The best part about stealing a few hours sleep in the car? No packing up time! A little tired, we were on the road around 8 along yet another scenic switchback mountain road. Again pulled over by police, again it seemed it was just out of curiosity.
We made good time for the day and reached our planned stop in Minudasht by 5pm. As we were all running out of clean clothes, some hotel bathroom washing and attempted drying had to be done. Meanwhile, Steve and Craig met "badass" local businessman (and friend of the hotel manager) Mohren, who insisted on giving us a legendary late night tour to nearby Gonbad Kabus, checking out a 1000 year old tower, and a few other sights. We would have loved to take him up on his offer of mountain climbing too, but unfortunately couldn't spare the time!
Tuesday 5th August - Tabriz
Last day with Sam! We woke up at the restaurant, and made our way to Chalus, and immediately found somewhere to swim. As usual, ran into a crowd of friendly locals, so we shared some tea on the beach, discussed what we could in broken English, and let them play with the gopro for a while. The only unfriendly local was one on a jetski who wanted us to swim closer to shore to get out of his way!
Anyway, besides the usual questions about what we think of Iran, one of the guys, Azim, was lamenting the fact that Iranian girls must cover up, while Australian girls are sexy...we're not all that different!
After Chalus, we drove the spectacular road to Tehran, through a huge mountain range...it was slow going, but one of the most stunning drives we'd seen, and not what we had expected in Iran.
Dinner and shisha at a riverside restaurant, and then it was time to brave Tehran traffic on the way to the airport - it didn't disappoint! Crazier than Turkey and the rest of Iran combined, it was good fun getting a quick taste of the big city.
We dropped Sam off, had another police inspection (quite frequent in Iran, at least once a day, but as usual ended in handshakes and smiles), then proceeded to get slightly lost on our way back through to the far side of Tehran (our maps weren't detailed enough to show individual roads). Eventually succeeded, then pressed on looking for a hotel. By 3:30am however we'd given up hope and decided to admit failure and pull over on the side of the highway on the way to Babol to sleep in the car.
Monday 4th August - Caspian Sea
Managed an early start for once, and started the drive towards the Caspian Sea before breakfast. We were pulled over by the police for speeding (133 in a 120 zone), but by cracking up laughing when they told us the speed, I think we convinced them our car couldn't go that fast, or we were just really charming, but either way they let us go with a warning and a handshake! Also managed be allowed through a highway toll both without paying, just for being Aussies.
A call to the DVLA confirmed our V5 registration had been returned, so we requested another one, fingers crossed it shows up this time!
We made it to the Caspian Sea near Bandar-e-Anzali and jumped in the water at the first opportunity. It had been one of the goals of the trip, and it was well deserved after ten hours on the road.
After swimming, we planned to make it to Ramsar, but stopped for dinner & shisha at an outdoor restaurant near Astaneh-ye-Ashrafiyeh on the way. It was getting late, and we decided we liked the place so much that we asked if we could stay the night! The people working there were once again some of the nicest people you could ever meet, and sleeping in one of the little open air huts wasn't a problem. One of the guys working there burst out laughing repeatedly ... "kangaroo so funny!"
Sunday 3rd August - Iran Border Crossing
We made it to the Iranian border at 8am Iran time (which meant very little sleep due to the time difference!), with about 8 other teams. It took about 30 mins to clear the Turkish side, before the real waiting game began! About 5 hours later, after running out of water and eating our last noodles as the days only meal, we were finally handed our Carnet de Passage for the car and let loose in Iran! As we'd been forced to abandon our planned guide and convoy, we decided to do our own thing, but meet the others at Kandovan (more cave dwellings like Cappadocia) for the evening. The countryside is remarkably barren, but stunning at the same time.
If we thought driving in Turkey was interesting, Iran took things up a notch, but the fact that every third car beeped, flashed lights, or yelled "Hello" to us made the hectic overtaking bearable! This is also the first country we've had no GPS, though we've agreed map reading is more fun anyway, even if we get lost more often!
Even more so than Turkey, the locals are unbelievably friendly and helpful, and everyone wants to say hi, ask questions, and practice their English. We've been warned about the religious leaders (by saying "danger" while miming a beard and turban), but haven't run into any yet!
We had dinner with the other teams in Kandovan before setting up camp beside the nearby river. Still hard to believe we're in Iran!
Saturday 2nd August - Lake Van
We climbed a ski lift tower, swam in the world's largest volcano crater lake, and taught some Turks how to jump off rocks, all in a morning's work. This is our last full day in Turkey, and we've learned a few things that Turkey does right: all bars should be on rooftops, all lakes should be in volcanoes, and all food should be kebabs with char grilled meat! To top it off, they're all just genuinely nice people, we'll miss this country!
On the way north around spectacular Lake Van, we were teased by a cable ski park that unfortunately had no wakeboards, then nearly ran out our fuel on our way to Dogubayazit, lucky Sam backed himself to coast downhill with the engine off for nearly 20km, because we made it with the engine just starting to cough! To top off the day, Brooke fell in a deep concrete ditch while pressure washing the car at a service station...no serious injuries though!
Iran border crossing tomorrow, wish us luck!
Friday 1st August - Urfa
Today, Steve got a haircut while fielding questions from locals (and learned that Harry Kewell played for a Turkish club), and more importantly, Craig got in a fight with the car and spectacularly cracked the windscreen while closing the roof box...so instead of tourism, we spent the day visiting every glazier in Urfa and Diyabakir to no avail. We did however meet plenty of locals in the process, and have established that Turks and Kurds are the friendliest, most helpful people we've met yet! We also learned how invaluable Google Translate is - we would have been entirely lost without it!
We decided to just continue on with the windscreen and hope for the best, as it looks like it's not available east of here...
As we had no time left to go via Batman, we stopped at the sign for some amateur gymnastics anyway, before finalaly pulling into Tatvan around 1:30am. Time for a short sleep before pushing on to the Turkey/Iran border town tomorrow night.
PHOTOS TO COME!