It was a fresh and bright morning in Tehran today when we jumped off our beds to get into the car. After a quick but full breakfast at Ibis Tehran where we stayed overnight, we hit the Persian Gulf Highway at 8:30 am. The goal was to reach Astara border (Iran – Azerbaijan border) via Qazvin and Rasht enroute. (If you want to know how to merge on the main highway right in front of the hotel, please excuse me as you will need a ‘crash course’ to learn that 🙂 )
On the way, we pulled over at a gas station to refuel. There, we met someone curious to talk to us about our trip and experiences. He introduced himself as Shahryar, an engineer. We were delighted to share a moment with him, talking about him, our group and the trip. Before wishing him “Khoda hafez” (good bye), we presented him a little souvenir from Dubai, and a book to promote the “UAE Reading Year 2016”.
Shahryar showing his Dubai souvenir and book from Let’s Drive
Within the first few minutes of starting, we were caught in traffic jam no. 1, which chipped off a good 30 minutes from the driving time. Moving ahead, we were greeted by traffic jam no. 2 in an hour’s time. This was worse – it took us almost 2 hours to get out. Amidst this ordeal, we kept the humor going with solo and chorus sing-along to the car stereo. It also served up some time to update friends and family on Whats App. All this brought us only to Qazvin, with 70% of the route still remaining. Concern started growing about the border gate closing at 6:30 pm. Yet, it wasn’t possible to push the gas too hard due to speed limits between 50 and 80 kmph mostly, which we adhered to strictly. [Tip: When driving in foreign land, do NOT follow the phrase: “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” Instead, stick to rules!]
Traffic is good for this innovative salesman!
Cops stopped us at some places, street salesmen at others. We didn’t mind both. It was fun to be introduced to them and to see them smile when we conversed in broken English/ Farsi. The cops typically checked our documents briskly, and let us pass. [Important Tip: Even on the slightest intent of cops to stop you – even if they are just curiously looking at you without waving to stop – do pull over. First, it helps to respect their authority. Secondly, it waives-off the risk of them transmitting a message to the next station to stop/check us, which could be some hassle and a big time waster, especially if you are running short of time as we were.]
The road from Risht to Astara was a meandering delight. Surrounded by scenic mountains, green fields, views of Caspian Sea and a variety of trees on the sides, it made for an awesome drive.
“It would be a great joy if it rains now”, exclaimed Shamim a.k.a. DJ Sham. And, lo and behold…. as if the rain gods were just waiting for us to make a wish… in a few minutes we were blessed with showers! It was luck, it was thrill, it was excitement, and it was a moment to cherish!
Showers of blessings 🙂
Finally, after 8 hours of driving and over 11 hours on the road, we managed to cover 550 km. This meant we took minimal breaks, and didn’t have lunch at all. And then we arrived at the borders. You can guess the obvious: Gates closed! A policeman soon appeared, and delivered his instructions – “Come yesterday.” All we could say in response was “OK Officer, we will come yesterday!” He was happy that we obeyed 🙂
So, with our plans of crossing into Azerbaijan hopelessly deferred to the next morning, we needed to find a shelter for the night. Strolling around the place, we found a small hotel. With some difficulty, we were able to request the hotel owner to call someone who could converse with us in English. So, he called his son, who helped us close the deal in his “workable English“.
The final challenge for the evening was to ease off the hunger pangs. We were told that this place being close to the border, the nearby restaurants and groceries did not stay open until late. It was already past 10:00 pm and people were pulling the shutters down. We put on our biggest smiles and scrambled to request the owner of a restaurant with half its shutter down, “Agha Salam! Man naduri farsi. We are hungry… Food… Chicken…. please give us one chicken”. The man smiled back and showed us a thumbs up. We were soooooo relieved! He placed fresh coal in his dying grill, and lighted up a flame. For all his efforts, and his over-the-top opening hours, we were stumped to see the bill – Just 500,000! Yes, half a million! Oh, we forgot to mention Iranian Rials. Don’t be baffled, this equates to only 16 US Dollars 🙂
Having eaten to our belly’s delight, we returned to our hotel. It was shisha time! A 2′ x 2′ ft balcony was now bustling with endless chatter of three men who merrily puffed-off several rounds of the hubbly, as a gentle zephyr sporadically sprayed the mist from the rain into their faces.
Part time DJ and full time shisha-lover 🙂
Although not exactly as per schedule, it was still a day well spent. Past midnight, it was already late, so we squiggled into our blankets. Also, we had to get up early tomorrow, I mean “yesterday” :).
I think I heard the faint snores of my two friends. 10 minutes later, a lovely Sleep Fairy took my hand, and I was soon flying among the stars!