Day 93 (Turkey/Iran): Dogubayazit - Maku (bike in the bank)
daily distance: 59km
total distance: 6189km
riding time: 3-4h
It was a slow start into the day that was supposed to lead me to Iran … it did, no worries. I just knew that I wouldn’t have to cover a great distance as I was wanting to watch the football match between Germany and Turkey on the other side of the border with Iran - hence the goal for the day was the city of Maku and a hotel that had a TV.
As I was heading past Mt. Ararat to my left the wind was fiercely blowing into my face. Regardless of the way the valley turned, the wind was coming straight from the front. Seemed like it didn’t want me to go to Iran.
Once I got to the border I was surrounded by people who wanted to exchange money. Not knowing what a good exchange rate was I wasn’t going to go for it. It was a good thing as the price there would have been 30% less than later on in Iran. And what I don’t understand is how people are allowed to hassle you in the cordoned off area on the Turkish side. Nothing like it on the Iranian side.
Then things became interesting. I was practically through the Turkish control when I was held up. The bike seemed to cause an issue. Understand that I was about 5m (15ft) away from the border gate between the countries. It was literally within reach. The official told me that I was missing a plaque on my bike. This is at the end of the trip through Turkey. I tried to tell him as much. I am LEAVING the country and not entering. He wasn’t going to have any of it. I was sure that there was no requirement for a plaque and I certainly wasn’t going to get one here. Turns out that he was wrong and that it was a requirement for motorcycles and not for bicycles. I had told him as much, but he was chastised by this superior in the end for holding me up for 30 minutes. Strange feeling it was as I was leaving Turkey and going into a country that I didn’t really have much of an idea about. I always get a bit of a strange feeling entering a new country - one of anxiety and nervousness. But that is part of the fun I suppose.
Then, stepped over the line … and was in Iran. I was greeted by enormous placards depicting Khomeini and very courteously by an Iranian border guard and led into the control area. Looked like an airport terminal. Nice, sleek and modern. I had made sure that all the files were backed up and on a separate hard drive before entering. I shouldn’t have worried. Things were typed into a computer and then scrawled on a piece of paper, I was asked where I intended to leave the country - and that was that. Smiles from the border guards as they saw the bike and all of a sudden a person from the tourist organization - answering all sorts of questions and friendly as well. I was off after a bit of money changing and couldn’t help the gloat on my face as I was rolling down the hill into a new country. I was in Iran. Not that it looked much different. Mt. Ararat was still there and the road was the same as on the other side. Sure, women wear head scarves and it takes a bit to get used to it when you see it everywhere. And the driving is just as mad as it is in Eastern Turkey, but no real surprises there. The mosques also have a different look.
Then I rolled into Bazargan, the border town intending to change some money. That proved to be more difficult than I thought. I went to Melli Bank Iran (the National Bank of Iran), figuring that it would be a natural place to go. It wasn’t. I enter and no one pays attention to the foreigner. After a while I say something about exchanging money. The three people behind the counter stare at me like a ghost. And all of a sudden get into high gear. Things are moving fast. One guy discusses things with another, throws him his car keys. I understand nothing of course. Then in very broken English I am told that I should put the bike in the bank. What??? Yes, bike in the bank. This is Melli 4. We don’t exchange money. Melli 1, Melli 2 and Melli 3 do. But not Melli 4. So we drive off to a money exchange place and I get to change some Turkish Lira into Iranian Rial. Good stuff, thanks so much for taking care of this Mustafa. All the while, an Iranian soldier is standing next to my bike in the bank with his gun ready. I guess it is worth defending.Then I cover the next few km into Maku, which is located in a canyon - but not really attractive. I am shown to a couple of hotels by someone I meet on the street and book into a small and somewhat shabby room. It was cheap and the old adage holds true in Iran as well: you get what you pay for. Except in Maku you didn’t have much choice. I stroll through town, trying to get my handle on things in a new country, new money, new rules, new customs and that sort of thing. Female attire is of course different here, but you can see there is a rebellious streak in a lot of women as they defy the strict rules by wearing jeans, makeup and letting the head scarf slip back just so much more than would be “appropriate”.
I watched the football match with Albano, Alex and Nataly - Albano having cycled from Australia to Maku and now on the way back to Switzerland. It was great to exchange some information about our trips and Albano was kind enough to leave me his map as he was taking a bus to Southern Turkey with his friends the next day. Good luck with the remainder of the trip. Check out their site here. Needless to say I was the only one to be happy at the end of the night. The Swiss remain as neutral as ever. And the Iranians here are of Turkish ethnicity and were beholden to their brethren. In a hotel with 15 other people, I was in the clear minority, but it was good fun to watch the game, despite the rather substantial time difference. It was slightly annoying that the Iranian TV station actually cut out the really good scenes (meaning the last three goals), apparently claiming that it was a worldwide outage. People tell me that this is not true. At any rate, the Iranian TV station kept repeating scenes and we thought it was only a minute, but in the end we saw football pundits from Iran discussing the game instead of the actual match. Oh well …