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Vincent & Kirstin

After driving sandboard to long in the desert we lost 3 bolts of the dieseltank. They other bolts couldn’t hold the load and broke.

With the help of Iranian men from Zanjan we found some old used bolts so we could continue our trip to a large city.

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The people are fantastic.

We are in Iran now for all most 6 weeks and we want to share our first impressions. We are just travelers and we share our own experiences, yours might be different and please share them with us. We didn’t find any rules or laws on paper.

Friends and family warned us not to go to Iran. Even our own government advises against traveling to Iran. So we where excited and nervous when we arrived at the border from Armenia to Iran.
Kirstin put on here Hijab and there we went, expecting the worst.
But at the border, no searching for alcohol, no questions about our social media, nothing about drones, cameras, travel plans. Only a stamp in our Carnet the Passage (CDP) for our truck and on our visa (not in our passport) and then… tee and a warm welcome to Iran.
From this moment on Iran is like a warm blanket for us.
The people are the most hospitable we ever met, we get invited for tee, diner or even staying the night. Staying the night is only advised after you or your host inform local authorities on forehand.
In the last 6 weeks we got pulled over because they want to meet, shake hands, take pictures and give us fruit, sweets, bread and vegetables.
It is not possible for us to stop somewhere without an Iranian coming to us to start the mentioned rituals. Driving in the cities means moped’s driving next to us and handing us presents, cars honking all the time and drivers filming us. From the cars passing comes, “welcome to Iran”, “we love you”, children are hanging out of the car windows to wave and even old ladies giving us hand-blown kisses from their car. 
The Iranians are so happy that we, as tourists, have come to their country. On many occasions the encounters get emotional. The people feel genuine in their behavior .

Women and men in Iran

We expected the women to be suppressed and down. But we meet the bravest women who want to have conversations , especially with Kirstin, take photos for Instagram and drink thea. Yes, the women have to wear Hijab and clothing that is wide and long enough to conceal the female form, buttocks and breast. Vincent is not supposed to shake hands with women. But we notice no difference in “rank” or position between men and women. We experience the relationships as completely equal.
We saw the police taken to a young woman not wearing here Hijab, but as soon as she put it on they kept talking and laughing with each other.
Kirstin feels very comfortable and safe and she goes even jogging by herself.
Because we heard that it is not allowed to sleep in one room as an unmarried couple we even have a marriage certificate with us. But really nobody is interested in things like that. But we stick to , better be safe then sorry, and so we also work by the rules, even in company from people who tell us to do otherwise.

 

Taarof; The Art of Persian Politeness

We had to get used to a typical Iranian custom, Taarof. We wanted to buy bread or take a taxi and they wouldn’t let us pay. But we learned that we should pay anyway. The ritual is that somebody offers you something like bread or diner and the receiver should decline. This goes on 3 or 4 times. If they still resist you can accept the gift.

This is done so poor people can offer you food with knowing that you won’t accept their offer, which they can not afford to give. So people often say things with politeness but don’t actually mean them. Our experiences is that we get offered fruits and food anyway and their is no way they let us turn down their offer.

Money and ATM’s in Iran

There is no working ATM or credit card for us in Iran. In the banks there is also no official exchange. We brought cash, Euros and dollars, and we exchange it at the gold traders in the bazaar in big cities. There seem to be a debit card available which we can charge via PayPal or cash, but we did not bother to buy this card. The cost are 7%.
We made a budget for ourselves for 7 weeks, but the problem is a big accident with ourselves, hospital, or with our truck. The kind of money you need in this situation we do not have with us, which is a risk. The Iranians pay almost 100% with their bankcard. We almost do not see any cash transactions. The customer gives his bankcard to the clerk, he asks the customer for his pin, and punches this in on his payment terminal.
Riaal or Toman. The banknotes are all Rial and 1.000.000 Rial is euro 2,- (okt 2023) But Iran uses Toman as his currency. Toman notes do not exist so the rial is used as Toman.
1.000.000 Rial is 100.000 Toman is euro 2,- we learned to holt our dumb on the last 0 of the banknote and then you see the value in Toman. Advice: when we ask the price, we always at that we we want it in Toman.

Military, Police and Politics

We did not see as many police as in Georgia or Armenia. We got stopped at road blocks twice and in one situation we got thee and the other time we received a large box with dates. The police was very friendly to us.
Because in Iran it is not clear where there is a military area or not, flying our drone at all was not recommended.
Sometimes locals want to talk about politics are the Iranian or European governments. We always stop this conversations directly at the start. We do not want to get involved in this. We are in Iran for the country and the people.

Phones and internet in Iran

After arriving in Iran we do what we always do when entering a country, buy a local simcard. After installing this card in my iPhone nothing happened. I could Google the word ‘test” and that is about it. To get our apps working, especially social media we where advised to install a VPN. Our western VPN’s dit not work so a new Iranian friend installed us an VPN for euro 4,- which should work for a month and 30Gb.
Internet is very cheap in Iran, every prepaid 10Gb is euro 1,- Via an app we can check our balance.

So after 1 month my phone stopped working. We can not use it as a hotspot either. Therefore we bought a router. The olax xxxx euro 60,- very stable and since it is small and has a battery we carry this router with us when we walk or bike.
We are paragliding and have our radios with us. Locals use them here too. We found it a good idea to take batteries and radio apart and store them separately. Same thing we did with our drone.

Diesel

One of our biggest challenges is to get diesel. Diesel is almost for free in Iran, but to prevent that truck drivers, the only ones using diesel, can trade this diesel they receive a diesel card with just enough balance to buy their necessary diesel. As a tourist we do not get such a card, so for us the only way to get diesel is to beg for it. When we are lucky we get 50 liters, but this is only enough for 200 km. So for our planned 5.000 km’s there will be a lot of begging. 
The good thing is; we get diesel often for free and sometimes we have to pay euro 2,- for 50 liters. In the big cities they know our prices in Europe and the tank employee jumps in to ask more money. In one occasion the police interfered and let the gas station sell us 50 liters because the gas station did not want to sell us some before.

Camping

We do almost only wild camping. This is because we have our truck, we love to camp outside cities and we feel totally save. Sometimes people come visit our truck, always with the offer to come stay at their houses.
There are almost no non-Iranian tourists in Iran and that is a pity. The people are so nice, the infrastructure very good and the landscape is fantastic. We have had not one moment that we did not feel save.

Consumer goods

Another thing that totally surprised us is the fact that the all stores are full. You can buy anything you need in your daily lives. Everything is available in abundance. Iran makes many products themselves or imports them from mainly China and Russia. This means also that it might not be easy to get typical western made products, like spare parts for your bike or car/truck.

Border crossing Iran

More specific info on our border crossing. See our blog about this subject.

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So we are in Armenia at the moment and our next destination is Kazakhstan.
The easiest way would be to take a ferry from Baku the harbor in Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan.

The problem is that the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is closed for years and the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan now for about three years also.
South via Iran is not an option for us since Amini’s dead last year is there to much going on.

Going back to Turkey is not allowed because after our travels there we can not get back in for 180 days.


This leaves us with only one way to Kazakhstan or any other destination. 750 km via Russia.

Since we do not want to sponsor Russia at the moment we could fill up diesel in Georgia and give it a go.
There might be one small problem. We travel with our Unimog expedition truck but the camper is formally registered as a truck and not as a camper in the Netherlands. This maybe a problem in Russia we heard.

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Prepared for two days in the mountains we are leaving the Unimog at Haghartsin Monastery and start our 24 km hike over the Mt. Dimats towards Hovk village/Teghut.https://hikearmenia.org//all-trails/trail/holy-cliff
1300m altitude over 8km only steep up the mountain- it’s described as a tough hike and not for beginners! Because of the weather we left late but we took the tent to stay up in the mountain.
It’s moving on slowly but it’s a great hike: leaving the forest, crossing wild horses and arriving at the cliff of the Dimats Mountain on about 2500m above sea level late in the afternoon.

The forecast is right: we’ll get a thunderstorm. Quick we set up our bivoc, and cook/eat to be ready and in our shelter and sleeping-bags just in time. But the temperature drops down and it start snowing. Pffff we are not prepared for such a cold night.

There’s only one good decision: getting back down from the mountain. Tired and with headlights we are hitting down in the dark… It takes us two hours for arriving exhausted at our truck: but after a warm shower in our warm bed in the truck.

We want to be back on this mountain- so we try to reach it with the Unimog- it’s a steep hard 4×4 trail. What a great overnight place.

It also seems to be a astounding place to paraglide. A couple times we walk up from the cliff to the launch with our paragliders, waiting for the right conditions: but the wind is too hard and too gusty. Watching the birds soaring along the ridge. Let’s try it again tomorrow.

In the morning we have to help and save Arthur, an Armenian crazy guy we know from Yerevan who wanted to surprise us on the mountain and got stucked on the bad muddy trail.

In the meanwhile we recognized that some tour guides coming up the mountain with different 4×4/off road vehicles with their guests, mainly Russians, and huge music blasters, some food and drinks. It’s really fun and they want to take a lot of pictures/videos with us, of the truck and the most with Basco! And when they leave: the silence is back!

Even with a bright blue sky in the morning the wind condition doesn’t change. After another 2 hours of para-waiting at the launch we give it up.
No flying here for us….

We show you some bird view pictures we made with the drone (search the Unimog!). You probably understand why we are disappointed that we can’t fly from this mountain but have to drive down (what is also kind of spectacular).

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We cross Tzovayuk, walking up to the monastery, getting like almost everyday a glass of fresh pomgranate juice and spending a rainy night at Lake Sevan.

In Dilijan we get better weather. The National Park around Dilijan is the famous hiking area of Armenia with uncountable well-marked hiking trails as the Transcaucasian Trail or the Medieval Trail.

Before we arrived we thought that Dilijan National Park is kind of a touristic place but we really get surprised. Don’t miss to stop here and pick some nice hiking trails for a couple of days. It’s just beautiful- great nature, astounding views, hidden waterfalls, mystical monasteries – silence and physically activity. We like it a lot!

First we choozze an 8 km walk from Lake Parz up to the Goshavank Monastery through forests and grasland filled with spring flowers. We are checking on our light hiking and bivak gear for the next two days of hiking. Basco doesn’t like his backpack at all but is carrying his food patiently.

At our destination we meet a young Armenian/Ukrainien family. They are inviting us for an Armenian dinner and we spend a great evening with intense conversations, Armenian dishes like tree-mushroom, Vodka and Armenian wine in Ijevan.

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Since a couple of days we have contact with the aeroclub in Armenia. The paragliding community is here very small. We really also want to fly in Armenia. Because of the military alert you have to notify the authorities before. Two helicopters are crossing the fly zone later anyways .

The forecast looks flyable for the weekend so – yes we have to drive back to Yerevan and further to the south and we will join them to fly together in Vedi.

First we spend a day in Yerevan and try to get our coffee maschine fixed. It’s kind of a disaster for Vincent as a coffee junkie that it broke down. As workout we run up the giant stairways of the Cascades The 572 stairs afford us at this sunny early morning an unobstructed view of central Yerevan and Mount Ararat.

We like Yerevan: kind of modern and also traditional, some historical buildings, all kind of art and creativity all around.

We are driving to Vedi with an almost cloudless view on Mount Ararat.

Mount Ararat is the highest point in Turkey, is located in eastern Turkey on the coast of the Araks River, 16 kilometers from Iran and 32 kilometers from Armenia. Mount Ararat actually consists of two mountains which are merged at the base: Big Ararat (5137 meters) and Small Ararat (3927 meters). The popular peak is famous not only for its beauty but also for the many stories and legends associated with it, most notably the widely-held theory that it was on Mount Ararat that Noah’s Ark landed after the Flood.
Ararat is a blessed mountain for Armenians. This mountain has miraculous beauty, and is a symbol of the motherland for Armenian.

We get two fantastic days to fly – with a group of very nice Armenian pilots – in a pretty dusty dry area and an astounding overnight spot at the launch – with the snow capped Mount Ararat as coulisse.

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We liked the Syunik region a lot and unfortunately we cannot drive further. Our next destination is the Nature Parc around Lake Sevan.

Our advice: if you drive with a car prepared for kind of bad roads just leave the mainroad. We find little villages with the gas pipes over ground in all kind of wild constructions, getting taken over bij mainly Ladas or having to take over all generations of Kamaz trucks, both Russian brands. Here the very hospitality Armenians don’t speak English at all and our vocal translation app can’t translate in Armenians language – they all speak Russian – luckily also our app. That leads to a lot of funny and friendly conversations.
Live is hard and often only surviving. The average income in Armenia is told us is around 200 Euro per person per month. Sheeps, cows, fruit trees and wine are picturing the landscape.

We often look for small churches and lesser known monasteries which are located on beautiful hill sites – we stop there not for religious reasons but enjoying the view and the mystic old buildings, built of black basalt.

The city’s in general are not very colorful – the houses are mainly not plastered the roofs of corrugated iron sheets, sometimes a painted gate. A lot of old empty buildings left over from the Sowjet era.

On the top of the Selim / Vardenyats pass is an ancient caravanserai. The building, from around 1332, was used as a location for caravans moving from Europe to the East on the silk road to stay overnight. Very special to take a look on and in one – we are traveling on this famous silk road.

We are arriving at Lake Sevan and driving up the shoreline. Lake Sevan it is the biggest freshwater lake in the Caucasus region and is locatrd around 1900 m above sea level.

One of the special places we visit in Armenia is Noratus Cemetery, a historical graveyard from the 9th – 17th century, that has the largest cluster of khachkars in the world.

Khachkar or Cross-stone, Cultural World herritage, is an extraordinary phenomenon in Armenian Art.
Already in the 4th century, people used Khachkar as a separate monument or fastened on the walls of the churches, monasteries, chapels, sources, bridges and other historical buildings or on graveyards like here in Noratus – a whole field of Khachkar.

We find them all over the country., also in the 9th to 12th century Hayravank Monastery nearby Sevan, where we searching after a short visit our overnight place up the hill with a beautiful view over the lake.

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Only in the morning we recognize where we stopped last evening: we wake up with bright blue sky on a landstrip in the Spandarian lake surrounded bij snow capped mountains.

The lake is like a mirror. To sport and run on 2060 m is kind of challenging but the view and the shower outside are all worth it.

The sun is strong up here and we just finally enjoy the warmth of 23 degrees at this fantastic place.

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Bright blue sky and a great sunrise in the morning. A shepherd crossing by and having coffee with us. It’s warm and sunny.

On the cliffs below Khot are the ruins of Hin Khot (Old Khot), also named the Armenian ‘Machu Picchu “. We hike the 14km long trail down, through and up the ruin city. People began living there inside caves later in the city until the 1970s when the village in the gorge was left abandoned and the residents moved.

Arriving back from our hike the shepherds waiting for us around the fireplace with selfmade Vodka.

Our experience is until now not just to visit and share the popular places here in Armenia but also those lesser-known gems that should have their place on the map.
We wonder how a tiny country like Armenia can have so many astoundingly beautiful nature and places to visit. We really like it here a lot.
We are on our way back to leave the military alert region and leaving (as usual) the main road. I couldn’t take too much pictures but we get frightened about the military presence in this region. This is not the place where we should be, so no panic but leave!

We cross the ancient Melik Tangi Bridge, taking a bath in a little natural hot spring in Vorotan and climbing up the Tower Tombs, an old grave in Aghitu. In Sisian we have our lunchbreak in front of a “stone symphony” and hike down to the Shaki waterfalls.
We spend the night in the Spandarian Reservoir.

A nice day on the road with a lot of little more or less hidden sights.

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I don’t know if I wrote it about it yet: Armenia is in a tense situation with Azerbeidzjaan since years. Only in 2020 five thousand young Armenians died in these fights around Karabagh (and a lot of Azerbeidzjaans, too). Along the streets in the villages hanging boards with (young) men who died in these fights. The region around the boarder is in military alert. These days ago there were again shootings at the border around Goris.

We planned to go all the way to the south of Armenia but we skipped this plan. We tried to check the situation and decide that Tatev in the Syunik region will be the farest south destination we’ll drive to (it’s around 25 km away from the last shooting).

On our way a lot of militaries are crossing, military trucks are covered in some fields, helicopters around. That’s how war alert looks like 🥺.

We are following the Armenia ‘s Silk Road over the Vorotan pass. The landscape is amazing. We are driving now all the way on a level of between 1500m and 2300m. The Caucasus mountains on both sides building the border to Azerbeidzjaan.

The region around Tatev is famous for its amazing steep Vorotan canyon. The cablecar “Wings of Tatev” is crossing this canyon.
Wings of Tatev is a 5.7 km cableway between Halidzor and the Tatev monastery in Armenia. It is the longest reversible aerial tramway built (in 2010) in only one section, and holds the Guiness World record for “Longest non-stop double track cable car”.

We “fly” with the cablecar, visit the monastery and the cave under the “Devil’s bridge”.
Our place for the night is just fantastic.

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