From the snow covered pass in Armenia we rode down into Iran and a red-brown landscape with bluff mountains. We could clearly see, in summer this place is going to be very hot. To cross the border we didn’t use a lot of time and after a small correction even the Carnet de Passage was stamped right.
We searched for a hostel in Tabriz and went to a local restaurant to assuage our hunger. The people of the restaurant were so hospitable, we even got two portions of Baklava (sweet baked dessert) presented. From the very first day on we felt very welcomed into Iran.
Crazy Birthday Party
Over Facebook we got to know Mr. Noname, which invited us to spend the next two days with him and his family. Thankfully we accepted his invitation and didn’t regret it for one second.
The very first evening there we have already been invited to a birthday party. We were told to get dressed “fancy” and join. But with our limited wardrobe we had no chance to follow the dress code. Luckily the whole family stepped in action to help us: Xenia got clothed, three women took care of here and started with her hair. Afterwards she got her make-up (probably more then she got before in her entire life). Martin thought it was hilarious until he was up. He was allowed to wear the suite of Mr. Noname’s brother including the shoes. (Ask somebody in Switzerland if you could borrow his only suite and therefore his best suite to go to a party – no chance!!!). Also Martin got his hair done. Mr. Noname’s mother in vain tried to fit some high heels on Xenia. With shoe size 43 Xenia had to go without high heels, because all other women had smaller feet. Xenia wasn’t really sad about the fact she could wear her sports shoe. It was going to be a long night.
When we arrived, we got an exuberant greeting as if we would be long lost friends. There was a lot of dancing and lots of pictures, videos and selfies involved. The music was very loud and the atmosphere was awesome. We ate a lot and then the presents got unwrapped, which was quite a scene. We both repeatedly got called up to get on our feet and dance. By now it was already 02.30AM, Xenia was tired and Martin barely could stand on his feet anymore. So it was time to leave and say goodbye to everyone. The men gave Martin three cheek kisses and of course most of the women wouldn’t even shake hands. Weird world.
Heading into the wild
We went out of Tabriz and into the wild. We fed our GPS with open-street maps and therefore the GPS choose a relatively interesting route, which we easily could call our “Today’s Special”. Somewhere ends the paved road and somewhere else the paved road started again. In between we were very lucky because it didn’t rain too hard. The mountains and the rocks had all kinds of different colours. Purple, pink, red, yellow, brown, green, grey and almost white. It was very hilly and so the road meandered around the mountains and went here and there through a tunnel and then again trough beautiful valleys. Even when the road was paved, there was almost no traffic and therefore it was a lot of fun to ride there. While we bought food Xenia got a candy bar as a gift from a young girl. The girl was stunned by the women who is riding her own motorcycle. On top of that it is a motorcycle which is bigger then every other bike.
In Iran Motorcycles over 250ccm are forbidden by law and it’s illegal for Iranian women to ride a motorcycle. Both of these laws exclude foreigner women, men as well as motorcycles. But therefore we got even more of attention.
We rode further to Masuleh, to see this small village which is built terraced like into the mountains. It’s relay worth seeing and also the climate up in the mountains was pleasant.
Sorting things in Tehran
The next five days we spent in Tehran trying to get our China visa. Only when we got to the embassy for the second time, with all the paperwork done already, they told us we are still to early for a single entry visa and for a double entry visa we would have needed an official invitation from china, which of course we will never get. The whole thing cost us time, money and nerves without success.
At least we successfully organized engine oil for a later oil change and got our side mirrors fixed by the best Persian mechanic in the world.
We went out of the noisy city and took the highway to get to Kashan, where we visited the mosque.
The next day on the main road to Abyaneh, we turned right and rode on a smaller road further. After a few hundred meters we saw in the distance people on a small hill standing and waving. We waved back and continued with the same speed. The people now started to whistle and some which first have been sitting, jumped up and started to nervously wave their arms as well. We slowed down and then Martin recognized that we were entering a restricted area. The “people” were soldiers, standing on protect trenches and there were at least six anti-aircraft positions covered with camouflage net and dug so deep in, we had no chance to recognize them as such from the distance. Only the long barrels of the canons were reaching up and out of the camouflage net.
Before we started our trip we were reading more then once of occasions were travellers accidentally and unknowingly entered such a restricted area, and it always ended with jail. Currently we didn’t feel like attending such a happening! We turned as fast as we could and rode the way we came, as fast as we could. Luckily we were not followed or stopped.
There was probably a sign, but it was for sure only written in Farsi and not in English, so we had no chance to know in what kind of trouble we could end up.
In Abyaneh the tourists were more interested in us, than in the pretty village which consists of red clay houses. We first answered all questions and then we went to explore the oozy village ourself.
Forts, Deserts and camel shit fires
After a small detour trough the creek, we took the highway to get to Isfahan and found a hotel for the next three days. We set an appointment with our Swiss friends Janosch and Günter which also are travelling by motorcycle. With these two nice and funny guys, we spent the next five awesome days.
The four of us went to explore the Ghurtan Fort with a local guide, which didn’t speak English at all – remarkable how much one can communicate with his hands and feet’s! We climbed towers, crawled into low chambers and were fascinated by old door keys made of wood. It was really interesting and it was for free! But of course we gave the pleasant and motivated tour guide a good tip, which at first attempt he didn’t accept.
It’s been Martin’s wish to make a fire in the desert with camel dung. Now, how do you get dry camel dung? We were using our Point-it-book and there was a lot of laughing involved. After a lot of back an forth, two boys raced away with their motorcycles and after 5 minutes they were back with cow- and donkey dung. As a thank you Günter gave them his beloved Swiss glucoses (candy).
At the salt mine we were allowed to enter but we had to pay an entrance fee. Sadly the white salt was covered with dark brown sand, and therefore only the potholes were white. At a small lake we stopped and took lots of pictures, before we started to ride back and tried to avoid to cover the bikes completely with salt. Of course we had no chance to avoid it and when we were back by the gate, everything was white. We went back to a place, we saw right before entering to the salt mine. Approximately 200 meters away from the piste was this flat spot, almost completely surrounded by beautiful sand dunes. Fighting our way through the sand with our heavy loaded bikes, we had to decrease tire pressure to about 1 bar, to not sink in too much. We pitched our tents, enjoyed the sunset, let the drone fly and topped it off with a “shit” fire. That stuff was really burning easily and we had a great evening. The end of an awesome day.
A leaking suspension
The next day our routes separated each other already. Janosch and Günter rode north and went south to Yazd. Because of the thrilling small route we took, we didn’t made it all the way to Yazd and got invited by a very kind family to eat and sleep at their home. The next day we rode the last 100 kilometers to Yazd, were we stayed for four days to explore the city and maintain our webpage.
In Rayen we visited the biggest citadel we ever saw. It’s impressing what mankind was building to to be protected from mankind. (Guess this didn’t change till today).
We went on to Kerman to fix a problem on Xenia’s motorcycle. The house screw at the hydraulic spring preload got loose and the whole oil leaked out. That way, the necessary preload of the spring was no longer given and the motorcycle started to feel like a stubborn donkey. The whole thing was even worse, becuase the bike is fully loaded. All the speed bumps which should force us to slow down in the villages, were not really helping to leave the failure undetected. Probably we also should mention the fact, that Xenia just had a discuss collapse before the start of our journey and therefore this was a real problem.
In Kerman we already been expected and we were led to a workshop. By the looks of the workshop we were wondering if this would be the right place to fix our high-performance suspension. Everybody was talking at the same time and some of them even got louder then necessary. Luckily the friend of our friend brought a tour guide as a translator with him. After 20 minutes it was clear – this is not going to work. They didn’t had the tools or the knowledge. Therefore Xenia had to continue with here bobbing donkey.
Sandstorm in the Kalut
Our next goal was the Lut desert, specially the Kaluts. On the last pass we went over 2600 m a.s.l. and then rode down to about 300 m a.s.l.. On top was a temperature of 17° Celsius, then by descending 100 Meters we calculate pus 1° Celsius (as a rough guide), means it will ad up to 40°Celsius once we get all the way down. The calculation was pretty exact and the thermometer was showing 42°, so the airflow was no longer cooling us down, it was heating us up even more.
When we left Shadot we had to fight a lot of side wind and the horizon was brown. There were a lot of clouds and it looked like dawn already begun. We didn’t care too much and rode on until we were standing in front of a serious sandstorm. The wind was now really strong and brought a lot of sand with it. The sky got even darker and there were several raindrops. 40°,Sandstorm and rain at the same, that’s a combination we both experienced for the first time. We slowly rode further to reach the campsite, but we didn’t want go through this wall of sand, so we stopped and discussed what to do. At this very moment the wall of sand got thinner and thinner till we could see the horizon behind it. We started the engines and rolled on but we didn’t had a good feeling.
We reached the Shadot Desert Camp and were a bit relieved to not be the only one’s out here. The weather looked a bit better now and the wind blow got a bit weaker, but the sky remained very dark. We asked for the price to camp on the site. The answer:”Money? – No Money”! We didn’t get the point why the man wouldn’t want to get paid however we were OK to stay for free. We’ve been the only guests on the whole site and it was big. We pitched up our tent in the middle of these round little huts, which probably are normally used as picnic places. It’s been spooky, all these huts, containers and no one around.
Even the gatekeeper was leaving after he switched on the floodlights (the system was easily bright enough for a whole soccer field) for the night, and disappeared with his car to the village. For our tee we had to filter and boil the water, because of the colour and the taste of the water we’ve been pretty sure the water wouldn’t been OK to drink as it was. Just after we finished eating our melon, there was a strong gust of wind which was carrying a scary amount of sand with it. We got sandblasted right away and all our stuff – panniers, tank bag, clothes and even the tent was getting filled with sand. In panic we ran to pack, close and tie down everything. While doing so, we had to almost close our eyes to no get dust into them. The sun was going down and the storm continued. The wind had lifted the tent floor and made the tee pan fall over. Now the tent floor wasn’t only full of sand and dust but also wet. Later we luckily noticed it wasn’t the tee pan, it was the pan with the uncooked water so at least we had enough tee to get through the night. Martin had started to tie down the tent with putting more pegs in the ground and he wasn’t sure if we really could spent the night like this. Both of us sitting in the tent and outside was storm and sand raging. It was still 38°Celsius hot, our skin, hair, clothes, eyes and ears were covered or filled with sand and dust.
Martin had to get out again and moisten two small blankets which we laid over ourself to maybe be able to sleep. We were laying in the tent, the wet blankets on our skin and earplugs to dampen the noise. The wind was shaking the tent very harsh to the point were a cheap tent would have been ripped into pieces. Very concerned, we tried to calm down and sleep a bit. We woke up a lot. From time to time we could see the lightning and hear the thunder. There was only a little bit of rain which we could hear falling on the tent.
In the morning at 05.30AM we got up. We couldn’t nor wanted to sleep any longer. The wind was still blowing, luckily less strong and therefore with less sand. We started with no breakfast, packed everything and left the scene.
To see the Kaluts we went further north east. The Kaluts are big stone hills reaching up in the desert, somewhat like Monuments Valley but smaller and different colour.
Change of plans and back to Tehran
From there on we rode the same way back to Tehran to get Xenia’s suspension fixed as fast as possible. There was an other route planed, direction further north east, but with the suspension not working properly it didn’t make sense, especially because it would be even harder to get it fixed in the countries to come.
After over 700 kilometres of highway we treated ourself with a nice hotel, with shower and a restaurant. Already on the next day we got back to Tehran, after we rode the 1180 kilometesr with no accidents. In the city, Reza (our friend and mechanic) and his family warmly welcomed us.
The next day we spent 11 hours in Rezas shop and half of the time we had up to three guys helping us to get the bikes fixed and serviced. The suspension really concerned us, but we had Wi-Fi and live contact to Hans-Dieter, the owner of TFX Suspensions in the Netherlands. He could feed us with informations and instructions. This way the suspension got fixed, a complete service on both bikes with oil change, air filter cleaning and a lot more got done, till the bikes were fully operational. Reza and his team really did a great job, thanks so much!
Heading east in a rush
The next day we already had to leave because of our expiring Iran visas.
We rode through very beautiful green valleys and over high passes. On the highest pass was the street cleaned with a snowblower and there were still 7m of snow beside the road. It was pretty impressive and cold. We had to get far but uncountable very tight curves made it hard for us to be fast.
The Caspian Sea to our left we were riding now an a two lined street and everybody was driving like crazy. It was really the most aggressive way of driving we ever saw so far. Fast, too close takeovers and sudden direction changes are “normal”. Trucks in principle don’t use their turning lights. They are big enough so everybody can see when they suddenly change line from right to left an turn into a smaller road on the left in one move – right? Xenia’s pannier even got once streaked by a cars side mirror when she was going around 110Km/h! Luckily nothing bad happened. In the evening we found a hotel, barged about the price and stayed. We were exhausted.
With a detour over Khaled Nabi we went further to Bojnurd, where our Facebook friend Mohsen already awaited us, joined us for dinner and also invited us for a tee in his office. Also the next we been invited by him and his colleagues for breakfast and spent an interesting morning. After the farewell picture, we rode to the border in Bajgiran. The drone was in Xenia’s clothes bag and covered with ladies underwear and similar things. We filled up the tanks with the last Iranian Rial and bought some food. We also changed US Dollars to Turkmenian Manat with a good black market rate. The exit out of Iran was trouble free and fast.
Iran is a very big and beautiful country with different kinds of landscape. Also culture wise we had a lot of interesting insights. We meet very kind and helpful people and some of them become friends.
However because the Internet is censored we couldn’t reach our webpage and even VPN wasn’t a solution to the problem. Everything that had to do with internet banking or payments with credit cards isn’t working neither. Hotel reservations are made by phone and because foreigners can not pay in advance by credit card it is quite chaotic to get a room. Therefore we had quite a lot of cash (USD) with us and changing this, was the easiest way to get local money. With the army or police we didn’t get in trouble and only got controlled two times. The laws how a women should dress was not allays without problems when you are on a journey by bike. But all together the changing from helmet to headscarf was working OK.