14 July 2015

Faith Doubted

I set two alarms for 5:00 this morning. Rose, showered, dressed, packed and loaded the vehicle by 6:00. After a stop for fuel we were on the road to Jolfa. Along the way, we passed a rare, almost perfectly preserved caravanserai amidst the dramatic mountain scenery. I’ve seen other preserved or restored caravanserai (just what is the plural form of that word?) in places like Nicosia and Aleppo, but this one appeared much as it would have to a 17th century traveller, with no modern car parks, signage, souvenir shops or other evidence of later centuries.

After Jolfa, we passed the crossed the railway tracks that once led to Moscow – before the line was interrupted by Armenia and Azerbaijan’s war over Nagoro-Karabakh in the 1990s — via the ”Iron Bridge” over the Aras River, which separates Iranian Jolfa from Azerbaijani Djulfa. From that point, the road followed the river for more than 50 twisting kilometres, with increasingly dramatic mountains on both sides. At some point, the opposite bank became Armenia rather than Azerbaijan, and we arrived at Norduz and the Meghri-Norduz border crossing soon afterwards.

Looking across the Aras River from Iran at the Azerbaijani village of Kotam

As usual, we were misdirected a few times before we found the office we needed to handle El Guapo’s exit paperwork. At around 10:30, we got some bad news — we could not exit until the police had removed El Guapo’s temporary Iranian number plates, and that had to be done at police headquarters back in Tabriz.

We wasted the better part of another hour trying to find a way around this requirement, but eventually headed back to Tabriz at 11:45, hoping to make it to the police station before it closed at 14:00. Mehdi spent much of the ride telling me how hopeless it was we would manage to do this today — why do I keep attracting this Marvin-the-manic-depressive-robot type personality into my life? We had a little difficulty in finding the place, but eventually pulled at the front gate at 13:58, and were reluctantly admitted. The usual running around various offices ensued before we were directed to another gate, being aggressively protected by a young officer who was allowing people to exit, but no one to enter. Mehdi spoke with them in Farsi, then told me it was ”not possible” today. He hadn’t even tried to sound even vaguely desperate, so I pushed him aside, addressed the officer and said, ”please, sir, please, please please. We have just driven 2 ½ hours from Norduz to come here. we had trouble finding it. Have you ever driven that road? It’s a terrible road, very dangerous. I drove very fast on this road so I could get here before two. Please. Please, please, let us in. Please.”

”OK,” he replied, and stepped aside to allow us to pass. If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.

The familiar routine ensued. First find the right office. Then speak to the junior guy tells you it can’t be done. Ask to speak to his superior, a Colonel. Talk to the Colonel. Have him call the junior guy in. Let them discuss it for a bit, then have the junior guy find the right form and have the Colonel sign it and stamp it. ”Bring the vehicle to the gate so we can remove the number plates,” he said. Things were looking good.

I drove El Guapo around to the gate, where a cluster of three functionaries waited. There were no tools in the facility. I brought several kilos of tools, but no drill. ”You should have brought a drill,” observed Mehdi. Thank you, Captain Hindsight. Using a big hammer and big screwdriver, I managed to bash out the rivets holding the number plates in place with minimal damage to El Guapo. In the meantime, Mehdi and the others had disappeared. They soon returned with bad news: there was one more step required — they need to confirm that I had no outstanding traffic violations, and they guy who did this had just left for the day. Come back tomorrow at at 8:00. No way around it.

Bashing my way out of Iran (photo: Mehdi Fatemi)

We returned to the always charming, fully-amenetied Hotel Sahand. Mehdi cancelled his flight back to Shiraz. I had to pay for the cancelled flights, another night hotel for both of us, and another day of Mehdi’s guide fees. Total cost - 482 USD. I was broke but manage to find some unused Omani Riyal left over from my trip there in March with MJ, which the agency agreed to accept as payment.

In the meantime, rejoicing in Iran and the scent of political opportunity amongst Republicans in Washington as a deal to end sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme was announced in Vienna. I should have asked John Kerry to toss in exit clearance for myself as part of the deal.


14 July 2015


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