There are three types of car in Iran; Saipa, Peugeot and Paykan. They’re all either white, or, if you own a pickup, blue.
The drivers and passengers of these cars are the craziest and friendliest people you’re likely to ever meet. It seems Iran’s national pastime is overtaking. We watched as one man overtook on a bridge under construction, a moment later we heard a screech of brakes and he slapped into the back of a cement truck. No one batted an eyelid. We passed innumerable cars pulled in, inspecting recent damage or waiting for tow trucks. One guy decided to turn into us at 50mph in order to leave the motorway. The front wing of the Swift is now delicately crumpled.
As we helped this crazy driver to change his punctured tyre though, we realised that this place must really be the nicest nation. “Tourist? Sorry!” Our new friend smiled and waved as he drove off.
Those who didn’t crash into us passed freshly baked bread through our window as they drove alongside us. One car full of lads pulled us in to give us a melon! In the public pool at Besh Gardash we stood out like sore thumbs – that led to us being brought back to some guy’s home, where we were fed and watered and consider ourselves to have an Iranian family now!
We traveled north east from the Turkish border, towards the Caspian Sea and over the Algorz mountains. We followed one blue pickup as it ferried a cow from one side to the other.
The roads winded their way from the desert in the south, up and over the mountains and into the greener, more tropical north.
From Iran we moved quickly into one of the weirdest places in the world – Turkmenistan. Gold and marble buildings line the wide, empty roads of Ashgabat. One government building is supposedly topped with 7kg of gold and no one is allowed to walk along the footpaths by these buildings.
The six lanes of perfect Tarmac quickly deteriorate heading north towards the Door to Hell, but the bumpy ride is well worth it. The crater – a natural gas pit, set alight in the 70’s – is breathtaking, literally. Gusts of wind whip hot, noxious air in circles around the site. Birds seem to love it, gliding up and down through the warm current all night.
The few days we spent driving through the country were eye opening, but it was nice to leave into the relative normalcy of Uzbekistan. First stop Samarkand – where the manager of a local hotel parked us right up against the wall of an ancient mosque. Next stop, Tashkent!