Kublai Kooks - Mongol Rally 2017
Day 25 - August 9, 2017 - Part 1
Lankaran, Azerbaijan to Astara, Iran
Countries: 23 KMs/Miles: 10337/6423
Breakdowns: 9 Time @ Borders: 35h 53m
The boys woke up early in be at the boarder by 9am to meet Hussein, the fixer who was to arrange their carnet de passage into Iran. His job to help facilitate the entry of their cars and provide customs help which can be a long bureaucratic mess. They ate another huge hotel breakfast and packed up the cars and headed out driving the wrong way down one way streets to get more USD for those who somehow forgot at the last stop. They wouldn't be able to use any credit cards in Iran and needed to still pay for their large entry fees and guide in cash.
Already 33C by this point, they knew they would need plenty of water and snacks for what they anticipated as a long hot wait in line. The got to the Azerbaijani side a bit late and without a clue where to go to get in. Finally finding the entrance, they were waved in to the car check area, driving over an inspection pit. An easy search was given and Andy's baby was returned to him. His drone would live to see another day. The guard's there commenting how international our team was and giving a hard time to Joel and Andy, the Kooks' token Americans, about to try to enter enemy territory.
Entering the forbidden land was quite exciting as the boys crossed the river border bridge and straight into the car queue. It didn't seem too long but with the temperatures rising, getting some extra sleep in the car was not an option and they would have to find some shade soon. Right off the bat everyone was interested in them. A tv reported parked behind them peppering the team with questions. After the reporter yelled something at the guards, they made some joking gestures and everyone laughed. The mood was light.
With no real understanding of how this border was to work, Andy did some recon to go an find Hussein and on return told the rest of the Kooks that everything was sorted and that their fixer spoke good English. They'd just have to wait in line until they got to the next gate where he would help them. The queue still hadn't moved an inch so they set up shop by a building where they could rest in the shade when the next group of curious Iranian onlookers showed up.Cycling to Turkey and back in the last month, these guys were adventurers themselves. Quite impressive considering how far the distance they had gone, in the heat they had done it in, and the fact that their track suits were all black. Talk about sweating!
The conversation was flowing between the Kooks and the four from cycle club www.fariman.org. A great show of hospitality was given, that would continue with so many people they met. The Kooks were invited to cyclists home town, given some of their food while they waited, and had their water bottles with cold filtered water that was available at the border. Pictures and stories were traded and a welcoming feeling was about. A when a couple of blankets were laid down, they offered the Kooks a place to rest. With many people interested in their cars and their trip, the Kooks often showed printed route maps and gave out business cards with all of their contact information. A very useful way to communicate and break the language barrier.
Now reaching five hours with no end in sight, the Kooks settled in for the long haul. Kindles and backgammon were brought out while others took quick naps. And although there are no photographs at any borders are allowed, locals had no problem pulling out their cameras and taking selfies with the gang. Then, after a bit longer, the line starting to move, of course, right when a toilet break was needed!
Now, the line moved quick towards the first check-stop. (Later they would find that the line was stalled due to a computer issue, no fun for anyone waiting there on that day.) At the gates, they all met Hussein. A wirey Larry David looking guy with the personality to match. You could tell he didn't always play by the rules and could get things done when he wanted to. He explained how this all worked and it was now just a waiting game. And wait they did, the hours passed but still, the excitement of being there overpowered the boredom. Everyone was interested in the team and where they were from and all the questions made the time pass faster.
Everyone was friendly except for one guard who kept eyeballing Andy after learning he was American. Maybe it was Andy's moustache, who knows Reza, but none the less, it was uncomfortable. At this point they also met their tour guide. He was to be with them for their whole time in Iran. Joshy (Australia) was the only one who didn't require a guide. Those travelling on Canadian, US, and U.K. passports required one in order to even get a visa. Hopefully it wouldn't be too much of an issue for six independent travellers who are used to doing their own thing.
After a while longer, the two Americans, Joel and Andy, were sequestered away from the group. They would have to get finger printed. No real issue as it happens to many people when entering many countries. But still, this was Iran, and left them feeling a little weirded out. The other four cowered behind a truck's shade waiting for the next move. An hour later, Andy came out from behind the corner and revealed they hadn't done anything yet. They've just been shooting the shit with Hussein,eating peaches, and chatting with some of the guards. Hussein tells the boys that there are a lot of young people who struggle in Iran. If you are not ultra religious and tow the line, you can have a tough time finding a job and opportunities are taken away from you. With not a lot for youth to do, with the ban of alcohol, and other forms of entertainment, kids will often turn to drugs, mainly heroin, as it is cheap and readily available from neighbouring Afganistán.
Finally some movement as they are all brought in to another holding area in a different building, Hussein visibly frustrated at the whole process. He constantly badgers officials to try to get something going. Without him, the fellas probably would just be sitting there and forgotten about. Pictures of the supremes leader are all over the wall as well was a pictures of the proper hijab attire for women. A different world the Kooks are entering. Then, after another wait, the Americans and U.K.ers are brought to a different room, all to be finger printed leaving just Joshy and Geej waiting.
Sometime later, they all came out, smiling, passports in hand running after their fixer to the next hurdle. "HUSSEIN!" Geej yells. In all the commotion the old man had forgotten to grab his and Josh's passport. They might need those 'eh?! As the unassuming boarder guard checks their cars,he admits that he'd have let them trough with no fanfare had there not been cameras watching. They then drove to the next spot to do some car paperwork with the sun still beating down on them and repacked the cars as they would have to make room for their guide.
All in all, this boarder crossing was their longest yet at 9 hours and 22 minutes. But even at that long, being a tourist going into a foreign land for the first time was fun! Wouldn't want to do it every day or even again for that matter. But with all the people they met and the interest in their trip, the team relished in this experience. They were half way to their goal in terms of kilometres but this country was a big one. They had made it in to Iran! End transmission.