Next came the Iranian Border: and it was very easy. A Turkish gentleman who just likes to help and practices his language skills by getting travellers through the border made the ordeal through the Iranian border a breeze.
A cursory check of the vehicle by bored officials and then into the Persian side where I was greeted with “What are you wearing!” by one of the guards. Apparently my boardies just wouldn’t do. A quick change and a friendly smile all round and the soldiers were all happy and off we went into Iran. Again High Fives as we passed the broken teeth of watch towers disappearing over distant mountains covering an imaginary line.
OMG…the Iranians have towns and cars…who would have thought?
My first impression of Iran was of dust and dirt, brown and hot. The first town was alive with people, shopping and gawking at our unusual presence. Now Iran does not take our credit cards, which would have been great to know before I filled up. After a crazy and funny bout of sign language we paid in US$ and shaking hands were on our way. Ramadan is the Muslim festival where the locals don’t eat til the sun goes down. We were starving, but had to wait til after 9pm and had the best kebabs with rice. Now remember all those stories about travellers being hassled incessantly about local customs and laws? It’s just not true. The Persian people are extremely understanding about foreigners and will just let you know if you have done something wrong. No arrests. No stoning. The large, angry looking, gentleman at the next table quietly said something to me as I tiredly ate my meal with my left hand. A bit of a no no as this is the hand they use to clean themselves with. I simply apologised and thanked him; he smiled and waved as he left. No cops or anything. We slept in the cool of the mountains that night.
I love the cash exchange in Iran: after visiting several banks we finally found one that would help, thanks to a gentleman in one bank we were able to get in to meet the big guy in another bank. $150 US got us 1.5 Million of the local money. Nice. There was mention of getting naked and throwing it around, maybe rolling around in it a bit. Never happened. That’s my story. The scenery was changing as well: massive mountains like sleeping beast, breaking into valleys with cool lush green splashes. A long low mountain chased beside us, covered in a thick veil of moving cloud along the peaks. We followed a road that quickly turned into a track that quickly turned into a mountain goat trail and followed it up past blackened hills, scarred by running creeks, into the mist. Up and up we went towards the cloud and finally drove past gaping valleys beside the road and into the cloud itself! The temperature dropped and so did the visibility, dodging sheep, goats and cows we drove through the thickening white. Some nice people flagged us down near the top for photos and a gift of watermelon. Apparently a nose job is a status symbol and the young lady had some bandages on her nose, some people even fake the nose job. But I think you would be able to tell.
Like a magician removing the magic cloth, the clouds parted and we were in the beautiful mist-forests of NW Iran. Amazingly lush and green, misty rain, cool and refreshing. We sat and had a good lunch by the side of the road as we waved at the locals driving by. We followed the suicidal road through to Mesuleh, a very well known stepped town, high in the mountains. This place is built into the side of the hills and many of the houses have common walls, roves and floors. One man’s roof is another man’s patio. With all features of a town, it even had a small waterfall running through it. Apparently the government in Iran started to make knitted dolls in a bid to combat the increasing yearning by children for Barbie dolls. The knitted dolls come in all colours with different outfits. They didn’t catch on for some reason.
As we drove from the mountains the temperature noticeably increased and we decided to finally sleep by the side of the road. Big Mistake as the trucks drove past and beeped all night! We woke up early and headed through the mechanics town of Saveh, where everyone seemed to be fixing cars. All manner of auto mechanic littered the streets and we managed to get some oil from a friendly local. On through a 50 degree day we travelled the highway and managed to get some nice fresh cold water. Then 2 minutes later the engine threw a spark plug and we hobbled back to a service station where the guys there helped by calling a tow truck for us. The guy that came through couldn’t find the right size spark plug and basically rebuilt the old one. And for basically nothing. We thanked him and were again on our way. But, Boom! Again it went and I hiked the 5 km back to the service station where again our friend was called and towed us back to Saveh.
So our helpful tow truck driver got us onto a quest to find some parts for the Ambulance, but this seemed a massive chore to find anything remotely American in Iran. He mentioned that in Tehran we may find the part, but this was 200 km away and a long tow. The Spark plugs he had just wouldn’t fit, but then a look came over his face and he ducked off for a minute. When he got back he was beaming and took me across to a metal machinist workshop where they proceed to machine the base of the old spark plug to fit the smaller one, and with a little arc welding it was done. A work of art! And it did indeed work a treat. For about $4. Unbelievable. He gave us his number and instructions for what to get in Tehran. We couldn’t thank them enough and off we went to Tehran.
Tehran is hectic. A massive sprawling, moving, living, breathing creature of a million moving parts. Driving there is kind of like road Russian roulette. One-way streets filled with lumbering, coughing, stuttering trucks and buses, pestered by swarms of small bikes darting about, flitting in and out of the traffic of various cars, Peugeot and Renault and local cars including the extremely versatile blue ute, a ballet, a dance of synchronised chaos. Hundreds of moving items including pedestrian moving as one if you look close enough, looking for the smallest opening to dart in and make a few inches. Then the stores: you can literally buy anything in Tehran. And it’s very much up to date with western technology. In our cities we have suburbs, but it seems that in Tehran you have areas built around specific items. The shoe district, the electronics district, the food district, the car part district. And all new! We found ourselves a shifty car park and good hotel with wifi and slept to the rhythm of the traffic.
The next morning I was on a mission to fix the Ambo: I met up with a lovely Malaysian lady who was a little scared to walk through the city by herself. A strict Muslim area she told me that her daughter had been hassled by some local youths the night before. But some older man had come to their rescue and chased the youths off. I needed to get some money to pay for repairs and took all of my cash with me as Wendy and I walked the 30 minutes to the exchange back. Past endless rows off stores of all kinds I noticed that she was very much the centre of attention amongst the men in the city as they looked her up and down without subtlety. Every guy. Every single one.
At the bank I changed my money for 52 million of the local! So much money considering our hotel only cost 400000. But I had no idea how much repairs would cost. I found the Bosch spark plug store but they didn’t have my part. The young guy there took me into mechanics heaven to find the one guy in Iran who sold ford parts. 4 stories of twisting turning stores, hot and greasy, with parts galore. I believe you could start from scratch in this place and build a car. Mr Rezi spent all afternoon helping me install the spar plugs, gave us a spare set and some other parts, helped me give the car a minor service and all for $20. He is such an amazing person and we found this to be the case of all Iranians. Careful, caring and giving. Even the hotel manager extended our checkout more than 4 or 5 times to after 530 pm so we could get the car fixed.
From here we decided to head north west towards the Turkmenistan border as the 50 degree days int he south may not have been good for the Ambo. Tehran gave way to beautiful soaring peaks and mountains and a cool, misty valley drive past the tallest peak in the Middle East.
On waking we travelled through cloudy flat plains on a circuitous route through the north west and actually had some rain. A torrent fell from the sky in the desert farmlands and we passed surprised locals who just drove up in car loads to the rivers and simply stared at the swollen, flooding waters splashing through what we assume were simple creeks. A wrong turn or two later and we found a small dusty town at the end of a road where dozens of kids and adults came out to greet us. I honestly believe that the idea of using an ambulance is a bit of a joke by the organisers of the rally. Most of the travel books and information tell you to be discreet as western travellers in the lands. But people love us and cant get enough of us. Gifts of food were overwhelming and the people in Persia are some of the best people I have met. Most of the religious taboos I have been told about were not as strictly enforced as we were told, and most of the time we had nothing at all said to us. And an ambulance in the middle east is like tattooing a smiley face across your ass. Nobody knows why its there, those who see it will talk about it and tell their friends for ages, its a novelty and a good icebreaker. Shaking hands, smiling, broken English, “hello I love you”.
Past millions of tracks from a million hoofs over a million years that lace the dusty mountainside in browns and greys we met up with some Aussie boys and camped for the night.
The long drive to the Turkemen border came with supplies and petrol and we left Iran as we entered it: through dusty browns and yellows, though it wasn’t quite as hot.