I knew little of Iran before we entered the country just over a week ago. Western news seldom portraits it in a positive light. Images of Ayatollah Khomeini and the burning of American flags come to mind. A harsh regime, poor and oppressed people. The American rhetoric, calling Iran the ‘axis of evil’ is not yet a decennium old. It’s an oil producing and we might be tempted to think of the country as a huge desert.
As we ride up to the border, covering the no-man’s-land between Armenia and Iran, the border guards look at our bikes with some wonder and smile broadly at us, then they shake our hands and say: ‘Welcome to Iran!’ The actual entry would take some more time, but it’s a good start. The import of the motorcycles, the filling out of all the forms and getting our ‘Carnet des Passage’ stamped, takes us on a nice tour from one official to the other. Somewhat chaotic and unclear, but all equally kind.
We are still inside the compound when we are invited to lunch in Tabriz by a young man who works at another border crossing. We respectfully decline, our route is to Urmia and we have a long way to go, but we agree to saying hello to his family waiting just outside the gates. A dozen handshakes, questions and photographs later we start our exploration of Iran, from the North.
We spend the first two days with Hossein and his family in Urmia. Hossein, a young motorcyclist himself, organizes tours through Iran. Together with his parents he runs a guesthouse and they’ve hosted many motorcyclist in the past years. His information and knowledge of the country will later proof invaluable.
The household consists of Hossein, his parents, his sister and her two-week-old baby. Though they all try very hard to makes us feel at home, we were not prepared for how close to Hossein and his family we would be living. We get to share a bunkbed in a spare bedroom, just of their living room / kitchen. It’s hard to get some real privacy or alone time which we really do need by now. On the second night Pepijn and I choose to go out in to the city by ourselves and we feel aliens in this world. It’s just after the Iranian new year and though all the signs are brightly lit up, most shops and all restaurants are closed. On top of that, all signs look alike to us! We can’t read any of the texts, nobody speaks English, we feel very far away from home. We end up buying some biscuits and cheese and eat these as dinner as we walk back to the guesthouse.
We leave Hossein and his family in the snow, yes snow! Apparently, Iran is not just a big sunny desert. It’s mountainous, as we discover as ride south, about 200km east from the Iraqi border.
For a while the snow lets up and the weather seems to improve a bit. Suddenly traffic in front of us gets very slow and congested, as we ride on a bit we see the cause. A driver lost control of his car and it left the road and fell down several meters and crashed in to the side of a small, water filled tunnel running under the road. There is steam rising up from the half-submerged car. The driver is still in it and so is his female passenger both covered in blood and unconscious. Without thinking I park my motorcycle and run over to join the crowd of people trying to help. In the end the man and the woman are dragged from the car and carried off somewhere. I stumble back up to the road, without having been able to actually do something useful, the adrenaline slowly leaving my body.
We get back on the motorcycles and ride off, but within a minute I tell Pepijn to pull over, we stop and I have to take a few deep breaths. We head on, but for quite a while I silently cry in my helmet, shock, exhaustion, all the build-up of the past weeks and months I suppose. Then I need to gut all my focus back on the road, the snow is back.
Our destination today is Hemadan, but there is no way we can reach it. The weather is so bad, we have to wipe a thick layer of wet snow of our visors every 15 seconds just to be able to see. The going is slow and I get more and more miserable and cold until at some point in the afternoon Pepijn drags me in to a small kebab place and starts feeding me hot tea to get the glum of me. We have no other choice than to reroute. We find a hotel a lot closer by and make our way there as the snow lightens up again.
We’ve not been this miserable before. We’ve been away from home for close to three weeks and miss our partners, badly. It’s starting to skink in how long 3 months will be and that we probably left all the easy stuff behind us at the Turkish-Georgian border, several days ago. We are homesick.
The hotel, praise Allah, offers a swimming pool and sauna, which is the scene where we first start to talk about alternatives. A plan B is forming, we could make life so much easier on ourselves it we call it a motorcycle trip to Iran, no shame in that at all. We could turn around here and go back to Turkey and Greece where we understood the culture and people spoke our language (somewhat), slowly make our way back the way we came. A very enticing thought, which we agree to sleep on for a few days.