I had a last beer in the last Armenian village and prepared myself mentally for the border formalities. I didn't need to, the entry in Iran from Armenia is a very pleasant experience, everything goes smoothly and professionally. Funny enough, only the Armenians customs wanted to have a look at my baggages.. the Iranians couldn't care less, the cars would unload and x-ray the baggages but I didn't bother and nobody cared. I quickly found somebody to stamp my carnet in, changed some cash and off I went. Nobody asked for insurance or requested that I bought one, unlike what happened to this French dude who crossed from Turkey.
I quickly found a chaikhana where I had a nice tea and a chicken kebab, reminding me I was in Azerbaijan province, so culturally close to Turkey. I love it, but I would find later that these places become harder to find as I go into persian Iran, because the Imams don't like those places.
The weather wasn't that great, so I avoided the mountains and went to Tabriz, then southwest to the Kurdish province near the Iraqi border. I took the secondary roads, which means the English signs disappear. As I don't read farsi, I struggle a little to find my way, but luckily everywhere you go the scenery is great.
The roads are amazing, so much better than in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. Indeed it's even better than the French roads. Add when the road isn't surfaced, it's usually nicely graded so a lot of fun.
The same can't be said about the driving of the Iranians. Expect the worse and then some. But you get used to it, it reminded me a little of India. At least this guy didn't try to overtake me.
Did I mention that the Iranians are incredibly friendly ? Everywhere I go, I got invited for food or for sleeping. Arriving in Kurdistan, near Howraman, I met these 5 dudes riding on 3 bikes, among them an old but trusty Honda cg125, and a new and fancy Iranian-built Farah 200.
I stopped and with their little English found out they were heading to Howraman too, so they told me to follow and lead the way for 3 days. They showed me the way, cooked for me, and even let me use their ration card for cheap fuel.
Yes, you can get cheap fuel anywhere at 0.40$/liter. That's pretty good, but the locals do get 60 liters per month at 0.10$/liter! Now that's cheap. Unfortunately for them, the government wants to get rid of it and even the raise the price to 50c. Ouch. (Diesel is 0.05$/liter but what do I care).
Howraman is amazing, we did a loop through very steep mountains, from 500m to more than 2000m, with views over Iraq from the passes. We also took some very good gravel roads that brought us down in the valley bottom for a nice swim in the river.
You can camp wherever you want, or you can ask locals for shelter, of a mix of both. Having the Kurds guys with me of course made it a lot easier to get around. I will upload the GPS track if anybody is interested.
The altitude meant it was never too hot, just great for riding. Indeed, the whole west of Iran, including Shiraz and Esfahan is around 1500m high, so at that time of the year (October), the temperature never goes above 35 at noon, and a nice 20-25 toward the evening. Just perfect. On the other hand the east half is occupied by low-lying deserts and the temperature there is still too hot, easily over 40 degrees.
I have a kebab on top of the pass, the cook making use of an old Iraqi bomb.
Some more switchbacks
and I'm heading toward Shiraz and Esfahan for some tourism. Pretty nice, but no need to talk about it here.
In 2 occasions I got to sleep in a mosque; people I really laid back about it and it seems customary to do so. One night I was led to a fuel station's mosque when a party of Iranians joined me, and even brewed tea on the nice carpets. No biggie. You even get the tools to do some.. hmm..??
Ouch. Shia ain't doing it for me.
That was the 30th anniversary of the "aggression" of Iraq, the 8 year Iran-Iraq war. Some posters were pretty gross, but I liked the one with Saddam Hussein and the phrase: "We didn't fight. We defended". Nice propaganda.
I also met this nice dude who built his own chopper, complete with fake twin cylinders, a toy fan blowing on the (real) 200 cc cylinder and a car wheel on the rear. Almost unridable but pretty damn fun.
The same guy found some booze on the black market to show us they can have everything. Pretty disgusting, but that's ok for the bragging rights.
I wanted to get a glimpse of the desert, so I went east toward Kerman, and then to the Kaluts, a very scenic part of the desert.
I set up camp in the middle of those great looking rocky formations and had a great night under the stars. The riding was a bit rough though, not much fun as you have the choice between bumpy hard rocks or soft sand, too much hard work for me on this heavy bike.
After 3 weeks I decided to go to Bandar Abbas and find out about the ferry crossing the Persian Gulf for UAE and Dubai. On the way there I found myself blocked at a military checkpoint. I had veered off on a secondary road, if I had stuck on the main highway I probably would have reached Bandar quickly. But there the militaries insisted for me to wait for an escort. Several escorts in fact, as I was handed over to a police station, who brought me to the next police station etc.. so it took me a whole day for 350 km. But they were friendly all the time so I didn't mind, it was just a small inconvenience and meant to be helpful.
In Bandar Abbas we joined forces with Sean on his vespa and went through the mountains of paperwork needed to get the bike on the ferry. It's a ro-ro, you can just ride the bike onto the deck, but it is much more complicated that it needs to be. I guess the Iranians don't care about making it easier for tourists.
Finally, after 20h of running around offices, 14h of crossing and 400$ less in the wallet, I was in Sharjah, UAE.
Guys, Iran is awesome, if you can, go there! Fantastic people, cheap living, great roads and tracks, very easy to get around without hassle from the police or militaries (except in the far south-east). It wasn't for the Carnet de passage, which makes the trip pretty expensive, it would be the dream destination.