Changing directions in Iran

by | Oct 4, 2016 | Blogs, Iran, Route, Stories

Our last blog ended at the moment we had to make a very difficult decision: due to two obstacles on our way, we had to drastically change our initial travel route: a very difficult decision we had to make in in four days. Is there a way to continue Eastwards or do we have to go back to Europe? In the end it occupied our minds for three weeks! But in the meantime we had a good time in Iran. Curious which direction we took? Read our story.

Finding our way

The days after the moment we found out that we couldn’t continue our route, were a real rollercoaster. Due to the fact that the border between China and Nepal remains closed, and that Thailand doesn’t allow foreign cars to transit the country anymore, it seems like we have to give up on our dream. Our plan was to take the Silk Road all the way through China, Tibet and Nepal to India. To experience and understand the change of cultures on this route and continue Eastwards to make a full circle around the Northern hemisphere. It does not seem possible at this moment. We tried to find as much information as we could: we checked out alternative routes, got in contact with several agencies and officials, talked a lot about what to do and had some strolls along the river. And after four days we finally came up with a decision: the far Northeast of Iran – close to the border with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan – will be the most Eastern point on our route. We will continue our journey Westwards, back to Europe. Why? Because we don’t want to rush. The last months we already had the feeling that we were going too fast: the visa dates and the fact that winter will come on the following part of the route, were pushing us forward. We decided to take our time to see in which direction we want to continue our adventure: maybe to South America, maybe to Africa.

After those four days of decision making, it was time to leave Darkesh: the little oasis in the desert where we made such an important decision. We drive off to Mashhad: the holiest city of Iran. It feels good to drive again. We are both silent most of the time. Thinking, trying to feel if this is really the right decision. I feel at peace: of course it is hard to skip Central Asia, one of the places we were so curious about. But on the other hand: new adventures will come. Roderick looks at the dry and arid landscapes, wide valleys and rough mountain peaks surrounding it: “Oooph…are we really going to miss all this?” Our minds keep trying to find ways to still go in the direction we were planning to go. And after one hour driving, we see the signs to Bajgiran on our left: the Iranian border town, where we were supposed to cross tomorrow… Man…, this is difficult! Are we doing the right thing?

We can’t stop thinking about it. When we visit the majestic holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, we see all the blue tiles of the mosques and we think of the beautiful ancient Silk Road cities we were planning to visit in Uzbekistan… The next morning, when we wake up at parking of Ghadir Park in Mashhad, we meet Jurg and Katrin – a German couple travelling in an old German truck – and Robert – a motorcyclist also from Germany. And believe it or not: it is all about Turkmenistan. Jurg and Katrin just got the news that their visa application had been refused and Robert is still in the process: no news for him after seven days of waiting.

But while our minds continue to question our decision, we also experience the perks of our decision: we have time! Together with the Germans we make a camp at a lake close to Mashhad. We go fishing, make a barbecue and enjoy the evening in nature with good company. The stars, the mountain silhouettes, it all looks so great! And at the same time our minds still think there might be a way to just go…. Tomorrow will be the fourth of the five days of our Turkmenistan visa….Can we still make it? Do we want to? It would be crazy to go now… Only two days, including driving to the border, preparing to cross and driving the 800 kilometer on bad roads through Turkmenistan. Sounds like a bad plan. But why are we still thinking about it? It seems like the mind always want something different than what it has…

Plan D

The next morning, we decide to let it go. Slowly we drive the dirt road back back, and for the first time in our trip we really drive Westwards. That evening, we find a great spot on a mountain, overlooking the city of Gorgan. It is way passed our decision making moment: our visa for Turkmenistan has expired. But still our minds aren’t quiet. Isn’t there really a way? An option to have more time in Central Asia, would be to stay there for the winter. Via the German friends, we find out about a place in Kyrgyzstan where we can park our bus safely for a few months. That would mean we could stay till late autumn, leave our bus during the cold winter in Kyrgyzstan, and continue when spring starts. But what will we do during the long and cold winter in the -Stans? We don’t really feel like backpacking for almost half a year.. That evening Roderick receives a call and there might be a great opportunity to work several months during winter. OK, this sounds almost to good to be true!

The next morning I see Roderick and Jurg measuring our truck. “Let’s see if it fits in a high cube container!” Roderick says. Jurg and Katrin found their way around Turkmenistan: next week they will take a ship from Iran to Kazakhstan (have a look at their website: www.saltedlife.org).“After some adjustments, I am sure it will fit”, Jurg says.  But why not make it more easy and just try to extend our visa of Turkmenistan? A much cheaper solution.  A few hours later we find ourselves at the train station in Gorgan: getting ready to make plan D happen. “OK, this is our last try”, we say to each other. “If the Turkmen embassy in Tehran doesn’t extend our visa, we will not try anymore and find peace with our new direction”.

At the train station we meet Eshan and his wife Ramina: both of them are working there. They explain us that the train is very very busy, because tomorrow it is Eid al Fitr: that means the celebration of the end of Ramazan. They try everything to get us on the train, and they seem to succeed. But when we call the embassy of Turkmenistan a second time to get confirmed that they will be open tomorrow, they tell us that they will be closed for the coming four days!! We both feel really disappointed… so our last chance didn’t succeed?! Are we really changing our direction?

Home away from home

Ehsan and Ramina from the train station invite us to their house. We are being welcomed so warmly by them and their family and we are so happy to have a little break. No thinking about whether or not to go to Central Asia, no discussions about other route options, just enjoying Iranian family life. One year ago Ehsan’s father finished their great apartment at the edge of the town. He and his two brothers live there with their families and on the lower floor the grandparents have their house. A small family community, where they have their own space and freedom. We celebrate the end of Ramazan with them and we use their kitchen to prepare a real Dutch meal for them: a meatball with baked potatoes and salad. It is great to feel at home every once in awhile during travelling. After three great days we feel sad to say goodbye to them. They bless us and our journey by circling a Quran over our head and throwing water behind our bus as we drive off.

A shepherd’s life

After two weeks it seems that we find ourselves a little more at peace with changing directions. Since we have time now, we decide to take a detour into the Golestan park. From Kordkuy, we drive southwards into the mountains in the direction of Jaha Nama, a small hamlet only accessible through a 4x4 road. As we drive further and further into the mountains, we get happier and happier. Wow, it is so great to be in nature again! While we park our bus in the middle of a beautiful valley, a shepherd and his herd are returning home for the night. We talk to him and he tells us that it is unsafe for us to stay here: we should come to his place. We can’t believe it is really unsafe, but as he keeps insisting we decide to accept his invitation. A few moments later we find ourselves in his small clay hut, lit by an oil lamp. Together with the shepherd and his Afghan apprentice, we drink tea and eat rice with some sheep meat. Since we are now more than a month in Iran, our Farsi is good enough to have a chat with each other. We ask him if we can stay and help him with the daily work. The next days we work together with them. A great experience! The story about will be soon on our website.  

The last try

We had such a great time at the shepherd: so calm and peaceful, so great to be part of their life for a few days. When we leave we feel recharged to go on another adventure! So… let’s go to Central Asia! Why not?! Let’s give it one last chance.. really. We start our engine and drive into the direction of Tehran to try to extend our Turkmenistan visa. 80 kilometer before we arrive we get stopped by a car. “Are your from the Netherlands? I am going to live in Europe. Please be my guest for tonight”. Wow, already more than an hour before we arrive in Tehran we got an invitation to have diner together! This is Iran. We are happy to accept his invitation and that evening we have a great diner with Mehsan and his wife Ati in a very good restaurant. The next morning we go to the Turkmenistan embassy. We try our best, but it is not possible to extend our expired visa. We need to apply for a new one. And although we agreed on not taking another chance to go, we decide to give it a try. We apply for a new visa and we have to wait seven to ten days till we get an answer about whether or not it is approved. And the Turkmenistan visa is a big lottery: around 30% of the people don’t get it….. What to do? We decide to take the risk and drive in the direction of the border, to make sure we are in time. That means, we are driving Eastwards again!

The road is free

On the seventh day we call the embassy. We can’t believe it…, but our visa got approved! We make a little dance together: We got it! We have the feeling we won the match. But at the same time we think: Do we really want to go? It will be very very hot, around 45 degrees the coming time. And, it is a scary feeling to know that we will leave the bus behind for some months this winter. The crazy mind… it always seems to want what it doesn’t have! We are tired of the uncertainty of the last month, but we are also scared to make a decision.

We did our best to find a way, and now the road is free. We got our Turkmenistan visa and our visa for Uzbekistan is still valid. We are so close now to this less travelled region, which speaks so much to our imagination: the blend of cultures, influenced by the ancient Silk road. As we drive in the direction of the Turkmen border, we feel that our doubts are fading and we are finally really looking forward again to what we will discover on our way! We stock up for our five day transit through the harsh desert of Turkmenistan end we eat an Iranian pizza in a high way restaurant. “Wow.., this is a really good pizza!”, we say almost at the same time. We can’t stop laughing and realize we are really too long in Iran: the Iranians love their thick pizza, with a lot of artificial cheese and ketchup, and most of them even say it is better than Italian pizza. We never understood this, but now we actually think the pizza is good!

So, it is time to say goodbye to Iran. It’s surprising green North, the interesting culture, but above all: the amazingly warm and hospitable people! Khoda Hafez, see you again one day!

PS: Thanks to Jürg and Katrin from www.saltedlife.org for the making-new-plans photo!