After months spent getting our visas, we were finally at the border to use them. But first we had to deal with exiting Armenia.
Mike stayed in the car while Alex went to organise the paperwork for exporting the car from Armenia. Thick fugs of smoke from Iranian lorry drivers enveloped the waiting hall, while of course all the Armenian border guards smoked in their offices. He had to go to four different windows to get various forms stamped. When entering Armenia, Alex and Vova had been told that they would receive a rebate on the import duty. Here it turned out that actually we had to pay to get the car exported! After a blistering argument between Alex and one of the customs officers, the money was paid to the local branch of Araratbank.
Once that was done, we crossed the bridge over the river to the Iranian side. We pulled up to a little hut and stopped in front of the gate. We got out for a quick paperwork check, but first the border guard wanted us to move our car. He not speaking English, and neither of us knowing any Farsi, it was a bit of an adventure.
First, we thought he was motioning to back up to let a lorry through, but that wasn't it. Then we thought he meant for us to park in front of the other gate, so we did that. But nope, that wasn't correct either. Finally we figured out what he wanted, which was to park facing the kerb splitting the two lanes. Once that was done, he made a drinking motion: i.e asking if we had any alcohol. We were very careful to search the car beforehand to make sure we didn't make a mistake.
It was a pretty quick search and once he was done, we proceed through the gate and to the immigration hall. This is where the real fun began.
We waited briefly for an English speaking boarder guard and presented our passports. They asked us what we did for a living, our father's name, and some other basic information. We realised he had the application form in front of him and wanted us to answer exactly as we had put on the form. Like most of the staff he was dressed in civilian clothing. He also had a very bushy moustache and each time he tapped the computer keyboard, he would lift his fingers up with a flourish akin to a concert pianist.
This was all well and good, except there was a problem with Mike's visa. Well two, actually. Iran and the US do not have diplomatic relations, so Pakistan carries out Iran's interests in the US along with issuing visas. The first mistake was they had put the visa issue date the same as the visa start date. As the issue date was written in the Iranian calendar and the start date in the western calendar, Mike had no way of knowing this beforehand.
The second mistake was he had been issued a journalist visa. Mike had come as a tourist, but as he is a photographer, they'd asked him to apply as a journalist. So, with two errors on the visa, we were told to wait.
And so we waited, and waited, and waited... A few hours ticked by and an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came out and asked us a few questions. We wrote down our itinerary for him and he apologized profusely for the length of time it was taking. Alex thought the only country where he didn't speak the language would be Iran, but he was wrong! Amir, the MFA official used to be a consular officer in a number of embassies in Europe and had been the Iranian consul in the former Yugoslavia for 5 years, so of course Alex and Amir could speak in Serbo-Croat!
We enjoyed talking with him while he did the paperwork and made copies of our visas and passports. Once this was done, Alex went to get the carnet completed for the car and Amir took Mike for tea.
The agent who was organising the carnet and the paperwork was a cross between Speedy Gonzales and Roadrunner. He ran from office to office, brandishing sheaves of paperwork and marshalling the Iranian customs officers with impressive determination. Nothing was going to put him off getting our paperwork pushed through. It was hard to imagine anyone putting up any resistance to this force of nature that had found its niche in the border crossing of Nordooz. Sure enough in a short period of time the carnet was issued and we could legally drive in Iran!