Time to say goodbye

A wonderful time of motorbiking, exploring, suffering from heat, storytelling and good comradeship was about to end that morning at Khersaan river. Pawel and Beate need to get to the Turkish border soon and still have a good chunk of distance to cover. Safe travels and see you in Aachen.

We decided to head in direction of Shiraz but without leaving out the Lost Paradies and the beautiful Doroudzan lake. Lost Paradies is a poorly paved 2 kilomter pathway alongside a small creek, where Iranians spend their afternoon and evening. Trash everywhere, tents, noise, souvenir shops and motorbikes, also using this pathway are all over the place. Maybe it used to be a lost paradies, now there is nothing what reminds of paradies.

The camp spot instead totally blown us away. The dried out lake banks were a perfect off-road track and offered some unique and deserted spots for camping and swimming. We dipped into the water the second time that day and prepared the salad for dinner. Iranians obviously like company and so we got some neighbors after our tent was perfectly built up. For the chai in the morning and a funny extended typical „Iranian2German“ chat we happily tolerated it.

As we got a taste for remote places and the fact that getting stuck in city traffic at 37 degrees we avoided the metropolis since Tabriz. Shiraz should be an exception. It was always on our itinerary and after 15 consecutive days of riding we decided to take a two days break. But not before we haven’t seen Persepolis, the ancient palace of the Persian kings, 60 kilometers east of Shiraz. As always at such old monumental places: Impressive what people were able to build in the past without the technology we have nowadays. We limited our time here as the 42 degrees really made us suffer in our motorbike pants.

We preferred to get to Shiraz to hang out in the little and beautiful Boutique Hotel in the center of the city close to the Holy Shrine of Shah-e-Sherag. A must go for us as temporary neighbours. Feels odd as not muslim being in such a holy place for Iranians, but people didn’t feel really bothered. It had more the atmosphere of a big place to hang out together. Family and friends together in a perfectly illuminated „campus“ under Mohammed’s surveillance…

We didn’t really feel like doing anything the next day but the city seemed to be worth going out, despite the heat. Unfortunately – or fortunately, the city was more or less empty. It was Friday and we were forced to do nothing. For our purposes Shiraz gave us everything we needed but we’re sure that there’s more in this beautiful city.

The amenities of a hotel made us being unsuccessful in starting early to escape from the heat. Daniel spotted a curvy road eastbound but getting out of the city of Shiraz already cost us energy and loads of sweat. Frankly, we felt kinda proud how we maneuvered through city traffic. There are more or less no rules, but magically it works that nobody crashes and nobody is upset. We transformed to Iranians when it comes to traffic 😉 The heat was unbearable and even the mandatory watermelon break didn’t satisfy. Then we drove through fields of date palms and entered a road to an area obviously nobody goes to. The next three hours we didn’t see any car and exactly three people. Two of them after one hour of perfect asphalt and beautiful curves.

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A wooden barrier made us stop and we were sure to must go back the road we just came. One guy wore an uniform – apparently for a long time already and haven’t been brushing his teeth for even longer. Even though his smile wasn’t nice to look at, it kinda comforted us a bit. We don’t know what he and the other guy who obviously just handled the barrier, protected but we were happy that they let us pass. The beauty of the roads kept staying but our feeling of uncertainty in what kind of area we were in, too. All the villages we passed were abandoned. Some looked as if people still lived there the day before, some villages showed rotten and destroyed houses. As we reached a road with a „do not pass“ and several other Farsi signs, as only road shown by our GPS, we were happy that we found the third person who helped us find the new road to the city we wanted to go to. The day became longer and longer and short after the sunset we arrived at a hotel in Behbahan. That the temperatures reached 45 degrees that day wasn’t in our minds the entire day but 38 degrees after 11pm made us realizing it. The forecast didn’t say anything differently for the next day…

This next two days are pretty easy to summarize. Cover distance and drink, drink, drink. We never experienced 47 degrees before in our life.

Everything we touched that day was incredibly hot and the worries about men and machine grew every minute. We didn’t search for campsites or lakes (these are dried out anyway) but for hotels with aircon.
The forecast told us that Kermanshah supposed to have decent temperatures. The next destination was set and we tried something new in Kermanshah.

As you may have noticed we are heading in opposite direction of India now. Our GPS is still working properly but some issues made us reroute a bit and unfortunately we had to let go the final destination India. Though the webpage’s name isn’t 100 percent accurate anymore we have some other beautiful countries ahead of us.

Maybe our route reveals which country might be our next 😉

Heading further South in Iran

We started early in Quom just as we wanted to leave and as we knew we had to cover some distance. Driving out of the city and on to the highway direction South. Another advantage of starting early – it won’t be so hot so quickly. So we drove, the landscape got more deserted and dry, the heat increased. It was just straight forward, only thing kept us entertained were the many old Mercedes trucks in colourful appearance and the crazy driving, honking and thumbs up from the Iranians passing by or standing at the side of the road.

We were heading to a lake to relax outside and enjoy nature after our hotel night due to given – police – circumstances from the day before.

Our lunch break in the outskirts of Isfahan surprised us with excellent tasty kebab, fresh bread and for the first time in Iran real coffee.

We finalised the plan pinpointing a lake around Zayanderud dam. It is a holiday location for the city people of Isfahan and we were told that overnight camping is not possible in this protected and secured area… what a bummer. After our experience with these areas from the day before we weren’t 100% confident for the wild camping however drove around to find a spot and chatted with a few people and finally a younger guy assured us there are nice spots a bit up North at he lake. As he couldn’t explain the directions he told us to follow him, he will show us the spot. So glad we did… it was an incredible spot to set up camp!

The young guy even returned 2 hours later to check if everything was fine and we are good. What an effort and again showed the caring Iranian nature.

We enjoyed a good night of sleep, had a good breakfast with scrambled eggs, coffee, lavash and salad. Good start for the next stop down south. Again we were prepared to just cover distance and figured to go again to find a nice location for camping at a river between the mountains hoping for some water to get a dip and refresh.

Driving, driving, driving. Not much around, a few stops, a dip in a river under a bridge was the highlight – so refreshing!

Some smaller mountains finally appeared after all this paved straight highways and we arrived late afternoon around city of Fars. A smaller typical highway city:

We passed through to check the river bank and saw a few people at the river. As we didn’t eat yet and this smaller village didn’t have a shop or restaurant we went back to 20 minute again Fars city and had a very tasty dinner again, typically served on the ground.

Getting back to the river for spotting for a place to put up camp a car pulled up next to us and the usual chatting started. As we were talking one guy advised us to head up the river for a much nicer place to camp. We followed his advise and found again a fantastic quite option with the possibility to go for a swim. Only downside – mosquitos. Didn’t matter as some very kind and funny fisherman showed up, gave us some chai and lit up a bonfire. Nice atmosphere!

The next day it was time to say good bye to Beate and Pawel….

What’s going on? Our story with the Iranian 👮

What was planned to set up camp at a lake and maybe a bit of off-road driving at lake Namak, northeast from Tehran turned out to be one of these stories only travelling will bring to you.

Once we found the road leading to lake Namak, we took it, drove through some deserted villages and finally on a straight road through sandy area. The sings at the beginning of the last part written in Persian didn’t mean anything to us. Nice riding, however just straight, an industrial building showed up at the horizon, we kept driving and once reaching it, all of a sudden a pick up truck blocked the road and 3 guys jumped out of the car talking fazi, checking our bikes and gps… we didn’t know what’s going on. Thinking of we might being robbed Beate decided to pass the guys and Daniel followed. Hence Pawel and Jendrik still with the guys talking and yelling, nothing serious after a few discussions and finally we understood that the road is closed and we have to turn around. Also Daniel and Beate understood, Jendrik had the police on the phone, they again told us the road was closed and we all turned around as being told so even though keen to get to know what would have come up behind the block…

We though that’s it… it wasn’t. After a break in the next village to figure out a place to sleep we decided to go to a hotel in Quom for the night instead sleeping at the lake and take the 300km detour. We drove off, stopped again for some water, all of a sudden a guy showed up and took pictures off us and our bikes. Pretty common I have to say but it was different this time. No selfies, no laughs, just pictures. He didn’t want to let Jendrik drive off but he went anyways. Driving for a few minutes we saw in the rear mirrors a car coming to us very quick and trying to make us stop… blocking the road, both indicators on. Starting again, trying to make us stop. We managed to get around for a while but at some point he had Jendrik blocked on the side of the road and got out of the car. Jendrik started to drive off again, the guy tried to pull out the key from his motorbike due to that Jendrik almost crashed. Why all that?

The guy didn’t speak a word England but demanded us all the time to stop and showed some weird looking ID. His friend or colleague at one intersection got out of the car and run to some cops on scooters. We drove off. No cops behind but still the guy, indicators on in his silver Peugeot Pars.

We all managed to drive away, he realized he wouldn’t get us and was just following us closely. Driving for about half an hour, not knowing what was going on, we finally found the hotel in Qom – one of the religious capitals in Iran. We all stopped in front of, the guy came to us but we denied to do anything until the police arrives.

Like usual many people came to us, taking pictures and finally also the police arrived. We still had no clue what was going on. Daniel went to reserve a room, coming back from the hotel lobby he saw at least 10 police men standing around us, also with this guy who followed us. Finally a serious looking police guy approached us and wanted to see our passport and insurance. After a bit of discussion we handed over our passports and obviously all our documents are ok. Even though we handed out random papers as „insurance“ for our motorbikes.

The police men told us to park the bikes in the garage and go to the hotel. We thought everything was done. Quite released, still hungry we went to our room, getting ready for dinner.

What was it? What did we do? Why did he follow us? No clue.

After having set in the room somebody knocks the door of our room. A police men with two guys from Irak – as translator – were standing in front and asked us to go the police station because the police has some questions. Why? We refused. He insisted that we have to go, we insisted we haven’t done anything wrong, want to eat and take a shower. We also invited the police man to ask the questions right away. Discussions… We finally agreed we will get 5 minutes to take a shower, he promised that it won’t take longer than 20 minutes at the police station and there is no problem – why should we go then?

Finally he asked us for our cameras. We agreed that we would keep our cameras in hands, and he can see that we don’t do anything with it, in the meantime we take a shower. So we did.

Daniel and Jendrik were ready to go with their cameras and the police guy to the police station. Suddenly also Beate and Pawel should come too. That wasn’t the deal we interfered. Again discussion. Talking to the police men we finally ended up all together in a police car with 2 cameras and a young police guy, driving crazy with sirens on, through Quom, to the police station. He wasn’t driving, he was flying. Scariest drive ever for all of us.

Having arrived at the station we were asked to sit down, don’t use our mobile phones and wait for what will happen. We also met back the guy who was following us and his young fellow smiling at us. We didn’t think it’s too funny…

All the police guys and the guy went to a room leaving us with waiting. What’s going on? We sat there. An hour or so had passed, we still sat there a young guy approach us to help translating. Didn’t help a lot as neither he would know what’s going on. Feeling a bit worried we now insisted to call the German embassy. Firstly they wouldn’t let us call, we insisted and got handed over a phone to contact the embassy which promptly reacted and called back a few minutes later to talk to the police. Actually without any results. It seemed nobody, neither us, the police, the guy nor the translator would know why we are here. By the way: still having the two cameras with us…

Another half hour passed, the embassy called again, talked to some people – no results. We insisted we got promised it would take only 20 minutes. Now 2 hours had passed. Finally we got called into the police boss office, a special agent came with us and we sat there. Again asking what was going on. Another call from the embassy – no results. Sitting there, we finally were asked to hand out our passports. Talking, discussions in fazi… what’s going on?

Our passports numbers were noted down, handwritten on a piece of paper. Wrong by the way, ok for us. What’s now? Nobody seemed to know. By now it was almost midnight and we still didn’t eat. We decided to just leave the room and pushing to let us go. After almost 3 hours finally they told us we were good to go.

Wait, what? What a show… we were told now that the guy who followed us would be arrested, they were embarrassed we had to come to the police and they will bring us now to back to the hotel. But why did we sit for 3 hours? We still don’t know.

Again back in the police car, again sirene on and even the special agent escorted us on his motorbike back to the hotel. By the way: Daniel still with the 2 cameras in his hands, nobody wanted to see these in the end.

The whole „thing“ cost us 4 hours. We called back to the German embassy everything is fine, had dinner end went to bed hoping it’s over. And it was.

Now we are kind of laughing about the whole story but there had been times we we were a bit worried. Not the nicest feeling being chased through a city by a random guy, being in a police station, not understanding the language, not knowing what is going on. Why did it all happen? Still no clue.

Props to the German embassy in Teheran which was on hold for us, trying to help. Felt good to have some support in this situation.

Our night in Qom the 2nd holiest City in Iran. We left very early the next morning…

Actually met a few other Iranian police during our trip, all were super friendly and helpful we have to say some just asked for a picture.

Driving around in Iran

Waking up the next morning in Mansuleh we found out we slept on the walkway of the cows who belong to an old lady and we would have to leave this place soon so the cows could travel trough… We rushed our stuff together to head further east. All our gear and bikes where heavily dirty from the rough trip through the clouds the evening before.

We left the place and had breakfast together with Beate and Pawel. So nice they had coffee and a stow to heat up water since our is gone. Enjoying a good meal and nice talking we decided to change our plan from going to the Caspian Sea – instead we joined the couple to go to the mountains and for some off-road driving. Gooood choice!

We were trying to reach a castle in the mountains via side roads and enjoyed nice off road riding and on paved roads. A lake appeared and we decided to stay all together another night at lake Zanian instead and head to the castle the next day.

Refreshed from a dip – actually something special in Iran as usually swimming is forbidden in still waters – into the water we took off to go to the castle via tiny roads which didn’t appear on google maps or navigation but Pawel had marked the way on his map. What an adventure. No road really, just gravel and sand, big stones in the way and deep valley ahead. It was a challenge but definitely worth it. So much fun. However we didn’t make it to the castle in the end as the roads just got more rough with some deep mud pudels. We kept driving until reaching normal roads again but now it would be have been a big detour to see the castle… we could see it far away on top of a mountain.

Everybody was happy anyways!

The ride was a bit tiring and so we decided to have lunch/dinner and look for a good sleep in a hotel. Typical kebab and rice, yogurt and some greens.

We stayed for the night in Quezvin. As we have had so many laughs and fun on the road, again all 4 of us decided to keep going together and were off to see the Namak lake to set up our tent and stay for the night. The driving was pretty much straight forward until we reached the road leading to the lake… at least we thought we did, what followed was meeting the Iranian special police and is worth a story for itself. To be continued.

Lots of surprises…

Surprisingly the streets behind the border to the next major city Marand were in perfect conditions and the tires we just changed to more off-road suitable profile seemed too be the wrong choice. But let’s see what we’ll be faced with in more remote areas. Marand appeared on the map to be a perfect city to stop by for a chai, coffee and breakfast. We parked our bikes on the sidewalk close to a bakery. Before we took off our helmets, people started to watch, stop and talk to us. Here is an example of a typical conversation we gonna be performing many many times during our Iran travels:

Iranian: Hello
We: Salam
Iranian: How are you?
We: Good, how are you?
Iranian: Where are you from?
We: Germany! Alman.
Iranian: Ohhhh, Germany, good, good!
We: Iran, good!
Iranian: Motorbike, BMW?
We: Yes, BMW!
Iranian: Ahhhh, good, good, How much?
We: Old bike, old bike. 1500 dollars…
Iranian: Mhhh, take picture?
We: Of course
Iranian: Iran good?
We: Iran, good, Iranian people very good.

One of the guys, Amir, who stopped by advised us to stay for 5 minutes, he would go to get some tea. In the meantime cars stopped, people got of and asked if we needed help or anything else. Amir came back with \na thermos of chai, walnuts, sugar, plus the fresh bread we bought from the bakery. That was our breakfast 🙂

Mahmut, the only guy with a decent English, signaled to help us getting a SIM card for our mobiles. On the motorbikes we followed him on his bicycle through one way streets and over sidewalks straight to a shop. They managed to get us two SIM cards with enough data for our time in Iran and it cost us 5 dollars. In every country it was possible to buy a data SIM card for small money and loads of data so far. Why are prices in Germany ridiculously high and coverage even in major cities is sometimes very poor?
We were asked more than one time if we’d like to stay at somebody’s house our at least have lunch. We denied and insisted to go to Tabriz to stay in a hotel to rest properly after the exhausting days behind us. Hard work not to accept and lots of appreciation to the people for the kindness and hospitality at the same time. Some detours in Tabriz city lead us to Azerbaijan Hotel were we aimed for some recovery time and a first impression of a major Iranian city and the climate. It is hot and as a natural reflex Jendrik put on a shorts to bring some clothes to the laundry service across the street. 3 minutes later he came back, the dirty clothes still in his hand and a scary look on his face. NOBODY wears shorts in Iran, even when it’s 60 degrees. People just won’t respect you and they showed Jendrik in a very dismissive manner. Lesson learned, we better do our homework before getting to another country. Tabriz is a vibrant city and really comes alive after dark. Too late for us. Totally knackered from all the action of the last 24 hours we had a dreamless night. Almost recharged, the first visit of a bazaar was mandatory.

We didn’t buy anything but relished the noise, the smell, the people and the diversity of the products. We watched out for a breakfast, as we didn’t make it in time to the hotel buffet and bumped into an English speaking guy from the tourist office who brought us to a breakfast place. We painted a picture of bread, scrambled egg, jam, cheese and a coffee. We got kebab, rice, Lavash (very thin bread) and tomato soup. No problem, it was more than enough. Next thing he talked about were the beautiful hot springs in Sareyn, 230 kilometers northwest of Tabriz. We painted a picture of hot springs evolving from small pools were you take a dip and relax in the sun. The perfect thing for us. Guess what happened…

The curiosity of people in Marand was surprising and overwhelming. What happened in Sareyn was not comparable with that. The first stretch of the most villages or small cities is usually designed as a camp ground/picnic area and are heavily used by Iranian tourists. Very heavy in Sareyn and we stopped right in front of this area…

As we got further into town we realized that this had nothing to do with a cosy and intimate atmosphere what we expected. Instead it was the number one holiday destination for Iranians and the city center looked like Las Vegas Strip with all its neon lights. The hot springs turned out to be, what we call Spa or public swimming baths. Not really what we wanted but still relaxing. The first time in Iran, we didn’t feel „different“. Iranians do wear swimming shorts and some even have tattoos. Women were in a separate bath, though.
Next thing on our agenda was to focus on motorbiking a little bit more, to get in the direction of the Caspian Sea and planned our route accordingly. As we passed a small village around lunchtime, Jendrik shouted suddenly. The reason was a BMW 650 GS same bike he sits on parked besides the road. The rest is easily told. Pawel and Beate from Aachen are in Iran with their bikes, started in Bulgaria, drove through Turkey and admitted to be off-road junkies. Good for us as we looked for some fun riding as well and we decided to continue side by side. Pawel already logged a route which seems to go on remote and small routes, maybe even unpaved. And he nailed it. We witnessed a magnificent spectacle and had an incredible ride through the clouds and the dark, but totally worth it.

We set up our tent in Mansuleh and shared many many stories at dinner. So much fun a a big surprise in the morning when we saw this picturesque little town in the mountains for the first time in the daylight. Again, totally worth it.

Iran – what to expect?

We arrived at the border pretty late, we have to admit. But at borders service should be provided 24 hours, right! We could rely on the Iranians. After the bridge over the Aras river, we parked our bikes in front of a booth, where a young soldier welcomed us with „I love Germany“, advised us kindly to leave the bikes there and proceed to the passengers hall. Good start. As we were the only passengers in that moment, we got our passports checked and stamped right away. A second booth: passport again – registered maybe, security check and successfully entered Iran!!! Stop, our bikes need to be registered. What did we buy the expensive Carnet de Passage for, an in Iran necessary customs document? We asked the security guy and got the answer we didn’t want to hear. „Carnet – police, tomorrow 8, ähhhh or 9. We already accepted the fact to spend the night in the passengers hall but needed some things from or bikes to make the best our of the situation. The following 90 minutes were the first example of multiple encounters with Iranians in Iran. We drove further to the customs and showed our Carnet de Passage with little hope to succeed. One guy came took our passports and the Carnet, we didn’t feel very comfortable with that, and disappeared in a little container. 15 minutes later another guy came and asked for the documents, took them from the other guy in the container and checked the motor number and number plates. He asked us to come to his office, which was obviously closed, as all the other offices there, organised some copies and after 45 minutes he said goodbye and we were good to go. So in the end this guy was off work already and came in just for us without being mad or unfriendly. We were positively surprised and booth knew that this would have never happened in Germany. We felt equally surprised by the fact that nobody checked our bikes and luggage at all. And the in the last post mentioned restriction for bikes bigger 250cc or American brand for entering Iran was never a topic even though it was officially published by the ADAC…

We parked our bikes to get some money exchanged. First we checked the exchange rate online. 45.000 Rial for 1dollar. Then we went to the official exchange office in the passengers hall. They offered us 9800 for a dollar which confused us a lot. Even more confusing were all the private people outside the office who offered us between 1.5 and 1.8 million for the 20 dollars we intended to exchange. Finally we found out that for simplification reasons Iranians still use an old currency, the Toman, which simply means just to reduce the number you have to pay in Rial by one 0 and you get Toman. We gave it a shot and received 1.95 million Rial for 20 dollars. More than twice the amount we would have gotten from a bank. Still confusing. But ok for us.

Without any exaggeration there were 25 selfies taken with us and the bikes in the next hour but everybody was incredibly friendly and interested. The other side of the medal, it was already after midnight and the next bigger city a 90 minutes drive away. What we first thought we had avoided was now our best choice.

We decided to sleep in the passengers hall until sunrise to get the Iran adventure started. It wasn’t the most comfortable night we had on our journey…

Armenia or Azerbaijan?

What do we have to expect in Armenia?

Frankly, it was more or less just a transit country for us to get to the Iran. But soon we figured out we could easily stay in Armenia for three weeks. Not because the driving in this mountain country is so much fun (mountains = curves = fun) also because people are incredibly friendly and there are so many places to visit. We know that since we met Wolfgang at Dreamriders garage who is in Armenia for 2 weeks and recommended tons of places to visit and a place to stay close to Yerewan. A camp spot in Goght, founded by a wonderful Dutch couple 4 years ago. As we were eager to visit most of the recommended spots we only stayed one night and headed to lake Sevan. Some churches from 1st to 4th century on the way made us stop a couple of times before we finally stopped at a beautiful spot at the lake.

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Actually we just wanted to snack our watermelon, but the sun, the lake, the 170 km we covered that day made us set up our tent to stay overnight. 10 degrees that night surprised us a bit, but we were ready for the border crossing. Already Iran? No, we approached the border of the Republic of Bergkarabach or Artsakh, which claims to be independent. Mostly Armenians live here and the region is functioning as a part of Armenia. Azerbaijan still does not accept the fact and the conflict is still ongoing. The regions close to the border show the leftovers of the military actions of the younger past. Aware of the history, we enjoyed the beautiful roads uphill, downhill, alongside a riverbank and the first gravel road since we geared our bikes with our off-road tires. Good choice. We walked into the Art Cafe in Stepanakert, the capital of Bergkarabach, to grab some food and luckily they also offered rooms for a fair rate. Great Armenian food and some preparations for the the next border crossing into Iran kept us busy that evening. The uncertainty, if we can enter the Iran was caused by a released message from ADAC earlier last week, that motorbikes of American brand and over 250cc are not allowed to be brought into the country anymore. Let’s give it a shot! The 260km down to the Iranian border took us longer than we expected but rewarded us with the most beautiful ride of the trip so far. Maybe you get a picture of it.

The last Dram (currency Armenia) were spend for gas and Kinder Bueno (haven’t had that since we started in May). We gave the wine we got from Koba in Georgia to the guys at the gas station (Sorry for that Koba) and put the book „Couchsurfing in Iran“ in the trash bin (sorry Stephan Orth, the book is really helpful) as it could cause trouble when entering Iran and then we were ready to go. Checking out from Armenia wasn’t a big deal, but entering Iran an adventure.