Take The Wrong Way Home, Iran 2017

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Harti, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    Honestly... we suffered with no beer. On the other hand: I lost 14 pounds. :D
    #21
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  2. chudzikb

    chudzikb Long timer Supporter

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    That would be cruel and unusual for any beer loving human!
    #22
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  3. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    We got up early on a bright sunny morning and enjoyed our first cup of coffee. The manager allowed us to leave tents and luggage at the camp site, so that we could travel light to the Davit Gareja monastry.

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    Soon the terrain became rougher and made us work hard.

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    We were the first tourists at the site, another benefit of the early start besides the temperatures...

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    The monastry was founded in the 6th century. Many of the caves were carved into the soft limestone and gave the monks shelter and protection from enemies, human and animals.

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    Water was collected by lines chiselled into the mountains.

    As soon as the first busses from Tbilisi arrived, we headed back to the Oasis campground.

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    At midday we tried to find the mainroad by taking a shortcut through the countryside. My GPS showed even the tiniest dirt road, so it was impossible to make a correct decision of which way to take...

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    Martina dropped her bike once, later she fell off the road into a ditch over a 10 ft cliff. No damage done except for a crack in her self-esteem. And while we tried to rescue the bike a man in a car with his wife stopped and offered us grapes. Two young fellows stopped also by and together we managed to drag the BMW out of the gorge.

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    After a hard day of offroad riding we finally arrived in Lagodekhi.
    #23
  4. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    Lagodekhi left us with very nice memories. We found the hostel at booking and for once the describtion matched the reality exactly.

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    The inner yard was big enough to host our bikes and left us room to even manoevre around. The weather was great, so we had dinner outside under a pagode of ripe grapes. Our host was a very nice man with his wife and God knows how many relatives, who explaned over the course of the dinner some Georgian culinary tips.

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    The menu was endless. Baked cheese pizza, soup with chunks of lamb meet, tomato and cucumber salad with feta cheese, shish kabob skewers, not to mention the many side dips, olives, peppers and so on. They offered selfmade wine, selfmade lemonade and of course selfmade vodka. The meal started at broad daylight at around 6 p.m. I was totally done at midnight, which left me enough time to recover for our border crossing to Azerbaijan tomorrow.

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    Heli found in Malte and Ines polite listeners and extended the dinner to 3:30 p.m. For each sip of wine or vodka you have to bring out a toast in Georgia. First we drank specifically to the people, who took part in our little party or to our trip or our health. Later on, when we ran out of toasts, we drank to humanity in general, to the solar system or world peace.

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    Btw, the hostel itself is built on the remainders of an 8th centuriy old brick wall and one part of it is conserved to be seen in the lobby.



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    We left this nice hostel called "Old Wall Hostel" with a hangover and a deep desire for more sleep.

    Good luck for a border crossing does not sound very encouraging...

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    #24
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  5. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    An international border is always a good place to make the difference between good and evil evident. We passed all vehicles in the car lane, where maybe 10 cars waited for being processed. The officer, who was on duty for prejudging, who can go and who has to suffer and wait, a complete idiot with enormous power at that gate, picked us to make his day. "What's your problem", he barked, but it was too late to establish a good relationship. So he let us wait for 2 hours in the sun with Heli having a hangover and only little sleep and waived all other cars right through. At least our paperwork was ok, we even had insurance for the bikes from our German insurance company.

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    A lot later, we had lunch along the way to Baku, Azerbaijans capital.

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    Since we had a 5-day transit visa, we didn't have to rush through the country as big as Belgium.

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    We stayed in a hostel in Saki. It was bloody hot and we hoped for some relief in front of the air condition.

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    In Saki we visited the old fortress from the 18th century and an old caravanserai converted into a nice hotel.

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    We were told, that 20 mls north of the city we would find a nice balla vista from way up in the mountains in Kis. Only we never found that outlook. The road was a real challenge...

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    street vendors selling dehydrated fruit juice...

    Finally we arrived at our hotel in downtown Baku.

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    #25
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  6. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    For getting to know the city a little better we decided to go on a city bus tour instead of a bike ride.

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    Baku is a vibrant, modern and big city. It's the capital of Azerbaijan and the largest metropolitan area in the Caucasus. At the beginning of the 20th century it was the fastest growing city worldwide, even faster than New York or London. All due to the oil in the region of course. About a hundred years ago, more than half of the oil exploitation came from this region. And that led to enormous wealth and also claims by neighboring Russia.

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    Wherever we stop helpful people show us the right direction.

    Interesting enough, the entire infrastructure of Azerbaijan is based on a steady flow of oil. The government has spent, or at least dedicated, the expected petro money for many years to come and is now overwhealmed by the oil price crash on the world market in 2016.

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    The oil industry is not really known for environmental awareness.

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    Did you know, that the surface of the Caspian Sea lies 28 meters sub zero? And it's the largest lake on the planet. It's been fed by rivers like Wolga, Ural and Kura. It must have had connections to the Mediterranian Sea in prehistoric times because it shows a significant level of salinity.

    On our way down towards the Iranian border we passed a large tea plantation. We thought it would be a good idea to buy a few packs of tea as souvenirs for our folks back home.

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    Tomorrow we will cross into Iran.

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    #26
  7. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze I keep blowing down the road Supporter

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    Good Luck! Thanks for sharing your journey!

    :lurk
    #27
  8. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    Iran, here we are.

    A Carnet de Passage is mandatory for Iran.

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    We were responsible for the paperwork to be filled out correctly.

    We were a little tense about what to expect. We heard so many stories about the Iran, that we had to see for ourselves. The formalities were done in no time. Not a single harsh word by the border staff. Everywhere "hello" and "welcome to Iran". They really took care in communicating with us. One fellow even spoke German. All in all the whole border procedure took us no longer than 2 hours. Most of which we waited for the head of the office, who had gone home already. We needed his signature for the Carnet.

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    Ever since we crossed the border our life changed dramatically. NO BEER any more. Martina had to camouflage herself and blended in with the locals. And we got ready to answer questions like: where are you from?, how do you like Iran? and how fast is your bike? And we had to pose wherever we stopped for a selfie. That was a little tiring, but very understandable. In Iran bikes over 200 cc are forbidden. Women on bikes don't exist. Foreign tourists are THE highlights for the locals and prompt always a major inquisition.

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    Our first visit of an Iranian restaurant.

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    Right after the border we faced endless stop-and-go traffic. On weekends every Iranian goes on little vacations either into the mountains or to the beaches. Whenever they feel like they take a break right next to the car in the loudest and dirtiest environment. That's what they call "camping".

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    #28
  9. BSTT

    BSTT Been here awhile

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    I'm in!
    Harti, thank you for taking the time to show us something of your interesting journey!:clap
    Iran is for sure not a country so many of us have the chance to travel. I'm sure Martina, Heli and you have a lot to tell.

    Ciao Gero
    #29
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  10. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    Hi Gero.

    Yes and no. Iran is definitely not the easiest country to travel to. For the visa application procedure we hired a company that was experienced and got us the visa in no time. But they were not cheap. We also had to get used to some regulations and habits we hadn`t heard about before. No eating with your right hand. The "taroof", your willingness to pay would be rejected a few times and finally accepted. Traffic. Women in public. Just to name a few examples...

    But once in the country they are the nicest and most humble and most generous people I've met.

    As I write along, I'll point out some of the curiosities.
    #30
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  11. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    The smaller the roads the less traffic. The landscape was stunning. Although we rode at an altitude of 7.000 ft, the surrounding mountain range impressed us with high peaks of 10 - 12.000 ft. Here the Lesser Caucasus transforms into the Alborz range with a dry and hot climate. Most of the time we were exposed to 100+°F.

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    While Martina and I tried to find a money changer on a Friday, Heli turned this stop into a fair.

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    At a gas station in the little town of Khalkhal a young man invited us for lunch. He introduced us to his family and we learned, that often enough at least 4 generations live under one roof. Amir offered us homemade drinks while the women prepared a tasty chicken and lamb stew on rice. Amir is an English teacher and couldn't stop questioning us about our daily life in Germany. Very understandable, when you put into consideration, that their only source of information is TV and www. They hardly see any foreigners, especially in a remote area like this little town in the mountains off the beaten path. Amir wanted us to stay overnight. It would have been rude to just refuse that invitation. I told Amir very diplomatically, that we made already other plans and that we had arranged a rendezvous with a friend from Germany in Teheran that evening and we didn't want to disappoint him. That worked.

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    We often saw memorials to the national heroes. They are considered to be martyrs of the Iran-Irak war from 1980 til 1988.

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    In a village we ran into a wedding ceremony...

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    In a relatively short period of time we descended from around 7.000 ft to 100 ft below sea level. And the lower we came the more we had to deal with extreme humidity. Every move, every walk prompted a sweat eruption...

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    The locals get more active at night. At the markets they offer an enormous choice of products.

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    Our hotel.

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    Waiting for dinner in a traditional lounge.

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    Looks like bubble wrap, tastes like... I don't know. I never tried bubble wrap...
    #31
  12. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    As you can see on the map we skipped Teheran. There are many reasons for going there, and just as many to not go there. Some 20 million people live in the metropolitan area and Teheran is one of the largest cities in the world. So, when we decided to not visit Teheran, no one missed us...

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    While Martina and I went for a walk to the admittedly filthy beach, Heli enjoyed the shisha, the water pipe, at our hotel.

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    We obviously had different expectations of the road along the Iranian riviera. A little more romantic and pittoresque would have been nice... Instead, we got jammed up in high volume traffic, one town after another, architectural sins all over, pollution and excessive noise. Sometimes we would take the sidewalk to escape from being stuck.

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    On the sidewalk...

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    So we decided to turn south, away from the highway to Mashad. In Nur we even opted for the autobahn to Semnan, just to leave the coastal region behind as soon as possible. So we had to conquer the Alborz range once again.

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    A woman stopped by and presented us homemade cake. Martina was obviously very moved.

    In Semnan we found a hotel we wouldn't normally write home about. One of these 5 star complexes you don't want to stay in under regular circumstances. But it was the only choice we had. We parked the bikes in sight of the reception and the elevator was also very useful. You have to leave your passport at the front desk whenever you check in at a hotel in Iran.

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    Heli had hoped for some relief of his back pain by stretching excercises, while I cured the remains of the shits.

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    The next day we finally wanted to tackle the desert crossing to Garmeh. We could not find the slightest hint on our navi or on the maps, that the shortcut from Semnan to Mo'alleman leads right through a military area. At the road barrier some 40 mls along the road the guard discussed the further procedure. No navigation system was to be used, no camera use, and we had to register with our passports, then he would let us pass. Well, we agreed to all of it, except for presenting our passports. We idiots had left them at the hotel and started without any photo ID. To explain to the guard that we had to turn around because we had no passports made him so suspicious, that he informed the police as we turned around. Half way back into town we got brought up by the cops, ordered to follow them at highest speed. We hoped they would guide us right to the hotel for picking up our ID's. Nada. We got detained at the police HQ in Semnan. With a great deal of understanding problems we managed to explain to them what the circumstances were. After 2 hours one security officer escorted me to the hotel to get the passports, exactly what I had proposed in the first place long ago. Finally they ordered us to go a long way round the prohibited area. And believe me... you don't want to have anything to do with the police or the secret service in Iran by ignoring their orders...

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    Our first attempt to go south before the police picked us up...
    #32
  13. flei

    flei cycletherapist

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    Fantastic ride report. Iran, a birthplace of civilisation is a place I would love to visit. Don't know if I have time left to go all the places I still long to see...
    #33
  14. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    Thanx for the praise. You sound like an aged man... No one is old unless he feels like it. Look at Ted Simon. He went on a motorcycle trip rtw at the age of 70...
    #34
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  15. flei

    flei cycletherapist

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    I'm only 62, and don't feel old at all. It's just there are still so many places I haven't yet been it is hard to imagine enough time to see them all. Looking forward to retirement freeing up more time for travel and exploration.
    #35
  16. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    So we are of the same age. I wish for you, that your dream of traveling comes true. It's never too late...
    #36
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  17. stilcrazee

    stilcrazee Been here awhile

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    Gotta make time for yourself, there are no contracts on how long we may live. Working out details to fully retire this next year myself.
    #37
  18. Mesamuley

    Mesamuley Adventurer

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    Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us! I have often wondered about the realities of life in a place such as Iran...I am sure we all have more in common than not. Looking forward to more!
    #38
  19. flei

    flei cycletherapist

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    I hear you. Most of my issue is the small amount of leave most of us get in the USA. With the little vacation time i get even after 29 years of work, between visiting family and other "obligations", i have little time to travel far for "adventure" or leisure. I shouldn't complain as i have been privileged enough to travel pretty extensively in my life. I also am retiring next year and already have a trip to ride in Vietnam planned.
    #39
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  20. Harti

    Harti Been here awhile

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    Hi flei,

    it's very unfortunate, that one has to wait for retirement to fulfill his or her desire to explore the rest of the world with all its different wonders, cultures and ways of life. I was most of my professional career a freelance cameraman with the advantage of creating enough travel time and the disadvantage of having no income during my voyages...
    #40