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After 1 week of Iran
Sunday, 08 October 2006
Leaving the Lalezar campsite in Dogubayazit - Turkey for Iran felt like starting a new episode in our journey. Looking back at all the preparations to get here, the short drive to the Iranian border felt strange. Just as if it was not happening. The snowy top of Mount Ararat was shining bright and we hoped for an uneventful and easy border crossing. Dream on….

Just as in 2000, this border took us by surprise. The Iranian side was smooth - just 1 hour mainly due to the arrival of 3 busses with Iranians returning from their holidays. This time it was Turkish customs making our life difficult. Somehow someone at the Greek-Turkish border had registered our truck as a commercial vehicle allowing only one month in Turkey i.s.o. the normal 6 months. Because of the automation, their system had already issued an irreversible penalty of 129 YTL (€ 70,-). The sheer surprise of this got me an instant seat in the office of a high ranked customs officer. They confirmed our legal right on 6 months as a tourist, however the computer system was like this and there was nothing left than to pay the penalty. Even when customs admitted someone had made a mistake at the Ipsala border with Greece. Lesson learned – easy borders in Asia don’t exist.

Round 4 pm we entered Iran – a whole lot later than we expected. Qareh Kalisa was still quite a drive, an Armenian church in the mountains somewhere behind Maku.
Our first impressions of Iran was one of change. The border itself was quite modern compared to what we’ve seen in 2000 what looked like bombed Beirut. Also less money changers, so less hassle. The last stretch of the road we drove in the dark – arriving at Qareh Kalisa round 8 pm. The church was still being restored – now with many men working on the tower. Also the two ole guards where still there and quite busy with the many workers around the site.

The road to Tabriz took us to the El Goli park fast, even allowing us to spend some time to look for Benz parts dealers at the west end of city. We found the car & truck parts area however we decided to just try the Mercedes Benz dealer somewhere on the road to Tehran. Everything was about to close anyway for the weekend. (Thursday and Friday).

El Goli park is very very popular – just as we experienced in 2000. This time we found a far better place to stay – the parking area behind the park. Not inside the park, which is a recipy for constant door knocking and crowds outside. We spend the night among other Iranians with their Iglo tents pitched up on the asphalt.
With the El Goli International 5 star hotel finished and open, we got to use their internet connection the next day. ISDN speed on a Windows 2000 system for about 3 US$ / hour. Not the cheapest but being so close to El Goli park it’s pretty convenient and saves a taxi ride to the city.

On Saturday we  looked for the local Benz dealer. As expected, it was quite hard to find with the info we had. Our dealer list mentioned one at 1 km down the Tehran road from Tabriz. Very wrong, it was actually 10 Km. Even the name of the dealer was different, Milad Benz it was. We found while heading for Tehran, after we had given up searching for 1,5 hour.
 

Taken by surprise, we were invited instantly into the service area in a cloud of mechanics. After at least an hour of discussing our wish for a double diesel filter and a possible change of the waterpump mechanics started on our truck. Later that day the necessary parts were ordered from Tabriz – their Benz stock was out of it.  
The old waterpump should have retired a few years ago. After an autopsy, the bearing had started to wear out, the bearing oil was long gone and water had started invading the bearing rubbers. No wonder the 23 year old pump started to make suspicious noises during hard climbs on the Turkish mountain roads.

The original water pump was revised in 1 hour, an extra spare waterpump came from the city. We spend the night at Milad benz – the revised waterpump mounted the next day.
Hoping for an early departure – we should have kept hoping harder. A power failure downed the computer systems – sorry no bill – please wait. Finally round lunchtime the bill was written out by hand, we paid and could finally leave after 26 hours at Milad Benz.

Next was Tehran to apply for the Pakistan visa. A critical stage in our journey – the Pakistan embassy in Tehran is know to be as pretty notorious. Unfortunately the Pakistan consulate in Zahedan stopped issuing visa’s a few months ago – everyone must go to Tehran now.  

During the 640 Km to Tehran we tried to fill up our diesel supply. In stead of diesel, we found long queues of trucks at every petrol station with only a few actually selling it.
The skyhigh fuel demands by increased trade between Turkey and Iran and lucrative smuggling depletes every Iranian fuel stock in the west side of Iran.
At Marrand we filled up our tank with 100 litre on the black market. We paid 120.000 Rials – about € 10,- being 10 times as much as normal. And still it’s dirt cheap compared to the € 1,30 / litre we paid in Turkey.

At Zanjan we found a petrol station with a moving queue of trucks and we joined the waiting. As a foreigner we were allowed to jump the queue a bit so after 1,5 hour we could stock up with another 150 litre for just 24.000 Rials. (about € 2,-). They won’t give out more to allow others to get some diesel too.

We spend the night at the Mongol Mausoleum at Soltaniyeh – 20 km’s after Zanjan. A quiet night at the entrance gate. The Mausoleum, still being restored, is quite impressive and being the only tourists there we roamed the interior and the two upper floors.
Such a historic site would draw huge masses in Europe – a small quiet village like Soltaniyeh would never be the same again.

Coming closer to Tehran the traffic was getting dense. Driving on a packed 6 lane highway with toll stations we found the Karaj Metro station by accident – 46 Km from Tehran. Even more so trucks weren’t allowed on the highway to Tehran from here. In fact every truck driver obeyed this rule.

We parked at this immensely busy traffic hub and decided to try to spend the night here. All cargo trucks to Tehran pass this point taking the obligatory route to the Saveh road south of Tehran. The traffic noise and pollution is hard to describe – it’s a 24 hr mess of honking vehicles, people, thick smog and accidents.

Amazed we slept at all – on Wednesday Janine headed for the Dutch and Pakistan embassy by Express Metro the next day at 6am. In a record time Janine reached the Dutch embassy in the Darus embassy area at 8 am – using 3 metro lines and a taxi ride. At 10:00am our Pakistan visa application was submitted together with the Letter of Recommendation from the Dutch embassy. Janine was told to come back on Saturday – 10am sharp – to pay for the visa and to hand over our passports.

With that we were left with the question where to spend the weekend so close to Tehran. Absolutely not at the Karaj Metro station! Roaming the area in impossible traffic we tried the Karaj lake and dam but got send back by police saying it’s forbidden for trucks there. How could we have possibly missed the small sign “forbidden for trucks” in this so organised traffic? So we headed back on the highway where we came from desperately hoping for a quiet spot somewhere.

After a few hours later we suddenly found ourselves parked inside the gates of a huge state strawberry and rose farm 35 Km’s from the Karaj Metro station. Water, electricity and quietness – what more could we have wished for? A miracle happened?
Just roaming a few highway exits we found a deserted area with many greenhouses on a dead-end road. Trying to park our truck there – a guy pulled up in a pickup truck and presented himself in good English as an employee of the state farm we were parked next to. He said it was definitely not safe here and got invited into the compound almost instantly. 2 quiet nights – what a treat!

Coming back at the Karaj Metro station at Saturday, Janine did her 2nd run to the Pakistan embassy Tehran. Now it was pay day, a bank deposit at the Meli bank and hand in the receipt at the embassy. Come back at 15:00 to collect your passport. Another miracle? Dream on! At 15:00 the guards refused to let Janine in saying the embassy was closed. After many futile attempts to get in anyway to collect the passports there was no option to return the next day.

At the 3rd run the next day – we got our Pakistan visa’s. The officer told Janine she should have gone to the back of the building to collect the passports!. Imagine the security scare someone banging on the unguarded backdoor? Anyhow, getting visa’s while travelling overland is a thin unreliable road with many obstacles.

With that we could leave the traffic mess of Karaj taking the truckers road to the south of Tehran. A lot more easier than trying to surf the dense congestion on the highways of Tehran. Even more so, petrol stations have diesel again with short queues! So we could stock up with a whopping 240 litres for just 165 rials / litre in one go!

What a week – it felt like at least a month!
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