We started out refreshed and with a renewed sense of adventure – Reza being a very welcome change of pace and character for our 11-day tour. For Rhys’ sake we left a little later than planned from the hotel as he was feeling a little under the weather. At our request, Reza guided us to an exchange company in Tabriz’s central district – Tarla Exchange – for a good rate on US Dollars into Rials (or Tomans – a division of 10 from Rials).
We headed across to a fuel station before exiting Tabriz completely; Reza very kindly offered to fill up for us but didn’t take into account the air lock in the petrol filler neck – spraying petrol all over himself. Car mannerisms were beginning to mount up for Mickey – the engine light had been on since before Turkey, there was inconsistency in one of the rear brake lights, working when it felt like it, and the offside tyre seemed to have a very slow leak. The brake light caught the attention of an Iranian police officer who, just before one of the toll gates, pulled us over for a quick check over on the usual 5 questions, and to point out the brake light should be looked at. We continued South-East, pulling into for lunch at a service station next to Zanjan – a city made famous for its copper-wear and knives. Lunch was simple – a mixed meat kebab with rice, and continuing the trend of Iranian food thus far, little, if any spice. The roads became more challenging as we got closer to Tehran; the traffic became more aggressive and thicker to the road, and obstacles became more prevalent, including a fist-sized stone getting kicked up by a car in front of us. An inadvertent bit of speeding up by Oli allowed for a softer landing against the roof rack and the windscreen, with no damage caused, besides a few paint scuffs. We pass through the final toll gate having to pay this time, where all the others had welcomed us through as “guests of the country”.
After a few smaller cities passed by we finally made it to Tehran – a sprawling populace of 11 million people that stretched for miles. It took us the best part of an hour to cross into the central and tourist districts, hitting the centre in late rush hour. This would have been frustrating had it not been for the many cars and passers-by who beeped, waved, smiled and welcomed us into Iran, scenes resembling a celebrity driving through. One woman in particular rolled down the window of her car, and perfect English asked us where we were from. Something rather odd about asking someone in perfect English where they are from!
We pulled into the side just a few hundred metres from Freedom Arch, an iconic Iranian monument built just before the 1979 revolution, designed by the wife of the former Shah – taking photos stood up on a small toll office roof so as to be above the rush hour traffic. The local traffic found it hilarious, a few stopping next to our car asking if we wanted to visit their house and exchanging phone numbers. After half an hour of more traffic and passing by a motorbike accident, we made it to the tourist district and our hotel – set within a secure compound and gated parking – saving us the hassle of unpacking the roof again. The hotel was also surrounded by car spares and repair shops – perfect for anything Mongol Rally cars required or may have lost on the journey so far.
In the hotel lobby we came across Will Bazelly of Team Highly Unlikely – a solo attempt at the Mongol Rally in a 1957 3-wheeler roadster, driving by a 500cc air-cooled engine. We took time to catch up with Will and his ordeals; he had averaged 14 hour days and a cruising speed shy of 50MPH, which had severely hampered his ETAs at all major stops, on top of a failed differential that had to be rebuilt in Turkey. His LOI for Turkmenistan had only just been cleared, and he was 2 days away from his border crossing – meaning 2 days ahead of sheer determination and driving long distances to make it in time before his tour guide contract expired.
Wishing him all the best and exchanging contact details, Reza took us for a short walk through the city to see the Tehran Public Library and Government buildings and visiting a large restaurant next to the hotel. The manager spoken broken English and was happy to offer English menus and a vegetarian dish for Rhys. Other dishes were following a similar trait of a stew with beans and lentils in a herb or tomato based sauce, with small diced beef, served separately to a plate of rice.
Satisfied and ready for a full day of sight-seeing ahead, we returned to the hotel, ready for an early kick off to see Tehran’s larger museums and sites in the morning.