On the Border Between Turkey and Iran
An adventure at the doors of Iran
The border crossing between Turkey and Iran might be very well my most stressful, scary, tricky, sweaty, hot, lucky and joyful crossing ever.
Since a few months Iran started to reject every traveler who tried to enter with a motorcycle bigger than 250CC. Facebook groups were full with reports of people who got rejected, desperate travelers who didn’t know what to do, possible diversions (over the Caspian sea, skipping completely Iran) or dodgy and expensive solutions of some kind of organized transport with your bike on a truck and only a transit visa for 10 days granted. None of these solutions were fitting my desires: too expensive, too short, skipping Iran, etc…
I really wanted to travel to Iran, and I would try no matter what. After some research on the web I found out that the southernmost border between Turkey and Iran might work. It is known to be a chaotic border crossing and less used by tourists. There was only a very very small chance that it might work but here were my lucky factors:
- Lucky Factor 1: On my Carnet De Passage the CC content of the bike was not written: only the KW (engine power) was noticed. I’ll try to convince them that 37KW is the same as 250CC “but a different Unit, like Inch and Meter”.
- Lucky Factor 2: My bike is a rather old one (22 years) and with only 600CC. It could (with lots of imagination) pass by as an old, air cooled 250cc bike.
- Lucky Factor 3: I’ll cover all signs of 600CC on the bike “accidentally” with some mud from “riding off road”.
- Lucky Factor 4: I’ll pretend that I only speak a little (or rather bad) English and try to talk my way into the country.
Full of motivation, lots of hope and a big smile, I wake up early in the morning and proceed to the border. Let’s hope everything goes as planned and that they don’t catch me!Arriving at the Turkish border post, they stop me and say that my bike won’t be allowed in Iran because it “looks too big”. I have to admit that they were right but I said that I have the Carnet De Passage and that everything will be ok. “it’s an old bike, that’s why it’s so big” …They look sceptic at me, inspect the bike, discuss a little with each other, hesitate but eventually let me through. Alright, that’s already one step closer to Iran!
I start the bike as quiet as possible (like a true 250cc should sound) and drive cautiously towards the Iranian fence. They stop me. I’m fully dressed in my motorcycle suit. The temperature is soaring hot, it’s around 40°C, no wind and no shade. I’m already soaked and now comes even some more stressy sweat. The Iranian soldier, also fully equipped (but standing in the shade), stares intensely at me.After 5 minutes he opens the gate and lets me through. Another gate, this time with some kind of an office next to it. I park the bike in the blind spot and get off. My throat is as dry as the desert right of me. The adrenaline is rushing through my body and I need to suppress a slight tremor in my hands while taking my documents. I need to stay calm! Act like it’s just a regular border crossing and try to be as casual as possible. Fuck, this might be the most stressful moment in my life! I ask the guy what the procedure is for my bike and me, but no answer. Maybe it is my “bad English” (Lucky Factor #4) but I quickly realize he doesn’t speak a word in English.
Eventually some kind of fixer (which doesn’t speak any English either) approaches me and guides me towards the first objective: A guy in a dirty suit with a messy desk. He talks to me in poor English and asks several questions about my engine capacity, the CC’s and where it is written onto the documents. I response in poor English (Lucky Factor #4) to him that it’s not written on my Carnet De Passage and that 37KW is similar to 250CC (Lucky Factor #1). He looks at me confused. Eventually he starts talking in Persian to the fixer. After a while the fixer takes my documents and walks away. I follow him without hesitating because he just took all my bike documents without hesitating!
There we go, objective 2: a guy in a proper suite with a private office and a little-bit-more organized desk. Hmm, this must be an important guy! He shakes my hand and starts the conversation in broken English. After a while I realize that he must be “the Director” of this border post. My stress is building up while I’m trying to act as casual as possible. This might be a hit or miss! He guides me outside towards my bike. He looks at the bike and asks a few questions. I reply to him in broken English (Lucky Factor #4) that it’s an old bike (Lucky Factor #2). The director kneels and takes a closer look. He is searching for the engine capacity written on the frame or engine block. He scrapes of some mud (LF #3) in search for some identification but gives up after a few seconds. I guess he didn’t want to soil his suit. That was a close call!
He stands up and asks again for the engine capacity or CC’s. I answer: “Yes yes Two cylinder, four stroke!” (LF #4). He looks at me frustrated since I “didn’t understand the question properly” (LF#4) and takes some pen & paper and writes down: “CC?”. I answer with confidence: “yes yes 250CC! But It’s an old bike (LF#2) and it’s the same as 37KW like on the Carnet De Passage (LF#1)”. He is still not convinced and inspects the bike again, walks around it and stops at my license plate. “Which country are you from?” he asks. I politely answer with a smile: “Belgium”. Suddenly he becomes really happy and mentions Marc Wilmots. I recognize the name but can’t make a connection.
Then I realize he is our national football coach, but why is he mentioning him? Well apparently, he is our “former” national coach and is now the coach for Iran… We talk about how good he is (although I know nothing about football) and we sum up some famous Belgian players.
The mood is completely changed and he keeps on talking with pride about the Iranian national team and their new coach. The fixer interrupts the conversation and hands over the documents to the director. He goes to his desk and suddenly puts his signature onto my Carnet De Passage. I can barely believe what just happened: A big FAT SIGNATURE!
This is going well! I notice my enormous release of oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, try to suppress it and try not to smile like a lunatic on steroids but act very, very casual. It’s just a regular signature for a 250cc bike entering Iran, nothing special… Still 2 signatures to go and I’m in Iran!
I walk with a steady pace towards the next desk and ask for his signature. He inspects my Carnet De Passage, notices the Director’s Signature, nods positively and puts his signature too. One to go! I walk towards the last desk, trying to suppress my euphoria, and apply for the third signature. Without hesitating he sings the document and off we go! What are the odds? Belgian football saved my ass! And this for a country with less than 12milion inhabitants!
I get on my trusty Belle, start the engine and drive into Iran with the biggest smile mankind has ever seen…