The mother of caravanserais

The mother of caravanserais

The mother of Caravanserai

While the sun slowly disappears behind the horizon and a blanket of stars appears, we sit on our Persian rug, enjoying the view on an ancient Caravanserai.

Deir-e Gachin Caravanserai

The Caravanserai we look at is also known as “The mother of the Caravanserais”. Beautifully set against the blue background of the endless sky, where only the highway running next to her betrays the modern age in which we live. Once an important place on the Silk Road. A place where merchants, travelers and even kings gathered. With hundreds of camels they traveled from east to west or south to north and all passed this Caravanserai. An oasis in the desert. With halls where the breath of the camels and fires that kept the servants warm heated the rooms of others, the little rainwater was stored in a large bathroom and each stone tells a story of the lost past. The walls of this Caravanserai must have seen so much, have so many stories to tell. It is fantastic to walk through the ancient halls, to walk on the ground where Marco Polo once walked, and with him so many others. Perhaps Alexander the Great also came here to rest from his conquerings.

Caravanserai

A Caravanserai was a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes covering Asia, North Africa and Southeast Europe, most notably the Silk Road.

In short; it were the hostels of ancient times. 

From caravanserai to monastery

Meanwhile the wind has returned and the desert landscape around me changes into a large sand-colored cloud. The moon dazzles the stars and the lights of the trucks on the busy highway make sure I don’t completely lose myself in 1001 nights. But it’s nice to see that the Caravanserai is still standing on an important location. This time it is not the Silk Road it is located at, but the route from Tehran to Qom and beyond.

Past and present travelers come here from the farthest corners of the world.  Then traders sold their finest products here, travelers complained about the hot desert and servants took care of the camels. We have now exchanged the camels for cars, the merchandise for cups of coffee and the hot desert for a smooth highway. But travelers still get together, sharing knowledge and talk about the most beautiful adventures late into the night. Times change but people stay the same. That restless feeling of discovering, sharing and being is still within us. The millions of stars twinkling overhead in the dark night calm us. We don’t find the inner peace we so need in cities, but in places like this.

The cool corridors of the Caravanserai not only contain thousands of footprints but also ancient memories. Men with turbans, tanned faces and beards full of sand walked the corridors in search of the finest merchandise. Camels came to rest here after many miles through the hot desert. Travelers from the west and east gathered here and cultures fused like a ring of gold in hot fire.

A plastic bag flies through the air and finds it’s way inside. I awaken from the memories of our ancestors. The conversations from then turn into the honking of cars on the road. The world the same and yet so different. This place was once a gigantic oasis in a landscape of sand-colored endlessness. Now it is a tourist attraction not far from the capital of Iran where millions of people live.

Use of the Caravanserai in modern times

We are kindly received by one of the volunteers living at the Caravanserai and shown around. We get a delicious coffee and listen to all the stories with great interest. We look at art, listen to classical Iranian music and cuddle with the dogs and the black sheep. I was already a fan of Caravanserais, and a place like this increases my love, if at all, immensely. The Caravanserai is inhabited by a community of 15 to 30 people, tourists are welcome for a night and sometimes an evening with live music is planned. But luckily it’s all still very basic. It is not a four star hotel, you will not find luxury and it is not a tourist attraction where buses full of visitors stop for a short tour. And that’s a good thing. 

How do they make sure this place is maintained? And where do they get the money to restore it? That’s because of the volunteers who live here. They have been restoring this place for five years now, without too much government involvement, but also without much money. That is why tourists can stay in rooms, you can order a coffee in the cafe and occasionally a concert is planned.  The community of artists is a special one and we think it’s wonderful to see that they maintain the place so well, that they live together here and provide such a nice atmosphere. Soon this will probably become a UNESCO heritage site and the question is whether the artists will still be able to live there. The good thing is that the beautiful and so important Caravanserai is being protected. There will never be a four star hotel here and part of the Silk Road will be preserved as it once was.

We leave the Caravanserai behind us and with it a piece of our heart. But the road is calling, and the voices of former times whisper to us from the ancient Persian architecture. We still have a lot to discover in the land of 1001 nights and millions of stories. We are also a bit tired of the gadflies and the poor (internet) reach keeps us from the little work we still have to do. So let’s move on, but not before we exchange songs – and music – with one of the volunteers.  He makes fantastic creative and experimental music. Unfortunately still not legal in Iran so we keep his name and appearance a secret. But we’ll share his music with you in one of the videos you’ll be seeing soon. Be ready to be mesmerized and enchanted!

 Love, Milene & Yuri

Check our latest blogs

The mother of caravanserais

The mother of caravanserais

999 Caravanserai were built in Iran. These roadside inns were used by travellers, merchants and even kings. We visited the mother of Caravanserai.

Rain, rice and misery

Rain, rice and misery

Things don’t always go as planned when on the road. From hot and sunny days to rain, cold and sadness.

Our first days in Iran

Our first days in Iran

From ancient sites to previous capitals and from meeting new friends to exploring the largest bazar in the world. Read here about our first days in Iran.

We're also on Instagram!

check it out
Rain, rice and misery

Rain, rice and misery

Rain, rice and misery

From the dry rainbow mountains we drive into the green but also rainy landscape. And that’s not exactly going as we planned. We drive on a busy mountain road to our next destination when suddenly a blanket of fog covers us and below us the smooth asphalt road turns into a muddy gravel path with potholes so deep that small ponds form. And even though we do our best, it is difficult to avoid the potholes. Alexine does her best but unfortunately she gives up halfway through. 

Misery in the mountains

The fog leaves us guessing how beautiful the view from here could be, but that’s not what we’re concerned with.

Our roof rack has fallen through Alexine’s edge, causing damage to her beautiful paint. Luckily through the raindrops of the misty clouds you can’t see my tears. After a minuscule moment of panic we roll up our sleeves and empty the roof rack. All our belongings in the van, tighten the roof rack and hope for the best. Carefully we drive down, over the slippery and wet road, while the fog completely obscures the view. We can’t see further than 10 meters and we honestly don’t care. No view can lighten up our mood. We want to get down there as quickly as possible and without any more damage.

And so we arrive in the village of Masuleh, battered and in a bad mood. The cloud clears a little but leaves many raindrops in the process. Not making the village less beautiful, but less attractive to walk through for a long time. And so we sit down on some rickety benches while we are served a local dish and some tea. The village itself doesn’t seem to be the biggest attraction here, but we do.  We are being photographed secretly and less secretly from all sides. Selfies are made with and without our cooperation. It is busy with tourists from Iran itself and neighboring Turkey. The colorful shops with mainly the same souvenirs cheer up the village while the thunder can be heard in the distance.

After filling our stomachs we stroll through the streets that merge with the roofs of houses before we get back to the van and drive down even more. While driving we pass restaurants that look more like a fairground attraction than a place where you can eat some delicious food. On the side of the road, people with illegible signs are peddling passers-by. Once in a while it works, but mostly we feel sorry for them. The rain continues uninterrupted and judging by the green surroundings, this is no exception. We still dodge every hole and the sweat of fear breaks out with every bump we hit. Alexine holds herself up, but it doesn’t feel right.

Tea in Iran

Tea is so widely consumed in Iran that it is often the first thing offered to us. It is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner and throughout the day you can find tea anywhere. 

In the 18th century tea found it’s way to Iran from India and became the national drink soon after. From India seeds were planted and cultivated in Northern Iran and nowadays millions of people work in the tea industry. Historically you’ll find a Chaikhaneh (tea house) in every street! You still find them squattered around towns nowadays.

A Persian oasis in the North

After two hours we arrive at an ecolodge that we found via Google. We are welcomed with the tastiest cakes ever (koloocheh) and our hearts can finally beat quietly again. Reza, the owner, knows someone who can fix Alexine but not until tomorrow. Now first we get a tour, by car, through the village where there are more rice fields than houses and tea plantations adorn the hills. We visit a lake where Iranians drive around in formation, take some selfies and have a picnic. Then we visit the tea plantations and view the rice fields while having conversations in broken English and in even worse Farsi with the most friendly lodge owner we met.

Finally we come back to the lodge where we get a nice local tea and are assigned our room for the evening. Alexine is full of our stuff so sleeping in her is not going to be possible. And after some stress and fatigue, it is also nice to take a shower and dive into a large bed. But that will take a while because we have been invited to eat with Reza’s family and of course we do not refuse such an offer.

Reza’s family lives in Rasht, the culinary capital of Iran and even recognized as such by UNESCO. A large plate with rice and chicken is put in front of us plus some lettuce and a whole heap of sweet treats (including a homemade pie) and delicious fruit. Although the Netherlands may be one of the largest exporters of fruit and vegetables, our fruit and vegetables do not taste nearly as good as anything that grows naturally. In the Netherlands it is mainly about earning money thus everything has to grow as quickly as possible, but just like with children, growing up is a natural process and speeding up is never a good idea.

Back to dinner where we fill our stomachs but also our brains. Reza’s son, Danyel, speaks very good English and tells us about all the ins and outs of Iran. We are talking about wearing a hijab, about studying and not being allowed to listen to metal music. Metal music is forbidden, concerts by rock bands are illegal and you can’t take a driving test with a tattoo. Women are not allowed to show their elbows, hair and knees. Iranian men are not allowed to leave the country until they have completed their two-year military service and most social media except Instagram are blocked in the country. Spotify, YouTube, Paypal cannot be used. It is impossible to pay by European bankcard and by credit card for tourists. But we are also talking about the delicious food, the beautiful Persian poetry and the many different languages in Iran. We are talking about the beautiful traditional music, the school system and the architecture. About respecting each other and living together, about the past and the future, about dreams and making them come true. It is a very nice evening and again we squeeze our hands that we can experience all this.

At half past one we drive back to the village where we fall down in our bed and very quickly end up in dreamland.

Wabi Sabi

The rain continues incessantly and so we decide to rest for a day. No discoveries, 10,000 steps and meeting new people, just relaxing. Read a book, write blogs and yes also fix Alexine. Unfortunately, fixing her doesn’t go quite the way we want and Alexine seems almost even more damaged than she was before fixing her. My heart breaks to see her scars, but each scar is a story, a memory. And although the sight of the damage hurts me, like a dagger through my heart, it is not insurmountable. The Japanese follow a philosophy called wabi-sabi.

You could describe the core of wabi-sabi as: nothing is eternal, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect. Wabi-sabi is the beauty of imperfection.

A weathered door with peeling paint showing the colors of the layers of paint underneath. A serpentine branch, picked up from the beach, polished by the sea. An old shirt that has become almost transparent after wearing it for years.  A teddybear with one ear.

Wabi sabi is about things that have become more beautiful with wear and tear.  A broken jar does not have to be thrown away. The Japanese glue the pot, and instead of making the cracks invisible, they accentuate it. Jars with golden score lines. Perfect imperfections.

And that’s how we see Alexine with her scars and fracture lines. So instead of pretending it’s not there, we’re going to accentuate her imperfectons. We don’t know yet whether it will be a golden or ocher rim, perhaps a mosaic drawn by a Persian painter. We don’t know yet, but Alexine doesn’t get any less beautiful. If anything, she’ll get more beautiful. Every scar telling a story. 

As time passes and miles go by, Alexine, and so do we, have more stories to tell. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the dents, scars or photos, together they form the book of our journey, and each page is one to remember. No matter how painful some are.

The next day we decided to continue to Tehran with a short stop in Qazvin.  But that’s for next time.

Love, Milene & Yuri

Check our latest blogs

The mother of caravanserais

The mother of caravanserais

999 Caravanserai were built in Iran. These roadside inns were used by travellers, merchants and even kings. We visited the mother of Caravanserai.

Rain, rice and misery

Rain, rice and misery

Things don’t always go as planned when on the road. From hot and sunny days to rain, cold and sadness.

Our first days in Iran

Our first days in Iran

From ancient sites to previous capitals and from meeting new friends to exploring the largest bazar in the world. Read here about our first days in Iran.

We're also on Instagram!

check it out
Our first days in Iran

Our first days in Iran

The first days in Iran

While I enjoy the view and the wind on my bare arms, the thunder is coming from behind the mountains. Out of range we sit here waiting for the first raindrops to reach us. The birds are silent and besides the thunder we only hear our own heartbeat. Around us only the orange and white coloured mountains, bare plains through which a winding road runs and an empty river bed.

Welcome to Iran

It is bare and dry but beautifully coloured mountains make the 360 degrees view around us phenomenal. And our photogenic van, Alexine, fills our heads and hearts with creative excesses. Now we only need the beautiful evening sun, but the thunder makes us return from longing to reality. I guess we have to get up early to catch the morning sun instead.

Getting up early is nothing new to us. The past few days we did not sleep so good, but our biological clock woke us up early anyway. We invariably opened our eyes around seven o’clock and brushed our teeth around seven-thirty. A good workout for when we head further south and want to beat the heat by driving in the early hours of the day, when the world is asleep and the heat hasn’t reached us yet. But let’s talk about the last few days. Finally, after months of waiting, we crossed the border into Iran. So while the thunder is closing in on us and audible like a train of trucks rumbling down a gravel path, we go back in time.

Wearing a hijab

The word hijab refers to both the head-covering traditionally worn by many Muslim women and to the concept of modesty in Islam generally.

In Iran, mandatory hijab wearing was imposed several years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 1983, Parliament decided that women who do not cover their hair in public will be punished with 74 lashes. Since 1995, unveiled women can also be imprisoned for up to 60 days. However, the rules aren’t as strict as it was back then. It’s ok to see a bit of the hair.

From caravanserai to monastery

And just as the first drops sound on the car now, so did the first stones on the car as we drove from the Iranian-Armenian border to Jolfa. A beautiful winding road took us along the border, first with Armenia and not much later with the enclave of Azerbaijan. The road winds through a fantastic landscape with rocks as sharp as razors, it seems. There is hardly a nicer welcome in a country. The clouds turn red, purple and pink while the sun disappears behind the sharp rocks. Night falls when we search for a gas station. Without Rials (Iranian currency) but with dollars in our pocket, we find a gas station where we fill our entire tank for five dollars. We wonder if we haven’t paid too much but quickly think about the petrol prices in the Netherlands and laugh about it.  The Azeris who live here do not speak Farsi but a branch of Turkish. So I am pleasantly surprised that I can communicate, even if I sometimes understand it poorly. The words are pronounced slightly differently, so that it is difficult for me to understand what they are talking about.  Plus, my Turkish is just as rusty as Alexine was before her makeover. But with a little patience, laughter and hand gestures we can go a long way.

And we have come a long way today, with the necessary nice stops, climbing a 2500 meter high mountain and the 2.5 hour border crossing, we arrive in Jolfa around 21:00. Here we decide not to look for a wild camping spot but a much too luxurious hotel, simply because we can, and also because we are tired.

The Imperial Hotel seems to be the best place to start our Iranian adventure.  We look a bit tired and maybe a bit lost thus people look at us strangly. In addition, we are with a Volkswagen van and come from the Netherlands. “We have visitors from all over the world but never do they arrive by car from their home country” and we get that. Of course, every vanlifer or overlander does not sleep in such a luxurious hotel. Anyway, we love to color outside the lines and color our own drawing. Which we do by having a delicious dinner in our somewhat dirty travel clothes and then jumping under a delicious hot shower after which we drink tea in a king-size bed. Sometimes you have to spoil yourself and we are only too happy to do that.

The next day we have breakfast at the hotel – yum!, then shoot a promo video for the hotel and continue our way to the first attraction. Of course in Silk Road style, we visit a beautifully renovated Caravanserai. We have already visited many, each with its own originality. This was again beautiful, the courtyard where the camels stood and drank water is now filled with brightly colored flowers.  Surrounding the courtyard were the rooms where travelers and merchants then slept and we can now drink a cup of tea.  Despite the fact that the caravanserai was renovated not too long ago, it still feels like you are in lost times.

We leave the caravanserai behind to visit the much too crowded but beautiful St Stepanos Monastery. Our first UNESCO World Heritage Site of Iran. It is a beautiful complex in the mountains with unique details. Unfortunately very busy which makes it difficult for me to hear the stories that the walls are whispering to me. Every stone touched by ancient events and the voices of time. And there, too, a thunderstorm appeared as we made our way among the picnicking Iranians. Something we will be seeing a lot more of.

Visiting ancient capital Tabriz

We continue our way to Tabriz. Once an important trading city on the Silk Road, as we know from the stories. But Tabriz even has a time when it was the capital of Azarbin the 3rd century AD and again under the Mongol Ilkhanid dynasty. Now the city is often skipped, or visited mainly to exchange money, buy a SIM card and arrange car insurance. Three things we also did here. But, what I was particularly interested in was the bazaar. Because while many people think that Istanbul’s ‘grand bazaar’ is the largest, nothing could be further from the truth. With 8,000 shops, 70,000 hectares and 22 caravanserais, this is really the largest in the world. 

It is also one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East. And it shows. The columns and roof that keep the bazaar dry look old, though renovated. But the architecture reveals its age. The ceiling is high and the corridors run like a maze from Caravanserai to Caravanserai. The images come to me with every scent that enters my nose. Travelers arrived with a procession of camels and on horseback. Traders couldn’t wait to sell their products here. Fresh herbs, tea, carpets made of silk were sold to anyone who was interested. Stories were shared, different languages ​​were spoken and products exchanged. While lurking on a water pipe, the most adventurous tales were told. And also tips, warnings and recommendations. The sellers have stayed, the building still stands proudly, only the travelers have changed. The Caravanserais have been converted into gardens full of green trees and cats and travelers no longer come here to buy but to step into a world that is now foreign to them.

Sunbeams flood the bazaar, women try to choose from the thousands of items of clothing sold here, and market vendors shout their goods. And as we make our way through the bazaar, we are as much of an attraction to the people there as the bazaar is to us.

In Tabriz we are camping safe and relaxed in a parking lot next to a park with toilet. It’s free and meets everything we need. Where travelers used to meet in a Caravanserai, we overlanders do so at free camping spots. The four vans cosy together. We, the Dutch, next to us a mixed couple from Italy & Moldova, opposite from us a Belgian couple and next to them two French people. We decide to go out for dinner together and are again the biggest attraction of the restaurant. We are photographed often and everyone asks where we are from.  We answer with enthusiasm but are also looking forward to the food that will soon fill our stomachs. Ramadan is still underway, so there is no possibility to eat before 8 p.m. But the longer the wait, the better the food, right?  Yes!  The food here is not only incredibly cheap but also really delicious! I eat my first beryoon and am sold. And that for only 1.5 Euro! Can’t wait to try more of Iranian cuisine.

Kandovan and police knocking at the window

After a few days of Tabriz it is time to continue our journey. After all, we want to see so much and Iran is too big to stick around for long. Our first stop after Tabriz is Kandovan. Together with all holidaying Iranians. Ramadan is over and it ends with a week of vacation. A good time to see some of your own country, right? So we, along with hundreds of others, walk through the 800-year-old town. Kandovan, like Cappadocia, is a town where people live in cave-like houses. It looks nice, but also very touristy with many shops that sell honey, clothes and other spices. We are not there too long because it is busy, cold and wet. And so we drive on to our next camping spot. One on a lake with a hot shower.

Once again we are standing with our Flemish and French friends. Unfortunately it starts to rain cats and dogs and we all quickly disappear into our vans. We cook some pasta and while we are at it the guard comes to tell us we have to leave before 21:00. Wow, we hadn’t thought of that. We quickly eat our food, take a shower and move. Not very far away because it is already dark and we are tired. We are not going to get a good rest because in the middle of the night there is a knock on our window. At 03:00am the police decide it is a good time to check our passports. Not very amused, we give them and try to go to sleep quickly afterwards, but the night’s rest is already too much disturbed.

And that brings us to today. Again we wake up early. This time with a nice sun on the van. We have some breakfast with our friends at the lake and drive quietly towards the rainbow mountains where we are now in between the thunderstorms which seem to surround us from all sides. Again we visited a Caravanserai (500 years old and half restored), we were invited for tea at a factory where they grow mushrooms and sell dried fruit. Of course we bought some fruit because yum! And we got mushrooms as a present. Along the way we also bought some bread that we could take with us for free. Which of course we didn’t accept. It’s a normal thing here. Giving things for free to tourists. Taarof it is called. We didn’t have to pay toll either. What is also normal here is waving at tourists, welcoming them to Iran and asking where they come from. 

Anyway, there we are, between the most beautiful mountains on a deserted road, listening to the thunder that comes and goes. We can’t wait to see this spectacle in the morning sun. So that means going to bed early and getting up early again. Will we ever sleep until noon? Probably not. 

 Love, Milene & Yuri

Check our latest blogs

The mother of caravanserais

The mother of caravanserais

999 Caravanserai were built in Iran. These roadside inns were used by travellers, merchants and even kings. We visited the mother of Caravanserai.

Rain, rice and misery

Rain, rice and misery

Things don’t always go as planned when on the road. From hot and sunny days to rain, cold and sadness.

Our first days in Iran

Our first days in Iran

From ancient sites to previous capitals and from meeting new friends to exploring the largest bazar in the world. Read here about our first days in Iran.

We're also on Instagram!

check it out
The border crossing into Iran

The border crossing into Iran

Crossing into Iran

While Yuri is being ushered in by one of the many men at the border, I am waiting in the van. I’m the only woman who is currently making the crossing and therefore get quite a lot of attention. I also look a bit too cheerfully dressed for the occasion, but at least they’ve something to share when they get home. 

The Armenian border

And so do we.

Let’s start at the beginning. The beginning; the Armenian border. And I write that while there is a lot of shouting behind me, men trying to show off their masculinity I pressume. It’s a border for trucks, that’s for sure. Thus, we stand out. Dutch people in a much too old van with much too cheerful clothes who don’t speak Russian or Farsi. That doesn’t happen everyday.

Anyways the start. So Armenia. The end actually, of a very long and happy time in a very beautiful country. And Armenia knows how to say goodbye, with the most beautiful peaks and greenest valley. But, all good things come to an end.

So, the first check. Passport, carregistration certificate, medical insurance, vaccination, PCR test. We have everything ready and think it’s easy to get through. Wrong. It also takes extra long because everyone starts a conversation with us. “Where do you come from?” “America?” “No Holland!” And immediately we make friends. The Netherlands is a very popular country it seems. 

Preparing for a border crossing

To cross a border, even with a Dutch passport, is always a hassle. In Europe we aren’t well prepared for borders and try our luck because we don’t need visa’s. We do need PCR tests (before being fully vaccinated) and sometimes borders are so small only locals are allowed to use them. But outside of Europe it’s better to be prepared. So, we always check what type of documents we need and arrange everything beforehand. Insurances, visa, Covid-19 regulations, car papers and so on. What do you need? Contact the countries embassy and you’ll always have the right information. 

A deserted customs

We drive on, another check. Again the same papers are requested and again we have everything ready. Still no stamp in the passport. I am asked to continue walking through some kind of border control, while Yuri can go back to the van. I end up in a hall whithout a single soul present. The border post is deserted, so I guess no stamp for me here. I walk around a bit in search of someone but no one is present. After a few minutes a young man walks in, in his jeans and simple T-shirt he takes a seat in a booth and asks for my passport with a smile. He blows some puffs of smoke through the cigarette that is still slanting in his mouth, the ash falls on my papers. He wipes it away like it doesn’t matter. And I think of all those people who have a passport that takes them nowhere and this passport with the coat of arms of the Netherlands at the front that takes me everywhere I want to go. And he’s so casual about it.

He looks at me again, smiles and gestures for me to continue walking. Meanwhile, Yuri has to empty almost the entire van and run it through a scanner. I wait for him for a moment and then Yuri and Alexine come through the gate. We are out of Armenia! At least we think so.

Out of Armenia

Well, we have one more check to go. Will we get a stamp this time? Yes! Again we hand over all the papers and bam, a stamp. Finally! Whoops, wrong stamp in my passport and so the officer places another stamp on top. It looks a bit like a drunken officer loving to stamp got a hold of my passport but whatever, we’re out of Armenia. Then we are checked again.

“Do you have alcohol? pork? Old money?” We answer no to everything. Not that they check anything. “You are from Holland, it’s okay” he says. What a privilege. Because we come from the Netherlands you can apparently trust us. Of course there are no bad people living in beautiful flat Holland. Right?

Anyway, we are out of Armenia. We’re half way through. Now, we’ve got the Iranian customs to go through. 

I put the headscarf a little tighter around my head, make sure I wear long sleeves and we’re ready.

And into Iran

Here we go. On the bridge crossing the natural border between Armenia and Iran, we are stopped again for a check. Oncoming traffic shouts happily at us “welcome to Iran” and take a picture of the van. That is of course not allowed but not that anyone really cares.

We are not yet in Iran, we still have a lot of stops to go, but we don’t know that yet. We drive onto the bridge, and then we end up in a traffic jam of trucks. “Where are you from?” everyone asks us. Our license plates do not show where we come from (they are old dark blue Dutch plates), so everyone looks up in surprise. They think the car is beautiful, and the sight of those two crazy Dutch people who take this border crossing is hilarious, apparently. They also find it surprising that we don’t speak Farsi. However, I do hear a hint of Turkish which surprises me.

We have arrived at the next checkpoint. Park the car and want to give our papers, but we are directed to the passenger hall. Three men are standing here talking to each other. They look up when we enter, but that’s about it. We look sheepishly at each other. “Passport, stamp, visa” I say. Sometimes I downgrade my English to a list of words in the hope that someone will understand what I want. It works. One of the men takes my passport, another watches the PCR test and yet another interferes with both. They discuss something and then return all the papers. “Insurance?” says one. I show that too. But it’s not enough. For Iran we need local insurance we are told. I don’t believe any of it, which I tell them. Our ANWB has clearly put “including Iran and Turkmenistan” on our papers. But he doesn’t want to listen, so we just do what we’re told. The insurance we have to buy extra costs €6 per person for one month. We get a nice pass and if I understand it correctly it has 1 million Rial on it. I am probably wrong, but it sounds like we won the lottery.

Surrounded by trucks and men

Ok, PCR test approved, insurance arranged (being double insured is never wrong), now we just need the stamp. We go to the next booth where they again inspect our visa (the same guys who did that 10 minutes ago). The stamp is put on our visa form and not in our passport. Pretty nice! Then we return to Alexine. A man asks for our passport and where we come from. Something that happens very often and I never understand. The passport is not clear enough I guess.

We can go on. But we’re not there yet. Alexine is surrounded by trucks and we almost die of exhaust fumes. Groups of men crowd around Alexine and I sit quietly while Yuri starts a conversation with the only person at this border crossing who speaks English. Finally, we are also asked for the Carnet de Passage, a document that we received 1 day before departure from Germany. Again we are allowed to drive a few meters further, where men start fighting each other because we are not let through. Or at least, that’s how it looks like when you’ve got men with too much testosterone. We drive on and Yuri is asked to go to the office, with the Carnet de Passage. Apparently we must have an Iranian number plate, but of course the workshop is closed. A man rushes to us “I can arrange something” and that’s our first encounter with the Iranian mentality. We have heard and read a lot about it, but in Iran (almost) everything is possible. In the meantime, I’m trying to get used to long sleeves, pants and a headscarf while it’s warm. Fortunately not sunny but still warm.

Two hours later and we are in Iran but not yet through the bureaucracy. Despite the fact that we have all the papers with us, it is still a hassle. Our passports obviously help a lot, despite the fact that we have a lot of stamps which makes them frown at occasionaly. But we are happy that we have arranged everything properly. They didn’t even check the van. 

After ten minutes of waiting we are allowed to continue driving, without license plates. Unfortunately we can’t get through another gate again because a stamp is missing. However, we have already made some friends and so after some shouting, laughter and ‘jallah’ we can continue.

2.5 hours later and we are in Iran! Even with the right papers it takes quite a long time. But “welcome to Iran”.

Love, Milene & Yuri

 

Check our latest blogs

The mother of caravanserais

The mother of caravanserais

999 Caravanserai were built in Iran. These roadside inns were used by travellers, merchants and even kings. We visited the mother of Caravanserai.

Rain, rice and misery

Rain, rice and misery

Things don’t always go as planned when on the road. From hot and sunny days to rain, cold and sadness.

Our first days in Iran

Our first days in Iran

From ancient sites to previous capitals and from meeting new friends to exploring the largest bazar in the world. Read here about our first days in Iran.

Check out our Instagram

Follow!