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From Istanbul to Iranian border

July 28th, 2008 · 1 Comment

After 14 hours of sleep we set about some shameless tourism in Istanbul. This entailed returning to the Hagia Sofia more appropriately dressed to go inside. The rest was very much needed after the rigours of the previous 2000 miles. Little did we know what was in store for us east of Istanbul…

Before leaving Europe for good we set about a serious admin session for the old girl. Max managed to successfully fix the door that he broke with a hammer and some loo paper. Charles secured the windscreen wiper on the other side and Ed secured a donation of a water cooler tank for the back of the cab. A life saver as it turned out. The attendants in the car park were so enamoured by our characterful steed that they gave us a complimentary pressure wash. Unfortunately the seals of the boot couldn’t hold up under the pressure of 500 miles of rain and a pressure hose so the entire contents of the boot needed to be reorganised and dried out. After a considerable amount of Charles’ faffing, we finally hit the road.

Max again took the wheel to take on the mad Istanbul driving. Little did we know that this would soon have to be considered a walk in the park. One particularly memorable moment of Max’s driving came just before the Bosporus Bridge where Max found himself stuck in an enormous tailback. Spotting a coned off service lane, he nips between the cones and undertakes 200 cars before popping out the other side of the road works. Mild lunacy saving us an hour in traffic in Istanbul heat. We have discovered that people are much more willing to forgive our traffic misdemeanours once they have seen what has just cut them up.

Max’s driving brilliance hailed the start of a heroic motorway blitz from Istanbul to Tosya, a small town 500 km east of Istanbul where we stopped for supper. The teenage proprietors of the restaurant were fascinated by the English visitors and plied us with fermented sheeps milk and Kofte. This was the first time we realised that we had truly left the western world. A fantastic sensation.

Feeling suitably polluted by the ayran sheep’s milk we pushed on into the night, aiming to stop in Asmaya, a town recommended on our map. We arrived at 1 a.m. and found a peach grove down a mountain track to pitch camp. Max and I were too tired to set up our inordinately complicated tent and so just lay on the groundsheet under the stars. Charles took the wiser choice of sleeping in the car. In our brief four hours of sleep a mosquito feeding bonanza occurred. With a combined total of nigh on 100 bites we drove the two kilometres into the charming old town of Asmaya. Charles caught up on a few hours more sleep while Max and I set out to climb up to the Ottoman fortress overlooking the town. We soon realized that we had bitten off more than we could chew but being stubborn and young we decided that we would storm the fortress at any cost. After much sweat and nearly blood and tears we succeeded. The view from the top was worth it all. Having congratulated each other we tried to find our way back to Charles and the car. A harder feat than we had imagined as descending the way we came would be tantamount to suicide with sheer cliffs, potholes and geos aplenty. After a lot of swearing and despair we found some builders who were arriving to restore the fortress who directed us to a road where we hitch hiked back to Charles. Charles had been left like a dog in a in the sun. We found him on the floor of the cab in his very own Hammam, half dead from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Having resuscitated Charles, Max put on Handel’s Messiah and sped off east. 5km later, using a hill to gather momentum we shot past an undercover Turkish policeman at a blistering 105km/h (the speed limit was 90km/h), which resulted in our first fracas with the law. We were shown a video of the taxi speeding past the unmarked car. The fine for our horrific offence was $76, however Max, with the help of a lovely Iranian biker called Bahran, succeeded in not only negotiating a charity discount but also a ride in the back of the police car for Ed. A police chase ensued as the bike, the police car and our cab raced in convoy to the police station where we tried to obtain a copy of the video of us speeding for the website. Unfortunately the chief of police at the station vetoed any such plans. Nevertheless, probably the best $76 spent so far on this trip.

The Iranian man then took us to a tea house and explained all the various customs of Iran, gave us some basic Farsi phrases and told us which roads to take, leaving us his address and number incase we needed any help. This was our first encounter with the extraordinary kindness of the Iranian people.
It took us the rest of that day and all of the night to reach the Iranian border. On the way we encountered a drunk petrol station attendant vaguely threatening assault, a very scared tortoise, and a starling dealing a blow that was not only fatal to itself but also to our forward right indicator. We arrived at the border just before sunrise and started queuing behind a coach load of Iranian tourists being processed by a very bored and tired Turkish border guard. Having been let through the Turkish side it became the Iranian side would not open for hours to come so we set about explaining every detail of the cab to a crowd of fascinated spectators before sitting down for tea 10 yards from the gate as the sun slowly rose above Mount Ararat. Iran just moments away…

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