Welcome to Iran    

Rowshan couldn't wait to get to Iran. It took us about 4 hours to get to to the border. We got a car quick enough but about ½ hour out of Mary it started having problems so the driver turned back. Then it broke down completely. We got picked up by another car but it made a stop in a different town and took a longer route to Sarakhs because the shorter road was supposedly really bad.

The Turkmen border crew went to lunch when we arrived. I think that is just what they do when they see someone besides the standard truck drivers. Fortunately their lunch break wasn't long and soon the customs official, who resembled a pig, arrived. He sat down to fill out our customs forms. Then I noticed something odd. He kept raising his eyebrows suggestively at Rowshan. At first I thought he had made a joke that I missed. However, when Rowshan, who is always one to appreciate jokes, didn't respond, I thought maybe the official was flirting with him. After all, if a guy was making those kinds of looks at a woman, it would definitely be flirting. As he handed Rowshan the customs form, he whispered something in his ear. Eventually he searched our bags, making more meaningful glances at Rowshan. Rowshan who was getting annoyed, told him, "Could you be quicker, we need to leave." So the official finally finished filling out the forms and sent Rowshan to get the forms stamped by another official (who amazingly was there!).

Then we had to wait for the passport stamping official who had disappeared when he saw we were about ready for our passports to be stamped. As we waited, Rowshan complained, “They all want bribes! Did you see that official?” “Oh!” I said, “That's what he meant?”

We managed to get through the border bribe free and had to board a minivan for a 1km trip across no-man's land. A guard pointed to a minivan but the driver wasn't in sight. Then he opened the door and revealed the driver sleeping in the back. The charge was 20,000 manat (less than $2). We didn't have any manat left so the driver said we could pay $3 instead. “Why can't we just walk?” I asked. “The guards won't permit it,” the driver said. Rowshan went to ask the guards and they said they would permit us to walk if we paid 30,000 manat. Grudgingly we took the vehicle.

During the short ride, Rowshan let out a torrent of abuse against Turkmenistan: the numerous checks where everyone writes down the same info, the attempts at getting bribes, the bureaucracy left over from the Soviet Union... He eagerly anticipated our arrival in Iran where they were above that sort of thing-- an advanced country. Iran was just across the bridge but we had to stop for another passport check where once again they needed to register our passports. Once again the officer wasn't there. Supposedly he had gone to use the bathroom though the driver said he was probably having lunch. He came back, looked at our passports, got confused and then allowed us to clear things up. Finally he finished but we still couldn't cross the bridge because the one lane bridge was full of trucks. Instead of having the trucks park off the bridge, the guards stopped them on the bridge to check their papers. Rowshan fumed some more against Turkmenistan. The driver of the minivan tried to calm him saying, “Don't be mad at me. It takes 5 fingers to make a hand-- people are all different: one is a cow, one is a donkey, one is a good person.” Finally the guards gestured for the last truck to drive off the bridge and park there so we were able to cross. We had reached Iran. A guard immediately took our passports and sent us to the custom's building. Rowshan paid the driver his requested $3 but he returned $1. Rowshan told him “You are a good person,” and we left on good terms.

Rowshan excitedly pointed out how the waiting room had chairs, there was a toilet, rooms for praying, tidy offices, and a doctor on hand. The building was clean and looked newly painted. We used the bathrooms which had liquid soap at the sink and both hot and cold water. Then we waited for our passports... and waited.... and waited.... Finally Rowshan found out they were confused about how we left Iran since we got new Iranian passports in the US by mail. So we had to provide our US passports. This worried me because I had no idea what Iran's take on dual citizenship is. I waited nervously. Rowshan returned to the window. I saw them laughing so they must have been joking about something. Finally we got our passports and were sent to customs. The guard told us not to show customs the US passports. At customs they told us to empty our two backpacks. Most countries, if they check, use an x-ray machine. Rowshan emptied his pack first pulling out his stuff. I started pulling out my clothing, neatly folding them. The customs guy made Rowshan unwrap all his ceramics and show what was on them. He also tweaked one checking that it wasn't hollow. He said he had to check that they were no political logos or images of scantily clad women on them.

Finally we got through the border. It had been one of the longest border crossings we'd experienced on our trip. Rowshan was still happy about being in Iran. He raved about the existence of a taxi company and set prices. The ride to Mashad revealed a landscape a bit more varied than Turkmenistan: small mountains, some Arizona like cliffs, picturesque villages with mud houses-- a relief from the repetitive desert we'd seen all through Turkmenistan and on our last couple rides through Uzbekistan. The other passengers in the cab promptly went to sleep. Rowshan raved how they went to sleep instead of asking if we were married, had kids and why not?

Arriving in Mashad after being in Central Asia felt like arriving in the middle of a holiday carnival. It was craziness: cars everywhere, colored lights, store windows filled with jars of red safron, gold sugar and candy. The streets were full of people and though the clothing was sombre, there was a festive feeling in the area.

We found a place selling soup from vegetables, beans, noodles and greens. We had to buy bread elsewhere. There was a huge line but if you were just getting one piece, you could wait in a shorter express line. There were lines for women and lines for men. The bread was baked in an oven on hot pebbles below and the flat loaves were pulled out and tossed onto a raised area for the bread man to distribute. Some, he'd hang on the wall on nails. Others he'd lie flat on a counter and pick out the pebbles that had gotten stuck in the bread. Eventually we got our hot bread and went and ate our soup along with banana milkshakes, rejoicing about the tasty meat-free meal.

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