Iran: it emerged like a verdant oasis in the middle of a desolate desert wasteland. At first, it was hard to tell if our opinion of Iran was neutral; if you’ve read our earlier posts you’ll appreciate that our journey through the sub-continent was a real test for us, and this warped our sense of normality. But it seems that we’ve passed the test with flying colours to be rewarded in this fantastic, vibrant country.
Iran defied nearly all of our preconceptions. We expected intense heat in arid desert, religious and cultural conservatism, and a lack of modern development; all under the watchful eye of the military. How wonderful it was to have our expectations shattered. Iran is arid but high in altitude, which made it surprisingly temperate – the jagged mountains making spectacular vistas as we journeyed across the countryside.
It is an Islamic state, where religious dress code is enforceable by law, but we were surprised to see how relaxed women are about wearing their hijabs. Often they only just cover their tied up hair and wear heavy make up on their faces – a stark contrast to Pakistan (an interesting article about women in Iran was recently published on The Guardian). Daily calls to prayer are almost unnoticeable in the background, and few people talk about religion in normal conversation. The people are liberal, relaxed, friendly, and compared to where we’ve traveled, they’re also wealthy. Modern amenities and consumables are found everywhere – the only obvious exclusions are American chains like McDonalds, Starbucks and the like (and as Eddy from Darwin to Douglas would point out, sit-down toilets). The country is spotlessly clean, which was a very welcome change – immaculate gardens can be found almost everywhere which make the cities refreshingly picturesque.
Our first two days in the country were an intense push to make it 1300kms from the border to Isfahan to meet Monica and Lucy, who were flying in to meet us for a week of sightseeing. We had been put so far behind schedule in Pakistan that we feared we might not make it time. We were given another military escort from the border town of Mirjaveh and were then handed over to a government representative from the tourism department 100kms down the road in Zahedan. With memories of being a football kicked from escort to escort haunting us we were ready to tell the girls that they’d be sightseeing on their own. It soon became clear however that this far eastern province of Iran is starved of tourists, and all that was wanted of us was to spend some time being tourists. We firmly explained we had another 1200kms to travel by the following nightfall (by this stage it was 3pm!), and we were reluctantly given back our passports along with some souvenir keyrings and allowed to continue on our way.
And finally after nearly 3 weeks of following somebody else’s agenda we were free! Free to travel where we wanted, when we wanted, at the speed we wanted. The road infrastructure in Iran is incredible – double lane dual carriage ways ply through the desert. They are free of pot holes, cows, goats, horse pulled carts and overloaded tractors traveling in the wrong direction. With a speed limit of 120 we quickly realised that we might be able to make it to Isfahan in time after all.
And make it we did. The intense agenda we’d been following instantly became a holiday, with time off the bikes for sightseeing and soaking up Iran’s incredible culture. Through Moni’s father we were put in touch with Amir, an Iranian who’d lived in Vienna for 6 years. He took us under his wing during our time in Isfahan, he showed us the sights, fed us the food, explained Iranian culture and even took Drew to the dentist.
Iran’s cultural history is about as rich as they come, given people have been living in the area since 3000BC – it’s one of the oldest civilisations on the planet. There was no shortage of things to see and do. Isfahan was the capital for over a century, from 1600AD and was our base whilst the girls were in town.
After soaking up all that Isfahan had to offer, we got on the bikes with girls and ventured to Shiraz. Shiraz was also once Iran’s capital, and on it’s outskirts the ruins of Persepolis can be found; an ancient city dating back to 550BC
From Shiraz it was the desert city of Yazd we were destined. Unfortunately leaving Shiraz I picked up some dirty fuel which ruined my fuel pump. When emptying fuel from the filter, it came out black with chunks of debris! My last pump gave up 3 weeks earlier in Pakistan, and at $500 a pop it’s not been a cheap exercise. Thankfully we were cautious enough to get Moni to order a new one and bring it from Austria, otherwise we’d still be on the roadside.
With Drew’s skills at play, we were only stuck on the roadside for an hour or so before pushing onwards. Moni had organised a stay in a spectacular family run guesthouse in the desert outside of the city, called Farvardinn – I’d recommend anybody in the area to stay here. Our host, Masoud, told us we should head 1km into the desert to appreciate the sunset over some ruins.
The following day we headed into the centre of the city, famed for it’s mud bricked old town with a labyrinth of traditional laneways zigzagging in all directions.
After dropping the girls back in Isfahan (and another trip to the dentist) we decided to push onwards towards Turkey. The road infrastructure is so good we thought we’d be fools not to make the most of the opportunity to buy a little time for later on in our journey – Drew booked his flight back to Australia, so we now have a very finite schedule to make it to Vienna. Given how safe, clean and sparsely populated Iran is, we decided to camp enroute – the first time since Australia.
The landscape changed strikingly as we neared Turkey, the temperature dropping quickly as arid planes turned into rich green pastures. On our final day we road over 1,000kms and managed to cross the border before nightfall – our biggest distance yet. It was the same day we clocked 20,000kms since departing from Melbourne, so we thought it was cause for celebration. We were excited to stay in a country where alcohol is legal again, but sadly for us we couldn’t find any beer in the Turkish border town that we stayed in for the night. The search continues.
We’ve absolutely loved our time in Iran – we didn’t really know what to expect, but our expectations weren’t high. Low expectations are a fantastic springboard for great experiences and Iran’s been one of the best countries that we’ve visited so far. If you’re at a loss for where to go on your next holiday I’d suggest you make it Iran. You won’t be disappointed.