sarah, had waved hello to us earlier on the road and saw us pulled up on the outskirts of Tabriz. They stopped and asked if we needed help….and they spoke English!!!! They spent around 40 min letting us follow them through the maze of crazy traffic to a hotel and then negotiating a room for us….how kind. They left us their phone numbers to call if we needed any further help…..how much more welcoming can you get…..the real Iranian people are just lovely!