Our tour of Iran came to a conclusion and it was time to come home – we had traveled approximately 3200 miles on this tour. What a different experience this time from 5 years ago! The people are just as welcoming and friendly as before, but it’s a new day in Iran for sure.
We had very different weather on our loop through the Azeri region and along the Caspian Sea. We visited Zanjan, Tabriz, and Ardabil, and frankly, I was happy for the change in weather. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I can appreciate cooler temps and rain, something we didn’t have on the southern part of the route. Yes, I know, it’s a dry heat, and if you got in the shade it was usually quite comfortable, but shade wasn’t always available. And dry takes on a whole new meaning in Iran! In one city, I think it was Shiraz, I checked the weather and the humidity read 6%! At home, I am more used to humidity at about 70% or more, so I do have a recommendation for people traveling to Iran that it would be a good idea to bring nasal spray to keep your sinuses from getting over-dry. Or a neti pot – I really could have used my neti pot my sinuses were so dry. One person in our group had brought theirs and said it was helping a lot.
The north was really green, a different world from places like Yazd, Kerman, and Shiraz. And being so close to borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, the people of the area are very diverse, speaking Farsi, Azeri, and probably Turkish, as well as English. Our driver was from Tabriz, and is of Azeri descent. He spoke Azeri, Farsi, and some English, and on one occasion had to do a bit of translating from Azeri to Farsi for someone. The stores had products from the neighboring countries, too. Perfumes from Turkey, sweets from Armenia and Azerbaijan, and more – strangely, I saw in one store, that had all kinds of treats from Europe and the Middle East, bottles of Ken’s Steakhouse Salad Dressing!
Tabriz is a very international city, with a special international trade zone. One benefit of the zone is that cars can be imported and not have to pay the extremely high import duty on them. They get a special license place that is good only in the trade zone with permission for very limited use outside the zone. The savings to the car owner is huge as the cost of new foreign cars (including the duty which is a huge portion of the cost) in the rest of the country is likely to be 4 – 5 times what we pay in the US. This is the only place we saw brand new Ford vehicles.
Iranians are very much like Americans. There are religious fundamentalists in both countries, but a large portion of the population is secular. Iranians are capitalists, and we learned a little bit about the real estate market as well as some bargaining skills for buying carpets and smaller items in the bazaars. Iran’s border with Afghanistan is a problem because of the drugs that come across that border, as well as refugees fleeing the violence there. On a more personal scale, they want to see their children succeed, have a good education, and be happy. Our guide was telling us about organizing his schedule so he could make his daughter’s piano recital a few days after our group was done. Sound like a familiar story?
Some of the differences are obvious- the driving is one thing most people will comment about. Our guide would say that the joke is that Iranians are the nicest most polite people, except when behind the wheel of their car or boarding a plane! While there are clearly different acceptable practices on the road, I don’t think we ever saw a case of road rage or even hostile driving. Granted, the intersections were practically undecipherable to our eyes – how do they figure out who gets to go? Amazingly, in what looks like chaos to Americans, it works. Not a single scrape or dent was witnessed at the intersections we passed through. On the sides of the major highways where we had to stop to pay tolls or for our driver to check in, there would be “admonishers” – wrecked cars on display with signs to drive carefully and obey the speed limits. For drivers of buses and vans like the one we traveled in, there is GPS tracking and the drivers have to report in at check points to have have their GPS checked to determine if they adhered to their route and if they were speeding or not. We got a good look at a few of those “admonishers” and I am not sure how effective they are on regular car drivers – more than once I saw drivers texting or talking on cell phones, a plague everywhere with cell phones, I suppose. Of course, the topper was watching a car speed past us and the driver had a cell phone in each hand! Still, can’t say that’s any worse than seeing a car go by with the driver reading a book on I-5 (yes, I have seen that on my commute home and the traffic was moving, not stopped).
Below are just a few photos from the last few days of the tour as well as some other favorite shots. If you would like more information or speak to someone about travel to Iran, give us a call in the office!