Sunday July 26 Makoo, Iran.
Leaving Istanbul wasn’t as complicated as arriving. We had 1 sign to look for, Ankara, so in no time at all we were on the highway. Excitement rose as we approached the bridge over the Bosporus, the link between the Black Sea and the Aegean. It was a beautiful sight from the massive bridge over the wide straight crowded with ocean freighters. As we crossed to the other side there was a sign that said “Welcome to Asia”. Calen wasn’t quick enough with the camera but I chose the wrong line at the toll station so I had to pull over in 15 lanes of traffic to run back for the ticket. While I did this Calen ran back up the bridge to get the picture but unfortunately an armed guard wouldn’t let him past. He probably thought Calen wanted to go back over the bridge on foot which apparently isn’t allowed.
We carried on through Turkey for the whole day and right into the evening stopping once to climb a mountain and talking about whether we should drive all night or try to find some place to pull over and pitch the tent. Just before dark we found a place to make supper as the side of the road but by the time we were done it was dark so our decision was made. We would drive on through the night, cover some distance and save on hotel costs. It is over 1100 Km from Istanbul to Iran.
I took the late shift as Calen slept in the back but after a few hours I was too tired to drive so I pulled over at a gas station and closed my eyes for an hour. Once I got back to driving I lasted until about 3:00 and then pulled over again and climbed in the back with Calen. It was a tight fit but we managed to sleep until daybreak.
In the morning we got back on the road but only a couple of hours later we came across a really interesting sight at the side of the road in a small village. There was a re-creation of an African mud house/village beside a park. Across the road at the top of a steep hill were the remains of an old walled fort. We stopped for breakfast and then drove through the village looking for a way up to the fort. I don’t think they get many visitors to the small villages in Turkey because we sure got some strange looks. The whole place was made up of ancient cobble streets, broken and potholed and crumbling just like most of the houses that we passed. There were hides drying on some of the walls, wool spread out, chickens running around and kids everywhere. As soon as we arrived at the entrance to the fort kids started arriving from all directions. By the time we parked we had 6 youngsters clamouring for our attention. They took us by the hand or arm or sleeve and walked us through the ruins overlooking the city all the while teaching us the Turkish words for everything around us. The sight was interesting and the view of the surrounding countryside was quite spectacular but the best part was interacting with the friendly and excited kids. We were there entertainment for the day and they were ours.
Once past the village we drove all day until we reached the Iranian border. We arrived around 4:30 and cleared the Turkish exit procedure fairly quickly and not too expensively then traded some American dollars for some Iranian rials with a guy who was very persistent but didn’t offer a very good rate. He told us there was a bank holiday in Iran and we wouldn’t be able to change any money at the border. I figured if we need some local currency to clear the Iranian border and didn’t have any then the $10 I lost in the exchange would be well worth it. As it was, the border gate stayed closed for the next couple of hours. There was no explanation of course and cars and busses started backing up on the Turkish side but the gate stayed closed for at least another hour. Once it opened and we were allowed to cross. Our passports were taken and we were told to park. We followed the immigration officer into the building as he started the clearance process. This went surprisingly fast as we went from office to office to have our documents scrutinized and stamped. The only thing missing was car insurance but a very nice guy offered to help us out with that. He jumped in the car with us and showed us how to get through the last gate to clear the entrance procedure and now we were in Maku, Iran having spent only 3 hours to get accross. Calen waited with the car as I followed this guy down the street and up the stairs to a second floor office. There were 3 other people in the office when we arrived and he proceeded to tell them that I needed insurance for my car. One of the guys took my documents and started filling out a form on the computer and soon enough printed out a document for me. I tried to check it over to make sure all of the numbers were correct but of course I can’t read a word of Persian script so I pretty much had to take his word. When he passed over the insurance papers I was thinking OK here it comes here comes the amount, how much will he ask for and how will I deal with it. I had limited rials and I didn’t want to bring out a big wad of American money but he said it was only $46.00 so my apprehension vanished. I was prepared to pay somewhere over $100 but obviously they were not there to take advantage, only to provide a service. I left quite relieved and now we could continue on into Iran. We drove about half an hour looking for anything that resembled a hotel and Calen finally found one. We checked in, had supper and hit the hay. The end to a long and somewhat stressful day. Today we drive on into Iran.