Only a week to go… we will never make it.
Only three days to go… we will never make it.
Only one day to go… we will never make it.
But we made it.
After two years since the birth of an idea of the overland trip to Iran, after three vehicle renovations, after months of planning and building and repairing and researching the clock was ticking fast towards the time of our departure. I don’t think people who knew us actually believed that we will manage to start the trip, let alone finish it. The weeks before departure were hectic. The building of Adventure Overland‘s Nissan Patrol was progressing, but it was progressing slowly. Final touches were made just minutes before departure. There was just so much left to do, and no time to pack and plan, just grab what comes under your hands and go. But the horrible pressure brought results – at 18.00hrs on the march 30th 2018 we were finally ready to depart. Just two cars, Nissan Patrol Y60 with Uroš behind the wheel and Duško and Lado as companions and our faithful Toyota Land Cruiser 80 where Marko joined in as navigator.
The plan was fairly simple – take the fastest route from Tolmin, Slovenia, to Van, Turkey, and then crossing of the turkish-iranian border. And against all odds the plan worked. On April 3rd in the city of Van we loaded Izabel and Mitja to our Toyota and just few hours, kebabs and teas later entered the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But during the transfer the things were not that straightforward.
With the exception of the leaking radiator of the Nissan Patrol lovingly dubbed »Mosafer« (traveller in Arabic and Farsi) after just the first 40 kilometres of our journey and a quick farewell from overlanding friends that came to wish us farewell in Ljubljana the first part of the trip went quite well. Some tuning of the Mosafer’s diesel injection pump and short sleeping on highway resting places brought us over Croatia to Serbia. Just as we were looking forward to some proper Serbian grill the v-belts of the Patrol snapped. Well, one of the two, and the second was pretty much shredded. We quickly rode the Toyota to the nearest town of Pirot where only help of friendly Zoran from Lukoil gas station and his son-in-law who opened the car parts shop for us saved us. With some improvisation including cannibalising nuts from dumpsters we were able to continue on our way.
On the border to Bulgaria we saw a bear ambulance transporting a living bear. And the ring road around Bulgarian capital Sofia was packed with ladies of the night.
Crossing the border to Turkey was straightforward and quick. Less successful was our search for road toll vignettes. As in Bulgaria, in Turkey you are supposed to pay the toll road by buying a sticker vignette for your windshield. After the third stop at a gas station we were finally informed that there is a shortage of vignettes and that maybe they have them in Istanbul. In the dead centre of the city. The decision to continue without them was unanimous. No trouble came from that. The toll stations were opened, some sirens were blaring when crossing, but nothing worse.
If the border went quickly, I cannot say that about Istanbul. It was Sunday and the 15-million plus city was congested. It took us about three hours to pass, including the rectifying navigation mistake that took us an hour. But we were finally in Asia. The late afternoon sun saw us already on our way. But just after the town of Adapazari we had to make another stop. The chaos of the highway where we stopped on the extremely narrow emergency stopping lane because of the shaking and grinding sounds Mosafer’s front left wheel made us overlook the loosened wheel nuts. We came up with wrong diagnosis for the problem as we thought that the wheel bearing was loose. As we continued rolling slowly to the first exit off the highway we nearly destroyed the wheel and the hub. The bolts were bygones.
Four hours later we were again on the road. Even on Sunday evening we found helpful people in Adapazari (communicating just with hands, onomatopoetic voices and scraps of English) that had some nuts and bolts and welding machine (the mechanic district of Adapazari can be found all around the coordinates N40° 43.880’ E030° 23.005’) and the hub was soon mended. Not like new, not actually repaired, but just mended well enough to do its job.
The rest of the trip across Turkey was smooth, spiced just with stops for fuel, döner kebabs, sleep and coffee. On the fifth day the morning found us at Lake Van that reflected the snows covering Süphan Dagi. Izabel and Mitja were already waiting for us. The last kilometres of Turkey took us over the pass of Güzeldere at the altitude of 2.730 m ASL (N38° 10.743′ E043° 54.476′) and then down the valleys and gorges towards Iran. Frequent checkpoints hindered our progress, but the soldiers and the police were quite friendly. But when you have to show your passports for the fifth time in the last hour it slowly gets annoying.
The Essendere/Sero border crossing (N37° 43.050′ E044° 37.312′) was fairly simple. With the exception that passangers go through separate procedures than cars and drivers it was not much different than in Schengen Cage. The Turks just checked the passports and entered the car information in their computes. The Iranians were a bit slower, but way more friendly. First they checked the people and the passports with necessary visas, then the drivers proceeded with famous carnets de passage. The carnets are basically temporary customs declarations issued by FIA that guarantee against hefty insurance that you will import and export your vehicle from the country. Iran is one of the countries you cannot visit by car unless you obtain a carnet. In Slovenia the best way to obtain a carnet is via AMZS.
It took five different people to check, sign and stamp the carnet. In the meanwhile they brought us tea and candy. When the customs officials heard we were from Slovenia they remembered Yugoslavia and Tito, but could not find the country on the little children’s globus they brought from one of the offices. During the procedures we were subjected to tiny interrogations… about your family status, the real intention of the trip, your past travels… so better be careful to remember what you wrote on your visa application. Even questions about Iranian government or about the ex Iranian king popped up. My advice – even if you remember the Pahlavi dynasty, play dumb. It worked for us and after the very basic check of the cars with mandatory remark “You know that alcohol is not allowed in Iran?” to which we of course consented the final signature on the carnet from the big boss was given, the ramp opened and we entered Iran. With not too much trouble after all. Worse could be expected considering that one of the vihicles was rebuild literally just moments before departure and therefore this was it’s first test. At last the proper part of our overland journey was to begin.
Highway tolls: Slovenia 15€ (one week vignette), Croatia 27€ (they like to charge double for larger cars, a great indicator of their hospitality), Serbia approx 15€, Bulgaria 15€ (one month vignette), turkish vignette 0. We crossed the Bosporus strait on the main highway E80 in Instanbul and didn’t pay anything. Fuel prices didn’t vary much, the cheapest was Bulgaria with diesel price of just little more than 1€ per litre.
Food – a menu in Burger king in Istambul costs between 4 and 5 €. For the famous goat doner kebab we paid around 6€ per person including drinks, tea and coffee. The cheapest doner was in the city of Van and it cost little above 1€ per person including drinks and tea.
The worst roads are in Bulgaria between the serbian border and the capital Sofia. The worst traffic of course in Instanbul. Turkish roads, all, not just highways, are very good, very fast and with not too much traffic. Maintaining travelling speed of 90-100 km/h is easy even if the roads often climb over 2000 m ASL. Fuel is easy to be found.
Languages: when you enter Turkey, your hands better be rested. As you proceed to the East, you will need all their pantomimic strength to help with conversation, and mimicking sounds helps. Imagine mimicking sounds of a welding machine. On fuel stations and in bigger centres you can manage on very basic English.