Travel story
Stage 5


Motorcycle trip to Iran

Great Venture
Great Venture

I was driving from Tabriz towards the north and eventually drove all the way to Jolfa and Aras valley. The Aras river is on the border of Iran and Azerbaijan and soldiers have been fighting there for a long time defending the former Soviet Union and Iran empire. It used to be a highly guarded and patrolled border with checkpoints every few hundred meters, no cameras allowed, no unnecessary visits, no parking of your vehicle, and so on…But I must confess I committed a felony since “Officially” you are not allowed to take pictures… and there were signs everywhere.
But It would be a shame to not photograph this valley so I drove during the “golden hour” took some pictures and was enjoying it to the fullest! Arriving at an old Christian Church, the locals advised me not to stay there “because it was dangerous” and they sent me to a nearby resort where I could stay for free and have a free dinner. Thanks for that! (Iranian hospitality is crazy!).

The day after I continue my journey east and set up camp in the grassy hills. While trying to take the perfect shot of the setting sun, two shepherd boys approached me. Arriving at the top and seeing my motorcycle & camping setup, I can smell their entertained and amazed mood! They ask me something in Persian and I answer them in English. They start giggling like two young girls… Of course they don’t understand me, like I don’t understand them…

“I am trying to capture the sunset” – I say to them. They probably thought I was crazy and start laughing even more! “Can I take a picture of you?” – I ask, and when they finally realize I wanted to photograph them, they run shyly and giggling away! Just beautiful! The same shepherd boys eventually came back, although I couldn’t speak their language, we had a great time together! At the end I could take some pictures of them and in return they could hold my camera and take some pictures. The smile on their face was priceless!

I continue my Journey towards Razmian, which is apparently a motocross paradise and I meet a young, Iranian rider girl with her dad. For Iran this is pretty crazy, and so was my respect to her! Ride on girl, you rock!

Arriving in Tehran, my best friend visited me for 2 weeks and we had some awesome “holiday” time exploring the country. No motor biking, just public transport, sightseeing, enjoying local culture, heritage sites and delicious food!

After flying back, it was time to arrange some visas for Turkmenistan and China. I ended staying almost 2 weeks in Teheran but eventually got all the visas. Time to go to Turkmenistan!

I start packing my stuff in the hostel and realize my money from my wallet is stolen. Around $120 was gone and I was running low on local currency too. In a regular country this wouldn’t be a big problem but due to the sanctions, Iran is not allowed to accept foreign credit cards. So here I was stranded with only $50 left and 10 days to drive + crossing the Turkmenistan border which costs around $70-$80 (which I didn’t know at the time or otherwise I would have freaked out even more). It’s gonna be a tight, very tight budget, but this is part of the adventure right! Luckily a full Tank of Petrol is only $2 in Iran… I leave Teheran and start driving towards Bojnourd but not for long…

The second day I take a rest and suddenly see some oil leaking from my engine. I give it a quick inspection and realize my rear shock is blown… Another problem, no money and no time! What to do? Can I even make it to the border?
I was quite in shock because I only got my shock (aftermarket) for one year and it started to leak already. Ok, I did some heavy off road, the bike is heavily loaded and off-road riding in + 40ºC is probably also not too good for the oil sealing (since a shock can become very, very hot to my surprise!)

The problem is that shipping to Iran is almost impossible, I need to be in Turkmenistan within 7 days and I can only stay in Turkmenistan for 5 days (transit visa), so I’ll try to fix it in Uzbekistan… But I still need to cover 1000 to 1500 km on sand, bad roads and dessert conditions. Thanks to the Horizons Unlimited FB page, I got some handy information about how to ride with a broken Shock, stuffing it up with rubber, inner tubes, welding, etc… Tomorrow I’ll try to put some old tire in between the coils to give me some “artisan” dampening. I’ll see how it works out…

After some bumpy miles (due to the leaking shock) I finally make it to Bojnurd and meet Mohsen Qomi, the founder of Overland in Iran. Since I was running low on gold, I could sleep at a very reasonable price in his homestay and in exchange I designed a new logo and sticker for his page and homestay. Although my graphic design skills were rustier than my bike was, I really enjoyed making it! I hope he likes it too.

Realizing that arriving at the Turkmenistan border with only a few dollars wouldn’t work so well, we came up with a master plan, Mohsen knew a guy who knew a guy who was married with a German woman and he could arrange me some dollars! I ended transferring money to their German account and then they gave me some hard currency in Bojnourd. One problem solved! The next day I drive towards the border and was even invited to their house for a free lunch. Lovely people and thanks a million for helping me out!

I take a last off-road section in Iran, driving next to the border of Turkmenistan, wild camping for the last time on Iranian soil and enjoying the last mountains before the desert kicks in. During sunrise two shepherds wake me up with tea, fresh goat cheese and bread. What a luxurious surprise! I give them some chocolate cookies in exchange and everybody was happy!

Traveling through Iran, I was treated with the most hospitable, friendly and open-minded people of the world… I never felt so welcome and safe! The nature is fantastic and there are cultural and scenic sites everywhere! Also, lots of sand, desert, chai, sheeps and goats…
Iran, your hospitality, food, nature and culture were memorable! I did not see any of the terrible stuff the Western media seems to scream about all the time.
Please, don’t believe the hype and DO visit Iran, the people are fantastic and it’s an amazing Country! Well, maybe except for the summer heat… (every day above 40ºC is exhausting).

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