So you know what they say about life, everything that possibly can go wrong, will go wrong.
And traveling is much like life in a very condensed form. And while it’s definitely not the case that everything goes wrong, we were a little bit fed up with travel blogs that only tried to convince people how awesome their lives were: Sun, beach, surf, cocktails and the occasional exotic cultural exchange in between.
So we told ourselves that we were also going to document the travel fails, when visas get refused, couchsurfing hosts turn out awry or things just break. And in the first 48 hours of our trip, we had a lot of these, including a complete change of our initial travel plan.
But first things first.
Visa on arrival for Iran
Theoretically, for a couple of years, it has been possible for citizens of most countries to get visa on arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport. This would save most tourists the hassle of applying for the visa online and showing up at the local Iranian consulate. Apparently however, filling out the electronic visa application form online would speed up the process of getting the visa at the airport. As well organized German travelers, we did just that.
After 9 hours (Frankfurt - Istanbul - Tehran), we arrived at the visa counter of Tehran airport at 2 am local time. We paid the fees, showed them our health insurance (the guy didn’t really look at it though) and were told to wait for our visa.
Some 20 minutes later, Kevin got his passport back. However, there was a problem with Nicole’s visa.
So a guy from the office came out and talked to Nicole, asked her about her occupation, her plans for Iran etc. After waiting some time another officer came and asked the same questions. After every conversation, we were told to sit down and wait.
“Is there any problem with the visa?” - “We don’t know yet, just sit.”
After around an hour and a couple more conversations, we started to get really nervous, thinking about how we might have to fly back to Istanbul and find some other way to travel on. Virtually everyone around us got their visa on arrival and people who came to the office much later left across the border.
Two hours passed. We were tired, now extremely nervous and probably would have bribed the officers at that point if they made any indication.
We still don’t know what exactly happened, but they told us that Nicole filled out in the online visa application form that she would stay in Iran only one day, instead of the normal 30 (she surely didn’t). Apparently, that caused suspicion with Iranian officials and so her visa application was denied! In the end, they were somehow able to ignore the online application and at around 5 am, three full hours later, we were allowed to happily enter Iran!
So the lesson learned is, don’t fill out any forms you are not required to!
This picture doesn’t need more explanations:
So we spent the first full afternoon in Tehran chasing down opticians to find someone with the skills to repair the glasses. Finally we found someone who pointed us to a workshop in another part of Tehran. After some hand and feet communication, we managed to repair the glasses and got to know Tehran in a very unique, local way.
Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan
The third shock within the first 48 hours came while talking to fellow travelers in our hostel. Jan, a guy biking from Spain to Bali, found out that the Turkmenistan embassy would be closed for a week and that worse, they would not approve any transit visas anymore for the whole of September!
As some of you might know, our original plan was to apply for the Turkmenistan transit visa in Tehran and then cross the country to Uzbekistan. But Turkmenistan, being a quite unknown but kind of crazy dictatorship, has always been sort of a wild card for Central Asia travelers. Visa approval rates have always been low and extremely random. So this September they are hosting the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and then decided last week that they would stop issuing any visas because there were already too many foreigners in the country (there is no recent data, but apparently, there were just 8.000 tourists in Turkmenistan in 2007)!
In any case, our plan was done.
So the new idea is to travel from Iran to Baku, Azerbaijan. Then find a ferry (in reality it is an oil tanker) to some coastal city in Kazakhstan (Aktau) and then travel by train or whatever to Uzbekistan. These oil tankers are kind of unreliable and we don’t know yet how long we will be stranded in Baku. If anyone has advice, we’ll love it.
We will keep you posted on how this works out.
But in the meantime, one nice shot of Tehran:
Kevin & Nicole, written in Isfahan