The longer I stay in a place, the more difficult it becomes to leave. Budapest, Pančevo, Batumi, Tbilisi, Baku, and now Lənkəran – without a little outside incentive I’d probably still be there.
Today’s incentive was the wish to finally make it to Iran! And a bit of boredom. Anyway, Iran, Persia!
Before leaving Azerbaijan there was a tiny bit of sightseeing to do, and a bit of cycling, of course. It’s about 40km from Lənkəran to the border town of Astara. Just outside Astara, in a village called Ərçivan, one can find Yanar Bulag, the Burning Spring. Rumor has it that the water from that spring is both drinkable and flammable! And I crap you not when I say that the rumor is true! I held a lighter to the water and it burned! There is no magic involved here, unfortunately. The water simply contains methane, somehow.
On to the border. In my head I went through my checklist again:
- Passport and visa – check
- Cash! There are no ATMs in Iran that I can use with my cards due to the American trade embargo – semi-check. I’d withdrawn half of my somewhat exaggerated budget in Lənkəran yesterday, and then had forgotten to get the other half today. Found an ATM in Astara – check
- No alcohol in my bags. Import is forbidden. All the cool folks in the hostel in Baku had helped me finish that bottle of Georgian brandy I was carrying since Akhalsopeli – check
- No pork products in my bags. Import is forbidden. Holy crap, no check. Hadn’t I just bought half a kilogram of sausages containing pork? No thinkie-thinkie, eh?!
- Thumbs taped to the palms of my hands – no check, need them for cycling. Rumor, again, has it that the thumbs-up gesture which I so fluently use is in fact Iran’s equivalent to the ‘western’ middle finger gesture we all know so well.
To my slight disappointment, this crossing was as straight forward as all the other crossings before. “Welcome to Iran”, the smiling border guard said, and there I was, in Astara. Yeah, same name, different town (even though I bet it was the same one once), different country.
Went to a money changer and became millionaire by handing him a US$100 bill. I was now walking around with 58 Iranian banknotes of 20000 Rials each. That’s 1.16 million Rials.
Grocery shops were open. Looks like I’ll have no problems buying food during the day if necessary, despite Ramadan.
I left Astara to the west, and cycled into the Talysh mountains. And mountains they were. The road climbed pretty much all the time – from Caspian Sea level (approx. -27m) to a pass/tunnel at about 1600m. Hard work, I can tell you. When I left the tunnel the sun had set.
I’m in Namin now. Two guys from a shop next door watched my bike while I checked out the hotel for the night. When I came back they’d attached a flower to the handlebar. “Welcome to Iran”, they said.
Tomorrow will be another exciting day. I’ll try my luck on visiting another unvisited degree confluence, 39°N, 48°E.