Finally, after years of wanting to go to Iran, the time had come. The last time I had tried to go was 7 years ago, but I got called for jury service for the date I was supposed to leave. I also found out that the visa took too long to acquire in time before my flight.
Things have since changed. Irish citizens can now get an Iranian visa upon arrival in the airport for €60. For Russians it’s just as easy and will become easier as both governments are aiming for visa-free travel between the two.
Our planned itinerary was as follows: Tehran to Isfahan, Isfahan to Shiraz, Shiraz to Yazd, and Yazd to Tehran. Roughly 2000 kilometers in total.
Packing was a tight affair. Aside from my passport, I placed the camera and batteries as the most important articles, followed by underwear and socks. I double checked my passport and cash. They do not take Visa or Mastercard due to economic sanctions, so it’s cash only for tourists.
The big day came, I awoke all excited, danced merrily to KC and the Sunshine Band (Shake, Shake, Shake), and even decided to post boastfully on Facebook where I was going.
I met my travel companion, Denis, and we went to Domodedovo airport to the far south of Moscow. We had a leisurely lunch, I even had a last beer, and then we went to the passport control.
The first sign that all was not well was when dark, ominous wrinkles of confusion spread across the burly border guard’s forehead, like a storm growing larger and larger over the horizon.
‘Is everything alright?’ I asked, in a would-be friendly, yet anxious voice. Mr Burly shook his head curtly and continued staring at the multi-entry visa in my passport, which I’d proudly handed him.
‘Ey, Seryozh, come here a second!’ he called to his colleague.
A surly border guard (Mr Surly) came over.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘Look at this,’ said Mr Burly.
The ominous wrinkles of confusion then comprehension migrated to the vast plateau of Mr Surly’s forehead.
‘What’s the problem, gentlemen?’ I asked.
No answer. Denis watched anxiously from the other side of the barrier as they began to scan the pages of my passport, one after the other.
‘Do you realize that your visa doesn’t come into effect until February 25th?’ asked Mr Surly.
It was February 15th. Three weeks before, I’d handed over my single entry visa and had been issued a multi-entry. The date of issue said 25-01-2016, but the date of authorisation had been set at 25-02-2016 (It should have been 25-01-2016). This was a simple clerical error and very difficult to notice. However this error meant that I had been in Russia, technically without a visa, for three weeks. Mr Surly didn’t hesitate to point this out.
‘Do you realize you’ve been here without a visa for three weeks?’ he asked.
‘Fuuuuuuuck,’ was my first thought.
At this point, Denis intervened.
‘Guys, what’s the problem? You know, our flight is boarding now, we need to hurry.’
‘Well, your friend isn’t going to make it. Come with me,’ said Mr Surly.
Not fully understanding what was happening, I had visions of being stuck in Russia without a visa because of a bureaucratic hiccup. This had happened to my flatmate, who’d ended up stuck here for 7 months.
Fortunately for me, the problem was simple enough to rectify, but there was no way I would make the flight on time.
Denis had to run to the gate, so I tried to hand him the various things I thought one might need on a trip: batteries, chocolates for couch surfing hosts, anti-diarrhoea tablets…
‘Just give me the hand sanitizer,’ he said. We said a hasty goodbye and he ran for it. I sat outside an office weighing up my options as I waited for them to come back with my passport.
The last attempt to go to Iran was haunting me again. The gods, as Terry Pratchett has so often mentioned in his Discworld series, like to play dice with the lives of mortals. At that moment, I imagined a rolling of dice.
‘Damn, clerical error. I was rolling for deportation,’ said one god.
‘Triple six? That’s a long shot,’ said his opponent. *Clattering of dice*
‘Double sixes. That discounts your roll, but you get a re-roll in the next round.’
‘Bugger. Well, it’s not over. With a re-roll I might try and get him to do something silly, like lose his wallet.’
The consul returned with my passport.
‘I am very sorry that you missed your flight, but I honestly couldn’t do the visa any faster than 20 minutes.’
He was very genuine. Nothing could be done about it, and I was led back through security to the main part of the airport.
‘Good luck, and once again I’m sorry you missed your flight,’ said the consul.
‘Be sure to check your papers properly, next time,’ said Mr Surly, ‘you just never know with these things.’
‘I will,’ I said.
So, I was still in Moscow and Denis was flying to Tehran. I’d already taken leave from work, so there was no point in wasting it. I went straight to the Internet café in the airport and found *clattering of dice – ‘Yesssss!’* a return ticket for the following day to Tehran via Baku, Azerbaijan.