Day 13 – Leaving Iran, into Azerbaijan

19 May

Didn’t quite catch the sunrise on the Caspian Sea, as sleep won out over photos.  Strange to wake up to the sound of the waves lapping gently on the beach, as it had been so quiet everywhere else we’ve been.

Breakfast was passable, very. Toast to the rescue.

After the hotel had checked our rooms, presumably to prevent theft of any of the slippers, they returned our passports.

Siavash, our driver, drove us the short distance to two powerboats and jumped in with us. The lifejackets were excellent cushions.  As we roared off, a few birds rose from the rushes. These were later identified as herons, mostly of the night and grey varieties.
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We stopped off on an island of the inland Anzali Lagoon and saw horses and water buffalo, one of whom was wearing a Donald Trump wig.

One kingfisher later, and we made it to the port entrance, on the Caspian Sea.  The Iranian navy had a few ships around and we were happily snapping away.  If these are my last words …

Apparently safe enough.

Siavash sat in the back and was happily pointing out the Persian girls in the nearby town of Bandar Anzali. That was in between cuddling into Carolyn who seemed to quite enjoy the warmth.

Back on dry land we headed off to the border town of Astara – 140km away.

The road was lined with pictures of an Iranian army commander who had died 5 days ago fighting IS in Syria. This led to a discussion on the Iranian military and the way forward for Iran. Boiling it down, Iranians have no real desire to change their government.  They would like a better economy and want their family to be looked after. Our guide didn’t think that most people understood the politics or the problems, let alone how to solve them. The previous president, Imadinnerjacket (!) bribed the farmers with subsidies and so the townsfolk are the ones that voted for the current president. This may change if the economy doesn’t improve. So far they have managed to stabilise inflation and increase the tourist numbers.

After a few more speed bumps, and 80km, we stopped at a kiwi farm where William did his best to educate me on the ways of grafting root stock onto the bottom of the kiwi plants with electrical tape. Apparently kiwis also come in red and yellow varieties, not just green. Who knew? With no fruit on show, the family were as perplexed as to why we’d stopped as we were.  Nice to stretch the legs though.

The last stop in Iran was to a roadside restaurant for lunch.  We shared a starter of walnuts, olives with a pomegranate topping, broad beans and a little bit of poor man’s caviar (fish eggs from a different fish). The bathmat bread made a hopefully final appearance, with an even more bathmat finish to it then normal. We shared two types of chicken dishes – a very juicy plum and onion and also a chicken stuffed with walnuts and pomegranate. Self inflicted melon also finished us off.  Meanwhile we were trying to persuade our guide to make up some more interesting stories about the Assassins. He tried one with a vat of acid. It almost worked.

We are leaving behind the country of red LED signs, rice paddies, mountains, desert, welcoming people, covered women, no shorts, mullahs and ayatollahs, kebabs and melons, traffic police and speed bumps, carpets, shrines, steps, castles, assasins, religion and a whole lot of history. What a fantastic place that I really feel we only scratched the surface of.  Leave your preconceptions behind and visit!

We waved goodbye to our guide and driver. The time through the passenger hall on the Iranian side was only about 50 minutes. At passport control I tried being “British” and “UK” but had to resort to “English” much to the hilarity of the rest of the group. As soon as we walked across the bridge separating the two countries, pausing to plant a foot squarely in each country, we joined a bustling queue who had no idea how to queue. Most women were busy removing their head scarves

We formed an “English” blocking line, but it had a weak point – babies, women, and anyone beside George. Eventually we decided to regress to our basic instincts and elbowed our way forward. Once past the first crowd gate, the soldiers spotted us as tourists, and encouraged us forward. With great and barely concealed delight we pushed forward, our cases running over the sharply pointed shoes and the shopping bags of everyone who had succeeded in passing us.

Once inside we were quickly through Azeri passport control and out to the last gate, where a mob was able to see us through a spyhole. As the gate slowly opened the mob started to babble incoherently.  Thankfully, our new guide, Balash, was there to greet us and lead us to a very comfortable minibus.

A short drive via a supermarket to remind us what alcohol looked like, and we arrived in Lankaran and our highly decorative/cultural hotel for the night.  All the way, our new guide was giving us background information on the country and the agrian (sp?) details.

Whilst some investigated the non existent town, others caught up on sleep and Internet, which was once again free.

We met in the bar to share an Azeri beer 2 for 3 manat – 75p each) and some corn nuts from Carolyn. Moving into a private room to eat, I attempted to order everything on the menu that I hadn’t heard of. This was their “Jiz Biz” – fried potatoes, liver and kidney – delicious – and also ‘Talysh chikhirtma” which turned out to be a large pan if chicken in a scrambled egg,  onion and tomato concoction. Both dishes could easily feed two, and they were both for me.  The table was full before everyone else’s small dishes arrived. Thankfully everyone helped me to more or less finish it. Total cost was 19 new manat – less than £10.

I retired, stuffed but happy. Having found that Azeri food is fantastic, I await the country tomorrow!

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