Saturday, 8 March 2014

welcome to the islamic republic of iran!

This is typical of Iranian officials, we reckon.  At the border we are directed to the passenger crossing, (when normally we are directed through with vehicles) and because the place is packed with Azeris who know the system, and we are dumb innocent tourists, an Iranian border official helpfully leads us through the crowd to one of the immigration officers in his booth.  Incidentally, for anyone who has watched Argo, as we have recently, no-one has a beard, no-one is armed, and no-one is looking angry, except when a few sly Azeris try to jump the queue.  We feel momentarily guilty for having been given permission to queue-jump, but this is quickly assuaged when the immigration officer waves us away to the seats at the back.  We can wheel our bikes through to customs but must wait back in the 'arrivals' hall.  Meanwhile our passports have been stamped and taken through to a backroom.  We wait over an hour.  We watch the same men shuffling package after package through to the customs area, under the noses of all the officials.  Nothing is being checked, but there's a shifty manner about it all.  After shunting half a truckload of goodness knows what, the acivity suddenly ceases.  A glimpse through to the customs area and we see a uniformed man with gold braid having a gander.  As soon as he retreats back into his office, the package-shunting activity resumes with gusto.  

Finally we are waved through and asked to follow an immigration officer, but not before our panniers are looked through (Gold Braid has just reappeared).  In a back room a man and woman with a black box are awaiting us.  The Fingerprint Team.  They are friendly and polite.  The box is opened up, forms are produced, black ink is rolled on a plate and the man invites me to step forward to have my wrist borken.  At least that's what I think he's trying to do, although he indicates that I need to relax while he fingerprints me in rather a smudgy cack-handed way.  Just for fun (he's seen me wincing, each time he rolls my fingers this way and that), he repeats the process.  Next, the woman steps up and invites Gayle over to the black box.  She clearly lacks practice in the technique and so, despite all the gender rules, the other guy and I help to get Gayle fingerprinted.  After a quick wash, and a nice cup of tea all round, we are then quizzed by a plain-clothes policeman who has been looking through our passports.

"You are from Ireland, yes?"
"No. We're English. From England. Britain. Great Britain. The United Kingdom."
Good grief. "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."
"Yes, Ireland?"
"No. British."
The officer looks non-plussed.  He's filling out a form in farsi.  Looking at me, he asks "The city of your birth?"
"Poulton. Poulton-le-Fylde"
"Poulton?" He looks at the others to see if they've heard of it. Blank. Can't blame them really. He asks again: "City of birth?"
"Yes, city of birth" Now I'm talking pidgin too.  I show him the details page on my passport.  Poor bloke.

"Purpose of visit?"
So, at this point, after a waste of two hours hanging around, putting blurry paw prints on paper, and being asked needlessly dumb questions, you don't want to get flippant and start making jokes about espionage and fomenting revolution, do you? Or do you? (A few days later another cyclist tells us that at the Turkmenistan border they asked him "Are you a spy?"  Maybe I missed the James Bond movie "Tailwind to Tartary" where 007 cycles into Central Asia to foil those pesky secret nuclear arms dealers played by Eric Cantona in long beard and a shaven-headed Ray Winstone.

"Tourism" we chorus.
He smiles, hands over our passports and says "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Needless to say, so I'll say it needlessly, no photos were taken to illustrate this blog.

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