Crossing the border: From Turkey to Iran

David Hielkema

6 December 2016

It is going to be a long day. We wake up early and quickly we prepare some coffee to-go. A truck driver, not the first one, walks towards us to greet us. He doesn’t speak English, we don’t speak Turkish. He walks back to his truck and gestures with his hands to say we have to wait. Actually, we are kind of in a rush because we want to arrive early at the border, but we do not want to be rude.

The man comes back with a white plastic bag. He hands it over and looks at me. I am curious to find out what is inside and I open the bag in which I find two frozen chicken. I have to laugh and I thank him. Josephine has to avoid looking at me to not burst out in laughter too. There I am, barely awake, with two frozen chicken. What a start of the day.

I offer the generous man a cup of coffee. He accepts. Since we are not really able to communicate with words, we kind of awkwardly stand together for a few minutes, just looking at each other, not saying much, drinking our coffee. The situation is a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time we are getting used to it.

Iran. War. Third world country. Anti-Western.

Our navigation system tells us that we are going to reach the border in 15 kilometres. We do some checks: Did we store the film camera? Yes. Our GoPro? Yes. Our normal camera? Yes. The laptop? Yes. Do we have the Carnet de Passage? Yes. Our passports? Yes. International vehicle certificate? Yes. International drivers license? Yes. Anything missing? The headscarf! Yes, it is within hand reach. We are also wearing long sleeves. And no shorts.

10 more kilometres. There is a long line of trucks. Kind of strange, but we decide to go past them.

5 more kilometres. We are both tensed. But why? We have the right papers and we have read on the internet about what to expect. Slowly we drive on, we are both very alert and we look surprised at the hundreds of trucks that we pass. The drivers are everywhere and they look at us with the same surprised faces.

We arrive at the border. No movement. Trucks are just standing there. The gates are closed. Where do we have to go? What is going on? Is the border closed?

It does not take long before some people come to us. I open my window and a man starts to talk. Do we want to change money? No. I ask no one in specific where we have to go. They point to a gate that is closed. Strange. We drive towards it and the gate opens. They let us through and an officer gestures that we have to drive on. So we do. Dead end. We missed a turn, but I can’t see where it is.

The guy who wanted to change money, arrives quickly when he sees we drove the wrong way. He points the direction where we have to go to. I follow meekly. Now, indeed, we arrive at a check-point. They ask us for our passports, they quickly take a look and they tell us we have to drive on.

Iran. Dictators. Corruption. Headscarves.

The money man walks in front of us. He points where we have to park our car, but we follow an Iranian car that is just a bit further down. We still have no clue about what to do and there is no official in sight. We get our passports, get out, lock the doors and tell the man again that we don’t want to change money. We walk towards the only building where we see other people.

There are hundreds of people. What is going on here? I ask someone and he says: “No system”. Yes, we can clearly see that there is no system here. No one helps us. No line, no police around, no soldiers, a lot of people talking and a lot of people looking at us. We feel so insecure at that moment. Not knowing how it works and what to do.

Finally I see a policeman sitting somewhere, I walk towards him and I ask him what to do. There is a hint of panic in my voice, but mostly it is insecurity. He calls for someone else to address us in English. As it turns out, the internet doesn’t work and therefore the system does not work. Aha: “No system”.

We have no other option than to wait and thus we go back to our car.

Iran. No rights for women. No dancing. No alcohol.

While dark clouds spread over us and raindrops are falling on the windshield, we figure we will spend the night here. We wait and wait, until three hours later, we finally see some people crossing the border. Th system seems to work again. We get out of our car and run inside. More chaos. Now everyone wants to be the first to be helped, but only one booth is open. One officer for more than hundred people. We also want to be helped first. Besides that: we are one of the few with a car. And we do not understand the language. Special rules, right? We walk towards the booth, via a side way, ignoring the barriers and the queue. The man in the booth recognizes us. He helps a few others first, but then he takes our passports. The people around us are not happy with us at all. Well, they have a right to be.

We get our stamps. I have to go to the car, while Josephine has to walk across the border. “We see each other in Iran, honey. Goodluck!”, I shout.

Iran. Oil. Carpets. Saffron.

And indeed, a few minutes later we see each other again on Iranian territory. Iran is the first country where we have to use our Carnet the Passage, so we should make sure everything goes right. In reality, it is one big mess and everything is very unclear to us, but we barely have to do anything ourselves.

It is difficult to discern who actually works at the border and who is there to help you to get some money out of it. We walk back and forth to ten different booths without knowing why. Suddenly it seems we are ready to go. The man who has been helping us asks us for dollars, but when I refuse, he does not persist. We take off.

We have entered Iran. The sun is long gone and it is raining. Instantly we find ourselves in the chaos of Iranian traffic. Car horns honking, high beams blinding. Where do we go? Where do we sleep? IRAN, what are we doing here? We have no idea what our surroundings look like. Outside it is cold. But what we both share is a sense of euphoria. We have reached Iran.

War. Third world country. Anti-Western.
Dictators. Corruption. Headscarves.
No rights for women. No dancing. No alcohol.
Oil. Carpets. Saffron.

And all these prejudices? We’ll see about that!

If you would like to know in detail how we crossed the border and what you need to be aware of (for instance if you are planning to do the same border crossing), you can read it here.