Iran was an interesting experience. The bar had been set pretty high in the build up to the border crossing from Azerbaijan. After somewheres around 7-hours we finally were let out the gate and into the streets of Astara where we were hardily welcomed with shouts and honks and all manner of greetings. And it was immediately apparent we had entered a different world. Most of our route ran along the Caspian Sea with a brief detour South to Tehran for a couple of days. Along the way we had mid-day stop at Masouleh, a village built into the sides of a steep valley hillside with the roof of the buildings below being the street of the buildings above.
We were also introduced to what would be the norm for the next few days where we would attract huge boisterous crowds of people where ever we stopped. "Where you from?", "Where you go?", "What's Your Name?" would be our soundtrack that continued after leaving Iran. And inevitably everyone wanted their picture taken with the motorcycles.
As we road South to Tehran the lush and verdant landscape along the Caspian changed to the arid desert of the interior. As the climate heated up so did the aggressiveness of the drivers and we all had plenty of stories to tell of battles won and lost on the road at dinner that night. The next day being Friday there was not much open so a bus tour of various museums and sites had been arranged.
Surprisingly Tehran as a major city is not actually all that old especially when compared to where we have been and where we are going. It is a huge sprawling place that for the most part exudes a very modern confidence. I'm not sure if it was exactly a highlight but we did do a drive by of the old American embassy with a brief stop for pictures - from inside the bus.
For our return North to the Caspian coast a small number of the group decided to depart at the crack of dawn having been thoroughly unimpressed with the traffic and the heat on the way into the city. The rest of us found a fairly easy ride out at the normal time. I had brought with me a small video camera to record I'm. It really sure what on this trip. I had captured a few things along the way and thought the Tehran traffic as we departed the city might be fun. The traffic was a disappointment and when I stopped for gas found that the camera had bounced out of its mount. Hopefully some kid will find it in a ditch and go on to become a disruptive force in Iran and the rest of the world as a great film maker.
A great send off from Iran on our last day. First part of the ride was fairly unimpressive through a high desert valley. When I pulled into the gas station at Quchan where we were to head north towards the border my clutch cable broke. As I already had a spare routed onto the bike beside the original it was an fairly effortless 10-minute swap and I was ready to go. As we rode through town and stopped for tea the crowds that swarmed around us were by far the largest we had seen while in Iran. And everyone was smiling and yelling and high-fiving and hand shaking and practicing English. It was a blast. And the final section of Iranian road was great, a twisty 2-lane secondary highway that snaked its way up a canyon to the mountain pass where the border crossing was . The exit process out of Iran took almost as much time as the entry process with all that was involved by us was to sit around and wait. Eventually we got through again with a lot of handshakes and assurances that no indeed there are no terrorists in Iran to the men in suits who where at the border to see us off. Getting into Turkmenistan was another exercise in bureaucracy run amock as we lined up at office after office after office where one at a time we collected our paper work, entry stamps and suspicious stares. After all had gotten through the final check with not a hint of contraband to be found in any piece of luggage we convoyed through the first 35km of Turkmenistan, a stunningly beautiful mountain pass and canyon that was a no stopping and no photography militarized zone. As we entered Ashgabat I think we were all taken but the scope and scale of the city. At the hotel bar that night there was much rejoicing.
Admittedly I was unimpressed with Iran the place initially but it has grown on me. I don’t think I need to come back but wouldn’t say no if offered another opportunity. It’s mostly the people that make this place so great and I think the sooner Iran is reintegrated back into the rest of the world the better off the rest of the world will be.