“Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Iran” was written on the walls of the first building we came across after leaving Azerbaijan. Besides the friendly message there were the strict faces of the Ayatollahs: Khomeini and Khamenei watching every one of our steps.
A few minutes earlier we were sitting in the airconditioned room of the Azerbaijan border control chatting with the friendly officials as they were serving us cool water. Outside it was unbelievably hot. Later they made some pictures of us and we were allowed to leave the country. Goodbye Azerbaijan! We crossed the historical Aras river that divided the city of Astara in a Russian and a Persian part in former days.
From now on everything was written in Farsi, the Persian language and fortunately for us also in English most of the time. Before we left Azerbaijan, Claudia put on her bandana to cover her hair as it is obligatory in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unnecessary to say that she felt uncomfortable wearing that hot thing under the helmet when it had already more than 35 degrees. We stopped near the “Welcome” sign as a man sitting inside a building called us to show our documents and passports. At the same time another official came to look at the bike and asked us to open our bags. He wanted to know if we had some alcohol with us and asked us if we knew the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We answered him yes, we think so and he went off. Another official gave us a stamp in the carnet and we were officially allowed to enter Iran.
Riding away from the border we were sweating very hard as we arrived in Astara and saw the sandy beach and the blue ocean inviting us to go swimming. There was just this minor detail that we were in the Islamic Republic of Iran and women normally don’t just jump into the sea wearing a bikini like in other parts of the world. As we went to the water there was a group of women looking curiously in our direction and taking pictures of us. Soon a friendly conversation started and their brother asked us if we were hungry because they wanted to go to a nearby restaurant. We had a really good time eating traditional Iranian kebab with bread and drinking Coca-Cola. With our new friend, a soldier for the Iranian army, his mother, his two sisters, the husband of one sister and their two cute children we were mostly communicating by translation app. They usually came to the Caspian Sea on the weekends. In the end they insisted on inviting us and didn’t let us pay. People were smiling and waving at us from other cars. Some were filming us with their smartphones. This was how being a celebrity would feel like.
As the tank was getting low we went to the next petrol station. We were not the only ones. There were many cars standing and waiting for their turn to fill up some fuel. As we didn’t find any exchange office until then we had only dollars so we asked the guy if it was possible to pay with them. He agreed and wrote down an exchange rate that was much too high. Another guy tried to help us and talked to the guy at the gas station, but we didn’t understand because they talked in Farsi, the Persian language. After a while our savior told us that he had just paid for us.
He didn’t accept our money so we ran after him with some sweets to thank him and his friend. Their names were Amir and Farbod. Being really interested about us and the motorcycle they invited us to sleep at their place. Farbod asked if he could sit on the bike during the ride. So Claudia sat in the car next to Amir. On the highway towards Teheran cars didn’t care about basic traffic rules. If there were three lanes there were at least five or six cars next to each other. It was also completely normal to overtake on the wrong side. In the car Amir listened to American musicians such as Tom Odell or different Hollywood music soundtracks. The great company and the music helped Claudia to forget about the crazy traffic. As we arrived at a nice building Amir’s sister and mother greeted us friendly. The living room was decorated tastefully with beautiful carpets and wooden ornaments. We learned that his mother was an architect. In Persian culture it is common to give the visitor a gift so they presented us with a beautiful porcelain jar. It looked amazing but didn`t really fit on the bike so we decided to send it home later. We had a great evening with them as they served us very good Iranian kebab. They did everything to make us feel comfortable and the mother even let us sleep in her beautifully decorated bedroom.
On the next day after a delicious homemade breakfast together with Amir and Farbod we went to Teheran to visit Farbod’s family. The traffic was crazy, red traffic lights were being ignored, motorcycles were riding on the sidewalk and driving against the one-way-street.
The flat at Farbod`s place was also stunning and tastefully decorated. His parents were very religious so his mother was wearing the hijab even inside. They invited us for a delicious dinner with rice, chicken, potatoes and salad. Farbod’s father even showed us the Quran with a translation device so we could listen to the English version. Before going out Farbod’s mother gave Claudia a coat because apparently long loose trousers, a long-sleeved loose shirt and a head-scarf were not enough to wear for a woman in Iran. Amir and Farbod showed us around in Teheran and we admired the glittering lights of the illuminated city. Many young people were out drinking tea together as drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden. We also learned that some of them didn’t take those rules too seriously and even had girlfriends or boyfriends and drank alcohol on private parties. The next two days we spent together having lots of fun. Amir helped us exchanging money for a good rate, getting an Iranian sim card and showing us the best places in Teheran like the bazar, the Park-e Schahr and the post museum. We would have liked to spend more time with them but our Turkmenistan entry date on our visa was getting closer so we had to say goodbye to our new friends.
On the road again we had some incredible experiences with Iranian hospitality: one driver turned around on the highway to drink a cup of tea with us; nother car was driving beside us to give us some fresh bread while driving with highway speed; another time people gave us fresh mangos or sweets at petrol stations. It was an incredible experience. People wanted to take pictures with us and invited us for tea all the time even during a police control.
From Teheran we went on a place called Abyaneh, an old historical town. We could easily imagine it looking nearly the same thousands of years ago with its old mud buildings.
Isfahan was one of the Iranian cities we were most curious about. When arriving in hotel Totia we met Niklas from Germany, another motorcyclist. We spent a nice evening together with another motorcyclist from Brazil exchanging travel experiences while drinking Coca-Cola instead of beer.
“Isfahan is the center of the world” is an old Persian saying and we were not disappointed. The huge Naqsch-e Dschahan, the famous bazar and the nearby mosque are definitely worth visiting. We even got an unofficial private guided tour on top of the highest tower of the mosque where we had a breathtaking view over the whole city of Isfahan.
Our next stop was the desert town Yazd. It was incredibly hot, about 45 degrees, so we spent most of the day relaxing in the airconditioned room and went out in the afternoon. At the Amir Chakhmaq Complex we saw a group of soldiers taking photos and having fun. They approached us and wanted to take pictures with us. Yazd at sunset was stunning. The buildings were lightened in different colors and the city came to life. People were walking around or sitting outside to drink tea. On our way back to the hotel we saw an Africa Twin belonging to a Romanian person according to the number plate. The driver was nowhere to be seen so we left a card with our contacts on the bike and went back. Later we got a message from the owner who found our card. His name was Andor and we arranged a meeting on the next day to ride together to Chak Chak fire temple and the old town Karanagh. On the next morning we rode together through the desert and had fun riding the offroad part to the Zoroastrian temple. Step by step we reached the temple on the mountain where legend says that Nikbanou, daughter of the last pre-Islamic Persian ruler of the Sassanid Empire, was cornered by the invading Arab army in 640 CE. Fearing capture Nikbanou prayed to protect her from her enemies. In response the mountain miraculously opened up and sheltered her from the invaders, we were told.
The three of us went on to Karanagh, an over a thousand-year-old abandoned mud-brick town. The view across the valley was amazing as we went around the clay-colored old buildings exploring the ancient town. After saying goodbye to Andor, who went back to Yazd, we went on through the dasht e-kavir to see the desert Mesr. As it was getting dark we decided to pitch our tent next to the street hidden behind some hills. The starry sky was the most beautiful we have ever seen so far. There were glittering stars in every direction we looked. It was an amazing experience sitting in the still warm summer night simply watching the stunning sky.
The next morning the thermometer on the motorcycle showed us 40°C at 8:00 am. The temperature rose continuously up to 47°C in the early afternoon. It felt as if a hot air-dryer blew into our face. On the way we stopped at the oasis town of Garmeh. Beautiful palm trees grew in the middle of the dry desert. We went on the straight road to Mesr village. From there on, there was no paved road anymore but sandy off-road paths. The sandy dunes looked amazing but we didn`t stay long because there was no shade anywhere to be seen. Due to the uncomfortable high temperatures we decided to take the 800 kilometers straight to Mashhad. Already looking forward to a nice airconditioned hotel and a cool shower after a 12 hour ride under rough conditions we were quite disappointed as we arrived in the hotel at 2 o`clock in the night. The bathroom was smelling so badly that we decided to skip the shower and go straight to bed. Furthermore the air condition was dripping so the whole floor was wet after a short time. Nevertheless we fell asleep soon. The highlight of Mashhad for sure was the Imam Reza Shrine, a complex which contains the mausoleum of Imam Reza. We learned that it was the second most important Islamic place in the world. The area was huge and opened 24 hours a day. Upon entering, Claudia got a long coat to cover herself. There was a huge space where many people were sitting on carpets reading or praying. There were illuminated fountains and glittering buildings. It was unbelievably beautiful.
In summary we can tell that the ten days we spent in Iran were far too short. There are so many things to discover in that beautiful country and we definitely want to come again some day in the future.