Hitchhiking in Turkey & Iran: road stories #4 – from Doğubayazıt to Tabriz
Staying in Doğubayazıt and our museum failure
Our first evening in Doğubayazıt was spent in the traditional way for us, drinking a few beers and getting to know our new couchsurfing friends. Our hosts this time, Hakan and Burcu, were a newly-wed couple who originally hailed from Izmir but had moved here for Hakan’s job as a guard on the Iranian border. They were not too happy with their new surroundings as it lacked the buzz of the big city but they were making do, and saw it only as a short term option.
Doğubayazıt is in many ways what you would expect of a border town, a little rundown and rough around the edges, but the people were friendly. They were very proud of their Kurdish heritage and more than one person stopped us on the street to remind us that we were in Kurdistan. Doğubayazıt also has two things that other towns can’t boast of: one is a huge, imposing and beautiful mountain that dominates every view and two, a picture-perfect palace nestled in the hills overlooking the town.
We spent our single day here attempting to visit the Ishak Pasha Palace which lies 6 km south-east of town. After walking in the wrong direction for an hour or so, a mini bus took pity on us and drove us to the correct road. We hitchhiked from there with the help of a nice man whose car suggested that he had made some money in the traditional border town style :) To our disappointment, however, the palace was closed as we had stupidly forgotten that on Mondays all museums are shut in Turkey. Silly us! We hitchhiked back into town, had some tea with a man trying to sell us a guided tour of Mt Ararat and then broke social customs by entering a men-only tea house so we could sit, read and use the internet in peace.
Hitchhiking to Tabriz & crossing the Turkish – Iranian border
Hitchhiking over borders is always the scariest of hitchhikes and we won’t pretend that this border didn’t daunt us more than any other before. Trying to get into Iran was hard enough but the thought of being stopped by over-zealous border guards who might realise that we didn’t have a guide was never far from our minds.
We got a ride to the border easily enough with a man who drove out of his way to leave us 30km beyond his original destination and at the Turkish side of the line. The problems began when the Turkish border guard asked to see my Turkish visa. A frantic search through our document folder later and still nothing, pockets were emptied, possessions distributed across the floor, and worried looks exchanged. We turned on the computer and checked the email, I had also rashly deleted it from there. More worried looks. It was only when the border guard threatened to deport me with a chuckle that we knew things would be alright. I still have no idea what happened to my visa though.
So much stress and we hadn’t even tried to enter Iran yet. When we did manage to cross the frontier, we were separated from the Turkish citizens and taken to a side room for an interview. A woman with faultless English probed us with questions that seemed innocuous but actually questioned weather we had any political leanings, if we knew anybody inside the country, what we planned to do and so on. Once she had been satisfied that we weren’t spies, I had to give my fingerprints again (Ania not, rather annoyingly) and we finally managed to enter the country we had been trying so determinedly to see.
We were a little worried about hitchhiking so close to the border so we strapped up the bags and began the long trudge into the nearest town a couple of kilometres away. The going was tough and was not helped by Ania trying to read the map and walk at the same time, which inevitable ended up in her falling down one of the countless roadside open sewers. Thankfully, the two brothers who rushed to her aid were lovely people and after a quick sit down and cup of coffee we were ready to move on again.
The first lift took some persuading and he looked at us like we were mad when we explained that we weren’t going to pay for the ride. We had read before that saying ‘Salavati’ (meaning ‘for a prayer’) would work and it did, but he sounded a little disappointed when he found out we weren’t Muslim. The next lift was easier to hitch, and a couple of guys who didn’t much care for speed limits drove us further on. The next guy was travelling with his mother and took us on further still and we began to realise that hitchhiking in Iran would be easy, as long as we could make them understand what hitchhiking was.
A truck took us to Tabriz and dropped us about 15km outside the city on a ring road. He called our CS host and spoke to him in Persian, and from what we understood, the latter was going to pick us up from where the lorry driver left us. There must have been some misunderstanding as we were waiting and waiting and our host wasn’t coming. There were no houses, no shops, just a little garage on the edge of town. It was really dark as night had fallen and lampposts were scarce. Some people stopped and asked what we were doing but we couldn’t explain it in Persian so they gave us their phone so we could make a phone call. Our host wasn’t picking up so we decided to wait there and eventually they drove off. We waited for a long time in the dark and still there was no sign of Ismail, so we walked to the garage and asked some people who were repairing a truck if we could use their phone. One shouty man eventually managed to get through to our host and after exchanging some sentences he beckoned for us to jump in the truck. The other guys looked sceptically as it wasn’t properly fixed but the shouty man was determined to help us and give us a lift anyway. Ten minutes later we were saying hello to our next host, Ismail …
written by: Jon