The border crossing sits in the shadow of Mt Arrarat, which at 5100m is the highest mountain in Turkey. All I can say is that it must have been one hell of a flood for Noah to park his Ark on top of it.
Before moving to the border gate, we filled up for petrol. It was 40 cents a litre in Iran and just under AU$2.00 a litre in Turkey. But even though Iran has plenty of it, no 95 octane was available, only Standard, whatever that was.
There were trucks queued back for kilometres waiting for their turn to cross. We drove to the head of the line. Said our good-byes to David and Pat who were headed back to Tehran to sort the export of the wrecked Ginger, Hesan our guide and to the MG Service crew.
Getting through Immigration in these border crossings is generally straight forward, especially on the outgoing leg. Customs can be more tedious. Coming into Iran they just wanted to stamp our Carnet for the cars, outgoing was somewhat more complex. We wandered back and forwards to get a number of stamps and signatures, for purposes unknown. In the Customs Hall the guards were getting stuck into a number of people with rubber batons. As you can imagine they were not taking kindly to being beaten an having their luggage tossed on the floor. We did not know whether this was part of the usual exit process and we were next, so tried to stand unobtrusively in the corner while the fracas calmed down. At the Tax window, we stood calmly in line, while everyone else walked around us and pushed their papers under the nose of the Assessor. Call us slow, but it took a few minutes for us to realise we were just being by passed, so we then stood across the counter and blocked off the 3 windows, while I fed each of the Carenets through to the Assessor. The locals were not happy and tried to climb over us, and just shove their papers through the window. We told them all in our most polite English (so as not to cause another baton beating episode) to bugger off and wait their turn. It took a while for them to realise that we were serious. It took us an hour to get in to Iran and an hour and a half to get out.
As we entered the Turkish side the young guards wandered over, phones drawn for photos of the cars and “Welcome to Turkey, and ladies you may now take off your scarves, it’s a free country”. Processing was straight forward from there as everyone spoke English. We were ushered to the head of the Immigration queue and off to only one Customs official, with Passports, Carnets and Insurance documents to get the cars processed.
The girls in particular were pleased to leave Iran. Many had been looking forward to the country, but found it a particularly tough place for travellers. The scarves were hot and difficult to manage. Ramadan added another significant layer of complexity. On the whole, the people were extremely welcoming and friendly towards Australians, but I am not sure how the Americans would have fared.
We were on our way, Arrarat standing over us on our right as we headed down a newly paved dual carriageway at 90kph, just to prove wrong, our theory that roads deteriorate the further you go from the capital.
In the east of Iran the wheat was harvested, in the west it was a golden colour ready for harvest, in Turkey it was still green. I guess this was all a function of when the rains came to allow the farmers to sow they crop.
Dogubayazit was our first stop. The Isak Pasa Palace is perched on the side of a craggy mountain amongst the ruins of an 18c Ottoman village.
The roadside was a blaze of colour. White, purple, yellow and pink wild flowers spread across uncultivated meadows. And on the road, no one was trying to kill us. The sparse traffic overtook on our left, they indicated when they want to pass, if we had not already moved right, and the cars were mainly new and European. They ignored the speed limit. There were a number of Police checks, but with their armoured personnel carriers, it seems they were there for regional security, rather than concerned with speed limits.
Erzurum is noted for study (a quarter of the 400k population are university students) and skiing in the nearby Kackar Mountains. It also has a rich and old history. The Yakutiye Madresesi dominates the cities central park. It was built in 1310 when the Mongols controlled the place. Differing to the ones we saw in Central Asia its central court yard is completely roofed in. This may have had something to do with the climate. The older Cifte Minareli Medrese was also built during the control of the Mongols. Its style was similar to the Central Asian buildings, with perhaps a little less mosaics. The large Citadel was built in the 5th Century by Theodosius, the Byzantine emperor.
We experienced an one and a half hour time change when we crossed the border, so dinner was now back to 8.00pm. In looking for a restaurant for dinner, scouting parties were not so interested in what was on the menu, but whether they served beer. Call us weak, but we were all desperate for a cold beer. The guidebooks and a few quick questions indicated that Erzurum’s oldest restaurant was licensed. We arrive just as the call to prayer echoed out across town. The eating could commence.
As we shuffled our chairs into place, the first course hit the table with glasses of water. The second a few minutes later and after 10 minutes we were into our third and main course. But beers were a problem. Not until the final call to prayer during Ramadan. This was at 10.00pm. Erzurum is categorised as a conservative city. The restaurant manager was apologetic, but he had a house full of locals enjoying the set course Ramadan special menu and he was not going to upset them for us. The whole meal including desert, but no beer, was finished within 40 minutes and we managed to drag it out to an hour with a couple of cups of TEA. We were the last to leave at 9.00pm as the staff were settling in for their meals.
It had been a long day, so we were off to bed. But I think we were the only ones. The whole of town, including babies must have been wandering up and down the main street.