Ayse & Jan's Travelspot - Turkey Iran Tour 2002 - On the road

Apart from some scratches, one punctured tyre, one flat tyre and lots of small cracks and scratches in the windscreen, we didn't have any major problems with the Volvo.
General maintenance of the car in Belgium is done by Volvo dealer Van Kasteren. No modifications were made to the car whatsoever, it is just a standard V40. We did take it in for a major checkup just before we left, just to make sure everything was OK, especially brakes, airco and transmission. Before we left we'd covered approximately 96.000 kms in about 3,5 years.

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We had the tyres checked in a few places in Iran and we changed a few lamps as well now and then. Once in Mashhad when we'd hit something, driving over a speedbump of some kind, there was this weird noise coming from under the car. We took it to one of many workshops and asked if we could have a look at it ourselves. We could even use their tools. All free of charge...
We had the oil changed in Trabzon around the 10.000 kms mark and we went for a major checkup at the Volvo dealer in Ankara on our way home. In Ankara they repared our wheels (balancing), lots of dents from the many potholes. Near Balikesir we had a flat tyre, the Goodyear branch in Akçay did a very good job reparing it. We were able to drive all the way to Belgium with it. When we got back home, we did have to change all the tyres though...

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I checked oil and water level regularly and added one or the other when necessary. Anyone can do that : you don't have to be a skilled mechanic to add water to the windscreen wiper reservoir :-) Just make sure you know what all the buttons and reservoirs stand for, that doesn't mean you have to be able to fix it... and make sure you can change a flat tyre, because sooner or later it will happen ! In Turkey as well as in Iran you will find skilled and very inventive mechanics on virtually every streetcorner. If you think there is something wrong with your car, don't hesitate to take it in for a checkup. They will happily be of assistance.



Traffic in Turkey was much less noisier than I remembered it from previous trips. At times it seemed like I was the only one using the carhorn ! It's only in the cities when you tend to hesitate for more than a nano-second when the lights turn green that the horns behind you start to work... but apart from that... no one seems to use it anymore. Oh yes,... in Antalya, when it became known that Galatasaray was the new football champion, did we witness a national craze :-) cars, buses, trucks, taxis and all kinds of vehicles started making noise ! What a difference with Iran where the horn should be an essential part of your driving style !
Traffic is much less chaotic than I thought it would be. It's of course different now that we are IN the traffic flow as a driver, instead of as a passenger in a bus or taxi as on previous trips. Once you get the hang of it, the unwritten rules of Turkish traffic tend to be quite clear. It appears that the 'worst' drivers are those from the big cities : whenever we saw some driver doing crazy stuff, 9 out of 10 it was a car with a 06 (Ankara) or 34 (Istanbul) licenseplate, they probably make up their own rules. Only in the mountains, with a heavy loaded truck in front of them, do Turkish drivers tend to lose their patience and they will try to overtake... no matter how narrow the road, no matter what !
There are just not a lot of cars on the road... is it because the petrol prices are so high ? We payed about 0,80 euro/liter which is a lot more than we pay in Belgium !! Most vehicles we accountered were buses and trucks, almost no private cars. Even on our way back from Iran - in July - traffic wasn't at all busy. So it can be quite relaxing to drive in Turkey, BUT... too bad the roads aren't in very good condition ! Especially in the east and north-eastern part... actually, you have to be cautious everywhere. There are sometimes huge potholes in an otherwise good road, you really don't see it coming and there is no avoiding them... our wheels got dented quite a few times, luckily they could always be fixed. And I had some problems with the way exits and directions are marked here : the actual exit is BEFORE the traffic sign, so we did miss a few exits at first.
During the first part of our trip the scenery was really lovely : colourful flowers everywhere and still snow on the mountaintops. I will never forget the image of Mount Ararat suddenly appearing in front of us, completely covered in snow... wonderful !



Now, about Iranian traffic... well, let me tell you : it is CRAZY ! Driving back home through Turkey, Austria and Germany, made us realize how extremely busy the Iranian roads are. There seems to be no fixed place for a car on the road : you shouldn't drive too close to the right or you will end up next to the road, you also shouldn't drive too close to the left either or you will be hit by upcoming traffic. And driving in the middle of the road is NOT an option, so... It really is quite stressing to drive in Iran because you have to be very concentrated at all time, there's no time to look at the scenery here !
Most important piece of advice : NEVER underestimate the Iranian drivers... they will overtake ANYWHERE ! They must be the most mindless drivers in the world, but at the same time also amongst the most skilled drivers, because they are masters in avoiding each other. Traffic in a city is very hard to discribe if you haven't seen it : you just have to go with the flow and there are lots of unwritten rules. It is really amazing that there aren't more accidents, at least not in the city centres. But don't get me wrong, there are a lot of accidents and mostly quite serious ones : we were only in Iran 1 day and we saw an accident involving a truck and a Paykan... guess what, the Paykan lost and 2 sheets covering the victims gave us the chills.
The traffic is so busy mainly because of the public transport system. Shared taxis take people anywhere, you can get in anywhere and you can get out anywhere. It is very convenient, but it also means cars will stop anywhere without signalling. As a passenger you should also be very skilled in shouting your destination into the car and if the car is going in that direction, the driver will pull over - or just stop in the middle of the road - and pick you up. In some cities police is trying to get the taxis to stop at set places to avoid traffic congestion.
The headlights of our Volvo are always on (DRL=Daytime Running Lights) and that seemed to be a huge problem for most of the Iranians : not only drivers, but also pedestrians, motorcyclists, yes... even men on a donkey would point into our direction to warn us that the headlights were on !! Most of them were men, only once did a female driver make some funny gestures... women probably have more sense, I guess :-)
We were in Iran for 5 weeks, so that's about 35 days... without exaggeration an average of 40/day signalling us that our lights were on. That's 1400 people flashing their lights at us, shouting, pointing, making strange gestures and dangerous manoeuvres... sometimes cars coming the wrong way on the highway flashed their lights at us !! It really seemed to bother them a lot. Apparently the Paykans here have problems with the battery when the lights are on. Half of the drivers here don't even switch their lights on in a tunnel or at night... crazy !

Aah... the Paykan... it could be an interesting topic in itself. Production started somewhere in the sixties and continues today. It all started as a jointventure with Hillman (UK). These days the Paykan is getting fierce competition from Peugeot and Kia and apparently a new model will be available soon.There is also another Iranian car called Samand but that appears to be quite expensive. Most of the above mentioned models are made by Iran Khodro. Of course you also see Toyota's, Nissans,... and Zamyads (Iranian pickups).
The Volvo drew a lot of attention, especially because it has a diesel engine. There are almost no diesel engines in private cars in Iran, so everyone seemed surprised that we queued with the trucks and buses at the gasstations.
Lots of people asked me if they could have a look at the engine. Diesel costs only 130Rials and regular benzin costs 500Rials (May-June 2002). Some Paykans run on LPG which is even cheaper than diesel. Petrolstations are clearly marked and easily recognizable by their distinctive roofs. Some stations only have regular, no diesel. It's best to fill up your tank at every occasion, just to be on the safe side. Do take some gloves with you, because most of the time you have to do it yourself and the pomps are quite greasy and dirty in most gasstations.
Coming back to Turkey there is a gasstation in Maku about 25km before the border. We didn't see one in Bazargan (the bordertown) but I got diesel anyway : some boys came with 2 jerrycans and filled up our tank... way overpriced, but still about 10 times cheaper than 5 kms ahead across the border in Turkey :-).

Too bad the Iranian drivers aren`t of the same quality as the asphalt roads : just perfect ! Almost no potholes and excellent roads everywhere, even in the desert. Another thing, don`t underestimate the distances in Iran. Places might seem nearby on the map, but not in real life. We had our Gita Shenasi-map from 6 years ago and a good thing too we had that, but the distances weren`t always accurate. So we spent many hours in the car, quite unexpectedly...
Police and customs have always been very polite, we never had any problems. Lots of checkpoints in Iran though, but most of the time we were waved through. Trucks and buses have to stop at every checkpoint and register, most of the private cars can move on. There are also lots of traffic signs telling people to keep right, to reduce speed, to switch their lights on in a tunnel,... but I really wonder if anyone actually notices those signs. Most signs are in Farsi of course and that makes it difficult sometimes. On the other hand you will encounter almost no traffic lights, at least no working traffic lights. You do see young policemen on very busy crossroads every now and then, trying to bring order in the chaos, but again, no one seems to notice them :-) Once a young policeman in Mashhad got very upset at us because we didn't have an Iranian licenceplate ! The fact that we were foreigners and not Iranians had slipped his attention. He started writing us a ticket, but we just drove on and laughed... leaving him totally confused :-)

You will find lots of car parks around the towns and most of the bigger hotels have their own parking. It is safe to park your car on the street although Iranians will tell you otherwise. We only had a minor incident and that happened on a car park of our hotel in Bojnurd : when we came back from the restaurant one night, 2 boys came up to us and asked us if we wanted the car cleaned, we said it wasn't necessary and the next morning one of the windshield sprayers had been bent outwards (so when I wanted to spray my window I sprayed the people on the pavement instead) and the left rear tyre was a almost flat. The sprayer was obviously done on purpose, we thought the tyre was just a coincidence, but since then we had to pump air into it about every 400 kms and later in Dogubeyazit we went to a lastikci and he discovered a tiny puncture in the tyre. So although we don't have any evidence I do suspect these 2 boys in Bojnurd... oh well, could have been a lot worse I guess.
Asking directions in Iran is not difficult : most of the time the answer will be 'mostakhim' (=straight) or 'dast-e rast' (=right). According to our friend Esmail it has something to do with the Holy Qur`an : it is mentioned that one 'should always take the straight way' or 'the right way'... depending on how it is translated :-))))

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