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