One Thousand Welcomes

  • Tabriz — Tehran
  • Tehran — Damghan
  • Damghan — Sabzevar
  • Sabzevar — Quchan
  • Quchan — Bajgrian, border to Turkmenistan

Over the course of driving through Iran we paid for two tolls but got waved through an additional six with attendants seeing our Irish flag sticker and welcoming us, one guy even shouted, ‘I love you, go go goo!’. Nelly drove into Tehran as the sun was beginning to fall in the sky and the high paced driving was absolutely bonkers becoming blatantly obvious when we got closer to the city.

The kindness, generosity and pure intrigue towards our little ChaCha bombing it down the motorway was astonishing, we knew we were in a funky little car which was hilariously overloaded but we are still getting used to the stares. Sometimes we actually do forget what we are driving when people wave and shout out the window to us! I was in the back seat when a car pulled up towards us with a happy family inside, they pulled closer and closer to us and I started to wonder what was going on, next thing I know it an ice cold bottle of fresh homemade lemonade is in my hand along with three glasses which had been handed over to me! It was delicious and just what we needed when the water was hot, we were tired and the sun was beginning to lower.

The car started to get hotter and hotter and we didn’t have any clue as to what we may be looking for in Tehran so we thought the best option would be to pull over and let her cool down and hopefully a plan of action would just appear before our eyes. We pulled off after ChaCha had a quick breather and after we turned the next corner we somehow landed at the International Conference Centre and made a logical observation that there would be wifi to find somewhere to stay and a good chance that there would be food!

The grounds hosted a great view of the city and there were plenty of people buzzing around, we figured it was the equivalent to a Saturday night, we headed up to the food court and even found some noodles which had basically been unheard of up to now amongst all of the kebabs we had consumed since leaving Europe. We quickly noted that a hotel would be harder to find than originally anticipated and set off to find a park which the guide had ensured us would be safe as many families camp in the summertime. Navigating was incredibly tedious at the best of times here because we had no maps of Iran which wasn’t the original plan but we couldn’t find any in english, navigating with screenshots of google maps was even worse in the dark!

We ended up outside a block of apartments and asked for directions to a huge national park we had spotted on google maps, problem number two with this was that you couldn’t zoom out of a screenshot. We were lucky though as almost immediately after we had pulled up another car pulled up alongside us and the man at the desk ushered us towards him. The man spoke incredibly good english and we soon found out that his name was Karim, he assured us that he would help us find somewhere to stay and even offered us a place in his house but we could not accept as his wife had an exam the following morning and didn’t want to disrupt her studies.

Karim called his two daughters down to join the excitement and we followed them to two parks before asking permission to camp in the gardens of the apartment block. We were exhausted at this stage and by the time we pitched our tent and started to drift off to sleep we heard Karim outside the tent again, he had brought us melon and ice to add to our water, as well as half the neighbourhood to check out the car. I half felt bad and was half delighted when I insisted on Nelly getting out of the tent to speak to the crowd because I didn’t have my headscarf with me! When Nelly got back into the tent he informed me that outside was at least 10degrees colder than inside the tent but there was nothing we could do about it, I wasn’t going to take off the cover when we were in a built up area! We just had to lie on the outside of our sleeping bags until we basically fell into a heat induced sleep, that was fine and all but when we thought about it we realised it was only going to get hotter as we travelled east!

We were out of the apartment block by 8am in order to travel as close to the Turkmenistan border as we possibly could and we left a thank you note for Karim at the gate along with our email addresses as we already had his. Yet again we quickly figured that we had no idea how to get out of Tehran but we got lucky (for about the 100th time on this trip) and stumbled upon a hill which would take us to Damghan for our first pitstop of the day for lunch. Petrol stations started to pop up less regularly so we had to be smart about fuel seeing as nobody seemed to want to fill our jerry can (for obvious reasons). We also never anticipated that Iran would contain such mountainous terrain as they continued either side of the motorway from one side of the country to the other with hardly any gaps.

We began to spot camels more regularly and we even saw road signs for cheetahs on the road from Damghan to Sabzevar amongst signs for sheep and cows. As we pulled over at the top of one hill both to swap drivers and cool the car down another car pulled up in front of us and all of the passengers got out to greet us and offer us tea, the reception we are given wherever we were in Iran was nothing like we had seen before! After a temporary mishap in the centre of Sabzevar which saw ChaCha cut out several times on a busy road as Nelly tried a U-turn (cue the panic as we were nowhere near mechanically minded), we were on the road to Quchan just as the moon started to brighten in the sky. The roads were shocking and it didn’t help that we couldn’t see anything, I had my full lights on for as long as I could get away with it before a car flashed at me!

Nelly had spotted the only hotel which was on the slip road on the way into Quchan, we stopped by but it seemed to be extortionately priced for what it was, I suppose you could get away with it being the only hotel in a border town. We drove on and during one of the many times Nelly got out of the car to ask directions Feargal and I spotted 99 machines and we had locked the car before we had even felt the pang of hunger for a second time. Unfortunately the ice cream shop didn’t have dinner food but the owner did walk us down the street to one of his favourite places and he continued to order us three pizzas and drinks, to this day I have no idea what toppings we consumed and at this stage I think we are better off not knowing! We still fancied some ice cream and called into the man again who then served us up three cones without charge and showed us to a hostel! At this stage we would only have at most five hours sleep but every minute counted!

As we opted to share one room the guys had to assure the owner of the hostel that I was their sister/ cousin, after a little hesitation they let us stay and we even noticed another rally car out the front, at least we knew we wouldn’t be alone crossing the border! The roads to the border were mostly uphill again and I’m starting to think that all countries build their border crossings at high altitudes. The guys at the border knew all about the Rally so the process was fairly smooth, apart from looking through our luggage on the roof and requiring what I’m convinced was a small bribe in dollars we went onwards to the Turkmenistan border with both the Belgian team from the hostel and a Danish team.