We only have a 30 days visa for Iran, which we will extend to 40 days. But still this isn’t enough to see a country as big and culture rich as Iran. We don’t want to just cycle through it in the very north along the Caspian Sea. So we decided to go sightseeing for two weeks before we continue towards Turkmenistan.
So from Tabriz we take the night train to Tehran. It is a comfortable train with a 4 persons cabin. However, up to around midnight, there are only the two of us. Then an Iranian couple enters and I think we get lost in translation. We end up all sleeping fully clothed, because none of us seems to know how to handle this situation.We arrive in Tehran in the early morning around 5am. Our bicycles have been send to Tehran in a cargo train which arrives several hours later. So around 1pm we finally can move out of the waiting hall and into the city. Just when we leave the train station we see a spectacular vehicle. A driver has loaded his moped at least with 1.5 meter of folded cardboard. From behind we can’t see him. But that’s not unusual. Unusual is that on top of the cardboard another guy is sitting and waving at us: „Hello! Welcome to Tehran“. Indeed!
Our hosts in Tehran are Manuchehr and Marieh which we don’t know yet. I only know friends of them, who are friends of my mother. We have the address in Latin letters and Google at least knows the district after I remove all the details of the address. So we drive along the highway to the south of Tehran, only to realize that this is the wrong part of Tehran. We ask a guy in a park……by now you should know what happens next…..After 5 minutes the whole family is surrounding us and we are having a picnic with watermelon. They actually want to invite us to come inside for lunch, but we decline, since our hosts are waiting. In the end one of the sons of the watermelon-family escorts us through half of the city with his moped. All the way we are cycling on the highway and in Germany this would cause chaos. A cyclist on the Autobahn? No way! Here it is different. People just lean out their windows to cheer at us, almost causing accidents. One guy on a moped turns his head to see what we are doing and drives into the road side ditch. Luckily he doesn’t get injured. Several times cars just drive slowly besides us to interview us: „Where are you from? You like Iran?“ That’s bizarre. Others overtake on the right side of us with easily 100km per hour. That’s scary.
Our escort leaves us as soon as he thinks we will find the rest of the way on our own. That means after 30 minutes of driving through Tehran. We drive a few more kilometers, then Cora almost collapses because of the heat and because it is difficult to take breaks to drink on the highway. We stop at the first chance. Cora sits down. I go buy cold water in a nearby corner shop. Within less than a minute a guy with a pickup-truck stops and asks where we want to go. We show him the address on our paper. He then loads both of our bikes on his pickup and drives us there. Welcome to Tehran.
As I said, in Tehran we stay at Manuchehr an Marieh, who are great hosts and support us whenever they can. We soon feel like home. Everything is really easy and relaxed. Marieh prepares delicious food for us and Manuchehr shares a lot of info about the city, the country and its history. Their daughter Mandana supports us in planning our trip to the south.
The first day we spend some time in a district called Darband where a river is going through the valley. There are a lot of cafes which are actually built into the river, so the air is pretty cool. And that’s what we need right now.
The next two days we get to know downtown Tehran and one of its main attractions: Traffic.
We get up early, and first go to the Uzbek consulate which opens at 8:30 am. We wait 1.5 hours and pay 150 dollars to get the visa on the spot. Now quickly to the Turkmen embassy that closes at 11am. The taxi driver is going like crazy – short stop at the copy shop, because we need a copy of the Uzbek visa in order to get the Turkmen visa – journey continues. We arrive at the Turkmen embassy 20 minutes before closing time. Several other tourists do the same turn at the same time.
Now around 10 people fill out forms on the ground in front of the Turkmen embassy.
You need to know that the parts of the embassies we are dealing with are actually small windows, just big enough to hand over some documents. There is no waiting room, no queue and no numbers. That’s probably why they call this visa jungle.
We give all the documents to the guy. He then says, we needed a color copy of the Uzbek visa. A b&w isn’t sufficient. Alright, 10 minutes until they close. I ask „Will you wait? I’m right back.“. He turns around, talks to his boss, then says: „Maybe. Try!“
We start running to the first copy shop, which has been recommended by the embassy. They only do b&w copies. Then we come across a construction side with some office containers. The workers ask if they can help. I explain we need a color copy. They say no problem. 10 minutes later they return with a perfect black and white copy. We continue to run. Finally arrive at the copy shop where the taxi driver had dropped us earlier. Get a color copy this time, then run back. It is already 20 minutes after closing time. I finally arrive at the Turkmen embassy. Closed. But a Japanese guy is still standing there. He speaks hardly English, but explains the window will open one last time, because he still has to give them his hand written letter to the MFA. 5 minutes later the window opens, I hand over the copies. Done. We have the Uzbek visa and now only have to wait for the Turkmen visa which takes a week.
Now lets go to the center of Tehran to the German embassy, so they can write a letter for the Tadjik embassy, that confirms we are actually German citizens and do no harm. We step into the next taxi and take off.
The Fast and the Furious
You don’t have time to fasten your seat belt, but it is actually highly advisable. You get accelerated with approximately 4g. The driver defines the road while driving. He passes other cars missing them by only 5cm. You know these motorcyclists that drive between the lanes in traffic jams in Germany? You can actually do the same with a whole taxi and a honk. The driver is no chicken. He knows there are exactly 5 more centimeters until he crashes into the neighboring car, but the other driver probably thinks there is only 1 cm left, so he stops first and loses this battle. When we arrive I feel the urge to applaud, because I’m still alive. We step out and see there are several scratches on his car. I think he doesn’t like to lose and if two of these kind of drivers meet a crash is inevitable.
As recommended by some other tourists we wave our German passports at the entrance of the German embassy and get in soon, while a long queue (you see we are entering German territory now) of Iranians has to wait outside. 30 minutes later we leave with the letter for the Tadjik embassy. That’s all for the first day.
Now we are no longer in a hurry. So why not take the bus back to the north of Tehran? After several buses have passed by – too crowded to enter – I tell Cora to take the next bus, even if I cannot enter, because women and men are separated in the buses here and there seems slightly more room in the women’s part of the bus. In fact Cora can enter the next bus and I still try to enter the men’s part, but have no chance…..until a big Iranian guy just opens a corridor in the crowd and pushes me in. Some try to stop him, but he doesn’t seem to care at all. And I’m in and soon get digested by the peristaltic movement of the masses. It takes around 50 minutes to Tajrish square – compared to around 10-15 minutes with the taxi.
The next day we only need to apply for the Tadjik visa. We again get up early and take the taxi.
Something is going on with this driver. He seems calm, but is at the verge of exploding in his cab. He listens to a mixture of elevator music and whale songs. His driving style is firm but not aggressive. He has a huge iPad on his front window, but doesn’t use any navigator app. Instead he is manually scrolling the map, zooming in and out and rotating it. I think when Chuck Norris is driving a taxi, he doesn’t actually drive, but moves the earth beneath it.
We arrive at the Tadjik embassy window, which is the smallest of all embassy windows so far. The embassy is in the last corner of Tehran and behind the window there is the actual embassy building which looks like the residence of the king of Vanuatu. Pink and yellow and blue and hip. The whole street smells like someone smokes weed, but to be honest the smell seems to come from the other side of the road.
We hand all documents to the lady in the window. Then the window closes. Inside the black box things happen and we never quite know if our passports are in a state of existence or non-existence, until the window opens again:
She: You need your passport?
She: Come back Monday next week.
Then she hands over the passports to us. Done for that day!
Lets just take the taxi back to Manuchehr and Marieh.
A rather calm taxi driver, driving fast, but not provoking any accidents. He just knows the shortest way through the city. Sometimes I’m not sure if the trail we are on is actually for cars and maybe we are going the wrong way, but hey, who cares. This kind of driver doesn’t make much use of highways, but suddenly you arrive at your destination. It’s a kind of magic.
Now the first part of our time in Tehran is over. Our Turkmen and Tadjik visas will now lay around for 10 days. That’s sort of a punishment for not paying the double price for express processing. When we return, someone will take some glue and stick them into our passports.