‘Could there be an easier border crossing?’
Breezing through the Armenia immigration, getting a better-than-market-rate for our left over Armenian drams from the golf cart driver who carried us and our bags a whole 100 metres, we approached the border guards on the Iranian side with some trepidation.
Fellow travellers stories differ at this point and we expected the full shake down with any and all contraband confiscated. Surprisingly the Iranian nationals in front of us got the run down whilst all they wanted to do was stare at Matt’s hair and laugh as they made one of their immigration mates attempt to speak English with us from a cheat sheet taped to the wall. So far, so good.
Test number two was the Immigration Officer. Checking and rechecking that there were no traces of visits to forbidden countries in our passports (ahem…Israel…), us and our belongings were through with a few recommendations on places to visit paired with a friendly smile and a
‘Welcome to Iran!’
Too easy, we think, surely somethings gotta give here. Test number three. Bags are thrown onto the x-ray machine and the attendant is easily distracted by, yep, Matt’s hair. Asking about taxis his attention is completely diverted from the job of ‘protecting Islamic values’ as he rushes to help us and we could have easily snuck through several bottles of Armenian pomegranate wine (Note…we in no way recommend you actually try this!). Test number four, we score an unbelievable exchange rate at the Bureau de Change giving us 15% more for our US dollars than the ‘official’ rate and we’re laughing all the way to the bank (pun intended).
Now the difficult part, taxi drivers. Playing the waiting game we get the price down from USD$20 to USD$15 for the ride to Jolfa, which we’d read (several times) is where the bus terminal for Tabriz is located. The drive along the Azerbaijan, Iranian and Armenian borders through high jagged peaks and manned guard towers watching one another closely is otherworldly and a situation we had yet to come across on this trip. With our crazy headband sporting taxi driver reaching speeds of 120kms an hour while pouring himself tea on the windy road as we desperately searched for seatbelts, we were unfortunately a little preoccupied to take many photos.
With the snowy peaks of Armenia left well behind the landscape takes on an arid appearance, the language has changed and the temperature’s rising. Arriving in Jolfa there’s some confusion as we’d expected to be deposited at the bus terminal which all information on the internet has suggested exists. Turns out no, it’s a further 17kms and IRR150,000 (USD$5 USD) down the road. Drained after a lengthy ‘debate’ with the driver and the locals we were still no closer to working out where the hell we needed to be. Done for the day we hunt around for accommodation in Jolfa figuring that with a little rest the journey tomorrow will take on a different light. Turns out we’re smack bang in the middle of the two week holiday of Nowruz (New Year) and there is not an available bed in the entire town.
‘We knew it couldn’t be all roses’
Knowing that things had run far too smoothly we were faced with the prospects of either a super late night arrival in Tabriz and possibly the same predicament trying to find accommodation, or spending the night sleeping at the bus station until the morning. Luckily for us there’s a young man in the hotel where Sarah was waiting while Matt looked around who spoke perfect English and was more than willing to help us out. Soon enough we’re in the next town of Hadishahr via a shared taxi, where we escorts us to a dirt(y) cheap motel for just IRR300,000 (less than USD$10) for the night. Result, things have turned around again.
After a stressful afternoon, and as is our border crossing tradition, we would have loved a beer to finish the day but alas in Iran, for those who don’t know, alcohol is illegal. So we settled for an orange juice and called it a night. By 11pm the serenity of the empty motel has been replaced by screaming children, shouting adults, slamming doors and cigarette smoke. Still, for the bargain basement price, we stuffed our earplugs in, avoided too much OJ in fear of having to frequent the squat toilet which hadn’t been cleaned in 10 years and suffered through it.
Next morning it’s a short taxi ride to the terminal where we waltz past the taxi drivers trying to solicit our business with the customary cry of
‘No bus to Tabriz, only taxi’
and purchase two tickets for the 10am bus to Tabriz. The only issue was we’d arrived at 7:30am having been told there was an 8am departure. Turns out this wouldn’t be the first time this occurs whilst in Iran. But we were happy to wait in the heated waiting room which is over equipped with power sockets incase you need to charge everything you own all at the same time. A flat, uninspiring, power pylon laden two hour drive later and we finally make it to Tabriz
Note: Just a couple of weeks after passing through the border region, we saw news reports of renewed fighting in the area resulting in several deaths on both the Armenian and Azerbaijani side. We suggest you check current security status before travelling in the region.
Tips for Jolfa
- Prices in Iran are typically quoted in tomans, not rials. Basically you need to add an extra zero to most prices you’re quoted to get the price in ials. If unsure just pull out a note that you think is correct (preferably lower) and if it’s not correct they’ll counter your note with the correct one. Don’t get fooled thinking your IRR20,000 is a bargain to get a taxi around the corner then end up paying IRR200,000 because you were quoted in tomans.
- Bargain at the border for your ride to Jolfa. Play the game and tell them you’ll wait for another person so you can share the costs. At first we were told it was IRR600,000 (2 people) which we got down to IRR500,000 and couldn’t be bothered haggling any more as it was late afternoon.
- BEWARE apparently there is NO bus terminal in Jolfa for buses to Tabriz. You will need to go a further 17 kilometres to Hadishahr which should cost you approximately IRR110,000 (2 people). We say approximately as we shared part ot the way with a local making the cost cheaper. Ask around for shared taxis and somebody should point you in the right direction.