We left Dogbiscuit in the morning filled with excitement and also a little fear. This was a big border crossing for us and others had reported problems with the insurance process at this particular border. The road up to the crossing was in fairly good condition and must have been finished in the couple of years since some folks I know came through here. I pondered how strange it was to be following in their footsteps now.
In no time at all my daydreaming was interrupted by the foreboding gates of the border. We went up into the first one and were asked for passports which took a minute to dig out. A van appeared behind us and got impatient in the typical Turkish manner. His beeping only served to make sure I took my time putting my gloves back on.
The Turkish side of proceedings was relatively simple, only having to check into the border area, get our passports stamped out for us at one booth and then the vehicles stamped out at another. With this done we were let into a short patch of no-mans land to await the Iran side opening to let a batch of us through. We watched some strange footwork as some Turkish police/customs officials walked over to the Iranian gate and shook hands with their Iranian counterparts but did not cross over the line of the gate.
It seemed hard to believe that after all this time we were looking at Iran. An official at the Iran side took our passports and checked them. They asked where we were going as I was beginning to wonder if anything was wrong. Perhaps they would be suspicious of strange foreigners coming to their land. We were directed away from our bikes into a fenced compound to the side. As I started to worry if this was an Iranian equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, the official turned to us and said simply “welcome to Iran“.
We were shown to a nice guy in the “Turist Information“ office who explained the procedures a little for us and even jumped the queue to get passports stamped in. We then went through a complicated dance between various (non uniformed or ID badged) customs people who did everything necessary for us to get the bikes in. Again they led us to the front of the queue and I felt a little embarrassed as one admin official seemed to explain to the man in front of us that we were Turists and therefore had priority. The service by the officials was very efficient indeed.
It was then that we somehow wandered into the lions den of the “Iran Insurance“ company. There was a scam going on between fixers outside who we had not asked for help and the guys inside. Basically they would overcharge tourists and split the profits. They had a monopoly of being the only insurance company there and made it clear we could not leave without paying their exorbitant 70eur each prices.
Much arguing ensued with threats to leave anyway and get the insurance at the next town seeming to be the most effective. At one point I walked over to the last customs gate where the fixers followed me in and created a fuss. I am not sure if it was the customs guy‘s job to check insurance anyway despite what the bent insurance guys were saying and he didn’t seem to be playing along too much in fairness. Eventually the price went down to 60 eur then somehow wound up being 80usd for both bikes, still around 10eur more than the official price of 18 eur but a lot better than the first figure.
They tried every trick in the book. Explaining the other fixers were waiting for us (ha – like we care) or that they were closing soon or we would have to stay overnight. I called this bluff too explaining we had all day to sit there. At one point when I asked the fixers to leave a big burly thug amongst them pushed me. Helen went to get police but they basically shooed her away. In the end the insurance boss man came and spoke some English. He made out I was unreasonable for not believing the price and somehow dishonest, and wanted to write something in my passport. A few more choice words were exchanged.
Still seething from the whole experience we left the last gate with the customs guy not even asking about insurance, only checking the vehicle import was done correctly. Determined not to let this ruin our impression of Iran we blew straight out to Maku about 15km away. In a sign of things to come we were immediately greeted by smiling curious folks eager to help in any way possible. Within an hour we had been invited to 2 houses and had found the Turist Inn hotel. It was a little expensive but comfortable and we were too tired to care. We had some kebap and slumped into bed. We noticed we attracted a lot less attention while walking than on the bikes and I wondered which was the real attraction.
The next morning we left to head to Tabriz.